How To Catch Scallops

We often get many questions on the mysterious topic surrounding travel blogging… How to get started, what to write about, how to make money etc. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it is gone. We both found this out after we left our hometown in Florida and headed off to Thailand. A year later, looking back, I wish I would have started our blog sooner. The problem is most people think their hometown is dull, boring, or nothing exciting to see and write about. Take a year and leave, you’ll soon see there were a ton of things you could have blogged about. The best part is that no other travel blogger out there knows your hometown better than you do. So what are you waiting for? Get started now if you are interested in travel blogging.

Scalloping Crystal River

In the spirit of my own advice, the following post is on How To Catch Scallops. Obscure topic? Not if you are from the the Gulf Coast of Florida. Scalloping is a highly anticipated season and hotels/houses are often booked a year in advance. So what is this scalloping all about and what the hell is a scallop anyways? Don’t worry, I thought the same thing when I first moved to Florida. Scallopin

Scallops are a variation of the saltwater clam. Many people see scallops on the menu of their favorite sea food restaurant. However, there are two types of scallops, bay scallops and sea scallops. A majority of the time when you see scallops on the menu in any restaurant they are sea scallops. Sea scallops are much larger in comparison to bay scallops and a heck of a lot easier to farm raise. Therefore, almost always, if scallops are on a menu they are likely sea scallops. This differentiation is important in the world of scalloping. The scalloping season I referred to earlier pertains to bay scallops. Again, these are much smaller than sea scallops, but they are much sweeter in taste. Besides the awesome tasting meal a days bounty of scallops can provide, they are a blast to catch. I usually equate scalloping to an Easter egg hunt for adults and kids alike.

How To Catch Scallops:

Scalloping is rather straightforward, as is Easter egg hunting…. get out there and find em’. It really is just as simple as that. There are designated areas in Florida known as “hot spots” for scallops, mostly along the Nature Coast of Florida. You’re best bet is to head to one of these areas of Florida such as Homosassa, Crystal River, or Steinhatchee. These areas of Florida year after year hold plenty of scallops for all. Sure, some years are better than others in terms of the numbers of scallops, but normally finding a limit of scallops can be accomplished.

Florida Scallop Season, Rules & Limits:

If you spend anytime near the Nature Coast during scallop season, you are almost certain to hear the term “limit of scallops.” This term refers to catching your legal limit of scallops for the day. Current legal limits are set at two gallons of whole scallop (meaning in the shell) per person per day or one pint of scallop meat (cleaned scallops) per person per day. There is also a “daily bag limit,” which pertains to the total number of scallops which can be harvested per boat. Right now the bag limit on scallops is 10 gallons per boat. No more than 10 gallons of whole scallops can be harvested by one boat, regardless of passengers or boat size. The 10 gallon limit is often what is meant by “catching your limit.” Lastly, the scalloping season usually runs from July 1 through September 10th. However, you should keep up with the current regulations, as the season often varies year to year +/- a week or two.

Scallop Fishing Gear

Scallop fishing gear is quite different than your traditional “fishing gear.” No amount of fishing poles, lines, lures and weights is going to catch you a scallop. The only way to catch a scallop is by getting in the water yourself and going after them. The seasoned scalloper usually has on a quality set of flippers, a mask and of course a mesh bag in tow.

With all your gear on, snorkel along the surface, usually in 3-6 foot of water looking for the elusive scallop. Scallops do move in a backwards pulsating fashion, much like a lobster. However, a majority of the time, the scallop will be laying right before your eyes prime for the taking. There is no secret method to catching a scallop as there is with a lobster. Simply pick the scallop up and put it in your mesh bag, and keep kicking those flippers. The key to finding your limit of scallops is covering as much ground as possible. so keep those fins moving while you’re scooping up scallops. I normally will try to grab the scallop from behind, as on rare occasions, the scallop will start to swim away as it sees your hand approaching. It doesn’t take to many times of having your finger clamped down upon by a scallop before you learn this trick. Take it from me and the many other scallopers you may hear screaming in their snorkel when they get pinched.

Cleaning Scallops & Grilled Scallops

Once you’ve got your limit of scallops it is time to clean those scallops. Often times cleaning scallops is more of a challenge and time consuming process than catching the scallops. As seen in the pictures, the inside of a scallop is pretty messy. There’s no nice way of saying this, but you basically need to remove the guts and keep the meat. That little white muscle in there is what you are after. All the other stuff is junk. Most people will catch their scallops and then head back to their marina, docks, boat ramp – whatever it might be – before cleaning their scallops. This why during scallop season you will see people sitting on the banks, docks, and boats shucking scallops and even a few young entrepreneurs offering to clean your scallop for a small fee. This is the method I prefer. By putting the scallops on ice before heading back to the docks, you give the scallop time to open up. Scallops will shut themselves when you catch them (most of the time anyways) as a defense mechanism. Getting them on ice and allowing them some time to open up will save you a lot of cleaning time once back on land

Scallop Collecting - Crystal River
Scallop cleaning

Manual Method vs. Vacuum Method

The method for cleaning scallops is an ongoing debate between local veteran scallopers and newbies. Vacuuming scallops sure does sound odd, but it really does work. Of course you won’t want to go grab your mom’s nine pound Oreck vacuum, rather go for a small shop vac like this one, also known as a wet/dry vac. A small shop vac will work like a magician and suck all the scallop guts out leaving you only the pearly piece of meat. The manual method works much like the vacuum method except, well, you do everything with a spoon. Pulling the guts out is straightforward and they will pull right out leaving you with the meat. Check the video at the end of this post to see it in action.

The best cooking method for scallops is another debatable topic. There are countless scallop recipes out there. Until recently, our favorite was to sauté the scallops in garlic and olive oil and toss them in some pasta with alfredo sauce. Now we have discovered the art of grilling scallops. In my opinion, grilling scallops on a half shell is the way to go. The meat is super tender and the flavors pop. One word of caution on cooking scallops, regardless of grilling or sautéing, do not overcook them. They only need a few minute between both sides and they are done. Overcooked scallops are chewy and, well, they suck.

The most important part of scallop season is to stay safe and have a great time with friends and family. As I mentioned, this is a fantastic family event, and can even become quite the competition for those competitive families out there (like mine). For those that don’t have a boat, there are plenty of fishing guides that are willing to take you out for a day of scalloping. In all honesty, if you have not spent much time exploring the Nature Coast of Florida in a boat, you are better off hiring a guide. The lime rock bottom of the rivers/Gulf of Mexico can really do some damage to your boat if you don’t know where you’re going. I speak from experience on both fronts…. I used to run scallop tours (one of my many hats I’ve worn in this pursuit of travel blogging) and unfortunately I have found that lime rock bottom with my propeller a time or two. Save yourself a few thousand dollars in boat repairs and hire a guide if there is any doubt in navigating the waters.

If you are heading to the Nature Coast and looking for a guide, let me know and I can give you a few recommendations!