By Stacey Sutherlin
The best time for clam digging is from spring to early fall. Razor clams spawn in the summer (July-August) and it’s said that razor clams taste the best in early summer, although some outdoor enthusiasts say it doesn’t matter.
Minus tides (really low tides) are when you will find most people out digging. I remember, while growing up, my father always watched for at least a -1.8 tide or greater as that presented the best opportunity for us when we hit the flats. Reviewing your local tide table for the area you are planning to visit is important so you can plan before you embark on your clamming excursion.
Yes, it’s true there is such thing as shellfish poisoning. Since razor clams are filter feeders, that means they eat phytoplankton. Some phytoplankton can have toxins. There are two types of toxins that are seen in razor clams which are Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning or Domoic Acid.
It’s important to know what this means and to not let it scare you. Most times for the area you will be clamming, the state does testing with samples of the razor clams year-round to indicate if the clams are safe to consume. If “alert” levels are noted, then shellfish harvesting areas are closed for safety.
Red tide is another occurrence caused by algal blooms when algae is so abundant that it discolors the coastal waters and can release toxins that can cause illness. Your state agency also tests for red tide and closes the harvest areas when needed for safety.
When deciding where to clam, you have to know what areas are open and what access is available. Sandy beaches tend to be the best home for razor clams. Easy access areas tend to be the most popular areas and you will find families and outdoor lovers of all ages digging these locations.
Some beaches allow vehicle access at your own risk where you can drive down on the beach, park and head out to the sand flats during those pristine minus tides. Some areas may offer foot access only for clamming where you would need to carry all your gear with you down to the flats. Either way, it is important to know the area you intend to dig to ensure that it is open and what the limits are.
There are three different types of what is called a clam “show.” These include a dimple, a doughnut, and a keyhole. A dimple is just that, a round like impression in the sand that presents lower than the surrounding sand as a dimple. The doughnut appears as a raised area in the sand that resembles that of a donut with a hole present in the middle, and lastly, the key hole is a round-like hole a little smaller than the size of a dime.
Razor clams are located in the sand by the “show” they leave in the sand. Once you have located a depression left by the clam, it’s time to get to digging by either a shovel or a gun. I prefer the clam gun as I have had the best luck and I find it quick, easy and I damage less clams with this method. My husband likes to use a clam shovel and has great success.
Using a clam shovel: Insert the shovel into the sand 3-5 inches from the depression. (Longer and more curved shovel blades should be started in the sand further from the depression.) Scoop sand away from the depression, take one to two good scoops, keep your shovel blade as vertical as possible, then reach your hand down into the hole and you most times will find the clam by reaching into the sand on the back side of the hole you just dug. Grab the clam by the shell or by the neck to remove it.
Using a clam gun: Place the tube over the center of the depression left by the clam and with a rocking motion and pressure, push down. Once you have your gun down, cover the air vent with your thumb or finger and pull up. This creates a suction and when pulled up, the sand comes up and you dump it on the sand flats next to where you are digging. Some things you have to dig twice with your gun to get the clam. The clam will be located in the sand you dump out. Sometimes if you can’t find the clam in the discarded sand with the use of a clam gun, check the hole with your hand to see if you can locate the clam. Most hardware stores carry clam shovels and sometimes the guns too, but outdoor retail stores offer the best variety.
Razor clams are true to their name as their shells can be razor-sharp! When reaching for a clam whole or crushed, use caution so you don’t cut yourself.
Digging too close to the depression can cause you to hit the clam and damage the shell, this is true for use of a clam shovel or gun. The depth at which a razor clam is found can be close to the surface or several feet down. If, when digging for a clam after finding a “show” and you don’t locate a clam, dig deeper.
Place your clams, once dug, in a bucket with cool saltwater. The clams will filter themselves out and also this helps clean the sand off the shells. Changing out the water in your bucket throughout your clamming process helps when it comes to cleaning when you get home.
Digging in the sand closer to the water line presents softer, wet sand that presents challenges such as collapsing sand and allows the clam to dig faster to escape! Higher spots or spots further from the waterline are usually easier to dig as they are drier.
Keep in mind the tide goes out and it must come back in, so when you’re clamming it’s important to not lose track of time and the change of tide.