Autumn brings with it many things, the falling leaves, the long rains, and the mysterious return of the McRib. Here in the great state of Washington, as many people start to settle into the holiday hibernation, others of us are breaking out the thermals and the rain gear and getting ready for WDFW to announce the years first Razor clam dig.
Razor clamming is a great way to spend some winter weekends and doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear. (Though this year I noticed clam tubes on the shelf for over $100 wtf!? Don’t worry, a regular PVC tube should only cost about $20+-)
Razor clamming is also a great opportunity to get friends and relatives, who aren’t exactly outdoorsy, to experience what the outdoors has to offer. I mean c’mon what better motivator than fresh caught razor clams?
The WDFW (Washington department of fish and wildlife) sets the Razor clam digs and posts the opening dates on their website: wdfw.wa.gov Here you can find much information such as current closures, future digs and even a handful of razor clam recipes. A hard copy of the regulations is handy, but for razor clams, access to this site is vital to know when and where you can dig.
To get started you will need the necessities:
1. A shovel (clam gun) or clam tube
2. Something to carry your clams in (each person must have their personal limit of clams in a separate container while clamming)
3. A light source (Flashlights and headlamps work, but in my experience, a Coleman propane lantern is the choice)
4. Rubber boots (you WILL get wet)
5. Gloves ( Warmth and water resistance, I usually buy the Atlas thermal types)
6. Weather appropriate clothing (The coast is often merciless at best, steady high winds, rain and ocean spray conspire to sap your body heat, Rain gear, thermals, wool socks, warm knit cap, balaclava etc.)
7. A cooler and ice to keep your catch fresh.
8. Don’t forget to buy a shellfish license!
I think thats about it, some other things to consider are: You will be driving on the sand, it’s best not to take the road less traveled here because you can get stuck, also driving on the clam beds is very illegal, take the beaten path. (You can march to your own drum later) Another handy tip is to bring an LED light you can set on your dashboard while you are on the prowl for clams, this makes finding your car in the pitch black a helluva lot easier.
Now that we got all our necessities out of the way, Let’s go clamming!
Being your first time, as you walk toward the surf, keep an eye out for previous diggings and what the others are doing, often people will completely miss clams as they rush along, and also many times new “shows” will appear.
A little terminology: What we are looking for is called a “Clam Show”, which is a little dimple, or volcano, or even an irregularity in the sand. You will eventually develop an eye for this, maybe even by the end of the dig, in the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found people are more than happy to help, sometimes even offering their assistance without being solicited. There is usually a pretty jovial spirit during a dig and most clammers are pretty friendly.
Once you have found your show it’s time to dig! I’ve found the name of the game here is speed, those little buggers can dig pretty fast, so you gotta dig faster. If using a clam tube (which is what the vast majority of people are using) place the tube on top of the show, with the show being more or less directly in the center. You’ll want to press down quickly, rotating the tube side to side to get a better bite into the sand.
When you have gone down as far as you reasonably can, cover the hole on the top of the tube and pull up and out of the sand. A vital key here is to LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS, if you pull with your back, your dig will be over in no time at all, and maybe so with your career as a clammer as well. When you have exhumed the tube, release the hole and shake out the cylinder of sand inside, with any luck, your prize Siliqua patula will be in there waiting. If not… Get digging! Get that clam S.O.B.! You going to let some bivalve get the best of you?
If I don’t find a clam in about three pulls, I move on, looking for another show. Quietly brooding, knowing some wiseacre mollusc is down there, bragging to the pile worms about how he pulled a good one on that tube wielding ape. Next time clamboy… next time.
Occasionally you may hear a crunching sound while you bear down on the clam, this usually means that you have mortally wounded the clam, and what you’ll pull up is a partial clam or worse. There will still be plenty of clam meat there, and also the law states that your limit is the first 15 clams dug, this counts toward your 15. You’ll sometimes see mangled clams laying about as some people don’t seem to follow the rules, but wastage is wrong, and against the law. Do the right thing.
Well thats clamming in a nutshell. You’ll undoubtedly find your own methods, tips and secrets, and thats all part of the fun. I have a few tips and observations I’ll share, they might be helpful, or you might call me a filthy liar, your choice!
It seems to me clamming in the surf can be very productive, here you aren’t looking for shows, but rather the very tip of the clams siphon, kinda looks like a little dark colored star. You’ll have to move quickly here, you’ll see when they know you are coming as they’ll zip right under the sand. They won’t leave a show because the water will wash it away so you gotta get right on top of em’ and dig fast.
When you are clamming the surf though, always keep an eye towards the sea, the waves can be very irregular, the one that barely lapped at your ankles can and will be followed by the one that fills your boots or dumps your unobservant butt right into the drink! Be careful!
Another thing I’ve noticed is that during certain times of the year, usually earlier in the season, you’ll see the occasional big show, now it might be tempting just to dive right in, but if it looks unusually large it sometimes is a female dungeness crab, laden with eggs buried beneath the sand. You can’t keep them, and really it’s in everyones best interest not to disturb them, because she’s down there incubating that next generation of yummy Dungeness crab… mmmm, I’ll get to them in a future blog.
I’d like to add here that small businesses on the coast often sell clam tubes and shovels and other necessary equipment. There are many restaurants, shops and motels down that way as well. I’m not trying to be preachy but, skip the Wal*Mart and save your dough for the little guy, the dollar you spend at Wal*Mart goes back to Bentonville, Arkansas and then to China.
The one you spend on the coast, tends to hang around the coast, and for a lot longer. That being said, always be prepared because there are some things you won’t find. On my last trip tubes, shovels, and clam nets were abundant, but I didn’t see any rubber boots or lanterns. Food for thought.
After all is said and done, you’ll have to clean your clams. Some find this daunting, but with a little practice you’ll be shucking them in no time flat.
1. First I take the clam in my hand, slide the knife against the inside of the shell, then slide it against the other side.
2. Pull the shell apart and it should open up like a butterfly, what you’ll see is the gut bag, siphon and foot.
3. Grab the gut bag and pull it out, this will take the foot with it. Cut the foot off at the bottom of the gut bag. Discard the gut bag, keep the foot.
4. The remaining piece is the siphon “assembly” Cut off the dark tip of the siphon (discard or save as fishing bait) Slide your knife up the sipon, splitting it open.
5. Rinse and repeat, it’s that simple.
I’ll spare you my recipes for now, the Internet is absolutely full of them, so I have no doubt you’ll find one you are looking for. Razor clams are very versatile though, from clam fritters, to clam sauce, sauteed clams, shrimp gumbo, shrimp and potatoes, fried shrim… oops, wrong blog. The culinary possibilities are many…
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the surf! Get out there and dig some clams!