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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: scalloping

Coexistence–Getting Along With Others During Florida’s Bay Scallop Season

by on Oct.29, 2017, under Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, Horseshoe Beach, Ozello to Crystal River, Shell Point to Lanark, Ochlockonee Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina, Steinhatchee

Big Bend Action Spotter, Florida Sportsman Magazine

September 2017

In last month’s Big Bend Action Spotter, I wrote about getting away from the scalloping multitudes by fishing in places likely less “infested”. This month, let’s consider coexistence!

 

I know lots of anglers who simply give up saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico during Florida’s recreational bay scallop season, which ends this month and includes the busy Labor Day weekend. Many head to the Atlantic side of the state, even to freshwater rivers and lakes. But there are options and complete abandonment of the Gulf isn’t necessarily one of them.

 

Know that for the most part, scalloping goes on in water that’s three to ten feet deep. At the deep end of that range, there are scallops, but only hardy divers with big lungs can get there. Deeper than that, it’s pretty much snorkeler-free. Sea grass flats, especially our big one that starts just north of Anclote Key off Tarpon Springs and ends at St. Marks, can run to the thirty-foot depths, depending on water clarity. And just like the three-foot flats, the deeper ones are peppered with patches of sand and live spongy bottom. Add to that some wrecks, rocky outcrops and ledges, you’ll have a good mental image of what the Gulf’s floor look like.

 

It’s those scattered bottom structures in the ten-foot-plus depths that should be of interest to fin fishermen who want to avoid the last of the 2017 season of “scallop madness”. All summer long, vast numbers of baitfish and yummy crustaceans have been flourishing, all while hiding from predators who lay in wait along the edges of sand patches, behind rocks, under ledges and among wreckage. And, depending on late summer rains or storms that might cloud the waters, it should be clear enough away from shore for you to visually investigate the bottom. Spotted seatrout, flounder, black sea bass, red grouper or mackerel are all good targets and you might even be able to bring home a gag grouper–if you’re in Dixie, Levy, Citrus or Hernando county state waters.

 

From Hernando County, you’ll have to run past the scallopers to get to the deep flats. Reaching the end of the Bayport and Hernando Beach channels drop you into water that’s too deep for the average snorkeler to access. Just beyond the three-mile limit, you’ll start to see good patchy bottom, as well as some big rocks.

 

If you depart Crystal River’s main channel, head northwest from Marker #1A towards the Duke Power channel and look for the “Hump”, a shallow rise in the bottom. It’s a good spot to try for trout before you head farther west to the two Crystal Artificial Reefs. They lie just south of the point where the Duke Power channel takes a turn towards the old Cross Florida Barge Canal channel. These “Fish Havens” are decades old, but still offer some relief and potential for reef fish and pelagics.

 

Cedar Key isn’t necessarily a scalloping destination, but you can find some deep, clear water there. I’d recommend you head south out the Main Ship Channel and drift the grassy top of Seahorse Reef for trout. Then, if you want deeper water or more structure than turtle grass, head west to the live bottom near the Kingfish Hole.   Staying south of the Cedar Keys archipelago will keep you in cleaner water than heading north towards the mouth of the Suwannee River, where the river’s outflow can muddle things.

 

The Suwannee’s darker waters will eventually dissipate and clear up between Horseshoe Beach and the Pepperfish Keys. The water will stay gin-clear beyond Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach in Taylor County. After navigating through the scallopers from any of those ports, you’ll be able to find lots of good, active grass flats, as well as lots of unmarked rock piles, some only as big as a small boat. You’ll find plenty of trout over the grass, and if you find your next “super secret rock pile” expect red grouper or big flounder to be the winning catch that day.

 

Water clarity to the south and southeast of St. Marks can be iffy. It all depends on recent rains and the dark water flow from the St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina rivers as well as the many creeks that flow into the Gulf along the Jefferson and Wakulla county coastline. If the water’s clear, there will be lush grass beds and a good trout bite. If you’re looking for reef fish or pelagics that chase bait over rough bottom, search northern Apalachee Bay. It’s the boundary of Florida’s natural Karst geology so there’s plenty of natural structure in the 12 to 20-foot depths. There’s no structure much better than ledges, rocks and small seeping springs when it comes to successful fishing—and there are plenty of them, some undiscovered, there.

 

Moving to deeper flats and the potential of inshore species as well as reef predators and pelagics, you’ll need to change your tactics and tackle. I suggest 3/8 to 1/2-ounce jigs to get to the bottom, and I’d put my money on chartreuse as a good color. Pair jig heads with a D.O.A. 4-inch Shad swimbait (Glow, with a chartreuse tail, is my favorite.) And consider using spinning combos larger than your usual 2500-4000 class gear in these deeper waters. If a grouper or a king mackerel unexpectedly comes to dinner, you’ll be glad you brought your 5000-class tackle!

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Tips For Successful Scalloping During Rainy Season on Florida’s Big Bend, 2015

by on Aug.17, 2015, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Ozello to Crystal River, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and St. Joseph Bay, Steinhatchee

In the late summer, water visibility can hinder and slow the harvest of bay scallops.  This year, they’re plentiful along our big Bend coastline, but are often hard to see.

You may not catch thousands of scallops in murky water, but if you work hard, you'll come home with a nice dinner!

You may not catch thousands of scallops in murky water, but if you work hard, you’ll come home with a nice dinner!

We’ve had more than our fair share of rain on the Big Bend, too. Mornings have been calm, but with high humidity and high air temperatures, thunderstorms have been building up every afternoon. Usually they form on shore, but some can eventually drift off the coast in the late afternoon, depending on the strength of the east coast sea breezes. What that means for you, the scalloper, is that you need to take your trips early, watch the radar (use the Weather Bug app on your smartphone!), and try to get back to port by mid-afternoon at the latest.

Snorkeling for bay scallops is a fun, family adventure!

Snorkeling for bay scallops is a fun, family adventure!

Despite the amount of rainwater we’ve seen in ditches and pastures miles from the coast, the visibility of the Gulf waters isn’t as bad as I expected.   Scallopers north of Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach are doing well, especially off Piney Point and off Dekle Beach.  The only thing I can’t predict is just how long the visibility will be good. It usually takes several weeks for the leaching cycle to complete.

Don't let thunderstorms like this one come between you and your home port!

Don’t let thunderstorms like this one come between you and your home port!

 

 

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Scalloping 101

by on Feb.13, 2014, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Recipes and Food

Anna Patterson, Chiefland Watermelon Queen, with a fresh-caught bag of scallops.

Recently, someone asked me if I could “teach him how to catch scallops”.   A more understandable request would have been asking me how to safely operate a boat in crowded waters, review with them the FWC’s rules and regulations regarding scalloping—or even show them how to clean and cook the tasty critters.  In a nutshell (or a scallop shell, for that matter), scalloping isn’t difficult, but there are a few basic things to know before you head out searching for them this summer.

Florida’s 2014 recreational scallop season begins on June 28 and lasts until September 24.  You may scallop in waters from the Hernando/Pasco County line, at the southern end of the Big Bend, to the Mexico Beach Canal, west of Cape San Blas.  Your catch must be landed, cleaned or intact, at ports within these boundaries.  Simply put, don’t run north from Hudson, in Pasco County, to the waters off Hernando Beach, catch a limit of scallops, and then land them back in Hudson.  The FWC knows all the tricks!  There are no size limits that apply to scallops, but there are bag limits.  Anglers may keep two gallons of unshucked scallops each (1 pint shucked), up to a boat limit of ten gallons (1/2-gallon shucked).  A shucked two-gallon limit works out to about a pint of those small white morsels which are actually the muscles that allow the scallop to open and close its shell.  Other rules that apply include the need for a recreational saltwater fishing license for everyone participating who would normally need a license, and a dive flag requirement for letting other boaters know you’ve got divers in the water.  It’s probably a good idea, even for scalloping veterans, to carefully review the rules and regulations, found online at: www.myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/Saltwater_Regulations_bayscallops.htm

Bay scallops can be found all along the Gulf coast of Florida, including some areas that are well outside the harvest boundaries.  In fact, there have even been sightings of scallops in Tampa Bay in recent summers.  While scallops are likely to be found Gulf-wide at depths that are not practical for harvest by hand or with a dip net, it’s certain that what attracts them towards shore in certain areas, to spawn, is a combination of water salinity and clarity.  In some areas where darker water is the norm, particularly Yankeetown, Cedar Key, Suwannee and much of Apalachicola Bay, scalloping isn’t considered a worthwhile effort.   On the other hand, at Hernando Beach, Bayport, Homosassa, Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach, St. Marks, Lanark Village, Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach, coastal economies rely on visiting scallopers to make up for slow times and cold winters.  And to confuse matters, any of the places within the boundaries might have ‘off-and-on’ scallop harvests, depending upon rainfall, tropical storms or even abnormal river flows.

If you’re new to scalloping you might skip the first week of July—for a couple of good reasons.  First, despite attempts by many marinas and editorial outlets to have their spies (usually local fishing guides) pinpoint the largest concentration of scallops, the best information normally follows a week or two of the actual harvest.  You’ll find that you’ll do a lot less running around once the best area is found.    Word travels fast and a simple visual scan of the horizon will quickly spot the ‘fleet’ anchored over the best areas.  And second, the first weekend of scallop season is usually the 4th of July weekend and a time when partying (on and off the water) sometimes trumps safety and good common sense.

However, if your Type-A personality requires that you be the first on the water on the first day of the season, keep in mind that scallops are likely to be found near the grassy edges of sandy potholes, and that they tend to come to the top of the grass when the sun’s shining brightly.  Early risers should consider using the rosy dawn to catch a close-to-shore gator trout or redfish, and then wait for the sun to get high into the sky before undertaking the search for scallops.  Start your scallop hunt by running your boat at idle speed in water that’s three to four feet deep, using polarized sunglasses or a 5-gallon bucket fitted with a clear bottom to carefully scan the bottom.  Once you see reasonable numbers of scallops nestled in the grass, anchor up, hoist your mandatory dive flag, and get your crew overboard.

Safety is always a consideration for boaters and fishermen, and scallop season demands special attention and awareness.  It’s important to recognize that you, or others around you, may not be regular boaters or snorkelers, and may not be accustomed to motoring a boat or diving in what are likely to be crowded waters.  Accidents, sometimes tragic, during scalloping season can be avoided by motoring at idle speed within 300-feet of boats flying dive flags or of swimmers and snorkelers.  In recent years, many local marinas have been selling and making recommendations that individual snorkelers tow dive-flagged buoys.  This is not a requirement, but certainly a great idea.   Make sure, too, that your boat’s operator remains alert and tuned-in to his or her task.  Even the slightest distraction, including casual conversation, can be disastrous, so let them concentrate on getting everyone out and back safely.  And while some in your party may wish to partake of an adult beverage while scalloping, boat operators should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES participate, remembering that the FWC and local authorities frown heavily on boating under the influence.  Scallop season also coincides with Florida’s thunderstorm season, and maintaining a visual ‘weather watch’ (or an ear tuned to the WX channel on your VHF radio) is a good practice.  Also, avoid making a decision to run home too late, as some narrow channels and boat ramps get pretty crowded as storms force boats back to port.

In-the-water ‘essentials’ for recreational scallopers are snorkels, masks, swim fins, plus mesh bags for gathering your harvest.  Most folks simply swim along the surface in the clear summer water and dive down only when a scallop is spotted.  Depending on the bottom, you’ll likely see some scallops ‘face up’, looking at you with a row of brilliant blue eyes around the slightly opened shell.  Others will be lying flat, with either the light or dark side of their shell facing upwards.  It doesn’t take much practice to learn to spot them like a pro, and even the kids will become experts after just a few minutes.  If the water’s not in its usual gin-clear state, you may have to dive down and skim the grass tops, swimming into the current, to get a better view of the scallops.   Most scallopers simply pick up their catch bare-handed, but many prefer scooping with small bait nets.  Scallops don’t bite, but will sometimes try to flutter away from an incoming human hand and a net sometimes makes the gathering easier.  Once caught and measured in a bucket, put your catch under ice immediately.  This not only keeps them fresh but also makes the scallops open up for easier cleaning later.

Cleaning a catch of scallops is not nearly as much fun as gathering them.  The ‘goodie’ in a scallop is the white adductor muscle, and the rest of the bivalve critter is discarded.  Scallops, even those iced on board, should be cleaned quickly to ensure freshness.   Some scallopers clean the catch on their boat, but care needs to be taken to not throw the offal (guts and shells) into the water while snorkelers are about, as there have been instances of sharks being attracted to a ‘scallop chum line’.  Cleaning scallops isn’t difficult and simple tools like oyster knives, sharpened tablespoons and garden gloves speed the messy job.  Ashore, most marinas have good stand-up cleaning tables, and some even have professional scallop cleaners standing by who will, for a more-than-reasonable fee, clean, rinse and bag your catch.

So, what’s the big deal about scallops and scalloping on Florida’s Gulf coast?  First, and foremost, if you’ve never eaten a Florida bay scallop, you’ve never really eaten a scallop.  Those bagged, frozen imports from South America that are regularly found in fish markets can’t compare in terms of taste, and store-bought ‘sea scallops’, though bigger, are often textured much like overcooked pork chops.  Our bay scallops are small, tender and best eaten the day they’re caught.  Preparation can range from sautéing in butter and garlic (served over pasta) to deep frying–just be sure not to overcook them.  Actually, they’re pretty darned good right out of the shell, raw, or as the basis for a simple lime and hot-pepper ceviche.   And second, eating your scallops is only half the fun.  A summertime scalloping trip to Florida’s Big Bend coast is an excellent opportunity to get family and friends—even the ‘Moms’– together for a fun day on the water!

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July 1, 2013 Fishing and Scallop Report from Sea Hag Marina, Steinhatchee, FL

by on Jul.02, 2013, under Steinhatchee

Scalloping is fun and produces lots of tasty meals, but fin-fishing is still on the minds of many of Florida’s Big Bend anglers.  Why not fish early, then scallop mid-day when the sun brings scallops to the top of the seagrass beds along the Dixie and Taylor County coastlines near Steinhatchee.

The latest fishing report from the Sea Hag Marina is now posted online at http://seahag.com/june-2013-fishing-report-and-forecast/

It outlines all your options with information from both inshore and offshore guides.

Anna Patterson, Chiefland Watermelon Queen, with a fresh-caught bag of scallops.

The scallop "fleet" near Pepperfish Keys

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Crystal River Fishing Report, 9/3/12, from Capt. Dan Clymer

by on Sep.03, 2012, under Ozello to Crystal River

With a couple days back on the water after another fantastic fly fishing trip from Wyoming, the fishing/scalloping back home is great. It truly has been a banner year for our Citrus County scallop season, and being this late in the season; it appears there’s no slowing down. The grass flats just South of Gomez Rks off Crystal River continues to produce as well as the flats just West of St. Martins Keys. The size of the scallops has been very impressive and the meat inside has coincided with the larger size as well. Get them while you can with only a couple weeks left.
On the fishing side, I had great grouper trip from the shallower 17ft to 30ft range, despite the full moon which usually makes the grouper bite difficult. Spending the time to catch good quality palm sized pin fish will definitely put the odds in you favor. I fished both high profile rocks and under cut ledges and the two types of structures produced equally as well. After a good catch of gags bottom fishing, we spent a little time trolling and picked up a couple on plugs. These have been the first grouper of our early approaching fall season I have caught trolling and even a surprise Goliath grouper grabbed a plug. The recent winds and storm activity has helped with the floating grass situation and allowed trolling for most areas I fished particularity to the North. The trolling will continue to improve in the coming weeks. On the inshore scene, the red fishing has picked up considerably. The outer keys and spoil islands have been the hot spots and have a variety of baits. One day it’s live pin fish and the next it’s cut mullet or lady fish, so leave the dock prepared. One surprise catch this week I’d like to mention is my good friend and fellow Captain Clay Sheidler, lucked upon a 7lb bone fish using live shrimp while red fishing out of Crystal River. This is truly a rare catch and it just proves you just never know….

Capt. Dan Clymer
www.crystalriver-fishing.com
(352) 418-2160

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Homosassa Inshore Fishing Weekly Report, 7/30/12, from William Toney

by on Jul.31, 2012, under Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, Ozello to Crystal River

Scattered fish and hot weather is the best way to describe the conditions west of Homosassa. When I say scattered it doe’s not mean they’re non existent, it just means you have to cover more water and hit more spots to be successful. For redfish I go to about 12 spots for five fish. High incoming tide is the best time to fish for reds and the outside keys from Mangrove Point all the way south to North West Key I have caught fish. My routine is to ease into a spot very quietly and then give it about 10 minutes of fishing if I see mullet. If I don’t see any mullet then it’s even less time. I will sometimes even pole down the shoreline and look for redfish to sight cast too. Artificial baits are becoming extremely hard to use because of the floating mats of turtle grass. It happens every summer with the floating grass and it will let up near the end of August. Just before the incoming tide starts to push the grass in, there is a window that you can use a Eppinger Rex spoon or MirrOlure Top Dog in clean grass free water. Cut bait or live shrimp fished on the bottom has been the best bait.
Trout fishing first thing in the morning is the best bet to put a few keeper’s in the box or if it’s a windy over cast day help the bite out too. The best rig has been a popping cork like a D.O.A. Deadly combo. The cork helps keep the grass off the jig underneath it. Some of the best areas have been west of Homosassa Point and south of the Chasahowitzka boundary markers.
Scalloping is very good and again I cannot get over how large the meat is this year. The hot spot is just north of the Bird Rack. Just an FYI on weekends there is a mess on the water of water bottles, potatoes chip bags and beach floats. Remember to secure anything that will blow out of your boat because if you don’t it get’s stuck in our mangrove keys and will be there for years to come. High incoming tide will be in the afternoon this weekend.
Capt. William Toney www.homosassainshorefishing.com

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Week Four, Steinhatchee Scallop Season, 2012

by on Jul.22, 2012, under Steinhatchee

Week Four of the 2012 bay scallop harvest got off to a slow start with lots of thunderstorms and rain.  Luckily, the worst days were Monday through Thursday, and by Friday (July 20), skies were clearing and chances of storms had diminished.  That’s not to say that folks weren’t watching the weather closely, as “your 30-percent chance of rain” can always sneak up in the form of a violent storm, with lots of wind, rain, lightning and even hail!  And with the bulk of the scallops being taken in the Pepperfish Keys area, riding home the ten or so miles can be arduous is it’s storming.

There's great scalloping just north of the Pepperfish Keys channel, south of Steinhatchee

It seems that the continuing runoff from Tropical Storm Debby still has the waters to the north of the Steinhatchee River muddied up or stained, making scalloping difficult.  I’d bet that there are plenty of scallops in the deeper waters near Nine Mile Bank, but they may be hard to see, and deep.  At Pepperfish, it’s waist-deep on low tide, making the exercise easy and fun.  In general, the scallops are still coming to the cleaning table at the Sea Hag Marina by the buckets-full, and the meat (adductor muscles) is big this year, with 2 gallon limits producing just over a pound of clean scallops.

Another factor that can make the ride south difficult is the huge influx of floating sea grass.  This is caused by the natural shedding of old growth and accelerated by the persistent westerly breezes along the Big Bend.  There’s no danger in running through the grass, but be sure to check you water pressure gauge frequently to be sure your cooling water intakes are not clogged.  Another method is to watch the “pee hole” of your outboard.  If the stream is weak, your motor’s likely clogging up.  Many outboard motors now come with an alarm system that sounds upon overheating, and then slow the engine speed down automatically.  If you do clog up, DO NOT STOP YOUR MOTOR.  All that will do is seize a piston to the cylinder wall (not a good thing!).  Shift gears from forward to reverse, and keep the revolutions (RPMs) up.  Higher revs mean that you’re pumping more cool water into your engine’s water jacket.  Usually a minute or so will clear the intakes and you’ll be on your way.

I can’t stress enough the need for any boater to have some sort of assistance “insurance” in the form of either Sea Tow or Tow Boat US membership.  Getting a tow home can be expensive.  At Carrabelle, Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach, I recommend Sea Tow.  At Yankeetown (Levy and Citrus County) Capt. Matt Fleming of Tow Boat US is always on call.

Sea Tow/Horseshoe Beach now has a presence at the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee.

Capt. Matt Fleming of Tow Boat/Yankeetown is waiting to assist!

For a few hints on successful scalloping, click HERE!

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Scalloping Opening day July 1st, 2012 – From the Plantation on Crystal River!

by on Jul.02, 2012, under Ozello to Crystal River

Thanks to Michael Mancke from the Plantation Inn for this report!

Great opening day out of Crystal River…  We have pretty much a full house and the majority of the guests know where to go scalloping.  There were over 100 boats along our seawall Sunday morning that all headed out looking for their limits.  Reports are most everyone did.  The great news for folks going out of Crystal River is that they didn’t have to go far; the scallops were found on shallow water about 4 to 6 feet just south in an area called Gomez Rock

We know it was a successful day between the boats on the sea wall and Chef Eric was preparing the freshly caught scallops in the West 82⁰ Bar & Grill.

Capt. Ron Gauthier of Team Ocean Explorer TV show out of the Sarasota area was staying at the Plantation and filming for his TV show.  He said they had no trouble getting their limits in the shallower waters noted above.

Capt. Rick LeFiles of Osprey Charters took some Plantation guest out this morning and where back in 4 hours with a full limit.  When I left them, they were cleaning them up for dinner tonight!

Capt. Rick LeFiles with a couple of buckets of nice Crystal River scallops!

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‎Sea Hag Marina ‘Scalloping Saturday Studio’ Photos Now Online!

by on Aug.01, 2011, under Steinhatchee

Some great photos of the gang at the Sea Hag.  We plan to do the ‘Scalloping Saturday Studio’ again later in the season, so don’t miss an opportunity to participate!

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