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 worldwide! 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.

Scalloping

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2021 Scalloping in Florida

We’ve been scalloping in Florida for six years now and without using a tour company. We have scalloped the Crystal River, Homosassa, and Hernando, and Ozello areas. I will teach you everything you need to know about scallops in the guide, including where and how to catch them!

First of all, everyone wants to know where to go scalloping. There are many spots that I will cover below. However, scalloping on the Crystal River is the best spot to start for anybody new to a beginner. The reason I say this is that the route to where the scallops are is fool-proof. It requires little to no experience.

At the Crystal River, 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.

If you have a boat, you have what you need to scallop without hiring a tour guide.

2021 Scalloping Seasons By County

bay scallop seasons

Image Source The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 

2021 Update

It’s begun, and we started our hunt on Thursday, July 1st! This year we are sticking to Hernando Beach. And here’s why! We finally bought a place out here, and it’s a closer drive to the scalloping patches than Homosassa or Crystal River.

We did well on day one:

Day two was blah, and day three, we got caught in a storm!

Regardless, the scallops are back!

What Is A Scallop

The Florida bay scallop is a bivalve mollusk, similar to oysters, mussels, and clams. There are two types of scallops: bay scallops and sea scallops. The ones found on the seagrass beds of the Gulf of Mexico are bay scallops.  Florida scallops are smaller than sea scallops. Sea scallops are up to three times larger in size than bay scallops. Florida scallops (argopecten irradians) live in seagrass beds in shallow water, usually 4 to 10 feet deep, along Florida’s central and northern west coast.  They have thirty little blue eyes that glow. When you dive down to catch a scallop, they often close as the eyes sense shadows.

Scallop With Blue Eyes Showing

 Scalloping

Scallop Without Blue Eyes Showing

Scallop

Do I Need a Florida Fishing License to Scallop?

If you are going out on your boat absolutely, there is never an exception – you will always need a saltwater license. The only way to avoid licensing is to take a tour with a boat operator. The boat operator’s license will cover you.

Note, you can check state by state guidelines for fishing licenses here: Where To Get A Fishing License

How To Catch Scallops

The first time you scallop, it’s an exciting experience because you don’t know exactly what to look for.   The best way 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.

Florida Scalloping

The tides on the Gulf of Mexico are typically three to five feet deep. Naturally, low tides are much easier for scalloping. The shallower the water, the easier to catch. In some really shallow water, there’s no diving required at all. You simply float on top of the water, and as you see them pick them up! In show water, this is as simple as submerging your head and reaching down.  In deeper water, say five feet deep, it’s a mild dive—this is about swimming to the bottom of a shallow pool. So you locate the scallops, dive down, snatch up the scallop, and put it in your bag.

Notice how shallow the water is – you can see the bottom:

Catch Scallops

Video On How To Catch Scallops

They don’t bite per se, but they will clamp down onto a finger if you scoop them up and bag them. Suppose you don’t want to pick them up barehanded use a glove. If, like many of the kids that scallop with us, use a fishing net to scoop them up!

Pro Tip: It’s much easier to grab them barehanded!!!

Some people will tell you that you can identify them from their blue eyes. While this is true, you can only see the blue if the sun is shining directly on the seagrass you are in. Stick to looking for the shape, and you will get the hang of it.

Once you have filled your bag, make sure you place them in a bucket filled with saltwater, or they will die before you make it back.

The 10 Best Places to Scallop in Florida

There isn’t a “best” place. Instead, there are many great places to catch scallops in Florida. 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 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.

Here are some of the most popular locations to catch scallops, and of course, everyone has their own favorite spots!

Cape San Blas Scalloping

Where To Stay in Cape San Blas

Located in the Panhandle of Florida in Citrus County is a 17-mile barrier peninsula in St. Joseph’s Bay. This is an ideal location for scalloping, especially for kids. These waters are so shallow that it’s possible to scoop up scallops with just a net. Cape San Blas is an old-school small town.  White sandy beaches, the Caribbean-like water, and the laid-back atmosphere that you would expect from any small town.  And Cape San Blas is one of the few places where scallops can be found on sandy bottom areas as well as in seagrass beds.

Chassahowitzka Scalloping

Where To Stay in Chassahowitzka

Located in Citrus County and close to Homosassa,  Chassahowitzka is known for shallow beds, and it’s much quieter than many of the other locations.  It’s possible to stay in Chassahowitzka and go out from Homosassa and vice versa. One real bonus of this location is that you can scallop both locations, but you will avoid the crowds at Homossa if you leave out of Chassahowitzka.

Crystal River Scalloping

Where To Stay in Crystal River

Arguably the most famous location is the Crystal River. The Crystal River is also famous for its population of manatees. The popularity of Crystal River also makes it the easiest route for a new scalloper to take. Getting to the scallop patches is a simple as follow the boats ahead. The water clarity is great, and on a low tide, you can catch scallops in three to five feet of water.

If you are interested in learning more about the Crystal River see here:

Hernando Beach Scalloping

Where To Stay in Hernando Beach

The lesser-known Hernando Beach is just south of Homosassa, which brings some real advantages, no crowds, a quick ride out to the reefs, and stunning turquoise water.

Homosassa Scalloping

Where To Stay in Homosassa

Homosassa is the choice of most native Floridians.  Generations of families have spent year after year catching scallops here. There’s always a debate about is Crystal River is better than Homosassa, and while everyone has their own opinion, Homosassa is a great spot. Homosassa is a wonderful small town that really captures an old town feel. Arguably, these are the most “authentic” locations. And, for sure, it is the least packed with tourists.

If you are interested in learning more about the Homosassa see here:

Scallops

Keaton Beach Scalloping

Where To Stay in Keaton Beach

Further north of Steinhatchee and heading to the Panhandle is the small fishing town of Keaton Beach. Scallops can be found here in three to five feet of water.

Ozello Scalloping

Where To Stay in Ozello

Ozello is in-between Crystal River and Homosassa. Many don’t even realize that you can reach the scallops from here. There is one slight catch! The waterways to the Gulf of Mexico are not very well marked, and the water is shallow. This is the difficulty, not a location for beginners. Even with GPS, it’s a difficult trail to follow. I can tell you from experience, we did it twice and ended up having to wait for a local to pass for us to follow. This said, if you are a confident boater and are willing to give it a shot, you will avoid all crowds and yet get to the scallop beds nestled between Crystal River and Homosassa.

Don’t hit the water without a floating water mat or inflatable water pad! Find out which is best here
floating water mats

Port St. Joe Scalloping

Where To Stay in Port St. Joe

Located between Panama City and Apalachicola, Port St. Joe sits on the edge of St. Joseph Bay. This location is different because you can wade out to the mud grass flats and catch scallops. The tides here are low, which exposes the flats enabling people to walk out and catch scallops.

Steinhatchee Scalloping

Where To Stay in Steinhatchee

Steinhatchee is a favorite for many because scalloping opens a couple of weeks before Crystal River’s season. Avid scallopers head further north to get an extra few weeks in before the other counties open up. The main challenge you will encounter in  Steinhatchee is the water’s clarity, which varies based on how much rainfall there is. This said, don’t be dissuaded. You just need to get out there and find a clear spot.

Yankeetown Scalloping

Yankeetown is a charming coastal village on the northwest coast of Florida. Ride the Withlacoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico. You can find scallops in Mangrove Point. Plugin these GPS coordinates to reach the scalloping area: Marker 18 A Withlacoochee Channel 28.59.005 N – 82.47.543 W To #39 Area Power Plant (Barge Canal) 28.56.317 N

Florida Scalloping Boat Launch Locations – With Maps

To view a detailed list of boat launch locations, check out this guide.

How To Get To The 2021 Scalloping Locations in Florida

Crystal River

All you need to do is launch into Kings Bay, hook a left, and follow the boats heading to the right once you see the marina on the left-hand side. 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. It can be hard to see the mile markers depending on the weather, 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 them 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.

 2021 Scalloping in Florida Map – Crystal River

Crystal River Map

Crystal River Public Boat Ramps

There are twelve public boat ramps. We always launch out of the  Shop At The Port Hotel & Marina.

Homosassa

Considered by many homes of the best scalloping spots in Florida, Homosassa is known to Florida. The two locations are different, but you will 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.

Florida Scalloping Map – Homosassa

Homosassa

Homosassa Public Boat Ramps

There are five public boat ramps.   The two most popular are:

Old Homosassa (Duncan J. MacRae) Public Boat Ramp

Important: 

How To Clean 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 take them to various restaurants that will cook your catch for a nominal fee.

Self Cleaning Scallops

There are two methods to clean a scallop – both methods are demonstrated in the video below:

Clean a Scallop By Hand With a Knife:

  • Open up the shell and begin shucking by inserting a knife into the side of the shell to pry it open.
  • Carefully slide the knife under the meat of the scallop to remove it from the shell.
  • Remove the dark meat, the orange piece, and any remnants leaving the white flesh intact.

Don’t forget the buy a scallop knife:

Clean a Scallop By Hand With a Shop-Vac:

  • Open up the shell and carefully slide the knife under the meat of the scallop on one side only.
  • Take the side with the meat and the gunk you don’t want and use the shop vac to extract everything but the meat.

Don’t forget the buy a small shop vac for this method:

Which Cleaning Method Works Best?

Well, the truth is both methods require work. Everyone has their own preference of which is best. If you have a large group, the shop vac method can be a tad more effective if you create an assembly line.

Should I Worry About Sharks While Scalloping?

The Gulf Of Mexico, like any other ocean, has sharks. However, most are migratory and don’t hang around long. Not to mention that there will be too much action for sharks unless you have found a location for yourself.

What you can expect to see are loggerhead turtles and a wide variety of fish. One fish that shows up all the time is the Remora. These are the fish with a flat head that has a suction plate and a dorsal fin. The first time I ever saw one of these, I assumed it was a shark. Fortunately, it’s just a fish. They are annoying, though, and will follow you around.

Remora Fish

Remora Fish

Frequently Asked Questions About 2021 Scalloping in Florida

  • When will the 2021 Scalloping in Florida Open? It is still TBD.
  • Do you need a license for scalloping?  Yes, you do!
  • Do you need a license for 2021 Scalloping in Florida? Absolutely, there is never an exception. You will always need a license.
  • What type of license do you need for 2021 Scalloping in Florida? You need a saltwater license. 
  • Where can I find scallops in Homosassa?  In 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.
  • Where can I go scalloping? In the following counties: Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor County, Dixie County, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco. Check here for each county’s specific dates.

Closing Thoughts

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.
  • Stay with the crowd and follow boats out and in.
  • If you go to the scallop areas other than  Crystal River and Homosassa, check the season dates here as they are different.

Florida Scalloping

For the 2021 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!

Looking for more posts on Florida? Start here:

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