Scalloping is a fantastic family activity – it is also “cool” because you actually get into the water and search for them. Scalloping in Steinhatchee is EXCELLENT during the summer months. In fact, this is the only time of year you can catch your own scallops as scallop season is open only from July 1 through September 10.
Our friends at River Haven Marina in Steinhatchee (352-498-0709) http://www.riverhavenmarine.com/ can get you started if you have never scalloped before. You will need to buy a recreational saltwater fishing license before you catch scallops, and you are limited to 2 gallons of whole scallops per person with a maximum of 10 gallons per boat. If you clean the scallops before returning to the dock, the limit is 1 pint of scallop meats per person with a maximum of 1/2 gallon per boat. Unless the scallops are running large, the 2 gallon whole scallop limit cleans out to considerably less than 1 pint of meats. Therefore, we recommend you clean your scallops before returning to the dock. It is also a good idea because leaving scallop waste on the flats helps feed other marine organisms and propagate the species. Plus, it is a whole lot more fun. The only equipment you will need is a mask, swim fins, snorkel and a mesh bag or bucket for your catch. Don’t forget that you must display a dive flag when snorkeling for scallops and cannot venture more than 100 feet from the flag. We suggest a flag for your boat as well as a flag attached to a float that you pull along with you as you swim. This is for your protection as boaters are often caught up in the hunt and tend to be less than mindful of swimmers. Be Safe!
Most scallopers head out the Steinhatchee channel to marker 9 and then go either north or south for several miles until the inshore waters become clear. Once you find the grass beds slowly make your way inshore to a water depth of 3 feet or so while staring at the bottom looking for scallops (it helps to wear polarized sunglasses). Look for other boats as this is usually a good sign and you may want to start there. Keep moving around until you find an area that has not been picked over, put out your dive flag and start harvesting.
Scallops prefer areas of bottom covered by the thin, round-bladed manatee grass more than the flat, broad-bladed turtle grass. Patches of brown algae and the edges of old propeller scars are also favorite hiding places. You may also want to look around the edges of any sand areas as scallops are easily seen. If a tide is moving, swim up current so you can look between the blades of the sea grass pushed over onto their sides by the current.
Cleaning your scallops can be a chore – especially if you are a beginner. River Haven Marina has excellent cleaning facilities however and you can often find someone there who will be more than willing to clean your catch for a small fee. We recommend you do this unless you choose to clean your scallops before returning to the dock. It is well worth the cost. If you choose to clean your own, chill them first. We recommend putting your scallops in a cooler with ice as soon as you catch them. Chilled scallops will open their shells, making cleaning easy, whereas warm scallops will remain closed and difficult to open for the novice.
To open a scallop, use a scallop knife or sharp spoon to cut the muscle that closes it. Hold the shell dark side up and hinge away from you. The muscle will be on your right, not far from the hinge. Insert the knife or spoon between the top and bottom shells from the right side, just in front of the hinge, and cut the muscle away from the inside of the top shell. (Do not cut in the center as this will result in two very small scallops.) Now open the scallop and discard the top shell. Then scrape off and discard everything except the sweet, white muscle. Do this by gently scraping off the guts, starting from the hinge side of the muscle and scraping over the muscle towards the front. Properly done, this will peel the innards from the muscle, leaving it attached to the bottom shell. Cut the muscle from the bottom shell and ice it down immediately. We suggest you find an experienced scalloper get you started. Once you get the hang of it you will find it to be relatively easy.