Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we went razor clamming at Grayland Beach State Park. We’ve not done it before and it was pretty cool! My parents do it a lot, and these are the tips I learned from them.
First off, the campground spots get reserved wayyyy in advance of a good clamming season weekend. So it pays to look ahead at the tide charts for extreme low tide dates, and book a good campsite nine months in advance, which is the earliest the park system will let you reserve. For a small fee, you can always cancel later if you can’t go, or if they don’t open clamming for that weekend. This time we got lucky and were able to snag a campsite rez in September. Apparently due to the holiday weekend, fewer clammers were out.
We took our trailer, but the campground also has tent sites and yurts. The sites adjacent to the beach are the best, then you can walk right from your camp setup out to the clam beds, without having to locate a trail to the beach.
The good low tides are usually (always??) in the evening or at night. So this is a mostly after-dark activity. Good headlamps are a must, and a lot of people also used flashlights and lanterns. Besides a shellfish license, the only other gear you need is a clam shovel or a clam gun (we chose the latter) and a belt-loop mesh bag to hold the loot. And clothing preparation for a really crappy, rainy, windy night.
Amazingly, we encountered balmy and dry evening weather, on the second night we were shedding jackets and just going with our sweatshirts, we were so warm. But this is not normal! Luckily, it doesn’t take that long to get your limit of clams: best case is a half hour, worst case is maybe a couple of hours. So, even if you get wet and cold, you can go back to camp and dry off, without too much suffering.
Here’s how it’s done. You wander about the beach looking for these, clam “shows”:
See that little pencil eraser-sized dimple in the sand, where my toe is pointing? This is a “keyhole” show, one of several indicators that there is a clam under there. (His spitting and moving around will cause the sand to collapse or dome above him, giving away his location.) Then you just center your clam gun over the show, dig down a ways, cover up the air hole in the gun, pull up a core of sand, and repeat until you find the clam. You have to work fast, because curiously, the clams are fast. They can dig downward very quickly and deep once they sense trouble. They will beat you and get away if you dilly dally! But if you are fast with your clam gun action, the upward vacuum suction of the gun will prevent the little guy from doing a deep dive in the sand, and he’ll end up in your bag instead!
It was fun to watch different people and all their different theories and methods for finding shows. Some people tamp the ground with a broomstick-like pole or their shovel handle. Other people stamp. Some just wander slowly about, looking and looking. Some people work in the surf, others way up high on the beach. Some people get down and dig with their hands, getting all wet and sandy.
We started before dark, and the first night I carefully noted a bunch of landmarks on our way out to the beach, so I could find my way back to camp. Little did I realize how dark it gets out there with so little light interference on the coast! Busy staring at the sand for an hour, wandering in random circles, and digging furiously, suddenly I looked up and the landscape was like this:
The tide was so low, it was very disorientating- almost hard to even tell which way was water, which way was land! Luckily, once you find your way to the dunes and grassline, you can walk along it and find numbered sign posts so you can figure out where you are (if you remembered to note the post number on the way out)! Many people parked their cars on the beach, and some had put special flashing lights in the windows so they could locate their cars when they were done.
Here are the fruits of an evening’s labor:
The limit each day is fifteen clams, and the rule says you have to keep the first fifteen you get. Regardless of whether you’ve squished some (razor clam shells are fragile) or if there are some tiny ones. But this is still a pretty good-sized amount. I would guess we netted three or four pounds of clam meat between the two of us, over two nights.
We rushed right back into the trailer and got busy cleaning ours so we could indulge right away. Dipped briefly in hot water, they open right up, and are easy to cut open with scissors and rinse. We sliced them into strips, breaded them and fried them in olive oil. Both nights. Delicious!
When we got home, we had clam linguini on Sunday night, and clam chowder on Wednesday night. All gone!
The collies, of course, benefitted from the non-clamming downtime during the day, getting multiple beach sprints, and a lot of swimming and fetching. Crummy weather is the best for dog walking on the beach, as there is nobody around.