Oregon Magazine   Traveling the West?  Stay at  Shilo Inns
   Cover  |  Table of Contents

Coastal Clammers
Find A Bonanza
 by Michael Roscoe

 I took it as a certain mark of respect when my father-in-law to-be asked me to go out hunting with him.  It sounded perfect because although I hadn’t been in years, he assured me that we’d be quickly and highly successful and I knew that with this type of hunt there was no chance of him “accidentally” shooting me in the back.   No, we weren’t out after deer, elk or bear—our quarry was the elusive and highly delicious siliqua patular: the Razor Clam. (Clam link to photo source.)

My fiance’ and I journeyed to his house near the beaches of Astoria and there, buoying ourselves against the early morning elements sauntered forth in search of game.  It didn’t take long to catch our fill and we were back snug in our beds before most people were even thinking about breakfast.

The utter ease and simplicity of the catch this year has most locals hitting the surf by the hundreds.  The first day we picked a spot behind Camp Rilea, just north of Seaside, and even at six a.m. the beach was covered with ardent diggers, kneeling in the wet sand and scooping up clams by the dozen.  Those in the know claim that recent oceanographic phenomena such as weaker than average winter storms and ultra-low tides have contributed to this season’s bonanza.  There are even rumors afoot that the season will be cut short before it’s scheduled July 15 closure.  But, experience or no, digging razors is tons of fun that will keep the family entertained on the beach in the morning and busy in the kitchen that evening.

A Northwest Native

The Razor Clam is a private possession of the northern western Pacific coast    Its homeland stretches from the Bering Sea into California, in sub-tidal zones, under the crashing ocean waves, burrowed in for protection.  Only at low tide is the clam exposed and vulnerable to being dug in areas usually covered by water.

At minus tides, Razors can be easily found, and a day’s limit can be gathered in minutes.  The clams we found were typically three to five inches in length, although the monster of the weekend was over six inches long.

A Stomp in the Sand

Hunting for Razors is simple enough.  At a low or minus tide (tide table link)  you simply proceed down to the water’s edge and begin doing your best three-year-old-sent-to-your-room imitation.  You stomp and stamp all over the chosen hunting area, creating as much vibration as you can.  All of this commotion will hopefully freak out the clam buried in the moist sand beneath your feet and it will turn tail (or siphon, as it were) and head away from you with the utmost haste.  This the clam accomplishes by burrowing itself with its downward-pointing, digging foot and withdrawing its neck (siphon) from the surface of the sand.  The appearance of a small hole, or “dimple” on the beach indicates the recent presence of a clam, which you should now pursue with your digging implement.

Tools of the Trade

There are two basic tools used to dig Razors.  Which one you use is dependent upon how much energy you want to expend.  Traditionalists use the clam shovel.  It has a long wooden handle with a narrow, curved metal blade at the end.  Positioning yourself oceanside of the dimple, you must now do your best impersonation of a world champion ditch digger and shovel as much heavy, wet sand and quickly as you can.  (Clam shovel is a product hotlink)

Meanwhile, the clam is digging as fast as it can, moving deeper and deeper, away from your stabbing blade.  You are racing with a mollusk.  When you deem the hole deep enough to be near the clam, cast shovel aside, drop to your knees and scratch madly into the water-filling hole with your hands.  But beware, Razors are, as their name indicates, sharp-edged critters.  Many is the clammer who has thrust a hand into the soft, damp sand and withdrawn with julienned fingers.  But, with a modicum of luck, you will discover the bounty before it can escape, and using a delicate grasp, remove it from beach to bucket.

Those with somewhat less robust constitutions can opt for the clam gun.  It’s a three-foot long piece of four inch diameter PVC pipe capped with a grasping handle.  When you spot a clam dimple, position the gun over the top of it and begin wiggling and thrusting the pipe  as deep into the sand as you can.  When you’ve reached an appropriate depth, place your thumb over the tiny exhaust hole drilled into the top of the pipe.  This creates suction on the trapped sand and water below, so that by heaving upward with your shoulders and thighs, you wrench forth a column of beach trapped in the tube.  Swing the tube clear of the hole, remove thumb from exhaust port and the muck in the pipe falls free.  Hopefully, somewhere in that mess will appear the shiny brown shell of your quarry.

Know your limits

In Oregon, each digger is allowed to obtain 15 clams per day.  Penalty for exceeding this limit is somewhat severe, like $150 per clam you possess in excess of the allowance.  And be assured the authorities are watching.  The word is out on this bumper clam season and wardens are patrolling our beaches to apprehend the overly greedy.

So what do you do with a bucketful of fresh Razors?  The first thing to do is make them die.  Not so easy…clams, unlike fish, do not suffocate out of water.  They can live up to three days in your bucket without you paying them the slightest attention.  Fresh water will ‘drown’ them, so if you are squeamish about being a hands-on killer, fill the bucket with tap water and wait awhile.

Cleansing and cooking 

If you’re in a hurry, you can dispatch your Razors promptly with fresh water heated to almost boiling.  Drop a clam into a simmering pot and within four to six seconds the shell will open and the clam is expired.  Immediately remove the clam to an ice bath.  This will prevent partial cooking and prevent the gut from bursting and spilling its contents.  After the clam has cooled, it is easily slipped from the shell and is ready for cleaning.  My preferred cleansing process is as follows: (1) snip the siphon off midway and discard.  (2) run scissors between the closed valves of the clam and separate.  You now have the gills and guts with which to contend.  (3)cut away all dark areas of the inside and discard.  The goal is to have a perfectly white piece of meat in your hand.  (4) split the digger foot and clean out the fatty white material and the black intestine under cold running water.

The most popular culinary treatment for Razors is to dredge the meat in seasoned flour and fry very briefly (to a light tan) in butter.  Some cooks go to the trouble of pounding the clam neck with the edge of a plate or a meat-tenderizing hammer before flouring.  Razors may be finely chopped and mixed into a batter for frying fritters, or as a base for a chowder.

Marine biologists tell us that the clams so easily captured this season are only the visible tip of the Razor population, which they say extends to depths immune to tidal uncovering.  So hesitate not to hit the beach before July 15 and share the bounty!

© 2002 Michael Roscoe

      Around Oregon News Digest  |  Arts&Lettres  |  Business  |  Editorial  |  Events  | Life&Styles
      Natural History  |  Outdoor   |  SciTech  |   Sports  |  Travel  |  Peg's Bottom Gazette  |  Contact