On July 4, fueled by a hearty stack of blueberry pancakes, Jill, Scott, Kevin, and I launched three kayaks and one paddleboard from Rocky Creek Road, just south of Steinhatchee. I had always thought that a paddleboard would work well for scalloping because it is so easy to jump on and off the board. I brought my 10 1/2 foot inflatable board which could keep up with the longer kayaks for this short distance. So boards and boats loaded with snorkeling gear, mesh bags, and water, we headed out down the creek and out into the Gulf. Most of the area is too shallow for large motorized boats, so ideal for kayaks and paddleboards.
We saw a line of motorboats anchored a mile or two offshore, and we paddled to an area about halfway between the boats and the shore. After twenty minutes, we reached the longer sea grasses that scallops like and donned masks, fins, and snorkels. Jill and Scott had made floating scallop nets with pool noodles and mesh bags, and we each tied one to our boats and board.
Pulling our boats and board with bow lines, we swam around the grasses looking for the tell-tale lines of glowing blue “eyes.” It was close to high tide, and the water was about 3-4 feet deep, ideal for scalloping. Shallower than that, and seeing the scallops becomes difficult because you stir up silt as you step on or swim close to the bottom. At first, I didn’t see any, and I worried I would be THAT person who came up empty-handed. As my eyes attuned, I began to catch more and more scallops. I expected them to hide in the grasses, but instead they lay out in the open, in beds of brownish muck. Catching scallops is mostly a matter of reaching and grabbing. But, when motivated, they will zip away.
We swam and swam, loading our mesh bags. I wasn’t wearing a watch and was surprised when Jill said it was almost 5 pm. We all had plenty of scallops, although nowhere near our limit. Paddleboarding out was a breeze, but paddling back with a mesh bag full of scallops was like dragging a sea anchor, so we loaded the bags into the kayaks.
Scallops in cooler and boats/boards loaded, we drove back to Steinhatchee in search of beer and scallop shuckers. Signs advertising shucking services lined the road, but the shuckers had been shucking all day and they were done—how did we not foresee this on the Fourth of July? We drove home, resigned ourselves to watching educational YouTube videos on shucking scallops, and took solace in pizzas at Blue Highway Pizza. The next day, we honed our shucking skills and feasted on garlic scallop pasta.
Two weeks later, emboldened by our success, Kevin and I returned to Steinhatchee with my mother, a novice scalloper. We chose Hagens Cove, north of Steinhatchee, because it offered beach access scalloping, just a quarter mile from shore. I brought my paddleboard as a platform for gear, food, and water and a floating pool chair for my mother. This area was shallow, and we waded and snorkeled out until it was deep enough to find scallops. As we got further out, the scallops grew larger and more plentiful. A darkening sky and lightning eventually drove us back to shore, and we returned to Steinhatchee. We enjoyed a terrific meal at Kathi’s Krabs while our scallops were being shucked.
The scallop season (from June 25-September 24) is almost half over, and the Gulf waters have warmed to bathtub temperatures. Whether I go scalloping again this season or not, I’m sure I will get out again on my board. The calmer Gulf waters are perfect for paddleboarding, and when clear, I have seen a variety of marine life standing on the board.