November, the time of year in Washington when it’s too rainy to hike but not cold enough for snow in the mountains. As the “rainy season” starts, I’m usually catching up on fall cleaning and nesting before ramping up for ski season. However, after six years in the Pacific Northwest, I might have found my November activity: Razor clamming.
Andy and I have been wanting to go to the coast to try our luck digging for clams in the sand, but were unable to align our schedules with clam seasons. We’ve gone fishing in Alaska and enjoy catching, or harvesting, our own food.
Below is what I learned my first time razor clamming.
Razor clam season and when to go
The season lasts on set days from October to May. Even though the season seems long, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife monitor clams and toxins to decide when to open days through these months ranging from 15 to 35 days throughout the entire season.
Digs happen during low tide. The recommended time to go is roughly 1 to 2 hours before low tide as it is going out. You’ll get less waves crashing into you as you dig if the tide is going out versus coming in. Spring months tend to be favorable as the low tides are during daylight hours. The winter months means you’ll be clamming after the sun goes down.
Many outdoors shops, small and big, sell permits. If you’re not sure, call the store. You can get daily permits or multi-day or annual permits, the annual permits costing less than $20. Everyone that plans on digging must have their own permit and container for keeping them (be it a net or a bucket). You must keep all clams you catch, even if you break the shell. Learn more about the rules and regulations, here.
I stop at Verle’s in Shelton, WA on the way to the coast to buy the permit. The staff shares helpful tips for using both clam guns and shovels.
Where to go
You need to find a beach. The Washington Fish and Wildlife website lists the beaches. Not all the beaches have digs during the same times, so it is important to pay attention to the schedules published on the website.
- Long Beach
- Twin Harbors Beach
- Copalis Beach extending to Grays Harbor
- Mocrocks Beach
- Kalaloch Beach
You can park on the beach, at least we did on Mocrocks Beach. Parking close is convenient. Pack a picnic and enjoy the beach until the tide is low enough to harvest. Remember to stay on the firm sand to avoid getting your vehicle stuck.
The beaches are remote and a few hours drive from Seattle. If you don’t want to spend the entire day driving with just a few hours at the beach, consider renting an Airbnb or hotel. Get a credit when you sign up and book your first Airbnb stay, here.
Materials and supplies
When planning for clamming, be ready for your lingo to change. “Can you buy a shovel on your lunch break? Or do you think we should rent a gun?” Sounds like something in a murder mystery novel, right? Well, that message is one that my husband sent to me as we planned for the weekend. He accidentally sent it to a friend who thought he would be an accomplice.
Most of the supplies needed can be found at home, like clothing and containers. However, you’ll want special tools for digging the clams out of the sand. Consider renting the gear or borrowing from a friend if you can. If not, the cost of a shovel ($30) or clam gun ($40+) will make you more successful.
- Permit per person
- Shovel or clam gun – can be shared
- Net or bucket per person
- Rubber or waterproof boots (add gaiters to keep the water out)
- Gloves – I wore my kayaking gloves that can get wet but still keep my hands warm.
- A transportation bucket or container with a lid
- Kitchen scissors – used for cleaning if planning on doing it at the beach or close-by
I borrow a friend’s clam gun but purchase a shovel and small nets to clip onto my belt. Using nets makes it easier to rinse them in water than in a bucket.
How to dig
Talking to the staff at Verle’s and reading online, I knew I had to search for the dimples or air pockets from the clams digging into the sand. As I first walk along the beach and the tide was going out to sea, I see a ton of holes in the sand. Is it going to be that easy? The sand is dry. I sit confidently waiting for the sun to set and the tide to decrease.
Two hours before low tide, I make my way to where the water was meeting the sand and try my luck at razor clamming.
Nothing for roughly an hour! How are people around me digging holes and returning to their cars within 30 minutes? What was I doing wrong? I take note and start pounding the sand with the shovel or clam gun, whichever device I have at the time, because others were doing it.
Finally, I decide to just dig for a clam without seeing the dimple. The sand had a thin film of water so the air dimples weren’t showing up. UNTIL I start sucking the moisture out of the sand with the gun and displacing the water elsewhere. The dimples start to show. Soon, Andy and I are taking turns digging. As one digs, the other stands nearby looking for the next dimple to go after.
As a new razor clam harvester, I realize I need more practice locating the clam and the digging technique on how to angle into the surf. Unfortunately, my novice experience led to a few cracked shells, which I still kept per the permit requirements.
How to store
The complicated part of sleeping in the van overnight is how to store the razor clams for roughly 12 hours before getting them home to clean and cook. With all the work to dig and drive to get the clams, I was worried the clams would die. Verle’s employees put my reservations at ease and said the clams should be ok if we store them in salt water through the night.
After getting the 15 clams per person, Andy walks out into the ocean tide, his boots being taller than mine, and dips the nets filled with clams for a good rinse. Then, we return to the van and put the clams in a small RubberMaid container covered with a lid that was filled with seawater earlier in the evening. The clams are still alive as we bring them home and start to clean them, at least the ones without broken shells.
You may consider aerating the water every so often to make sure they stay alive. Some online sources went as far as buying a small aquarium air pump, which seems like overkill for us but will keep them longer.
How to clean
Here’s where it gets messy.
1. Opening the shells
You have to open the clamped shells in order to get to the meat.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Add ice to a separate bowl with a little water.
- Quickly place the razor clam into the boiling water.
- Wait until the shell pops open.
- Remove immediately and blanch the clam in the ice water to stop the meat from cooking.
- Set aside to clean the meat.
2. Cleaning the meat
Then, you remove all the brown parts. Here’s a video I took of how Andy was cleaning them at the kitchen sink. Get a nice pair of scissors.
Beware that even after opening the shells, the clams may still move until you start cutting the meat.
- Remove from shell if you haven’t already.
- Snip off the siphon.
- Slit the body lengthwise from the whole from the siphon to the foot to lay flat.
- Once open, remove the gills and palps (the brown parts).
- Clean the digger by cutting to remove the stomach and remove any brown you find. Make sure you remove the crystalline style or rod.
- Cut the digger lengthwise to lay flat.
- Remove the intestine from the digger, or the brown string.
- Rinse the meat and set aside to cook.
For a step-by-step guide, check out the clean and prepare page here.
How to cook
I wanted to get fancy but decided the best ways to cook include fried with breading and clam chowder. I divided the meat into thirds and froze one-third, fried one-third, and made soup with one-third. I saved the water used to boil the clams in as an oyster juice stock for the soup. Below are two recipes I found quite tasty.