Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Harvest time, so grab a mask

STEINHATCHEE — Jim Henley doesn't like to rush scallop season. The Harvard-educated fishing guide prefers to wait until the mad rush of early July has subsided before he heads out to snorkel for the mouth-watering mollusks.

"This is my favorite time of the year," said Henley, 55 who gave up a successful career in the financial industry to spend more time on the water. "The scallops are bigger and the meat is sweeter."

Henley, a Georgia native, promised we would be in and out of the water in a matter of hours.

"I guarantee you will find all you need to eat and then some more," he said. "The scalloping here is that good."

Old Florida

The name Steinhatchee roughly translates to "River of Man," but it could have been just as easily named "River of Scallops." This fishing town of fewer than 2,000 and located about three hours north of Tampa along the gulf, was one of Florida's first settlements, visited by everyone from Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto to General Andrew Jackson.

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 come July 1, local fishing guides break out the Bimini tops for their boats and switch to scalloping.

"We are scallop city," said Dean Fowler, a 74-year-old historian who developed an old Florida-style resort called Steinhatchee Landing. "We have tried to preserve a way of life that you don't really see anyplace else."

Fowler, Henley and other locals don't want Steinhatchee to get much bigger. They know that growth can bring its own set of problems.

"Everything has to be just right for scallops to thrive," Fowler said. "This resource is fragile. We want to keep it healthy."

The water of life

Scallops need a mixture of freshwater and saltwater to survive. If the rains are heavy, such as during an active hurricane season, too much freshwater can wipe out an entire crop. If the water has too much salinity, scallops won't survive, either.

The Steinhatchee River, which starts in north Florida's Mallory Swamp and flows 28 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, provided just the right amount of freshwater this year to produce a bumper crop.

"You are not going to believe your eyes, boys," Henley said as he anchored on a deserted grass flat in about 4 feet of water. "You will be done in an hour."

Henley helped us into the water one by one. I cleared my mask, dipped my head in the water and immediately counted a dozen scallops within arms reach.

By 9 a.m., just an hour after we started, my 8-year-old son and I had gathered 2 gallons of scallops each. My friend Dean Pickel and his son Cley, 7, did just as well. Henley, who was only in the water for 20 minutes, got his limit too.

"I wasn't kidding, now was I?" Henley said as we motored back to the dock.

Baked, broiled or fried

Henley unloaded our haul and put the cooler in a truck for the short drive to Miss Beverlyn Hanson's house. Hanson cleans the scallops by hand — so not even the tiniest piece of meat is lost — then she bags them for lunch, dinner or the freezer.

We took ours to Jim Hunt's restaurant, Fiddler's, where he prepared them three different ways for lunch.

"I've got some fried scallops, scallops scampi and a little Greek creation for some variety," he said. After eating several pounds of scallops, I could feel my belly busting out of my belt buckle.

"Had enough?" Hunt asked.

"I think so," I said. "Until next year."

If you go

Along Florida's gulf coast the season runs through Sept. 10. It is legal to gather scallops north of the Pasco-Hernando county line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County. It is legal to land up to 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or 1 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. For information on fishing, scalloping or accommodations, contact Jim Henley (352-498-0792 or or Steinhatchee Landings Resort (352-498-3513 or

Harvest time, so grab a mask 07/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 2:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston honored in NFL top 100


    Helping fans pass time through the offseason each summer, NFL Network has been unveiling its top 100 players for 2017 as chosen by the players, and the Bucs' Gerald McCoy and Jameis Winston are the first Tampa Bay players revealed, coming in at No. 52 and 57, respectively.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis WInston and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, shown in the 2016 season finale against the Panthers, have both been named to the NFL Network's top 100 players for 2017.
  2. Former Gator Caleb Brantley paying a steep price for nothing


    It turns out Caleb Brantley isn't quite the dirtbag that millions of people presumed. It's too bad the damage to his reputation and bank account is already done.

    Caleb Brantley, who dropped to the sixth round of the draft, works out during Browns rookie minicamp. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Daniel Robertson walks off the field after being left stranded at first base to end the game.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    OF/DH Corey Dickerson missed out on a good birthday gift when AL player of the week honors went instead to Detroit's J.D. Martinez. Dickerson hit .385 with five homers, nine RBIs and nine runs; Martinez went .389-4-9-7 and got the nod.