Stone Crab

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!

Great Day Trip: Caladesi Island

While its exact ranking will vary slightly from year-to-year, no one will deny that Caladesi Island is one of the absolute best beaches in America.

This practically untouched state park is located just west of Clearwater, but the only way to get there is to take the 15-20 minute ferry from Honeymoon Island.  Including the ferry ride, Caladesi Island State Park is just under 2 hours away from the Villages of Citrus Hills. 

America’s Best Beach

Once you arrive at Caladesi Island, it is easy to see why it was rated the top beach in America in 2008 and continues to be featured on similar lists year after year. This beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear water remains undeveloped. There are no highways, no traffic, no homes, and no commercial buildings. 

While the island is completely undeveloped, there are still plenty of amenities like a snack stand, umbrellas for rent, and lifeguards on duty when in season. In addition to having great sand, and warm water, the beach is also a great place for shelling because it is not overpopulated with tourists. 

For the Active Beachgoers

The idea of relaxing on an untouched beach sums up a perfect day for many of us, but those who need a little more activity will not be disappointed either. Caladesi Island State Park has three miles of nature trails that weave their way through the island’s interior. 

There is also a three-mile kayak trail through the bay. As you hike or paddle around the island, you are likely to spot some of the local gopher tortoises burrowing in the sand dunes. 

Because of the lack of tourist traffic, local anglers will find great salt-water fishing both from the island’s beaches and the surrounding waters. There are also plenty of picnic areas, and if you have your own boat, you can make a reservation to dock it at the Caladesi Island Marina for an overnight trip. 

Stopping for Dinner

There is a small cafe located right on Caladesi Island, but if you are going to be passing through Clearwater on your way back home, you will definitely want to consider stopping at Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza. This family-owned pizzeria makes some of the best pizza you will ever try. In addition to their fantastic pizza, Cristino’s also specializes in chicken wings that are smothered in garlic and caramelized onions, homemade lentil soup, and their famous panzerotti!

Another great local restaurant that you might want to try is Eatin’ Fresh, but they are only open for lunch, so you will want to make sure to plan your day accordingly and either get back from the island in time to eat or eat before you head out to the beach. Eatin’ Fresh has a great selection of fresh seafood including some outstanding fish tacos and the original Stone Claw Taco. 

The ideal trip to Caladesi Island probably starts with a light lunch of Stone Claw Tacos at Eatin’ Fresh around 11:00 am. From there, you can head out to Honeymoon Island to catch the ferry to Caladesi Island and spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach or exploring the nature trails. Follow your beach adventure with a coal oven pizza from Cristino’s and you will be both relaxed and well-fed for your trip back home to the Villages of Citrus Hills.