You will find scallops scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but it the places where freshwater rivers flow into the ocean where the scallops are the thickest. These tasty mollusks need the right mix of saltwater and freshwater to survive. If rains are heavy, too much freshwater can flood the bay and wipe out a crop. If the water is too salty, they won't survive, either. The state's prime scallop grounds – Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River - have the perfect combination of both fresh and saltwater.
If you are looking to get in on “the hunt,” then you will need a boat, mask, snorkel, saltwater fishing license and dive flag. The best time to go is on a slack tide, when the grass blades stand straight up. Bay scallops, like other types of game, are masters of camouflage. It takes a keen eye and steady hand to locate these critters as they hide in the thick beds of eel and turtle grass that flourish in the shallows off the state's west coast.
Once you spot a scallop, get ready for a chase. These mollusks, unlike their clam and oyster cousins, can swim. By squeezing their shells together, scallops expel a jet of water that rockets them across grass beds. As you approach the scallop, beware of the bivalve's bewitching stare. These animals have a row of purple eyes that can mesmerize even veteran scallopers. So don't be distracted. Many a scalloper has returned home empty-handed after hesitating at the moment of truth. When you move, move quickly. You may not get a second chance.
And remember that a scallop may look harmless, but it is a wild animal trying to survive. The scallop's strong adductor muscle, which provides the delicate meat that you seek, can snap the shells shut like a vise. Scallops will pinch, and it doesn't tickle.
Scallop season runs through Sept. 24. For more information, go to www.myfwc.com . If you are looking for a scallop guide or a want to rent a pontoon boat on your own, contact the Adventure Center at the Plantation on Crystal River, 9301 W. Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, (352) 795-4211.