As the hottest part of the summer approaches and fishing slows down on the Gulf, there is a fun way to beat the heat.
Scallop season will be here shortly.
Load up the kids, grab your snorkel, mask and fins, and dive in!
This year, the recreational scallop season will open June 25 and extend until Sept. 25—a full three weeks longer than usual.
It’s a great way to get out with the family and cool off. Very little equipment is needed. Some people use snorkels, masks and fins. Others use a long-handled dip net. Even the boat is optional. Some people use canoes and kayaks. Many just wade out from the shoreline.
You don’t need a GPS or fancy electronics. The flotilla of boats on most of the hot spots will be easy to see. You can just ease up, find a spot, throw out the anchor and jump in. Scallops are usually pretty easy to see. In the sunlight, their eyes will glow bright blue if their shell is opened and they are facing upward. Swim around and pick them up out of the grass or off the bottom. A small mesh bag with a wrist strap is helpful to keep your catch as you swim around and limits unnecessary trips to the boat.
The scallop limits are strictly regulated to prevent over-harvest. You are allowed to keep 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one pint of bay scallop meat per person, and a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.
A saltwater recreational fishing license is required for all persons 16 and older on the boat. A dive flag is also required anytime you have swimmers in the water. Vessels should also maintain a distance of 300 feet from diver-down flags and idle anytime they are near boats with swimmers in the water.
The Gulf of Mexico is open to recreational scalloping from the Pasco-Hernando County line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach canal. St. Joe Bay from Presnell’s Marina to Black’s Island is an annual hotspot, as is the area between Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee around Big Grassy Island. Lanark, St. Marks and Econfina will occasionally have decent numbers but are not as consistent.
We tend to make an entire day out of our scallop trips. We usually clean our catch and enjoy a meal of fresh broiled scallops that night.
My kids make a game out of it, trying to see who can come up with the best scallop recipe. Several years ago we started leaving all our cleaned scallops on the half-shell. The half-shell helps them to steam under the broiler without drying out. We use a little butter, garlic salt and parmesan cheese on some. Others may end up with Everglades Seasoning or Louisiana Hot Sauce. Hooter’s Hot Wing Sauce is also a favorite, and you can never go wrong with bacon bits and cheddar cheese. The fresh scallops make a great addition to pasta dishes and enhance the crab stuffing for a flounder, grouper or red snapper.
My family looks forward to scallop season every year. It gives up a chance to spend time together on the water. We usually start our day early fishing for seatrout. When the sun gets up and it starts to get hot, we head to our favorite scallop areas. We usually spend the rest of the day staying cool in the water and hanging out with friends scalloping. We end the day with a family meal of broiled seatrout and scallops. That’s pretty much a perfect day in my book.