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Digging Razor Clams

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on May 8, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


Oregon's beaches are popular destinations for all sorts of recreation activities.

This spring, one of the most popular sandy stretches is along 18 miles of shoreline in Clatsop County.

That's where thousands of razor clam diggers have discovered one of the best clam seasons in years.


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As springtime moves into high gear, the best low tides of the season bring a bounty of seafood close at hand.

Local resident, Steve Fick, likes to say, "when the tide goes out, his dinner table is set --- with razor clams."

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Fick grew up in Astoria and he really digs this recreation:

"Oh, Grant, there are clams galore this season - one of the best, most plentiful clam "sets" in recent history. The biologists say the harvest could exceed one million clams. Wow, huh?"

That much is certain, but if you've never dug this sport - how do you get started?

Fick handed me a "clam gun." - it's the tool of choice for beginners learning the ropes of clam digging.

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It's a hard plastic tube, with a covered top that has handle built into it, plus there is a small hole on the top so that the tube acts like a siphon.

You press the tube or "gun" down into the soft sand up to three feet deep, and then place your thumb over the hole, lift and pull the tube full of sand - and hopefully, the razor clam - back up to the surface.

"Try that clam hole right there, Grant," noted Fick.

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He pointed to a small, dime-sized dimple in the sandy surface.

"The clam's neck is just under that dimple. It's a giveaway sign that there's a clam down there. Go for it!"

And so I did - the tube easily slid down its length, I covered the hole and lifted the tube full of sand that held a dandy four-inch long razor clam.

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It was slick and it was easy!

So easy that anyone can do it!

In fact, it's hard to call the activity "work" because the clams are so plentiful this spring.

Flick added that over a million clams may be harvested this year from the 18 miles of beaches between Seaside and the Columbia River.

"That's where 95 percent of all the clams in Oregon are dug - the beaches right here," added Flick.

Flick is an old hand at the clam game - he can even spot the critters in the surf:

"Well, sometimes when they're feeding, they stick their neck up and out right in the shallow surf line - it makes a little v and we call those 'knickers.' Once you get the knack for spotting them, it's easy."

Flick relies on a short-handled shovel with a long steel blade - a clam shovel that's specially designed to quickly dig deep enough to get hands on the speedy razor clam.

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Speed is critical because the razor clam moves through soft sand like a hot knife through soft butter.

"You go about two inches to the side of the dimple and then you pull the shovel toward the hole, " explained Steve. "You pull the sand up and reach your hand in underneath. Feel for the neck and pull the clam up - but not too hard or you pull the neck off."

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It's a technique that takes practice, so first-timers usually stick to the clam gun technique for a successful clam digging adventure.

But be careful - Fick noted that the clam gun technique has drawbacks, as there's greater potential to break the clam shell with the gun rather than shovel.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the clam resource and there are important rules and regulations to note:

A state shellfish license is required for clam diggers fourteen and older.

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Each clam digger must dig their own limit of 15 razor clams and you cannot put any back; the first 15 that you dig you keep.

It wasn't long before each of us had dug our limits when Steve smiled and said, "I never met a clam I didn't like --- to eat. Let's go!"

With that, we were off to his kitchen for a quick lesson on how to prepare our clams.

"First, I like to rinse them off - get as much sand off the clams as possible."

Fick is as skilled in the kitchen as he is on the beach and makes quick work of our 30 clams.

He offered a tip - he gives the clams a quick dousing of hot water - enough to open the clams but not cook the clams and he quickly followed the hot water with a cold-water shower. The icy-cold water stopped any cooking of the clam.

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A few quick flicks of his small sharp knife and he cleaned each clam of its stomach contents.

Then he doused each in an egg bath; that was followed coating each side of the clam in soda cracker meal.

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The combination provided a nice coating to both sides of the clam.

The preheated (medium high) frying pan contains a generous amount of vegetable oil.

Flick cooked the clams less than two minutes a side (golden brown on each side) and he cautiously advised that overcooked clams taste "like rubber and are too chewy."

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The meal of cooked clams provided a satisfying reward; the sort of activity that builds strong memories of the Oregon outdoors:

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"It's the whole process - to me, said Flick. "It's a lot of enjoyment to come down here to the beach early in the morning, dig clams, walk around - take the whole family down. "You feel like you've really accomplished something at the end of the day...I enjoy that."

For more details on how to dig razor clams.

For more on alternative seafood cooking methods.