"We've got enough for an appetizer," jokes Capt. Joel Gant after half an hour of diving.
Saturday marked the start of bay scallop season, and just past 10 a.m., boats started bobbing a few miles off Hernando Beach's shore, with dive flags flapping in the wind and swimmers in snorkel gear looking for the fan-shaped mollusks.
Gant, who has been a licensed captain for 15 years and operated Fishdaddy Charter, explained that scallops prefer the clearer water and grassy areas of the gulf's floor. Where there's one scallop, there are usually more, according to Gant.
The same is true for scallop-seekers, who often take their cue from other anglers, and drop their anchors some distance away.
Before long, 10 boats are swarming the spot, and two officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pull up alongside Gant's boat, asking to see his license. By this point, Gant has collected a handful of scallops and the FWC can't offer any more advice than to try a little deeper water.
About nine miles off the coast is the sweet spot. With no boats in sight, Gant dives and eventually collects about a gallon of scallops he's scooped from the floor, in the company of pinfish, a remora and plenty of sea grass.
The waters off of Hernando County are fair game for scallop collecting, but Gant said if one launched from New Port Richey and was caught bringing home a catch, the scalloper would be headed to jail.
Bay scallops can be harvested in Gulf of Mexico state water, from the Pasco-Hernando County line near Aripeka to the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County in the west.
Collecting the scallops is a whole lot easier than cleaning them. Gant stops at the "Redneck Riviera" - a shallow spot where other boaters wade, float, drink and barbecue - to slice open the shells, discard the membranes and put the catch on ice.
All in all, about 50 tiny scallops are packed into a cooler, perhaps until Gant batters the seasonal treat and fries them up just the way he likes them.
More information on Gant is available at http://www.fishdaddycharter .com.