Scalloping Florida’s Sports Coast is a Fun-filled Aquatic Adventure
At eight a.m. we met at the dock next to Whiskey Joe’s. The Port Richey waterfront is so welcoming this morning with clear skies, looking glass water, and cumulus clouds wandering by. My first adventure scalloping in Florida’s Sports Coast is starting off right.
Scalloping is a water-based activity where you “fish” for scallops in their shells on the sea floor. It is a very popular activity throughout the Nature Coast with enthusiasts traveling from around the state and further to swim for their supper.
I was both excited and apprehensive about this trip. Would I be able to swim enough? Could I hold my breath while I dove for the delectable shellfish? Would I see any?
Having Captain Mark Dillingham guide us in Florida’s Sports Coast, scalloping was better than ever! The water was clear, and I could see down eight feet to where the scallops were waiting. He suggested that we look in the seagrass, near the sandy bottom for the bay scallops we were fishing for.
The ride out to the area where the scallops are was absolutely magical. As we began moving up the channel between the markers, a manatee and dolphin were seen as we glided by. When we got out to the open, the infamous Stilt Houses were standing tall out in the glassy sea.
Stilt Houses on Florida’s Sports Coast
Florida’s Sports Coast has several stilt houses that were built over 50 years ago. These “cabins on the water” have been handed down from generation to generation of the area’s pioneer families. Originally, many were built to catch mullet fish for food for the owners, and income to sell for the mullet train, which would salt these jumping fish and ship them north to feed families far away.
Now, our captain picks up speed on our way to “the scallop flats,” where his peers found scallops the day before. Scallop season is from July 1 through August 6, 2023, in Florida’s Sports Coast. Because we waited until after the July 4 holiday, the water is open for us to drop anchor, put up a dive flag and go scalloping. Hooray!
Float, Search, Dive: How to Catch a Scallop
It has been a very hot summer and the water feels great. It is a warm, welcoming temperature that still provides refreshment from the hot sun.
Each of us has slathered our skin with plenty of spf 50 to protect our skin. We have put on rash shirts and are here to have fun for several hours! I don my prescription snorkel mask and flippers, dropping off the boat into the beautiful blue clear water.
What a Great Family Activity
Splash! I am transported to the aquatic world. The gentle sound of water lapping against our boat and my breathing are all I hear. It is transcendental.
Now it is time to float and look. I can see the bottom, but no scallops. I kick my feet and try moving over near the others from our charter. They seem to be doing well.
One member of our group is harvesting three scallops for every dive!
I have not found a single scallop yet, although I have dived several times and found other things. I see fish swimming by, corals below, soft corals and sponges. There is so much diversity in the sea and my mind drifts to the beauty of this experience.
“So what if I don’t find any scallops…”
However, I am competitive and will feel like a failure if I don’t find any of our quarry. I keep floating, diving occasionally, and swallowing a bit of the salty, salty sea.
At last, I see a real scallop! My moment of truth. I dive, right arm outstretched and flippers propelling me down to the shell before it tries to swim away.
Its iridescent blue eyes look at me through the 1/8-inch opening between top and bottom shells. I am entranced, but I must stay focused, and then, “Gotcha!” I caught my first scallop of the day! I resurface to catch a breath and put it in the net scallop bag for safekeeping.
Now I have a much better idea of what scallops look like on the sea floor. I float by several nonscallop entities that catch my eye. I am on the hunt, I have a taste of success, and I want more!
Over the next couple of hours, I find many more scallops and am becoming somewhat proficient at spotting them, diving, and then resurfacing with my catch. One escapes my hand on the way up, but I am able to swim, quickly retrieving it before it is gone. That felt good.
After a few hours, I am getting tired. I have a weighty bag of scallops and decide to return to our skiff. A bottle of water, a towel to dry a bit, and some good old fashioned, “how many did you get?” questions signal we are near the end of today’s aquatic adventure.
Returning the Smaller Scallops
With our scallop sorter, small scallops are measured and thrown back into the sea to grow and spawn in the fall for next season’s harvest. I have retrieved seventeen keepers and I feel good.
We ride back to the dock, past the stilt houses once again, as birds, dolphins and manatee entertain us along the way. All of our keepers are put on ice in a cooler. When we are tied up at the dock we left from, I learn how to clean a scallop and it is so easy! Watch this video to learn how:
How to Clean a Scallop
Try one of your Catch Raw
There has been quite a bit of talk about eating raw scallops, so I try one. “OMG – so good!” Watch this and tell me you don’t want to try it!
Back to Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill for lunch. The food and service were fantastic. Surprisingly, most of us had the rib basket. And I will do it again. The meat fell off the bone and the sauce was strawberry-guava. Unique and delicious!
Scallops for Dinner for the Win!
That evening, our scallop meats were cooked at Gill Dawg Tiki Bar and Grill. They were so fresh, sweet and fine. It was the perfect nightcap to a wonderful day scalloping on Florida’s Sports Coast.