Scalloping in Florida – A Helpful Illustrated Guide: Where and How to Catch Scallops
Scalloping in Florida is essentially an underwater scavenger hunt for dinner! It’s a Floridian tradition that many enjoy year after year. Florida scalloping is a family-friendly way to spend the day on the water catching juicy edible mollusks that appear on many seafood menus across the globe! There are a variety of different types of scallops to be had from different regions. Florida scallops are bay scallops vs. sea scallops. Mostly, they are the smaller scallops. Florida scallops may be small, but they are worth the effort to catch.
We’ve been scalloping in Florida for four years now. We have scalloped the Crystal River and Homosassa areas. And, in 2019, we scalloped out of Hernando Beach. First of all, I think scalloping on the Crystal River is a great spot to start for anybody new to boating. The reason I say this is that the route to where the scallops are is fool-proof. It requires little to no experience.
There are thousands, stress thousands of boats heading in the same direction, so it’s impossible not to make it to the “spot” where scallops hang out. The challenge of scalloping this area is it is popular. Before you embark on a scalloping trip, make sure you are familiar with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regulations. You must follow the guidelines and stay within limits. You will also need a Florida saltwater fishing license. FWC patrols the area, and they do check boats and limits.
A Recap of the Florida Scalloping Season 2019
The 2019 Florida scalloping season opened July 1st, 2019, for most counties and ran through September 24th. It was a rough year, and then some. We went out many times from three locations: Crystal River, Homosassa, and Hernando Beach. Our first trip was the most successful by far, and we caught a good five gallons, but this was to be our only five-gallon trip.
All of our next trips were dismal in terms of catch. One one day out, we caught a mere fifteen or so between six of us. Hours and hours of scouring patch after patch to turn up empty-handed.
2019 was so terrible that towards the end of the season, most people gave up. The waterways were empty, the scalloping patches deserted, and the scalloping cleaners closed.
Keep On Schukin’ in Homosassa closed – something I’ve not seen before:
So what made the 2019 season so bad?
There are a couple of theories out there. One is that the scallop beds have been depleted, which I don’t think is the case. The other is the amount of rain we got. The excessive rain Florida received created an imbalance in the salinity of the scallop patches. This imbalance made the scallops leave the shallow grass beds and move to deeper water.
Now, by deeper, I’m talking about ten to fifteen feet deep. Many boats that ventured that deep did catch their limits early in the season. This said, who in their right mind wants to dive down ten or fifteen feet for each scallop? I know I don’t. I also don’t fancy the idea of going that far out on a pontoon boat.
Unfortunately for all of us, scallop hunters, 2019, was a downright terrible season.
And 2020 is already proving to be a good year for everyone! The first weekend out in Citrus County saw most people hit their limit! Way better than 2019:)
And, here is a tip for you all! Reports are showing that Steinhatchee up in Dixie County is off the chain! It’s a little bit further north but if you really want to go for it this year, that’s the spot!
Image courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida bay scallop is a bivalve mollusk otherwise know as a type of shellfish. Florida scallops are smaller than sea scallops. Sea scallops are up to three times larger in size than bay scallops. Florida scallops live in seagrass beds in shallow water, usually 4 to 10 feet deep all along the central and northern west coast of Florida.
Best Place to Scallop In Florida
There isn’t a “best” place. Instead, there are many great places to catch scallop. Below are some of the favorites.
Florida Scalloping Locations
You will probably set out from the Crystal River or Homosassa. I’ve written extensively about both locations, and I suggest you read about both sites first to determine where you will start from:
This article focuses on everything that you can do at Crystal River. It includes activities, places to stay, where to eat, and where to see the manatees!
All you need to do is launch into Kings Bay, hook a left and once you see the marina on the left-hand side, follow the boats heading to the right. Keep going until you get to the mile markers. As you approach the mile markers, you will see the nuclear plant to the right. We use the nuclear plant as a landmark as you can see it for miles. Depending on the weather, it can be hard to see the mile markers, but you can always see the power plant.
As you approach the mile markers on the left-hand side is Shell Island. Shell Island is a cool place to hang out, and it’s an excellent fishing spot. You will see lots of boats parked on Shell Island. If you land here, be sure to check out the driftwood that provides for beautiful photography or try your hand at landing some fish.
Directly after Shell Island, you will see the channel entrance to the mile markers. Enter the mile markers and follow to the very end. When the mile markers end, go left and south. You can’t go wrong. Just follow the other boats south. After a mile or two, look to the horizon. You will see thousands of boats dotted across the ocean. I’ve included a map so that you can see the route from The Plantation to the Scallop Beds.
Considered by many homes of best scalloping spots in Florida, Homosassa is known to all in Florida. The two locations are different, but you are going to end up in the same place no matter where you started. One unusual thing is there are more scallop cleaners on the way back into Homosassa. There are hysterical jokesters on the river that will harass you in a friendly way. I also found the cleaning services slightly less expensive in Homosassa. I’ve included a map so that you can see the route from Homosassa.
Old Homosassa (Duncan J. MacRae) Public Boat Ramp
The most popular launching spot. The famous Monkey Island is immediate on the right. Be prepared for long lines if you go at the beginning of the season. Even the state’s website states this. There is limited parking, so limited that locals offer you a ride via golf carts to park. It’s $10 per person – a total rip off.
This ramp is right next door to The Shed. When you return, be prepared for a cast of drunken judges who will boo and heckle you if you can’t land your boat on your trailer in one shot. While typical at boat ramps, it was brutal here. If you are new to boating or can’t perform this in one shot, steer clear of this ramp.
Mason Creek Road Public Boat Ramp We have not tried this one, but it’s further south than Duncan J. MacRae. I can only imagine that this is just as busy. Looking at the map, I would suspect it’s harder to get to as you would still need to bypass the traffic heading to Duncan J. MacRae.
2019 was the first time that we scalloped from Hernando Beach. Like the locations above, you are heading to the same route only from further down south. Some key differences make Hernando Beach a reliable option, especially for anyone with boating experience.
There a no crowds at all, and because you are heading south up to the main area, you can stop before you get into the group.
Accommodations are a lot less expensive, and there are more waterfront rentals available.
It took us less time to reach the scallop patches. I don’t think this is due to physical distance. There are fewer no-wake zones on the way out.
Florida Scalloping Map – Hernando Beach
Different from Homosassa and The Crystal River, but once again, you are going to end up in the same place no matter where you started.
What’s different about Hernando is shallow oyster beds surround the waterway out. During low tide, it’s a challenge to navigate out. And once you’ve passed the last channel marker, you need to use your GPS. There is a section from the previous channel marker to the scallop patches that’s relatively remote. Sure, you can see dry land, but you can’t see the mass of boats that you will see at Homosassa or The Crystal River. In my opinion, launching from Hernando Beach is not for beginners.
They are located at 4477 Calienta Drive Hernando Beach, FL 34607. Hernando Beach public boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, giving access to the Gulf of Mexico and offers; 65 boat trailer parking spaces, four disabled with trailer spaces. Four lanes total, launch docks, and restrooms. Fees are collected via an honor box system.
This is a straightforward and low key boat launch. Super wide lanes, full deep channel with clear obstruction markings, this is a brilliant launch spot. If you rent a waterfront house in Hernando, you will have to launch your boat here to get it to your rental.
You can launch a kayak into the ocean at Alfred A McKethan Pine Island Beach Park. But, you won’t be scalloping on a kayak.
Essentials You Will Need For Scalloping in Florida
If you own a boat great. If not, I am not recommending that you buy a boat. Instead, rent one here from Boatsetter, the one-stop-shop for all your boating needs. The best thing about renting here is that you can choose the right boat for your needs and the right size for the party:
If you own a boat, you likely have built-in music. Even if, you do you know that the wiring can rust. If you are renting, then there will be no music unless you bring your own—most people jam when on the water. Unless you want no choice in what you listen to carry a Bluetooth speaker to cover all bases, this one is waterproof!
Recreational scallopers between the ages of 16 and 65 must have a current Florida saltwater fishing license. FWC patrols the area, and they do check boats and limits.
Technically, you could only use a swim mask and a snorkel. I strongly suggest you get fins because, depending on the tide, you may need to dive more than four or five feet. Having the fins makes diving easy and stops you from tiring out. Everyone in our household has one of these sets. We’ve had them for two years now, and they are still going strong. These come in multiple colors, so everyone can quickly identify their own set. They also come in handy bags that keep the kit intact.
A lot of people forget to bring this necessity. You know what it’s like to snorkel for a few hours. Time in the water will fog your mask. This product defogs your mask. We always carry this when we boat.
Any child under six is required by law to wear a life jacket while the boat in motion. If you rent a boat, they will be providing them, but they will be the generic orange ones. Kids tend to hate these as they look well, generic! Life jackets are also great flotation devices for when everyone is tired. O’Neil is a great brand – they last forever.
You need mesh bags to store the scallops as you collect them. Often these are referred to as dive bags. Don’t buy dive bags. They are much more expensive and usually black. Colorful bags are more noticeable to spot if you accidentally drop one. They are also much more stylish. You can match them to your Swim Mask, Snorkel & Fins.
You’d be surprised how many people go out on the water without thinking about how they will bring their trash back. You need trash bags! I like to use scented ones because fishing and scalloping can be stinky!
I don’t use a glove by most people do. Scallops can nip you, and naturally, there are other critters down there. It’s just a matter of preference. If you are squeamish, you should consider getting gloves.
This net is a staple on our boat. Some of the kids prefer to catch the scallops with this flexible net. If the water is shallow enough, you can float and scoop them up. We also use these nets when fishing.
I carry Dramamine whenever we travel in the event we go on the water. I also bring in on our boat for guests. Dramamine treats severe symptoms on the spot. Dramamine prevents nausea, dizziness, vomiting & queasiness. Don’t underestimate your ability to manage the waves. While the waters are not typically rough, we have encountered a storm or two. We’ve had waves. If you don’t know your tolerance take this before you begin your journey.
Once you have caught your limit, you need to get your scallops on ice. You can pour ice into the buckets and completely submerge them immersed in ice. The ice helps to open the scallops so that they are ready for cleaning. You probably own a cooler. If not, I recommend a cheap rolling one that’s easy to get on and off the boat.
Rental boats should have a first aid kit on board and check before you head it. We don’t leave without one. You would be surprised how handy these come in for cuts and scrapes. This one is perfect for travel because it’s small, light and will clip onto a belt or luggage. This little set contains a whopping 92 items, and it’s only 0.35 pounds!
If you know anything about me, you’ll understand brands are not my thing. Therefore, for sunscreen for me, it’s about cost and practicality. No Ad is my go-to, particularly the cream versions, which I can transfer into smaller bottles if I need to.
You will need this for your lips! Zinka Colored Sunblock Zinc is Waterproof, moisturizes your lips while protecting, and it looks great!
Florida Scalloping Finding Your Spot
Finding the ideal location boils down to trial and error. With experience, you will find your spots or learn techniques that prove fruitful. We like to start on a shallow reef with coral that is surrounded by seagrass vs. just diving in seagrass. We find it easier to see the scallops. If you are on a full bed of seagrass, you must have full sun; otherwise, they are difficult to spot. We also aim for shallow waters, but you will be at the mercy of the tide. Sometimes, you have to be willing to do some work. Ideally, you would be in water that is five feet deep or less. One other trick that never fails – follow the crowd. If boats are sitting on a spot, there are scallops there.
Catching The Scallops
The first time you scallop, it’s an exciting experience because you don’t know exactly what to look for. The best way for me to describe it is you’re looking for little rock formations in shell shapes. If the sun is shining down through the seagrass, you will see their blue eyes. All you have to do is drive down snatch up the scallop and put it in your bag. They don’t bite per se, but they will clamp down onto a finger if you don’t scoop them up and bag them. Once you have filled your bag, make sure you place them in a bucket filled with salt water, or they will die before you make it back.
Cleaning The Scallops
On your way back in, you have options. One is to take your catch home and clean and cook it yourself. Another is to stop on the way back in and let one of the scallop cleaners clean your catch. It costs about $20 per bucket. Alternatively, you can take your bounty to a restaurant or another launch spot and pay to have them cleaned. Once your scallops are clean, you can then take them to a variety of restaurants that will cook your catch for a nominal fee.
If you decide to clean them yourself here is a video tutorial:
Frequently Asked Questions About Scalloping in Florida
Do you need a license for scalloping? Yes, you do!
Where can I find scallops in Homosassa? In the Homosassa Bay, please see the above maps.
Where can I find scallops in the Crystal River? Technically in the same place as Homosassa, you start at a different location. Please see the above maps.
If you have not scalloped yet, you should. It’s not only fun, but it is a great exercise and a good old-fashioned way to spend time with the family. As a bonus, it provides you a sea to table fresh food.
Here are some additional tips to consider:
Always check the weather before you go and be back in before any storms.
If you go to the scallop areas other than Crystal River and Homosassa, check the season dates here as they are different.
For the 2020 season, we are going to give Yankeetown and Steinhatchee a shot. It’s further north for us to drive, but the season opens earlier, and from what I’ve heard, it’s a lot less crowded. FYI, we have scalloped out of Ozella, but navigating the river out is for locals and locals only!
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.