When it comes to digging supper from the sea, wintertime’s nighttime offers unique outdoor adventures along Oregon’s North Coast.
In Clatsop County, there’s a famous sandy stretch from Seaside to the Columbia River that many folks call “Clam Heaven” because of its productive razor clam beds.
Late last year, razor clamming closed due to an outbreak of a bio-toxin called Domoic Acid. The health alert was lifted this month and razor clammers are now back on the beach.
On a winter’s eve that felt more like spring, Paul Watt, aka “King of the Clam Gun” showed us how he digs a limit of razor clams faster than most folks climb into my hip boots near Gearhart, Oregon.
He’s that good!
Watt starts by pounding the sand near the waterline on an ebbing tide. He uses a five foot long pole that’s tied off on his arm: “Every time I tamp around a clam, it will make a hole as the clam neck goes back down…the dimple that it leaves in the sand is how you know that there’s a clam down there.”
With a quick push of the barrel, Watt’s clam gun sliced three feet deep into the sand and he quickly retrieved the gun.
He spilled out the tube full of sand and with a smooth retrieve, picked up a five-inch long razor clam. He smiled and said, “That’s a dandy!”
Watt is a master at the clamming game but that’s no surprise for he is nicknamed, “King of the Calm Gun.”
You see, Watt builds stainless steel clam guns with a secret advantage: a tiny valve near the bottom that breaks the vacuum created when pulling up the sand
Diggers have long complained that clam gun sand vacuum slows them down and leads to sore backs as they struggle to lift the sand-filled guns – Watt said, “Not anymore!”
His version of the clam gun makes the otherwise heavy retrieve of a sand-filled gun smooth and easy.
“When you’re in the water and digging,” said Watt. “You push the gun in and pull it out, so you don’t have to get on your hands and knees and get all wet. You stay pretty dry digging clams this way.”
Ever since razor clamming re-opened in January, Paul and his friends have been digging supper from the sea whenever tides and weather allow.
An enthusiastic Walt Kastner said, “We got our limits the other day and we cleaned them and when we split them open, you could see that there was a lot of fat inside. So they are in excellent shape!”
That’s terrific news for folks who had to put razor clamming on the back burner after an outbreak of a bio-toxin called “Domoic Acid” closed the season last December.
ODFW Shellfish Biologist, Matt Hunter, said the health alert is over and razors are back. He also noted that the best winter clam tides are at night so he advised clam diggers to use caution when near the surf.
“It’s a great idea to let people know what you’re doing, so if you don’t return home at least somebody knows where you are. Be sure to bring a good light like a lantern or headlamp so you can see when the sun goes down. Always dress for the weather and make sure you never turn your back to the ocean.”
First time clam digger, Bill Cloud and his daughter Josie, were having a blast on the beach. “This is fun! This is a good time!” said the proud Dad who added that it was wonderful to watch his daughter get into something new – and – find success:
“I encourage everybody to do something like this with their kids. Don’t let them wander off or get too close to the surf without you nearby, but it really is a great adventure out here.”
Nearby, Walt and his grandson Ryan Mizee were in clam heaven too. Both agreed the razor clam are very tasty and make a delicious meal!
Oh – and what does Paul like to do with all those daily limits of delicious razor clams: “We broil ‘em in the oven. Put a little breading on each and the flavor stays ---just five minutes or less under the broiler and they are perfect.”
Paul’s recipe is absolutely delicious and provides a fine way to round out the evening’s adventure.
You should know that night time clamming tides continue until April when they shift over to the daylight hours and the lowest tides of the year are slated for May and June.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the clam resource and there are important rules and regulations to note: A shellfish license is required for anyone 12 and older and you must dig your own clams and keep the first 15 in your own container and you cannot put any back.
You can purchase Paull Watt’s clam guns directly from his shop, Watt Welding (9815 9th St, Bay City, (503) 377-2225.) and from Englund Marine and Industrial Supply.
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.
In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."
You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com