By Samantha Feuss Tribune News Service (Tns)
Have you ever gone scalloping? Personally, I had not, until a recent trip to Gulf County, Fla. I wasn’t even sure what the act of “scalloping” was. Yes, getting scallops, surely, but how? And what did that entail? It turns out, it’s both fairly simple, and not as easy as you would expect.
One basically needs to get to a body of water that contains these mollusks, which are both mild in flavor and extremely healthy for you. You can charter a boat, get on a kayak, or find a company that does scalloping tours. If you head out without a guide or boat captain, you will need a Florida saltwater fishing license, a mesh bag, and a dive flag. Get your license ahead of time online or head to the experts at Bluewater Outriggers. They can get you a license, supplies, tell you the local hot spots, and tips on how to find scallops.
We first tried our hand on the Break-a-Way Charters boats. The boat tour we were looking to go on revolved around scalloping, but we ended up doing more then that. The first stop where we tried for scallops came up empty handed, but we were able to go shelling along the beaches of Port St. Joe and St. Joseph’s Bay.
The shelling could easily have been the highlight of my day — it was peaceful, quiet and something you could do either by yourself or with someone else. I headed out for some alone time, enjoying the solitude while seeking out shells on the beaches. The guides were able to identify the shells when we returned — what type they were, what lived in them, and other interesting shell-related information.
We headed back onto the boat with our newly found treasures to try another location for scallops. We found all sorts of shellfish, interesting shells, sand dollars, starfish, and more — but no scallops. The clear, warm water however made for a perfect place to swim and lounge about; no one was in a rush to go try another spot.
We decided to head to lunch, and taste the scallops that had been eluding us instead. At Indian Pass Raw Bar, they continued to be evasive, but the food was so amazing that we didn’t mind. If you didn’t know any better, you’d be tempted to pass what looks like some “hole in the wall” convenience store-looking building. Looks can be deceiving.
Once inside, seat yourself and grab a drink from one of the “coolers.” Decide what you want by checking it off of a “ticket” and handing it in — the staff will bring your choices to you when ready. The menu is on the smaller side, but the food is amazing, offering barbeque, stuffed shrimp, and melt-in-your-mouth parmesan baked oysters that will convert many who swore off the sometimes off-putting shellfish. This friendly and unassuming restaurant is come-as-you-are, flip flops and shorts, and operates on an honor system (yes, really).
Located in a corner of Florida’s Forgotten Coast, the food and staff are anything but forgettable, and you will find yourself planning another visit to this local favorite into your schedule.
Back to our mission — scallops. We find that we have arrived late in the season and will have slim pickings, which was much to our dismay. Not to let that deter us, we thought we would try our luck on a guided scallop fishing kayaking trip in St. Joe Bay. As none of our group had ever successfully scalloped before, we thought a guide would do us well, being able to show us the best spots to hunt and show us how to shuck those often stubborn shells.
We hopped into kayaks, and slid into the warm waters of the bay. Happy Ours tours gave us more then just a kayak trip around the bay, they pointed out the marine life that was abundant around us. Not just a nature tour, but a hands-on experience, we interacted with sea stars, mullet, sting rays, sea horses — and scallops. Yes, scallops! Finally, we found them.
In the long sea grass of St. Joe Bay, we found what we traveled all the way to Florida for — the apparently elusive in September scallop. Our guide chose an area she thought might have them, and there were none. Turns out that the second time is the charm, because we found about 20 between the five of us.
There is a knack to finding them, I’m told — you see the “blue eyes” of the scallop’s outer edge or rim in the shallow water, then reach down and scoop them up. My approach was less sophisticated, but worked just as well — I gently felt along the bottom of the sandy floor with my toes until I felt a whole shell, then I picked up what “felt” like the right shape. Being a beginner, I was not able to see the eyes, and the shells all looked the same to me in the water. The toes know, and I found four, which thrilled me!
We were not allowed to keep them, as the guide felt that the scallop population in that area had grown too thin and these were better left to create future generations. No matter — we had found them. We also know better — next year, come much earlier in the season for the most plentiful pickings.