Scallops

Exploring the Big Bend Shellfish Trail

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Seafood is extremely popular across the state of Florida, and shellfish is practically a way of life along the Gulf Coast. Here at the Villages of Citrus Hills, we have the luxury of being located right next to the Big Bend Shellfish Trail, which is where you will find one of the best sources of fresh shellfish in the entire country.  

Whether your preference is for clams, oysters, blue crabs, shrimp, or stone crabs, you can find all of them as you make your way up and down the trail. But with so many options to choose from, figuring out how to best enjoy the trail can be a bit overwhelming.  

Let's take a closer look at what exactly the Big Bend Shellfish Trail has to offer! 

About the Trail 

The Big Bend Shellfish Trail is comprised of the working waterfront communities in Dixie, Levy, Jefferson, and Taylor Counties ranging from Steinhatchee to Yankeetown.  

At one time, this area was better known for its fishing boats, but a 1995 ban on gill net fishing forced the local workers to evolve into shellfish harvesters. Today, you will find large piles of crab traps sitting on docks the entire way up the coast, and it isn't too hard to find the shellfish that make their way into those traps either! 

Types of Shellfish 

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Scallops and Stone Crabs are probably the most sought-after shellfish you will find along the Big Bend Shellfish Trail. Both are limited in terms of fishing season and restricted to certain catch limits, which means that supplies are almost always limited, making them rather expensive.  

On the flip side, you will find all of the clams, shrimp, and blue crabs you could ever want throughout the salty marsh waters of the Big Bend Shellfish Trail.  

Big Bend Destinations 

Because the entire Big Bend Shellfish Trail is located within a short driving distance of the Villages of Citrus Hills, each of the popular stops along the trail would be an excellent day trip for our residents.  

Cedar Key is probably the most popular tourist destination along the trail, and it is also a favorite day trip spot for local residents. In addition to being a beautiful island, this is also a prime spot for oysters and clams, and there are also a number of farm-to-table shellfish restaurants on the island.  

If you are looking for a scalloping adventure, Steinhatchee is the place to find your charter service. And that won't be hard here considering the area is filled with working shellfish boats.  

Another excellent destination for a Big Bend Shellfish Trail day trip is Suwannee, where you will find some of the best stone crab fishing of the entire Gulf Coast. This is also a great place to track down clams, oysters, and blue crabs as well.  

Whether you are looking to get out on the water and catch your own shellfish or stay on dry land and enjoy a fantastic seafood experience at a locally owned restaurant, the Big Bend Shellfish Trail can help you out either way. So if you are passionate about your shellfish, it's time to get out and start exploring the trail!

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Scallop Season in 2017

Another Crystal River summer is upon us, and that means that we are right around the corner from another scallop season. Chasing down bay scallops is one of the most popular summer pastimes here in Citrus County, and we have covered the topic multiple times before with details on the rules of scalloping

 https://www.citrushills.com/blog/florida-scalloping-season-is-here

and some of the popular local scallop charter companies.

https://www.citrushills.com/blog/e58ymh4fit01rhy53qk5vonaoc40q9

This year, scallop season kicks off on July 1 and runs through September 24. If you are an experienced scallop hunter, that is pretty much all you need to know. But if you are new to this kind of adventure, or would like to improve your game, we have put together a few tips and tricks that will help you impress your fellow scallopers over the course of the summer.

Understand the Rules

The first trick to being a great scallop hunter is knowing exactly what the rules and regulations are when you are out collecting these delicious shellfish. First and foremost, you must obtain a Florida Saltwater Fishing License prior to collecting any scallops, unless you go scalloping with one of our local fishing charter companies.

You also need to be aware that there is a daily limit on how many scallops you can collect. This year's scallopers are restricted to only two gallons of scallops in their shells, or one pint of actual scallop meat. There is no restriction on the size of the scallops, but the limits on volume are very precise.

Bring the Right Equipment

Most commercial tools are not permitted for recreational scalloping. The preferred container for most scallop hunters is a simple mesh bag, which you can find at a number of different retailers throughout Citrus County. You will also want to have diving equipment that you are comfortable working with in shallow waters.

If you don't have your own equipment, you might consider signing up for a scallop excursion with one of the local charter companies that provide all of the equipment you will need.

Know Where to Look

 

If you have the benefit of heading out with a local charter company, you will likely be working with an experienced guide who will take you right to the best scallop locations.

However, if you are working on your own, you should know that scallops prefer to make their homes in grassy areas that range from four to eight feet of water.

 

 

Practice Your Diving

Whether you are navigating a boat or diving yourself, you should always be alert to diving flags. These are your best clue to avoid running into other divers in more ways than one. In addition to dive flags, you should also make every effort to practice diving prior to heading out looking for scallops.

Diving gear can take some time to get used to, and you don't want to waste any time on your scalloping adventure figuring out how to best fit your new mask.

Study Scallop Shucking

If you are going scalloping on your own, you are going to have to shuck them yourself. This is not difficult once you learn how, but learning can be a difficult task if you don't have the right teacher.

Spend a few minutes before your trip refreshing yourself on the basics so that you don't end up with a big bag of scallops and no clue how to shuck them.

Once again, if you are heading out with a charter tour, your guide will likely take care of the shucking for you. But it never hurts to have a little background information before you hit the water!

No matter how much scalloping you plan to do this summer, having a solid base of knowledge before you start will make the entire experience more enjoyable.

Once you have the basics down, the only thing left is to learn how to make a good seasoning and locating a great cast iron skillet to cook the day’s haul!

Fish Fridays: 5 Local Seafood Restaurants to Visit During Lent

No matter what your religious affiliation, almost everyone can appreciate a good fish fry. And while many religions require a meatless diet on Fridays during forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, just as many non-religious people participate in the tradition simply because seafood is delicious.

The restaurants within the Villages of Citrus Hills have great seafood entrees available every Friday. There are also many great restaurants in Citrus County serving a great fish Friday, so we’ve pulled together a list of five seafood restaurants for you to try.  

There are so many in our area we’ll probably have to do a listing every month.

Seafood Seller & Cafe

The Seafood Seller & Cafe has a casual atmosphere and is located inside the Crystal River Mall, where they anchor the food court. They stay one of the most popular seafood restaurants in all of Citrus County.

If you’ve never visited before, you will not believe the quality of the food that can be found at the mall! One of the signature items to try is the Blue Crab Balls, but everything on the menu is fantastic. Other popular selections include the Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos, Blackened Grouper Dinner, Oyster Po Boy Sandwiches, and Crawfish!

Peck’s Old Port Cove

If you like your seafood to come with a view, Peck’s Old Port Cove at the end of the scenic Ozello Trail is the perfect destination. Here you can pull up a chair overlooking the water of Crystal Bay right in the heart of Crystal River Preserve State Park.

Soft Shell Blue crabs are one of the specialties here, and Peck’s does an appreciable job of sautéing them in plenty of butter. They also serve a delicious fried seafood platter.

Stumpknockers on the River

Another renowned fish spot in Citrus County is Stumpknockers on the River. This locally owned restaurant sits right on the Withlacoochee River, and their most popular specialty is the Fried Catfish Dinner. There are many Lent-friendly entrees on their menu, like the Peel & Eat Shrimp, Stuffed Flounder, and the Fab 4, which features shrimp, scallops, mussels, and crab legs.

Dan’s Clam Stand

Many people make the mistake of assuming that fried fish is all that there is to eat on Fridays during Lent, but that definitely isn’t the case. At Dan’s Clam Stand, shellfish is their passion. Here you will find amazing deep fried shrimp and clams and wonderful conch fritters.

Katch Twenty-Two

Another common misconception about the Lent season is that the seafood has to be fried and served in an ultra-casual environment. If you are looking to buck that trend and go for something a bit elegant, Katch Twenty-Two is one of Citrus County’s premier seafood restaurants. There is a wide range of options on Chef Richard’s constantly evolving menu, but amazing seafood dishes are always a feature that takes advantage of our location along the Gulf Coast.

The Lenten season stretches out for a total of seven Fridays during the months of March and April this year, but it doesn’t even have to be a Friday during Lent for you to enjoy one of these excellent local seafood restaurants. No matter when you plan to visit, make sure you are hungry when you do