Scallop season is still almost two months away in Steinhatchee, the coastal fishing community in the Big Bend of Florida's Gulf Coast.
You needn't love fishing to enjoy Steinhatchee (pronounced "steen"-hatchee), but a tolerance of the sport and its lifestyle is required. Unlike other Gulf Coast destinations such as Cedar Key, about 70 miles south, Steinhatchee offers little in the way of a downtown business district. No quirky art galleries or souvenir shops here.
Fortunately, two restaurants offer tastes of the fresh catches hauled ashore by local fishermen. I stopped at Roy's Restaurant (roys-restaurant.com), where I sampled a fried shrimp lunch basket ($9.61) at an indoor table with a view of the bay. Across the street, Crabbie Dad's is earthier, with an outdoor deck for those who would rather not dine in the smoke-tinged bar. Crabbie's is known for oysters on the half shell, but the eatery was out of them on my visit.
Aside from seafood, Steinhatchee is heaven for anyone seeking uncluttered, Old Florida lifestyle. Crab traps are stacked in the yards of weathered old houses on Riverside Drive, where the porches are decorated with ropes adorned with colorful marker buoys. The two-lane road runs along the Steinhatchee River.
An old fishing pier has been transformed into a shaded observation deck that extends over the river, a good vantage point for taking photos of passing fishing boats.
Within a few miles of the pier, a section of the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail (off County Road 361) is home to bird and marine life including white pelicans, bald eagles and ospreys. Steinhatchee Falls (off County Road 51) is a limestone shelf that once served as a crossing for Timucuan Indians, Spanish explorers and Civil War troops.
Keaton Beach, north on C.R. 361, is a good spot for swimming, picnicking and, of course, fishing.
If you do want to go scalloping, the season runs July 1-Sept. 10. The process requires nothing more than a boat, mask, snorkel, fins and a mesh bag to hold the shellfish that reside in the sea grasses of the shallow Apalachee Bay.
For those who consider fishing tedious, scooping scallops can be a much livelier diversion. Boat rentals are available at roughly half a dozen marinas along Riverside Drive.