Razor Clam digging is a way of life on the Washington State peninsula. Many families have been razor clam digging for generations. They anxiously watch the Washington Fish and Game website for announcements of upcoming digs, they track the tides, clean their gear and plan their clam eating feasts. They look forward to the first time they can take their kids, or grand kids, out on their first dig, and when they do, pictures are proudly posted and joyous new memories are made.
I first went clam digging in 2005 in Ocean Park, Washington, which is just outside of the town of Long Beach. I had so much that I made an offer on a beach cabin that weekend, closed on it, and have been clam digging ever since! I’ve had the joy of introducing all kinds of friends to the experience and their reaction is always the same. They love it!
Razor clamming isn’t really all that hard. It only takes a few attempts to figure it out and each time you go you get a little better at it. The old timers will limit out much faster than the beginners, but there is always someone around to help you spot them and encourage you to keep at it. “Here’s one”, I’ve had a number of strangers call out to me, as they point to a divot down in the sand. It’s a time that the whole community comes together and new friends are made.
To clam dig you really only need three things. The first is a clam digging license. Mine was only $9.49 for the weekend and kids under the age of fifteen get theirs for free. The second thing you need is a clam digging “gun” or shovel. The “gun” isn’t a gun at all. It’s just a PVC tube or large metal cylinder with a handle that you push down into the sand over the razor clam. It has a little hole in it that you leave open as you push it down, then you cover the hole to suck the sand up. The last thing you need is a container to put them in. Generally, the limit is 15 per person, but since many of this season’s digs have been cancelled due to toxins, they raised the limit to 25 for the most recent dig. Most people use a net to carry them around, but you could use a bucket or even a bag. Some rubber boots are always a good idea as well since sometimes you end up wading through the shallow surf. Also, you’ll probably want to take a camera so you can capture those special moments.
It usually takes around an hour or less to get your limit, but you just never know. I’ve been done in half an hour before, but sometimes it can take a couple of hours if the clams are being particularly evasive. The dig starts around low tide and most people go out a good hour or more before low tide. Then you grab your gun and net and walk down close to the water in the wet sand, looking for holes about the size of a nickel or what people call a “show”. A “show” looks kind of like a lopsided sandy donut. You then position your gun over the whole and work it back and forth while pushing your gun down into the sand. You cover the whole and suck the sand up and dump it out on the hard sand to look for the clam. If it’s not there, you go down again until you get it. Sometimes they are pretty fast diggers so you have to be quick.
Cleaning the clams
After the dig, you keep the clams on ice until you clean them. The sooner the better. When you’re ready to clean them, you rinse them good to get as much sand out of them as you can and then you pour boiling water over them. That causes the clam shells to open. You then separate the clam from the shell. And using sharp cooking shears, you remove all the dark colored stuff from the center. It takes a certain technique and a while to figure it out, but once you do it’s easy.
The best part of the entire ordeal is preparing and eating your fresh clams. Some people want clam chowder, but most people prefer fritters. Fritters are made by dipping the clam in egg and then a batter before frying them up in a pan. They are absolutely delicious! They really don’t have that fishy flavor, instead they are rich tasting and kind of sweet. Families pass down old family recipes to the younger generation, and I’ve overheard my share of arguments about how to fry them or whether to include secret ingredients or keep it pure. People take their razor clams very seriously, from cleaning them to cooking them, some people are very set in their ways!
Regardless of the details, clam digging is just plain fun. Maybe it’s that fresh salt air. Maybe it’s the site of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. It might be the entertainment value of always seeing someone getting their car stuck in the sand and other people helping them out of their jam, or perhaps it’s the joy of limiting out before everyone else does. Try it and you’ll see for yourself why it’s habit forming and a way of life for many people.