Clam diggers and clam raider

I found out yesterday afternoon that this weekend will be the final razor clam dig for the 2008-2009 season. I missed the April openings because i was in Whistler for the final snowboarding trip of the season so i told myself that i would not miss this final razor clam dig even if i had to go there in a wheelchair.

When i did my previous razor clam dig more than five years ago, other than getting a clam gun and several garden shovels, and the shell fishing license, i was pretty much under-equiped. I left work earlier and made it to Seattle Marine and Fishing Supply Co to purchase the following items for Smelly and i:

  • Two pairs of PVC boots at $11.15 a pair. I was considering getting the chest or hip waders but decided that it was unnecessary.
  • Two pairs of waterproof gloves with good grip at $3.78 a pair. Smelly had to make do with the two right-handed gloves since i forgot to check when i was picking them out of a box full of gloves.
  • A clam shovel that costs about $15. For a few bucks more, i could have bought another clam gun. It is definitely easier for a beginner to clam with a clam gun than a shovel.

According to the news release by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Saturday’s morning digs are available in Twin Harbors and Long Beach. Twin Harbors is the closer between the two so i decided to go there instead of Long Beach. In the same news release, it noted that the Twin Harbors low tide would happen at 5:27am, which meant we would have to leave Seattle at around 0300.

It was tough crawling out of the bed at 0230, after getting no more than 4 hours of sleep. By the time we got everything ready and headed out, it was a little past 0300. Not surprisingly, there was absolutely no traffic at all on our drive there. Driving so early in the morning has its advantages. It has some risks as well. Some where between Olympia and McCleary on Highway 8, we almost ran into a deer. There was a group of three deers, with two of them on the left shoulder of the two westbound lanes. The third deer was right in the middle of the right lane. Normally when i drive, i tend to stay on the right lane unless i am passing another vehicle. For some reason, i decided to stay on the left lane and that probably saved me from hitting the deer. The popular saying about deer in headlights is absolutely true. The deer in the right lane was not even attempting to move out of the way to the forested area near the right shoulder. It was staring straight at the headlights of my car!

It took us a little over two and a half hours before arriving at the destination. When we arrived at the beach, it was close to 0600. There were already quite a number of people on the beach, digging under portable light sources. It was not the perfect weather for clam digging. There was a light rain and we were pounded by the constant gale-size wind.

Dawn at Twin Harbors (by Smelly)
Dawn at Twin Harbors (by Smelly)

Clam digging scene at dawn (by Smelly)
Clam digging scene at dawn (by Smelly)

Initially, it was difficult to dig for clams because it was not yet bright enough to spot the shows. Most of the clam diggers were really friendly. A guy dressed in an all red Mount Everest-hiking type of suit spotted the noobs in us very quickly.

Alex - the very friendly clam digger
Alex – the very friendly and helpful clam digger in his red all-weather suit (by Smelly)

I wonder what gave us away. May be it was the matching cheap PVC boots that we were wearing. Or perhaps it was the matching blue gloves on our hands.

With a PVC clam gun on one hand and a tapping pole on the other, while wearing a head-mounted flashlight, he pointed out several shows for me and told me where to start digging.

Alex directing me where to dig (by Smelly)
Alex directing me where to dig (by Smelly)

I found my first razor clam of the morning but due to my careless positioning of the clam gun, i crushed the poor mollusk and broke its shell into pieces. Alex then showed us how to reveal the shows by stomping gently on the sand with our boots. He told us to walk about 10 feet while stomping, and then walk back to check for shows. Under the lighting condition at that time, it was almost impossible to spot any shows, even if they were right in front of us.

How the hell do you find them? (by Smelly)
The expression on my clueless face says it all: How the hell did you spot them? (by Smelly)

For the longest time, we were walking around the beach with two razor clams in our buckets. After what seemed like an eternity, Smelly spotted a show and we found our third razor clam. But we were stuck with number three for a long time.

Hard at work (by Smelly)
Hard at work but came up empty again on this one (by Smelly)

It wasn’t until a guy with a clam shovel and three dogs (a adult black Lab, a black Lab puppy and a Spitz-type dog) started showing us how to spot a show that we started harvesting them like there was no tomorrow. In fact, most of our clams were harvested during the last 30 minutes.

Bucket full of razor clams (by Smelly)
Bucket full of razor clams (by Smelly)

Prior to the fourth clam, our success rate was probably less than 5%, meaning we were only one clam every 20 digs. After the “secret” was revealed to us, we were getting a clam in every dig!

The secret (by Smelly)
The “secret” (by Smelly)

Got another one! (by Smelly)
I got another one! (by Smelly)

Most of the razor clams we dug were big ones with at least four-inch long shells. Furthermore, we were harvesting razor clams with no shell breakage, unlike the earlier ones. Other than the aesthetic reason, not having a crushed and dead razor clam means that the live clam will be able to expel the sand and grit, which makes eating a lot more pleasant.

Little clam raider (by Smelly)
My hand blocking the little clam raider from snatching another clam (by Smelly)

While i was digging, the black Lab puppy came over and started playing with me. When i was not paying attention, it stuck its head into my bucket, and took off with one of the crushed clams! It was a really funny sight. I was laughing while i was chasing after the clam raider. Moments later, on one of the holes that i dug out, the puppy stuck its tiny head in it and started digging, like it was trying to help me get to the razor clam. Smelly and i had a lot of fun playing with the puppy.

Playing with black Lab puppy (by Smelly)
Playing with black Lab puppy (by Smelly)

Eventually when the owner of the puppy thought it was being too much of a nuisance to us, he started dragging it away by its collar under the puppy’s protest.

Little clam raider being dragged away by its owner (by Smelly)
Little clam raider being dragged away unwillingly by its owner (by Smelly)

By the time we were done at 0800, the population of clam diggers along the beach at Twin Harbors probably dropped by 60 – 70 percent.

Beach sparsely populated by some "late-arriving" clam diggers
Beach sparsely populated by some “late-arriving” clam diggers.

Stormy sea behind the clam diggers
Stormy sea behind the clam diggers

Immediately after i arrived home, i sprayed the clams with water to get rid of the sand on the outside of the shells. Then i soaked them in slightly salted water to encourage them to expel any remaining sand. I also attempted a method using corn starch suggested by my old boss. According to him, if you put live clams in a bucket of water added with some corn starch, they will readily expel any sand and grit in them. I tried it but was not sure if this was more successful than just regular water.

razor clams being soaked in water to allow them to expel sand and grit
The fruits of our labor – razor clams being soaked in water to allow them to expel sand and grit. (by Smelly)

Five years ago, i caught five razor clams in Ocean Shores. This time round, the total number of clams harvested by us probably numbered around 25. Most of the razor clams that were harvested were big ones.
A 5.5-inch razor clam
A 5.5-inch razor clam, one of the bigger ones that we harvested. (by Smelly)

Five years ago, i overcooked the razor clams when i stir-fried the diced razor clams with snow peas. I tried looking for Asian-style recipe for cooking the Pacific razor clams but could not find any on google. There were several recipes for cooking razor clams from the East Coast but other than sharing the same name, they are completely different clam species.

So i decided to try one of the most popular recipes for cooking the Pacific razor clams – deep fried. To remove the razor clams from their shells, i put them in very hot water for several seconds, until one side of the shells opened up. The clams were then immediately dumped in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process since i didn’t plan to chew on leather-like clams. Next i followed the cleaning instructions that can be easily found on google.

I created five stations for deep frying the clams. The first station was a plate of regular flour. The second station was a bowl of beaten eggs. The third station was the plate of Panko Japanese bread crumbs. The fourth station was the hot oil for deep-frying the clams. And finally, the last station was a collection of several plates with kitchen paper towel for removing any excess oil. Fortunately, i had a lot of help when deep frying the razor clams. Smelly helped in cleaning and patting dry the clams. I was manning the first and second stations while my sis was taking care of the last three stations.


One of the three plates full of deep-fried razor clams.

The deep-fried razor clams tasted pretty good. But i think i had enough razor clams to last me several years. Overall, this has been a very fun experience. But harvesting, cleaning and cooking the clams is a lot of work. I am not sure if this is something that i want to do more than once every season.

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