Clam digs on the Washington coast are ample and often this year—it's worth the trip

Taylor Newquist
Sports Editor

Many packed their rifles into their pickups for the start of general deer season last weekend. At the same time, thousands of other Washingtonians reached for their clam guns and took to the beaches in search of the state’s most coveted mollusks—razor clams.

A number of razor clam digs took place this spring and more are tentatively set through December, after a limited number of digs in 2019. Populations are up, which makes for full 15-clam limits and chowder pots ready to be filled with fresh seafood.

“Abundant razor clam populations are allowing for numerous digging opportunities along 58 miles of coastal beaches this year,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres said.

Upcoming tentative digs will be at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks. Those dates are Oct. 31-Nov. 3, Nov. 13-Nov. 19, Dec. 1-Dec. 4, Dec. 12-Dec.18 and Dec. 28-Dec.31. Dig times depend on low tide, as the clams burrow into the sand as the tide goes out. Low tide times vary from as 4:44 p.m. to 9:47 p.m. for the upcoming dig dates, though clams will show before low tide. Some form of head lamp or lantern will become necessary further into the winter and on most of the remaining digs. Last week’s dig in Long Beach was bountiful, with those traveling further North up the beach walking away with a full limit of large clams in as little as 15 minutes.

To dig clams you’ll need hip or chest waders to keep warm from the shallow receding tide of the Pacific Ocean (As a child I took a spill into the ocean while clam digging and was promptly met with frozen toes). A bucket, clam net or chum bag works as a receptacle to store your clams until you’re done. Most importantly to dig your clams you’ll need a shovel, or clam gun—a tube shaped device designed to pull out a section of sand from the beach. Walk along the edge of the water until you find a small volcano shaped hole, called a show, that vary in size. Bigger shows can mean bigger clams, but that can change on how far down the clam is from the surface. If you’re using a clam gun line the end of the tube around the show and dig down, keeping the top of the gun slightly angled toward yourself.

Keep digging until your gun is mostly submerged into the sand; if you hear a crack pull up and try to rework it. A smashed clam gets sand into the meat, which will have to be cut out later. Remember that every clam pulled out of the sand must be kept as part of your limit, no matter how smashed or small it is, because clams pulled to the surface will not survive. Also if you’re using a clam gun, try to get the style that are larger in diameter, because the smaller pvc pipe clam guns are more prone to cracking the shells. If you’re using a clam shovel, place the blade 4-6 inches in front of the show toward the ocean and push it down into the sand vertically. Then pull the sand out toward yourself until you can pull the clam out with your hand.

Once you have the clams back you’ll have to clean them. Place your clams into boiling water for four seconds, followed immediately by placing them into cold water to remove the shells. While using shears, snip off the clam necks (which are great bait for other sea creatures), then cut under the ridged outer portion and through the neck, revealing the rest of the inside. Continue washing off sand and remove the foot by cutting the thin membrane on the inside leaving two separate edible pieces. Clean the foot by squeezing out the digestive track, butterflying it and cutting out any remaining debris.

When done and depending on how many days you stay to dig, you’ll be left with an abundance of fresh razor clams that are good for a number of recipes. Most popular among them is clam chowder, but fried clams with homemade tarter sauce, fritters, pasta sauce, clam dip, and ceviche are all popular options. Some of those recipes are listed on the WDFW website, but plenty more are available all over the internet.

Editor’s note:
My grandfather, Jim Newquist, is a retired Army Captain and has frequented the beaches of Washington much longer than I have been alive. While the 9-hour journey across the state takes its toll it is always well worth the experience of spending time with friends or family, and coming home with a bounty of clams. I highly encourage everyone to try it out for themselves.