“Frank Sinatra’s got nothing on these guys,” Capt. Rick Burns said before my scalloping adventure began in Homosassa, Fla. He was describing the dozens of bright blue eyes each scallop has around its edge (or mantle).
“Are the Doobie Brothers okay?” he then asked just before speeding up the boat and turning up the music. We raced out of the Homosassa River and headed to the Gulf of Mexico’s grass flats in search of bay scallops. The sun was shining, wind whisked my hair, and we were rocking out to the classics while bouncing over water. Life was good.
This wasn’t my first rodeo in snorkeling for bay scallops in Florida. A friend and I went scalloping several years in Homosassa. Having that prior experience prepared me for this adventure especially in remembering how fast these little buggers are.
The Amazing Bay Scallop
They’re the only swimming bivalve and yes, bay scallops are amazingly quick. From my last trip, I remembered each time I reached to grab it, with lightning speed the scallop dodged my reach. I could’ve sworn I heard a mocking giggle coming from the little critters as we played an underwater version of tag.
Although bay scallops have anywhere between 20 – 60 vibrant blue eyes, they can’t see well, at least that’s what I’ve been told. However, they can detect presence when something comes near them. This causes scallops to either shut their shells and clam up (sorry, pun intended) or swim. I suppose it’s the fight or flight syndrome.
Honestly, I’m not a snorkeler and have a slight fear of being underwater. The day before leaving for this trip I decided to suck up my fear and purchased my first set of fins, mask and snorkel. I mean, c’mon. I live in Florida and think it’s time to discover the Sunshine State’s underwater world.
Snorkeling for Scallops with a Strategy
When Capt. Rick found the ideal scallop- scooping ground, he anchored the boat and let my three friends and me hop in and begin searching. The water temperature was just shy of 80 degrees and I’d guess it ranged from 3 to 4-feet deep.
Armed with knowledge and prior experience, I approached this trip differently than my first. Scanning the sea grass beds, I spied dozens of eyes peering back. I implemented the art of the ambush by staring the scallop down and reaching my hand around to the hinged backside and going in for the grab. My strategy seemed to work.
At the time of my trip, there was a two-gallon limit per person, per boat of scallops. (I’m not sure if this will ever change.) I collected about a gallon and the entire boat collected two gallons. Do the math.
While snorkeling, I forgot I was supposed to be gathering scallops and was in complete awe of the sea life passing before my eyes. Rays of light beamed through the water onto the dancing sea grass and silver fish seemed to sparkle like Christmas ornaments. I saw sponges, corals, fish and other sea life. The thriving community under the water hypnotized me and distracted me from the task at hand of gathering scallops.
When the group was finished snorkeling for scallops, Capt. Rick’s first mate Renee cleaned them during the ride in. We also tasted the sweet and slightly salty, fleshy scallops right out of the shell. Ya can’t get any fresher than that!
Lunch at Neon Leon’s Zydeco Steakhouse
And what happened to the two gallons of scallops? Well, once cleaned from their shells, there was about half a quart. Several restaurants will prepare the cleaned catch, including the hotel I stayed, the Plantation on Crystal River. We headed to Neon Leon’s Zydeco Steakhouse, a tribute restaurant to the band Lynyrd Skynyrd which is co-owned by Leon Wilkeson’s (bass guitarist for Lynyrd Skynard) nephew, Mitch.
Updated July 28, 2017: Unfortunately, Neon Leon’s closed in 2017.
The server rattled off all sorts of ways to prepare the scallops and we settled on grilled, blackened and fried. Ohmygoodness! They turned out delish! Grilled was the purest way to enjoy the sweet and salty scallop flavor while blackened added a nice zip and fried was lightly battered.
Snorkeling for scallops was a perfect day in Florida paradise. It was another reminder of the unique opportunities waiting to be enjoyed in the Sunshine State.
Nuts & Bolts About My Scalloping Trip in Citrus County, Florida
I snorkeled for scallops in Citrus County, Fla., located about a 90-minute drive north of Tampa. It’s one of the few places in the state to gather scallops. The season typically runs July 1 to early-to-mid September.
Here’s a brief video about the trip. If the video doesn’t play, view it on YouTube.
Why a relatively short season? Bay scallops have a lifespan of a year to 18 months and a 2-year-old is a really old scallop, according to Betty Staugler with Florida Sea Grant. Learn more about bay scallops on the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
In addition to scalloping trips, Capt. Rick Burns also offers trips to swim with the manatees trips during the winter as well as fishing charters.
Capt. Rick Burns
Reel Burns Charters
For additional things to do in the area, check out the Visit Citrus County website.