Your cure for the summer boredom blues is here so let’s get ready to plan ahead! The 2023 season for scalloping in Tampa Bay is just a couple of months away, starting in Citrus, Hernando and Levy counties beginning July 1-September 24, 2023. Pasco County’s season was extended this year from 10 days to 37 days, opening July 1 and running throughAugust 6, 2023.
If you’ve never been scalloping before, you probably have questions. We did too, so let’s get to it!
Florida 2023 Bay Scallop Seasons:
- Levy, Citrus, Hernando Counties: July 1-Sept 24, 2023
- Pasco County: July 1-August 6, 2023
- Gulf County: Aug 16-Sept 24, 2023
- Franklin County and NW Taylor County: July 1-Sept 24, 2023
- Fenholloway-Suwannee River Zone: June 15-Labor Day 2023
- FWC’s information page on Florida’s 2023 Scalloping Season
What exactly are scallops and what kind of scallops will I find in Tampa Bay?
A scallop is a bivalve mollusk like clams, mussels, and oysters. But, unlike clams and oysters, scallops can swim! They can be found living in seagrass beds in shallow water (4-10 feet). Lucky for us, the gulf coast has some of the best places to find them.
In the Tampa Bay Area, you’ll find…surprise, surprise, bay scallops! They’re smaller than the sea scallops you may be accustomed to ordering at your favorite restaurant, but they are just as tasty. Bay scallops are also more tender on the bite than sea scallops.
Where can I go scalloping in Tampa Bay?
Scalloping season in Florida opens in the summertime from Pasco County to the Florida Panhandle. Some of our favorite local spots are Crystal River, Homosassa, and Pasco County. In fact, you can even make a prolonged stay out of it by booking a stay and tour with Plantation on Crystal River.
Pro Tip: Weekdays are best if you want to avoid the crowds. Later in the season also tends to produce larger scallops.
One added bonus, you can even book a tour to swim with the manatees – Crystal River is one of the few spots where you can legally book a tour to swim with the beautiful and gentle animals.
What do I need to go scalloping?
If you decide to go out on your own boat, you will need a recreational saltwater fishing license. Register here. But, if you go on a guided tour like one booked with Plantation on Crystal River, they take care of that for you.
Besides your license, you’ll also need snorkel gear including a mask, fins, mesh bag, snorkel and dive flag so other boaters know you are in the water. If you book a tour, your boat captain will likely take care of these items for you. Don’t forget water and snacks.
Tours and charters are definitely the hassle-free way to go. Plus, they know all the secret spots on where to find the most scallops!
How do I catch a scallop?
You’ll need to look closely at the seagrass beds. Be on the lookout for the row of blue, beady looking eyes around the rim.
Scalloping is often compared to an underwater egg hunt, only more challenging because scallops can swim! That’s right! You’ll want to go in for the catch quickly when you spot the scallop. They are able to make swift movements by opening and closing their shells. Careful, because the quick open and close movements can snap at fingers.
You can catch scallops by hand or use a small dip net.
The current daily bag limit in the Tampa Bay Area, which includes Pasco and Citrus counties, is 2 gallons of whole bay scallops per person (maximum of 10 gallons per boat per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), which makes about a pint of bay scallop meat.
Safety tip: Using a Divers-Down Flag will help others know where you are.
Once I’ve caught the scallops, then what?
Clean, shuck and cook them! If you’d rather leave that up to the pros, there are places that will do it all for you.
At Plantation on Crystal River, there is a family onshore at the marina who will clean and shuck your scallops for a fee. You can then take your bag of scallops to West 82° Bar & Grill where the chef will cook them for you! The meal is $14.95 and comes with your choice of sauce and two sides. FYI: The lemon butter sauce is absolutely delicious. We are still dreaming about it!
If I want to make this more than a daycation, where should I stay?
We like Plantation on Crystal River because there are so many other things you can do when you’re not out on scalloping in Tampa Bay. As we mentioned above, they offer guided tours to legally swim with the manatees. There are also opportunities to go fishing in the Gulf, go for a sunset cruise, swing some rounds of golf, book a spa package, go kayaking or stand up paddle boarding and more!
What else is there to do other than scalloping?
Enjoy all that this beautiful area of Florida has to offer! During our short staycation to Crystal River, we made a stop at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park to explore the wildlife and see what it was like to be a tourist in Florida many decades ago! It’s a charming state park and one we highly recommend you visit at least once. Don’t forget to stop by and see Lu the hippo!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is also close by. If you haven’t experienced this iconic park, try to squeeze a visit in during your trip. It’s home to real mermaids, amazing kayaking, Florida’s only natural water park, and more!
Florida’s natural springs are part of what makes Citrus and Hernando counties such great spots for scalloping. Our scalloping tour guide told us this area of Gulf offers the perfect blend of fresh and saltwater thanks to the many rivers and springs that feed into this area. He also pointed out it’s these same rivers that have discouraged red tide in this area.
And–where there are natural springs, there are amazing places to go kayaking, tubing, hiking, and well–anything your outdoorsy heart desires!
Note: This article originally appeared on our sister publication, Tampa Bay Parenting.
Feature image credit: Plantation on Crystal River
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