If you haven’t had the chance to go scalloping yet, it is something I highly recommend to plan. It is a great trip to take with your buddies to just get away from it all. Scalloping is similar to lobster fishing, but easier to find, catch, and clean. My friend compared it to Easter egg hunting for adults. There are many different ways to approach your scalloping trip, but I will go through how we did it.
Florida Bay Scallop season starts on June 25 and lasts until September 24. Scalloping is limited to a piece of the shoreline on the Gulf Coast. For our trip we chose Steinhatchee, about an hour north of Tampa, which has been the destination for us the past three years. We rented a secluded house on the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere where there was only two things to do; catch scallops and drink beer, both of which we did in abundance.
Step One: Prepare
This step is often underplayed, but is a highly important aspect of the trip. Traveling to a destination where you are so secluded is something you need to heavily prepare for. We stocked up on tons of food and snacks, as well as a lot beer. We spent weeks getting the boats ready and all of our gear packed. There are a few essentials you will need out on the water:
-Coolers and ice
-Sunscreen (very important)
Make sure to have more than one cooler with you. One for the food, snacks, and drinks you want to bring on the water with you and the other for the scallops while you collect them. If you do not have another cooler, a bucket or something like that will work fine.
Step Two: The Hunt
Once you make it out to the bay, you will start seeing a lot of boats. When I say a lot of boats, I mean hundreds and hundreds of boats. You do not have to go far either, maybe a mile off shore, if that. Obviously, where there is a big concentration of boats will be the good spots. The picking was so good this year though, you could find scallops damn near everywhere. Just find a spot where you are not too close to other boats so there is room to swim around. If you can, find some sand patches in the grass, which is where the scallops are most prevalent and easy to spot/pick. Make sure you remember to put up your dive flag before you start swimming. There are boats everywhere, and everyone is not as careful as you may be. The last thing you want is to get run over by a boat, which is a vacation-ender.
Now strap on that dive gear and get in there! You can spot scallops by their rows of blue eyes, or simply look for the big brown shells. They do not move, so remember they are not running away! You may have a few frisky ones though, that if they happen to get in open water will scoot away. They can only go so far, maybe a few feet, so go back and pick it up again. Once you pick it up, throw it in your scallop bag and keep on looking. If you dive down to get one and end up seeing a couple, do not be scared to grab them all at once, they do not bite (well not too hard). Be cautious of the bottom while swimming though, as there are sea urchins scattered everywhere. You may also encounter a few fish down there. We saw a couple flounder that would uncover once you got near. Also, you will probably see a stingray or two, which I shouldn’t have to tell you not to touch. RIP Steve Irwin.
Step Three: Cleaning
Our dives only lasted around an hour or so before we hit our limits, which is two gallons per person to a maximum of ten gallons per boat. Once you head in, you will need to either clean your scallops, or pay someone to clean them. If you have time I highly suggest cleaning them yourself, as paying someone can get pricey. The cleaning process is easy if done right, but will take you a few hours if you have a big haul. Nothing like a cold beer to help pass the time!
I found the best way to clean scallops is with a spoon. While the shells are slightly open, run the spoon along the top of the shell dislodging the scallop. We liked to choose the darker half of the shell as the top. Once you detach the scallop, the shell should pop right open and you can take off the top half and discard it.
You will now have a scallop on a half shell, still with a ton of guts you need to clean away. Place your spoon or knife behind the dark part next to the white meat of the scallop. Pull the guts back and it will all come off at once. The best technique we found is once the guts became loose, grab it with your hand and pull and off will come a membrane and all the gunk revealing a delicious piece of meat. Now, all that is left will be a cylinder shaped piece of white meat on the shell. Run your spoon along the shell under the meat and scoop it out into a bowl. Now repeat until you have cleaned seemingly a million and a half scallops.
You might wonder what exactly to do now, in the middle of exclusion with all the scalloping done for the day, and the answer is simple. Drink.