The article below was written by Diane Bodard of www.NatureCoaster.com after her scalloping adventure on July 7, 2016 with Captain “Red ED”. NatureCoaster.com is a weekly newsletter about what’s happening in Florida’s Nature Coast! Diane, thank you for the permission to republish your excellent article. Be a Nature Coaster!
It was early – much earlier than I like to wake up. The alarm was scheduled to go off in 7 minutes, but I was ready to greet the day. I had been counting down for two weeks and I was ready to go on my first scalloping adventure!
At one time, the West Central coast of Florida supported a robust commercial scallop industry, with 400,000 lbs. of bay scallops being harvested in Florida in 1957. By 1992, the commercial harvest was near zero. Fishery groups banded together and worked to restore the scallop populations to healthy levels and by 2005, most years showed a healthy level.
2016 pre-season surveys showed a good population in the Nature Coast, so this would be the year to actually try this area tradition. Because my husband is not fond of seafood, I sought another friend to try the adventure with me.
Jade Palmer was the brave soul who jumped in my car at 6 a.m. and we traveled to MacRae’s of Homosassa to meet Captain “Red Ed” Brennan of Red Ed’s Adventures at 7 a.m. sharp!
Ed is a 50-something Irishman who has lived in Homosassa since the mid-1980s. He claims that he is the undisputed “Scallop King of Citrus County.” As part of our charter, everything we needed to hunt for our shellfish: snorkel, mask, fins, a bag to put our bounty in and instruction in the technique that was most likely to yield the most scallops was included.
After we settled into the open boat, Capt. “Red Ed” backed into the Homosassa River. The surface of the water looked smooth as glass while we glided away from civilization. The captain opened the engine up; the air was fresh, the water still, and the sunrise was breathtaking to behold. We drove past several inlets, channels, and tiny mangrove islands that broke the surface irregularly. At one point a mullet fish flew alongside the boat!
Captain “Red Ed” was navigating the Salt River out toward the Gulf of Mexico. We traveled for a half hour with the world to ourselves. As the engine hummed, Jade and I enjoyed the beauty of the sun rising over Florida’s Nature Coast.
The boat slowed to a stop amidst lush sea grass beds. The Crystal River Power Station was in the distance. All around us was peaceful and serene. This is the environment that scallops thrive in. Our Captain put up the dive flag to warn other boaters that we were swimming about as required by Florida law.
We donned our snorkel, masks and fins, lifted our legs over the side of the boat and dropped into the clear salt water, enveloped in balmy wetness.
I looked down and sure enough, there was a scallop sitting upright in the grass below. I took a deep breath, bent at the waist and dove with my arm extended to pluck it from its nest below. I joyfully placed it into my net bag and looked around for Jade. She was floating peacefully turning her head back and forth to locate the elusive bivalves below.
Suddenly Jade dove, then quickly came back to the surface, showing her catch. Captain “Red Ed” cheered us on. He helped us to dive more efficiently, sharing some of his “Scallop King” techniques and was able to assist in harvesting the gallons and gallons of deliciousness we brought back to shore.
We swam into the current so that when we got tired, it was an easy float back. The current was tricky to see from above the water, but when submerged the sea grass flows back and forth with the current and the sparkle of sunlight breaks through the water, creating a whimsical pattern. Fish were swimming with me, under me, by me. Soft corals and sea anemones were embedded in the grass. The life was stunning. It was such a magical experience to be in that giant “aquarium” that I forgot the purpose of my snorkeling several times and just relaxed in the sea.
Soon another scallop would appear below bringing me back to focus. Our captain had explained earlier that if you find one scallop, there are often more in the vicinity. He claimed to have brought up at least ten in a single breath.
Although I tried on multiple occasions to bring up more than one scallop in a breath, I inevitably ended up breathing in sea water and still harvested only one scallop, either dropping the other or kicking up the sand which reduces visibility and thusly, how many scallops I could find, so I resigned myself to being a single scalloper for my maiden adventure.
In the twinkling of an eye, Captain “Red Ed” called us back to the boat. It was time to return. With his help we had amassed 5 gallons of raw scallops and would now head back to the dock for cleaning and cooking. As I looked around, there were many boats dotting the vista now, each with a dive flag and snorkelers searching for the prized Gulf bay scallop. It was about 10:30 a.m. “That’s why we leave at 7 a.m. promptly,” Captain “Ed Red” said, “It gets crowded out here, especially on weekends.”
Jade and I looked down at the scallops and watched them jostling and spitting in the five gallon bucket. It was entertaining. Take a minute to enjoy the video.
We gave each other a high five and sat down while the Captain took up the boats anchors. The waters had stayed serenely still. “The quiet water helps with visibility,” Captain “Red Ed” said, “It’s a lot easier to see the scallops when the water is clear.” We agreed and were very happy with our adventure’s harvest.
As we pulled up to the dock at MacRae’s, Local Boys Scallop Cleaning was there to clean our catch. The $5/gallon to clean them was more than worth it to me. This seasonal enterprise, owned by Cletis Huggins, and operated by the Huggins family is available throughout the entire scallop season. When asked what they do with the shells, Cletis replied, “We save them up all day and then boat them over and put them back in the river.” All part of the natural cycle.
While the scallops were being cleaned, Captain “Red Ed” walked us over to Shelly’s Seafood and Wild Sassa to experience some local fresh seafood places. Homosassa is a tight-knit fishing community, proud of its offerings. Wild Sassa can cater your scalloping adventure if you feel so inclined. I am told that the food is amazing, whether you eat at the picnic tables out front or on your vessel.
After tipping our captain, we picked up our cleaned scallops and headed up to Oysters in Crystal River to have our fresh catch cooked. I called William Bunch, Oysters owner and Chef, to alert him that we were coming. He welcomed us when we arrived and took our freshly caught and shucked scallops to the kitchen for processing.
After agreeing on having some scallops blackened and some fried, Jade ordered clam chowder and I ordered gumbo. We enjoyed the soups and relished in our adventure as we waited for the main course. William went back to work his magic.
We were still giddy from our adventure and talked about how beautiful the water was, how much fun it was to hunt for scallops, and the wonderful feeling of the salt water while communing with the sea life in the Gulf.
We had seen dolphin, osprey, mullet and who knows how many fishes swimming around us. Jade commented, “The water, the sea life, and waving sea grass made this experience more than I could have imagined. The scallops are a bonus – and I can’t wait to eat them!”
In time, William came back with two large bowls of our catch, one blackened and one fried, along with plates for each of us with heaping sides of macaroni and cheese and his delicious hush puppies.
The scallops were so tender, succulent, flavorful… and satisfying. Wow! We ate them all.
Now it was time for a nap, so I dropped Jade off and that night I went back to my kitchen.
We still had a lot of scallops left, including about 4 dozen we had the Huggins’ clean “on the half shell.” I placed all my scallop shells on cookie sheets and preheated my oven to 450 degrees.
After melting 1/4 cup of butter, I gently brushed some on each scallop in its shell. Then I sprinkled blackening seasoning on and placed them in the preheated oven for 3 minutes.
Delicious, nutritious and fun. I ate every one of them while they were hot. The fork was leaving too much scallop on the shell, so I switched to a spoon and enjoyed every morsel.
Hopefully this article has helped to whet your appetite for a scalloping adventure. It is so fun and easy!
There are a lot of ways to go scalloping, from frugal (wade out in the gulf) to top-shelf (charter your Captain) and in-between (take your own boat or better yet – join a group charter). Whatever way best fits your budget, you are sure to enjoy the experience of floating in the Gulf, hunting for each scallop and then bagging your catch. And, of course, consuming these delectable gems.
You can book Captain “Red Ed” or one of his affiliated captains by visiting www.homosassaredfish.com Or, just give Captain “Red Ed” a call at: 352-382-3939; but remember to book your charter well in advance of September 24 – the last day scalloping season.
Many local restaurants will cook your catch for you. It is a good idea to call ahead to make sure they can accommodate you.
The dock at MacRae’s of Homosassa is the only place I know of that has a scallop cleaning service. Many captains will clean your catch for you. Some have a set price and some will do so for a tip, but please make sure you are clear about your expectations before booking your charter.
If you are going to rent a boat to participate in this endeavor, please discuss this with your marina before you rent. You will need a saltwater fishing license, snorkel, mask, fins, and to show a dive flag, as well as know where to find the scallops. You will want to have a cooler and ice to store your bounty while you travel, as well as sunscreen and drinks for your time on the water.
Most of all, just get out there before September 24 and have your own excellent scalloping adventure.
A tackle box is better than an Xbox any day
Fishing is a real experience that creates memories that will last forever!
“For Real & Forever”
Let’s go SCALLOPING,
Captain “Red ED” Brennan