"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scallop Knowledge 2011

I’ve said and written it before, but scalloping is about the most fun you can have in saltwater. When they’re thick you absolutely zone out of any other cares or thoughts in the world as you pick through the seagrass beds in crystal clear waters off Florida’s Nature Coast. With friends and a couple cold drinks at the dock, cleaning the buggers is no big deal, and cooking them up fresh is fine feasting.

And it’s so simple that it is not incumbent upon the recreation to employ any grand schemes or planning. Find a boat, motor out amid the other boats and hop in. Pay attention to your limits and stay safe running the channels, and you have a fine day in the bag.

However, not everyone is as accustomed to the sport as I am. So, I thought I would do a little primer of needs and wants for a successful scallop outing.

What Gear - Mask, Snorkel, Fins, Catch Bag. No need to be certified SCUBA; a snorkeling set from Wal-Mart will serve the purpose. I would spend a couple more bucks on de-fogger for your mask. And you want a mesh bag to place them in – you can find these bags at most local gas stations and bait stores. Oh, and sunscreen and a well-stocked cooler.

Where to Start – Easy, also. Look for the other boats. Armadas of divers gather every year – at least off the Homosassa/Crystal River area. Allow other boaters their room and anchor up. If you aren’t finding scallops right away, pick up and move a few hundred yards.

If you’re in a location where the crowds are more subdued, scallops live on the grass flats in clear water of varying depths. If you’re near a river mouth, you’d do well to move away from the fresh water’s influence on the salinity – in other words, get away from the river mouth and seek saltier seas.

Where to Look – There’s a grave misconception that scallops migrate from the deep as summer advances. This is incorrect. Scallops grow, live and die within a limited area. I think this whole migration belief started because it’s hard to believe that with so many boats on the water, there would be any scallops left after the first month – but there are, and the bivalves are typically bigger.

Two things. Even with all the boats, that’s still a lot of sea floor to cover and not every diver is as keen-eyed as myself. Next, as said above, they grow and die in the same general area – and they grow fast. Scallops don’t live longer than about a year. So it’s easy to believe that bigger scallops travel in from the deep.

That’s a lot of credit for a barely-sentient creature. They do move courtesy a form of water propulsion. They use that delicious white muscle inside their shells to squeeze water in and then out of their bodies. The result is a clam hopping up from the sea bed, being carried by current, then dropping back in the same fashion as a quarter would fall if thrown in a swimming pool. Scallops do this on changing tides so they can optimize their position to filter-feed.

As such, scallops that are bedded in deep grasses and passed over by divers often compromise their safety when they find themselves in the open or rested on the broad leaves of turtle grass. This activity creates the sense of a migration.

Finally, scallop numbers have a bad year every three years or so. If you are clamming in a good year, you’ll find them all the way until the end of season, bigger and covered in algae. Locating them in sandy spots and sections of sparse grass is the easiest way. Others prefer looking deeper in the turtle grass. Still others like to be slowly pulled behind the boat to cover more ground.

Best Times to Hunt – I prefer calm, clear days on the start of an outgoing tide. This keeps the jellyfish away and lowers the water column. Scalloping in water over six feet gets to be work. Some folks prefer to wade in water under four feet. I prefer snorkeling in water 5-6ft; you are high enough on the surface to canvas more area below – like a raptor surveying a rice field for helpless mice. Water clarity is also important. Too much silt and the clams are easy to miss.

Do keep an eye out for late afternoon thunderstorms. They pop up quick, move fast, and are infested with lightning and waterspouts.

How to Clean – Keep the scallops alive in a livewell until the ride back in when you should transfer them into a cooler of ice. Best to keep the ice bagged and place the scallops on top. This makes the scallops open.

Take a spoon and match the curvature of the spoon with the curvature of the shell and cut one side of the meat away from that side of the shell. Then, take a Mini Shop-Vac and suck out the scallop goop. When deprived of its innards cut away the remaining snow-white meat into icy water. Make sure you rinse out the Shop-Vac when done. Trust me.

Or, you can open them with spoons and use the spoon to lightly scrape away the guts – it’s messy and time-consuming but not too difficult. Or, you can drop them off to the nearest kid on a dock offering to clean them for five bucks a gallon.

How to Cook – Fresh scallops are the best you can get. You can fry them or make ceviche – I prefer to sauté them in a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic salt or Everglades Seasoning. Just a couple minutes and you’re done. Don’t overcook them. If you’re feeling rugged, you can pop a few down the gullet raw. They are sweet as candy.

The 2011 Scallop Season starts this weekend and runs until September 25th. Enjoy your time on the water and bring back a bunch!



Trey said...

We have guys from here that look forward to scallop season as much as turkey season. They are there the day the season opens and always bring back a fine catch!!

Ian Nance said...

Hearing good things off the Homosassa area