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Bay Clams and Crabs

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

kgw.com

Posted on June 12, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

Summer days are the getaway days for families on the go - perhaps to set out on a camping trip or a streamside picnic lunch.

On this Grant's Getaway, all you need is a rake, a bucket and a spirit of adventure to try raking bay clams along the Oregon coast.

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Summer mornings along the coast are often met by folks in hip boots with shovels or rakes - but they're not there to work, rather they've come to play; especially on a minus low tide on Tillamook Bay, where clamming is king.

I joined Trey Carskadon, longtime fisherman and a member of the Oregon Marine Board at the Port of Garibaldi.

I went aboard Trey's 22-foot boat to learn more about the bay. He explained to me that it's quite a popular destination for many reasons:

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"The bay offers what many call it a great stay-cation where you can stay close to home, try something like clamming, fishing or crabbing for a day or even a longer weekend."

Our first order of business was to drop our crab rings or traps (each crabber is allowed three traps) in a corner of the bay known as Crab Harbor.

The rings were baited with bottom-fish carcasses that we had purchased at Garibaldi Marina prior to our start. The full service marina offers everything a mariner might need to launch an adventure on the bay.

While the traps soaked we continued our boat trip into the shallow waters of along the bay's western edge. It was so shallow that we easily spied the bottom of the bay; just two or three feet deep.

Carskadon advised that all mariners use caution when they venture into the shallow areas:

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"For starters, I always have - right at hand - a vhf radio - so if I have any trouble, I can immediately get emergency assistance out here. Also don't forget to bring and wear a good PFD, (Personal Floatation Device.) A hand held GPS (Global Positioning System) can be a huge help out here, but if you don't have one of those having a map and knowing how to use it and knowing where you are is essential. Finally, don't be in a big hurry - slow down. There's no need to go racing around the bay. Take it easy!"

That wasn't a problem on a day that offered more sun than clouds, a light breeze and a slow ebbing tide.

All of it hinted of warmer days to come as we landed our boat on the beach in Crab Harbor.

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My longtime fishing partner, Birt Hansen, joined us as did his grandson, eleven-year-old Cole Hansen - who had never tried his hand at bay clamming before.

Hansen is an old hand at the bay clamming game because he grew up on Oregon's Coos Bay and spent childhood days exploring tidal flats, backwater sloughs and freshwater ponds.

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Among the strongest and most lasting memories for this sixty-something gentleman are youthful times in the sand and muck digging for clams.

He showed us how it's done:

"Oh, it's so easy - especially if you have ever weeded a garden. That's because our clamming rake is actually a four-pronged weeding rake and all you do is get that rake our in front of you and slowly pull back through the sand. As you pull, feel the tines of the rake hitting the clams. The rake actually 'pings' a bit when you roll one up--especially the cockles. If you feel something then hook it with the prongs and lift it up. When that happens, we like to say "Clam On."

There are six species of bay clams found in Oregon's estuaries. Four are most popular for the rake and shovel crowd; they are called "Steamers," "Butters," "Gapers" and our clam of choice, "Cockles."

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It didn't take young Cole Hansen long to figure out how it was done - he was soon raking up a storm in the soft sand. Some of the cockle clams were as big as baseballs and he sported a huge smile as he gained more confidence in the game.

"Man, that's a beauty, Cole," noted the older Hansen who smiled with an obvious pride that his grandson had so quickly learned the ropes of this recreation.

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"We never met a clam that we didn't like - they're all good to eat. There's six different kinds of them in Oregon and they're all delicious when prepared correctly."

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Each clam-raker is allowed twenty cockles and must carry his/her own container and purchase an Oregon shellfish license. The license costs $6.50 and it is required of each clammer 14 years and older.

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I think that the best part of this recreation is that even the littlest ones can do it and have some success - it offers a little bit of mud or sand, a whole lot of estuary water and tons of clams. All of it adds up to a lot of family fun!

Soon - it was time to head for our crab rings and see if our luck had continued. As it turned out, there were lots of crabs, but mostly females in our traps - Since you are only allowed to keep males that are five and three quarter inches across the back, we were out of crab luck.

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On the other hand, Carskadon noted that there are so many other reasons to enjoy a visit to this corner of the coast: "Oh, just look at this - we've got it all to ourselves. Not just here, but more than three hundred miles of coastline is all ours - Oregonians - it's all public beach and that makes it a very special place."

Our adventure didn't end at the coast, but continued in the kitchen as we assembled what Birt Hansen likes to call his "Seafood Getaway Chowder."

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First, he sauted a cup each of onion and bacon in butter - to that he added 4 cups of potatoes and four cups of water - plus a cup of clam or oyster nectar that he purchased at a store. He boiled it all for 15 minutes.

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While the mixture boiled he cleaned the clams and chopped up approximately two limits - or forty cockle clams - into small pieces.

After 15 minutes, he added a cup each of fresh fish like snapper, sole or salmon - and then all of the chopped clams.

He noted: "This is the part where it all starts smelling good."
Finally, he added a generous amount of half and half (approximately two cups) and brought everything in the large pot to a roiling boil.

Then - it was time to eat!

Oh - and about that name: Getaway Chowder?

I asked Hansen about it's origin.

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"Oh, that's easy, he said with a wry smile. "It's called Get Away, so I can eat the leftovers -It's that good!"

And also good fun - and proved a delicious and satisfying feast to round out the day's adventure.

Hansen note that the meal brought the entire experience full circle:

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"Cooking is the reward, the culminating reward and it brings back so many great memories of the Oregon outdoor experience while you eat it. I just love it!"

Seafood Getaway Chowder
I asked the reason for this novel title. Birt's answer: "It's so good that when you take just a taste, people will be lining up. You want to say, "Get away, get away," laughed Hansen, "Save some for me."

1 cup minced onion
1 cup chopped bacon
In a deep pot, saute both in butter

Add 4 cups of diced potatoes
4 cups of water to cover
1 cup of clam or oyster nectar
Bring to boil and cook for 15 minutes

Add: Try to add at least 2 of these:
1 cup each of chunked fish (sole or halibut or snapper or salmon)
2 cups chopped Cockle or other Bay Clams
2 cups of half and half or whole milk.

Bring to the start of a rolling boil and then pull from stove.
Serve with warm sour dough bread.

For more on Oregon Shellfish regulations. (Note: this document is a PDF)

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