How to Harvest Razor Clams – What Wood Driftwood Taste Like?
As my dad said time and time again growing up, “NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN!” We have seen people get knocked down by waves and rolled up and down the beach. You never know when a big sneaker wave might come, so pay attention to the water at all times!
Ok, glad to get that out of the way.
After living in landlocked Eastern Idaho for a couple of years, we were really excited about getting back to fresh seafood when we moved to Washington on Christmas day. Fortunately, Washington state has abundant opportunity for harvesting fresh seafood year-round, and we quickly discovered that winter is an excellent time to get out and get some Razor Clams. It turns out that they are one of the easiest, most affordable and family-friendly ways to put excellent wild food in the freezer. We have learned a lot in the last couple of seasons digging razor clams, and we almost always quickly dig our limits. We have only been shy of our limit once when it was so cold and miserable that we decided it wasn’t worth digging any more – and that brings up a good point- checking the weather beforehand is probably the number one piece of advice we have – if it is really windy and/or rainy, it is going to be very difficult to find razor clams and is going to be very uncomfortable as well. We only go if the wind is forecasted to be less than 15-20 mph and the rain will be minimal.
When we were new to razor clamming, we looked online for how-to videos and websites and asked our coworkers and friends for tips. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some great how-to videos and their information on seasons and rules is very straightforward (https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/razor-clams). If you are in another state, you’ll have to check the regulations there. WDFW has made it so incredibly simple: just look on the WDFW site to see what digs are coming up – they even tell you what time low tide is. The only essentials are a shellfish license, something to put clams in, and a clam gun or shovel. Yup, plenty of people dig in shorts, brr!
For our first dig we bought a couple types of cheap clam guns (metal and PVC), and brought our fishing waders and wading boots. We brought mesh bags – like the ones you might keep some of your outdoor gear like sleeping bags in – to put clams in. We still use these mesh bags today, and we really like them because they are light, can be secured to your body, and there is no way for clams to fall out of them. The mesh bags that you buy for clamming in sporting goods stores are easy to put clams into because of the metal hoop on top, but it’s possible for your clams to fall back out.
We showed up three or four hours before low tide, eager to find our first clams, wondering if we would harvest any at all. We started walking the dogs down the beach and a few other people were already digging, so we hurried back to the car, grabbed our clam guns, and headed down to the water.
We quickly started to see holes in the sand everywhere. They looked just like the “shows” that people talked about in the instructional videos. So we dug. But instead of razor clams, we only found sand shrimp. Sand shrimp make for excellent fishing bait, but we put them back in the sand, uncertain if we were allowed to take them without looking at the regulations first. We know now that sand shrimp can be taken while clamming, but only with a clam gun, not a shovel. (They have to be taken with a “suction device” according to WDFW regulations).
It turned out we were starting to dig too early. Sand shrimp tend to be higher up on the beach than razor clams and the tide wasn’t out far enough yet. But we kept trying as we moved further down with the tide and eventually found our first clam.
After that, it quickly seemed like the clams were everywhere, but in patches. When we found one, we found several more nearby. After a while, though, we realized that when you find one and start digging, you cause enough disturbance in the sand that several other clams will show themselves nearby. For this reason, we have learned to always stay close to your digging buddies, because if they find a clam and start digging, it is really likely that another one will show itself nearby. We think that this is probably the number one reason why we get a lot of clams quickly.
We kept digging, and in what seemed like no time, we all had our limit of 15 Razor Clams. Some were crushed, but that is totally expected when you are learning – and you are required to take crushed clams as part of your limit. The good news is that after they are cleaned, they are no different than an intact clam. We have learned that as you are pushing down through the sand with a clam gun, you can usually feel when the clam gun hits a clam. If it does, we just stop pushing, pull the sand out, and the clam is often right there, not crushed.
While we were all celebrating our first limits of clams, a guy came up and asked us for any advice – he said that he had only found one. He tilted his bucket towards us so that we could see, and to our astonishment, he had a small, brown piece of driftwood in his bucket that he thought was a clam. We showed him a couple of our clams and gave him some advice based on the small amount of experience we had, and we left the beach giggling.
But it does sort of make you wonder, what wood driftwood taste like??
Here’s what we prefer for razor clamming gear:
- Clam Gun – we use the cheap, metal clam guns. The PVC guns we have tried have broken and don’t seem to suck the sand very well – some people like them, though.
- Clam Bag – all you really need is something to put them in that they won’t fall out of, but it is really ideal to have your hands free. We’ve tried using a 5-gallon bucket. It worked ok, but was annoying and we were worried it would tip over.
- Waders – not necessary, but they make clamming much more comfortable and allow you to go farther into the water which can be very helpful. Also, you can take a knee without soaking your leg. We have always liked Redington or Simms waders – both have proven to last a long time and have benefits and drawbacks (a topic for another day).
- Boots – We use our Reddington wading boots, but any boots will work. Lots of people use high top boots like Xtratuffs, Bogs, or Mucks, but then you are limited to staying higher on the beach if you don’t want to fill them with water. We aren’t fans of hip waders, but if you were just going to harvest razor clams and not do much fishing or anything else, hip waders would be a good purchase at about $40: Hip Waders
- 5-Gallon Bucket With Lid – When we are finished clamming, we fill a bucket half-full with clean saltwater and put the clams in. We were told that this “purges” the clams – allows them to filter what remaining sand they have out – but we haven’t tried any other method so we really don’t know if it matters or not.
- Headlamps and Solar Lanterns – For evening and night digs, we bring headlamps and a couple of solar lights. Some people bring large lights and lanterns down to the surf, but we have done well just with headlamps – make sure they have fresh batteries so they are bright, and bring some extra batteries. We recommend that you bring a light or lantern to leave in your car so that you can find it easily in the dark.
- Lastly, make sure to wash all of your gear in fresh water after clamming – salt water corrodes and rusts everything, especially the loops for laces on wading boots (don’t ask us how we know!)
See how we clean and package razor clams here: How to Clean Razor Clams
And here’s our favorite razor clam recipe: Crunchy Coconut Fried Clams