Fishing and Scalloping Charters

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Gulf Coast Scallop Season: Catch Them While You Can

By: Terry Tomalin (posted from

Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River are hotbeds for scallops. Catching them can be fun; eating them is the reward.


Strong muscles allow the scallop to swim fast and pinch an unsuspecting hand. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Steinhatchee – Jim Henley can’t wait for scallop season. The Harvard-educated fishing guide likes to catch his share of finfish, but when the summer wind blows, he drops everything to hunt for these tasty mollusks.

“This is my favorite time of the year,” said Henley, who gave up a successful career in the financial industry to spend more time on the water. “The scallops are big and the meat is sweet. It just can’t be beat.”

Henley, a Georgia native, tells his clients that they will be in and out of the water in a matter of hours. “I guarantee they will find all you need to eat and then some more. The scalloping here is that good.”

This fishing town of fewer than 2,000, about three hours north of Tampa, was one of Florida’s first settlements. Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and President Andrew Jackson were visitors. Today, Steinhatchee caters to the outdoors crowd.

For most of the year, tourists come to fish the rich grass beds for trout, redfish, sheepshead, black sea bass, mangrove snapper and tarpon. But when summer comes, local fishing guides break out the Bimini tops for their boats and switch to scalloping.

Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River are the state’s prime scallop grounds. In these Gulf of Mexico communities, freshwater rivers flow into the ocean, stirring up the right mix of salt and fresh water for the scallops to thrive.

If rains are heavy, too much freshwater can flood the bay and wipe out a crop. If the water is too salty, they die.

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 are masters of camouflage. It takes a keen eye and steady hand to locate these critters in the thick beds of shoal 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.

And remember that while a scallop may look harmless, 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 hurts.

When talking about the shellfish, old-timers sometimes say, “The scallops are in.” But the idea that scallops migrate is an old fish tale. In fact, scallops stay close to the grass beds in which they were born.

These creatures spawn in the early fall, and it doesn’t take many to repopulate an area. One scallop can lay a million eggs that float around for two weeks to a month. The eggs then attach to blades of grass.

If You Go
There are advantages to delaying a scallop search until later in the summer. First, the scallops are bigger, which means more meat for the table. Second, most people think the grass beds have been picked clean. So on a weekday in August, you pretty much have the place to yourself.

Scallop season along Florida’s Gulf coast runs July 1 through Sept. 25. It is legal to gather scallops north of the Pasco-Hernando (Aripeka) county line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

It is legal to land up to two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of scallop meat each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers may not possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half gallon of meat aboard any boat.

You may catch bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. They cannot be sold for commercial purposes.

For more information, go to

Terry Tomalin is VISIT FLORIDA’s Boating and Fishing Insider and the outdoors editor for the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in St. Petersburg.

River Time

River Time
By: Chelle Koster Walton

Families find easy pleasures down by the Steinhatchee.
The 10 or so families in Jim Henley’s Steinhatchee neighborhood own one wheelbarrow. Collectively. It’s not that they can’t afford their own: Steinhatchee is home to both affluent residents and hard-working folk.
“We decided we probably only needed one wheelbarrow in the neighborhood,” says Jim in his transplanted-Georgia accent. “So whoever needs it, uses it and keeps it until someone else needs it.” Some of his neighbors are citified weekenders with “real jobs,” says Jim, a fishing and scalloping charter captain. Jim and the other neighbors keep the weekenders’ lawns trimmed for them so that they can relax and have fun when they visit.
The big draw to this small town of about 2,500, set alongside the Steinhatchee River where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, is the summer scallops. Jim and a battery of other guides take people a mile offshore to find scallops in the shallow waters around Florida’s “Big Bend” region, where the state begins its spread westward.
Great historical figures like Panfilo de Narvaez, Hernando de Soto and Andrew Jackson all crossed the Steinhatchee River at “The Falls,” where flatbed rock accommodated many a horse-drawn wagon back when the town was known first as Deadman Bay and later as Stephensville. Today, a pleasant park marks the Falls spot, between U.S. 19 and today’s Steinhatchee (pronounced STEEN-ha-chee).

Water is central to Steinhatchee, and the town is best enjoyed from the river that runs through it. Homes with boats parked at their docks, salty seafood restaurants and low-impact resorts such as Steinhatchee Landing and Sea Hag Marina & Motel line the river on the Steinhatchee side, which is in Taylor County. Across the water, the town of Jena in Dixie County has more lenient building codes, and a few medium-rise condos have cropped up. But as a whole, this away-from-it-all town remains pleasantly mired in Old Florida, and that’s the way its residents like it.
Two of the local favorites for dinner overlook the Steinhatchee River. Roy’s Restaurant lays out a sumptuous salad bar in a bright, windowed space where fried seafood is prepared the way it should be and without apology. It also affords a view of the Gulf.
Fiddler’s Restaurant has the worn-in look of an old-time fishing lodge and a menu that showcases the area’s history as a commercial fishing center. Try the fried mullet or bring in your scallop catch to have it cooked up scampi style. You’ve never tasted scallops so sweet as fresh from the shell. Any number of signs throughout the scant downtown advertise folks who will clean your scallops for you. Take them up on it – it’s a labor-intensive job. The limit is two gallons of whole bay scallops per person, or up to 10 gallons per boat.
Scallop season runs July 1 through Sept. 10, and on summer weekends, a battalion of charter boats lines up along the eel grass flats to drop off their snorkel-geared patrons. Kids get a snorkeling lesson, and everyone learns the best way to find and nab the shellfish. It’s like an underwater Easter egg hunt.
Year ‘round, the confluence of fresh river and salty Gulf waters assures a wide variety of finned catches: redfish, grouper, sheepshead, cobia, king mackerel, snapper, sea trout, flounder, mahi mahi and more. Local resorts can hook your family up with a knowledgeable fishing guide.
Steinhatchee Landing rents bicycles, canoes and kayaks, and can arrange kayak fishing tours or a shuttle up to Steinhatchee Falls, about six miles away, for a serene paddle back downriver. Perfect for family vacations (the Jimmy Carter family has held three family fishing reunions here), Steinhatchee Landing resembles an old Southern neighborhood, complete with chickens, goats, rabbits, ducks and koi fish to feed. The Landing’s 39 cottages include one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom options to accommodate any size family.
Plus there is archery, a swimming pool, croquet, horseshoes, badminton, a children’s playground and tennis to keep everyone entertained and outdoors. Bring along some marshmallows for roasting over a fire pit come nightfall.
In case you forgot anything, head to Maddie’s Market in “downtown” Steinhatchee, which consists of a half-mile stretch on First Avenue. It stocks everything from brooms, bananas and “Butt Rub” (barbecue dry rub) to wine, fried chicken and deli sandwiches. A hardware store, water tower and produce stand selling boiled peanuts adjoin the general store.
On Riverside Drive, the other major road through town, you’ll find a Baptist church, tiny post office, hair salon, seafood market and a place that rents kayaks. No big-box stores. No theme parks. No fast-food chains. Not even stoplights.
This is the Florida that the rat race scampered by. This is the Florida where casting a line and drinking lemonade on a porch create the kind of family memories that you remember from your own childhood.



Winter Fishing Package

Captain Jim Henley and his professional Charter Captain team (USCG licensed), are offering a special Winter fishing package in Steinhatchee, Florida. Fishing Charters can carry up to 4 people.


– Fish one day and receive a $60 price reduction for the day. The reduced package includes a full day of fishing, one night stay for two people at the River Haven Marina and Motel. Total package price is $480.

– Fish two days and receive a $90 program reduction for “each” day. The reduced package includes 2 full days of Charter fishing, and a 2 night stay for two people at River Haven Marina and Motel. Total package price is $900.

– Fish three days and receive a $142 program reduction for “each” day. The reduced package includes a full day of fishing, a three nights stay for two at the River Haven Marina and Motel. Total package price is $1,190.

Charter reservations require 50% deposit. Cancellation prior to 14 days of the date of the reservation receives a full refund. Reservations made within 14 days or cancellation within 14 days of the charter date, require loss of the deposit.

For instant charter reservations call Captain Jim Henley (423) 330-0101 or email at Fishing Charters can accommodate up to 4 people. Take a look at Captain Jim’s web page: Don’t forget to mention WINTERFISH to get this special rate!

We look forward to seeing you on the dock!