Even a newbie can have fun hunting for razor clams

  • By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 5, 2014 1:30pm
  • LifeExplore NW

“Wave! Wave!”

My mother was kneeling on the beach, elbow deep in the sand, determinedly groping for a razor clam.

She completely ignored our warning and continued, unconcerned, as icy water soaked her to mid-thigh. She came up with a clam.

My mother’s determination while clamming is family legend. Yet she hasn’t had the chance to practice it for years.

She grew up near Puget Sound, fishing and clamming constantly. We moved to Idaho when I was young, though, and so I’ve had few chances to clam with her.

I was delighted to give it a try with her while she was visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday.

My mom, a friend and I all headed out on an extremely rainy and windy night to see how many clams we could claim.

With the exception of my mom, we had never dug for razor clams. But we like an adventure, so our first try was in the dark with a wind so strong we couldn’t walk straight. If we set our buckets down, they immediately began rolling down the beach.

The first challenge was simply finding the water. Seems like that wouldn’t be that hard, but being in the pitch dark with blowing rain is rather disorienting. Our line to the water probably looked like we were drunk.

Eventually, we found the waves. We cheered. Then we started straining our eyes, struggling to find the little holes that would tell us a clam was somewhere under the sand.

It took a few tries before we actually got one. I spotted the hole and dug in with my clam gun (a cylindrical tube with a handle on top). My mom pulled our first clam out of the hole and we all cheered again.

We wandered the beach slowly. When it seemed the tide was starting to turn, we decided it was time to go. And not a moment to soon. The weather shifted. The temperature dropped rapidly and the already heavy rain turned into a sideways downpour.

Then came the next challenge. Finding our car. We suspected this would be a difficult, so we had positioned a flashlight in the windshield to guide us. In the intense rain, though, it was impossible to see. And when the rain slowed, we saw the light, but to our dark-acclimated eyes, it seemed too bright to be a flashlight. Eventually, a truck drove by us and its lights illuminated our car, not too far away. We double-timed it back.

We ended up with about a dozen clams among us, most of them good sized. It wasn’t a spectacular haul, but given the conditions — not to mention that two of us had no idea what we were doing — we were happy.

I cleaned the clams — tricky, but not too bad once you get the hang of it. Thank you, YouTube. We ate them with browned butter, the simplest recipe I could find. They were delicious.

We had so much fun, I’ve already booked another stay at a rental in Westport for February. This time, however, the tides are more conveniently timed and we’ll be digging in the daylight. I can’t wait to see how we do when we can actually see what we’re doing. I’m hoping to dig my limit this time. I have big plans involving clam chowder.

Tips to get you started on your first razor clam dig

Dan Ayres, Coastal Shellfish Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says that razor clamming is a great outdoor activity that the whole family can enjoy. It’s also pretty easy to get started.

“Razor clam digging is not difficult, unlike a lot of outdoors type sports where you need a lot of experience or equipment,” Ayres said.

Ayres offered some tips for those who’d like to get started digging razor clams.

The rules

You must have a permit for clamming. You can purchase them in advance online at http://wdfw.wa.gov or find a vendor at http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors. A 3-day permit for razor clamming is $8.60. Your license must be with you while you are digging. Kids 15 and younger don’t need a permit.

The limit is 15 clams per person per day. You must keep the first 15 clams you dig, regardless of their size or condition. You must have your own container to hold your clams, although you can share other equipment. You must be actively participating in digging. Someone else can not dig your clams for you. This is true for kids, too, although parents are allowed to assist them.

Where to go

Razor clams are found on ocean beaches including at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks and Copalis. Check the WDFW website to see what beaches are open when. As far as where to go on a specific beaches, if you don’t know, simply look for the crowds. If there are a lot of clammers, you can expect that the clamming is good in that spot.

What you need

To dig razor clams, you’ll need either a razor clam shovel or a razor clam tube. Go to WDFW’s razor clam site for tips on how to use the shovel or tube. You’ll also need your own bucket or net to hold your clams. Don’t forget clothes and shoes appropriate for the weather.

When to go

Razor clam digging is open on certain days and times, set by the WDFW. All digs are tentative until about a week before, when tests verify that dangerous marine toxins are not present. Check the WDFW website to verify if digging is allowed. Ayres says you are most likely to be successful in good weather, with no rain and low surf. Clams don’t like fresh water, so heavy rain makes it harder to find them. And rain and waves make the show harder to see. Begin digging before low tide. Give yourself at least an hour, but ideally two hours.

What to look for

Razor clams make a little show at the surface of the sand, either when they are feeding, or when they dig down deeper after feeding. The show doesn’t always look the same. It can sometimes be a hole in the sand about the size of a dime. Or it can be a little mound with a dimple in the center, like a volcano. Typically, if you tap the ground nearby with a shovel or stamp your foot, the clam will react and you’ll see that at the show. If you can’t find any signs of clams, Ayres says, simply ask someone on the beach who is finding clams. Most people, he says, will be happy to show you what to look for.

How to store clams

Until you can clean your clams, keep them in a bucket, without water, in a cool place. Do not store them in fresh water, which will kill them. They can be stored in salt water for a short time, but leaving them in it too long will give you off-flavored clams. Once your clams are cleaned, they can be stored in the fridge for four or five days.

How to clean clams

Cleaning clams isn’t difficult, but there is a bit of a learning curve. The best way to learn is to check out a video. I found this one helpful. The WDFW website also offers step by step instructions with pictures.

How to cook clams

Check the WDFW for recipe ideas. Ayres likes to keep it simple. He puts the clams in a bag with flour and shakes, giving them a very light coating. He then cooks them in either olive or canola oil. A chef he knows uses clarified butter, which he says is delicous. Clams have a strong smell while cooking, so if you’d like to avoid that consider cooking in an electric skillet outside. Any clams that he won’t eat in the first day or two, he cans using a pressure canner. Canned clams make excellent chowder. He suggests using buttermilk for chowder recipes — and whatever you do, don’t skimp on the clams.

If you go at night

In the winter, many digs are at night because of the way the tides fall. If you park on the beach at night, the intense darkness is disorienting. Consider putting a bright, flashing light in your car. If you have a smartphone or GPS, you could also use that to mark the location of your car. Bring a headlamp and a bright flashlight. Lanterns are also effective. Try using your light source down low, to make the clam shows more visible.

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