Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tutorial: Harvesting Razor Clams

Digging razor clams is one of my favorite recreational fisheries in Washington State. Why? Razor clams provide such excellent returns with a very minimal investment of time and equipment. I have spent literally thousands of dollars on Salmon and Steelhead fishing gear over the years, not to mention, several hundred dollars on crab gear. Guess how much I have spent on gear for razor clams.......$11.99.... that's right.... eleven dollars and ninety-nine cents (the cost of a PVC clam tube). If that is not reason enough for you to participate in this awesome fishery, here are a few more;
  1. It doesn't take a whole lot of skill to dig razor clams.
  2. It's fun for the entire family, in fact, we usually bring our dogs with us too!
  3. Razor Clams are delicious! In my opinion they make the best Clam Chowder there is.
  4. It is one of the only fisheries where you can generally limit out every time you go.
  5. Many of our favorite Salmon and Steelhead rivers are coastal rivers, just minutes from our ocean beaches, which means if there is a clam dig scheduled, you can usually fish in the morning and still have time to make it to the beach for low tide! 
  6. The beaches are beautiful! Who doesn't need a reason to go to the beach???


The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the necessary license required to harvest razor clams. Like anything else, you need to make sure you are aware of the rules and regulations before you participate in this fishery. Keep in mind that rules are always changing so it's important to read the fishing regulations every year. DO NOT just assume that the rules are the same as last year.
Once you have the correct license required to dig razor clams, check the WDFW website for scheduled razor clam digs. Make sure to pay attention to which days and what beaches will be open for the dig, since this information can vary from one dig to another. There are many factors that WDFW must consider when scheduling these clam digs, and their primary goal is to make sure clam populations remain strong for years to come through conservation and management, but they generally do a pretty good job of scheduling at least one dig per month during the season (usually October-May).
Next, you need to decide what method you would like to use to harvest razor clams. You can legally use your hands, a clam shovel, or a clam tube (commonly referred to as a clam gun) to harvest razor clams in WA. Personally, a clam tube is the best way for a newbie to get started, not only because you can get one for really cheap, but it's also a little easier to learn than a shovel. Another benefit to a tube, you are less likely to get cut by the clams since you usually don't have to actually reach your hand in to the hole. One negative thing about a tube is you are a little more likely to break the clams, especially while you are still learning. Follow these instructions and you'll keep breakage to a minimum.
When purchasing a clam tube, you'll notice they are made from PVC, plastic, and aluminum/metal. You will need at least a 4" tube, but I prefer a 5" tube since you are a little less likely to break the shell. The PVC tubes are the cheapest and will certainly get the job done, but they sometimes are not sealed very well and that can cause problems with suction. The plastic and metal tubes work about the same though, of course, the aluminum/metal ones are a bit more durable but are also the most expensive. I would just suggest buying the best you can afford. It's not required, but I would also recommend wearing waders or at least rubber boots, some rubber gloves, and bringing along some rain gear to keep you dry. They make special nets for you to put your clams in, but you can make due with a bucket or even a plastic bag if that's all you have, but every digger must have their own container to put their catch in.


Find out when low tide will be the day of the dig and arrive at the beach 2 hours prior to low tide. This should give you (and any beginner friends/family) enough time to dig your limit before the tide starts coming back in. Once you are a bit more experienced you can usually get your limit much faster, sometimes in just 20 minutes or so. As you are walking towards the water line, pay attention to the ground as you are walking. You are looking for holes or dimples in the sand, also known as the clam "show". If you see little mounds of sand that look like miniature volcanoes, these ARE NOT razor clams, they are sand shrimp and worms that burrow through the sand and push the sand behind them making these little mounds on the surface... if you see these continue to walk downhill (towards the water) until you see larger holes and dimples in the sand. Sometimes you will see water squirt up, and sometimes you will see the wet sand pulsating under your feet as the clams are digging below you. Once you find a hole, you're in business - where there is one razor clam, there are many (hence the name clam bed). A good rule of thumb when digging razor clams is, the bigger the hole the bigger the clam. I generally only target the holes that are the size of a nickel or larger.
A bed of razor clams ready to be harvested. 
A close up of a clam "show"... note the smaller volcano shaped holes that are not clams.
Once you have located a clam hole and have decided you want to try to dig up that clam, take your clam tube and center it on the hole.  I recommend keeping the ocean in front of you, and the sand dunes behind you. This way you will be able to see what the water is doing so no waves can sneak up on you. I find that clams usually dig down at a slight angle towards the water, so it is helpful to dig at a very slight angle in that direction (bottom of the tube angled downhill towards the water, handle angled uphill towards the dunes) to prevent breaking or cutting the clams with the tube. Push in to the sand about 8-10". Use a twisting or rocking motion to help cut in to the sand, then put your thumb or finger over the vent hole to create suction and pull the sand up. The sand will come out of the tube in a "core" of sand. If you do not see a clam in the "core" then pull up one or two more cores of sand as needed until you find the clam. If you feel like you have hit something solid, do not keep pushing the tube down! You do not want to break the clam if you can help it. Instead, back the tube up an inch or so and pull up a core, if the clam is not visible, use your hand to see if you can grab the clam, if not, use the tube again and angle it slightly more towards the water. Once you have the clam, rinse it off and put it in your container. Keep in mind all clams that are dug up must be retained regardless of size or condition, no throwing back the ones you break. Successfully repeat this process 14 more times and you have your limit!
Center the tube on a hole and then push it in to the sand.
Put your finger over the vent hole to create suction and pull up a core of sand.
Check each core you pull up until you find the clam. 

Pulling up a core of wet sand..
Sometimes you have to really dig through the core to find the clam inside.

Razor clam digging is fun for the entire family!
Bring the little ones [it's 15 more clams you're allowed to take home]!

Razor clam digging can be a blast!

 Everyone loves the beach!

My mom, daughter, son, myself, and wife all limited out with a total of 75 clams this day.
Now that you know how to dig razor clams effectively, you need to learn how to clean and cook them. Stay tuned, because I will walk you through how to clean clams in the next blog. I will also be giving away some of my favorite recipes that you won't want to miss!

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