Generally, the best time to go shelling is just before and at low tide, and definitely, just after a storm. There are usually two high and two low tides each day in the Gulf of Mexico. Tide charts are available at bait shops, marinas, and in local newspapers.
On the islands, many of the best shells often show up at the tips, near the passes. Shallow bars that run parallel to the islands often have live starfish, whelks, sand dollars and other prized specimens. But please limit the taking of live shells to only a few. Excellent prehistoric shark’s teeth are found on the barrier islands. You may even see some people using Florida “snow shovels” to scoop through the shells looking for shark’s teeth.
The best places to look for shells are at the surf line where the highest waves reach the beach. On calm days, you can also work the slight drop where the waves splash onto the beach. You also can find shells in the mud or sand on the bay side; you may want to wear old sneakers or diving shoes to walk in the muck.
A saltwater fishing license is needed if you intend to harvest live shells from a boat. Licenses are available at marinas, bait shops and local tax collectors.