HOMOSASSA — When Dave Markett started taking people scalloping, gas cost 36 cents a gallon and Richard Nixon had been president for less than two years.
Forty-seven years later, Markett, 67, still leads trips near Homosassa during scallop season, which runs from the beginning of July to late September. During the rest of the year, he captains fishing and alligator hunting trips.
"It if bites and fights, I go after it," he said.
In early August, at the height of scallop season, Markett often finds himself a few miles offshore near St. Martins Keys, between the mouths of the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers.
The water is about 5 feet deep in the morning — ideal for catching bay scallops. Markett calls the area "scallop heaven."
Scalloping involves little equipment and even less instruction. Bring a mask, snorkel, mesh bag to store the scallops and a set of fins, then scan the beds of turtle grass below for the round, corrugated shells.
When you find a scallop, dive down and snatch it quickly, before it can swim away or pinch you with its valves.
"Everybody can do it," Markett said. "It's something that you can do when you're 70 and when you're 4 or 5 years old."
Markett prefers to scallop in the morning, when the tide is low or outgoing and Florida's typical afternoon storms haven't hit. He also keeps an eye on water clarity — visibility can be poor after a storm — and wind level. Strong winds aren't a dealbreaker, Markett said, but they can create waves that make snorkeling unpleasant.
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Like many Florida natives, Markett began scalloping young. He went with his parents and sister behind Honeymoon Island to scallop as early as age 3, the start of an addiction he could never quite shake.
After getting his captain's license right out of college, Markett has led scalloping trips ever since. With nearly half a century of guiding under his belt, what keeps him coming back year after year?
"It's certainly not the money I make from guiding," Markett said. "It's the most beautiful office in the world, but there are very few retired guides."
On a clear day, the horizon stretches north forever. Cormorants perch on water markers and dry their wings. Bottlenose dolphins sometimes escort Markett's boat as he enters Homosassa Bay from the channel.
From several miles away, smoke visibly rises from the generators at Duke Energy's power plant in Crystal River.
Underwater, during the scallop hunt, all that detail goes away. It's just you, the tall grass and the Argopecten irradians.
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Scalloping isn't just a fun activity: The scallops make a tasty meal, too. (Per day, you can catch up to 2 gallons of scallops in shell per person, or a pint of scallop meat, according to FWC regulations. Each vessel can catch up to 10 gallons in shell or half a gallon of meat.)
Markett said he has mastered the art of frying scallops over the years, preferring to saute the meat.
"The trick to frying is to get the grease really hot," he said. "They're very delicate, they're quite rich and they don't take heavy seasoning."
Of course, Markett said, you can buy scallops in a grocery store for much cheaper than it costs to catch them on a day trip.
"But the idea of the wonderful family activity is priceless," he said.
"It takes kids away from their electronic devices and puts them in a natural environment."