The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 9 - December 14, 2011

reel time

Sarasota Bay Watch begins historic scallop restoration

Reel time

A blue-eyed beauty of a bay scallop.

On Friday, Dec. 9, Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) instituted a revolutionary restoration project in Sarasota Bay. In multiple locations from Manatee County to Sarasota County SBW released close to 3 million scallop larvae over healthy grass beds. The group accessed the location with boats provided by Cannons Marina on Longboat Key. SBW considers the scallop restoration a true legacy project. Sarasota Bay Watch is undertaking a sustained, multi-year restoration effort, releasing scallops multiple times a year.

Bay scallops don't have the charismatic appeal of dolphins and manatees, but they are regarded by the scientific community as a vital indicator species. During the 1960s, when pollution and development was at its height, sea grass beds were negatively impacted as were fish, shrimp, and scallops. "Scallops are one of the most complex organisms in the bay," said John Ryan, also a co-founder of SBW and the brains and inspiration behind the scallop restoration program.

The money to grow the hatchlings was raised at an event called Scallopalooza, hosted by the Sarasota Yacht Club, which has been a fixture of the Sarasota waterfront since 1926. The scallops were grown at Bay Shellfish Company in Terra Ceia. Owner Curt Hemmel, a pioneer in the development of processes to raise and feed shellfish prior to seeding (he raises clams and oysters primarily) provided the scallops that were released. Hemmel has developed the ability to grow the larval scallops to a point at which they are ready to go into what is known as their "attachment" phase. By introducing the scallop larvae at this critical point they are far less likely to fall victim to predation.

Hemmel is something of a perfectionist, and waited until the scallops had a successful spawn and he was confident that they would be viable to be released into open bay waters. When conditions were right I was contacted by Ryan and we hurriedly arranged for the release. In less than 24 hours we were able to mobilize the press and get the scallops to Cannons Marina to begin the release.

We got the word that the scallops were ready on Thursday, Dec. 8, and were advised that the optimum time for release would be the next day. We could have released the scallops on Saturday, but this would have meant that many of them would be attached to our release buckets. The process would have required scraping them from the containers (some attached anyway) which would mean we would lose some. The timing of the process is that critical. Fortunately Ryan had sourced buckets and equipped them with aerators in anticipation of Hemmel's call.

As it turned out, we were able to meet Hemmel at Bay Shellfish, get the scallops in buckets with clean and temperature balanced water and to Cannons Marina for the release. During the release I was assisted by Interim SBW Director Andy Mele and David Miller in deploying half the scallops near Cortez and the Sister Keys. John Ryan, Larry Stults and David Shafer released the balance in the Sarasota County waters of Longboat Key and near the Sarasota Yacht Club adjacent to Bird Key.

Sarasota Bay Watch is a not-for-profit organization formed to protect and restore Sarasota Bay through community education and citizen participation. SBW is committed to being an "all inclusive, business oriented" organization. The focus of SBW is totally on doing projects and creating awareness of the importance of a healthy bay. Their motto is "A Healthy Bay is Everybody's Business."

Review: The Hell's Bay Biscayne

I have to start this boat review with a disclosure. I've owned a Hell's Bay boat for close to eleven years and I count it among one of my prized possessions. When I got a call from Captain Todd Fuller with an offer to try out the Biscayne, Hell's Bay's newest boat, I jumped at the chance. Not only was there the opportunity to drive and fish the new model, but  I would also have the chance to meet and fish with Captain C.A. Richardson, host of "Flat's Class" a popular TV show that airs on Sun Sports, The Sportsman's Channel and The World Fishing Network.

We launched at the Green Bridge in Palmetto and ran a smooth Manatee River to Snead Island Cut where we passed into Terra Ceia Bay and an early morning chop. After navigating the slow speed zone we put the Biscayne on plane and I got my first taste of the ride. The smooth progress the Biscayne made over that early morning chop reminded me of my Hell's Bay Guide 18.  As the day progressed we were able to run and fish the boat under varying conditions that gave me a feel for the evolution and intent of the new hull's design.

Later in the morning I poled Fuller and Richardson on a shallow mangrove lined flat in Miguel Bay. While the new boat is only 16'4" long as opposed to the 18'4" Guide I'm accustomed to, it weighs almost the same . As the wind began to pick up I noticed that it pushed the stern downwind as opposed to upwind, a definite advantage when trying to control a flats skiff in a stiff wind.  The boat tracked extremely well and was easy to control when I poled upwind and then down to pot holes in the bay. It didn't take long before C.A.'s bait casting rod to doubled up as a redfish crashed his top water plug.  Holding the boat in place so Richardson and Fuller could work the area was a breeze.  I was also impressed with the quietness of the hull as I listened for wave sounds and heard none even with the increasing chop.

After catching a few more reds and trout, I asked to put the boat thru some trials on the now rough waters of the open (Tampa) Bay. I ran the boat downwind, upwind into the chop and then quartered the boat into the waves to test the ride. I was extremely impressed both by the smoothness of the ride and the degree of dryness that the boat maintained. It was the first flats skiff that actually kept me dry under theses rather extreme conditions.  After talking to Fuller I learned that the boat had been designed expressly for the demanding conditions that Keys guides encounter. Hell's Bay designers wisely enlisted the help of some of the Keys best guides in developing a boat that would handle rough water crossings, pole silently to finicky bonefish and permit and keep the guides and passengers dry throughout the day. A boat that can handle those conditions will be a great fishing platform for most anglers.

Contrary to what you'll often hear, there is no perfect skiff for every condition. The Biscayne's draft at seven inches is almost three inches deeper than the two foot longer Guide, and the hull weighs just five pounds less.  If you're looking for a boat that handles four people on a consistent basis you might want a larger boat. However, if you're a serious guide or dedicated angler the combination of dry, smooth ride, tracking and quiet approach makes the Biscayne a serious contender for your attention. Area anglers who want to get the feel of the new Biscayne can attend a "Demo Day' in St. Petersburg on Saturday December 2, 2011. For more information contact Hell's Bay Boatworks at 321.383.8223 or check out their web site at Check out C.A. Richardson's "Flat's Class" on TV or at

The Hell's Bay Biscayne

  • Weight - 595 lbs.
  • Draft - 7" with engine & fuel
  • Length - 16' 4"
  • Beam - 70"
  • Recommended Power - 60 hp - 80 hp

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