Florida Scalloping Season 2023 – The Complete Guide & Maps!
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 on many seafood menus worldwide! There are various 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 six years without using a tour company. We have scalloped the Crystal River, Homosassa, 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. I say this because the route to where the scallops are is foolproof. It requires little to no experience.
There are thousands, stress thousands of boats heading in the same direction at the Crystal River, 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, ensure 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.
You have what you need to scallop without hiring a tour guide if you have a boat.
When Does Scallop Season Start In Florida 2022
For most counties, this year will kick off on Friday, July 1st. This is awesome, as it’s a holiday weekend! Some other counties open earlier, some later. Use the below chart to see county by county.
2022 Scalloping Seasons By County
Image Source The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Scalloping Regulations 2022
Most counties allow 2 gallons per person (10 gallons max per boat) or 1 pint of scallops shucked per person (1/2 gallon max per boat)
2022 Update – Are We Catching
Our season started yesterday, July 1st, and with the waters with gusto! There are not too many boats out in Hernando Beach; sadly, it’s slim picking. There were four of us in the water, and we caught about 50! Now, that’s about 1/4 of a 5-gallon bucket. But, it did make a great appetizer.
Local reports are terrible. Some people are only catching one or two. Some claim they have been catching at 15 feet deep, but I seriously doubt this.
Then, there’s what they call the “three-year cycle.” A scallop’s normal life cycle lasts between 12 and 18 months, although a small proportion of scallops may live for 24 months or longer. The local population must produce enough offspring to replace itself each year or receive offspring from neighboring populations. Due to the short lifespan of Scallops, they fluctuate in number regularly.
Add to this that there’s been a highly publicized shark attack in Keaton Beach, which will undoubtedly scare off many. If you are new to scalloping, this is a very unusual occurrence.
In short, the last two years were off the chart, and we were all catching the limit – this year, it’s going to be tough.
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 we got caught in a storm on day three!
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. They often close as the eyes sense shadows when you dive down to catch a scallop.
Scallop With Blue Eyes Showing
Scallop Without Blue Eyes Showing
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.
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 to look for tiny rock formations in shell shapes. You will see their blue eyes if the sun is shining down through the seagrass.
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 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! This is simple: submerging your head and reaching down in show water. 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:
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 shines 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 salt water, or they will die before you make it back.
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.
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 seagrass bed, 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 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 favorite spots!
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. You would expect white sandy beaches, Caribbean-like water, and a laid-back atmosphere from any small town. And Cape San Blas is one of the few places where scallops can be found on sandy bottom areas and in seagrass beds.
Located in Citrus County and close to Homosassa, Chassahowitzka is known for shallow beds, much quieter than many 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.
Arguably the most famous location is the Crystal River. The Crystal River is also renowned 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 as simple as following the boats ahead. The water clarity is excellent, and you can catch scallops in three to five feet of water on a low tide.
If you are interested in learning more about the Crystal River see here:
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 whether Crystal River is better than Homosassa, and while everyone has their own opinion, it is a great spot. Homosassa is a beautiful small town that 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:
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 rugged trail to follow. I can tell you from experience that we did it twice and ended up waiting 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.
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 is a favorite for many because scalloping opens a couple of weeks before Crystal River’s season. Avid scallopers head further north to get a few weeks in before the other counties open up. The main challenge 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 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
How To Get To The 2022 Scalloping Locations in Florida
You need to 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 fantastic place to hang out and an excellent fishing spot. You will see lots of boats parked on Shell Island. If you land here, 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 showing the route from The Plantation to the Scallop Beds.
2022 Scalloping in Florida Map – Crystal River
2022 Scalloping in Florida Map – Hernando Beach
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 manner. 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.
2022 Scalloping in Florida Map – Homosassa
Essentials You Need For Scalloping
Don’t hit the water without a floating water mat or inflatable water pad! Find out which is best here:
How Many Scallops Can You Harvest?
Per person: 1 gallon whole bay scallops in shell or one cup shucked; Per vessel: 5 gallons whole or two pints shucked. And, it’s worth pointing out that FWC is on the water and does check boats. Your only way around limits is to make several runs out to the scallop patches.
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 ways 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 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.
You can expect to see loggerhead turtles and a wide variety of fish. One fish that shows up all the time is the Remora. These fish have a flat head, a suction plate, and a dorsal fin. The first time I 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.
Frequently Asked Questions About Scalloping in Florida
When will the 2022 Scalloping in Florida Open?
For most counties, this year will kick off on Friday, July 1st. Use the below chart to see county by county:
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.
If you have not scalloped yet, you should. It’s not only fun but also 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.
For the 2022 season, we will 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. 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 without breaking the bank. Nikki is always in search of off-the-beaten-track experiences and unique stays. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles annually and has visited 68 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com or follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.