Editorial and Photoes by Jim Goerg
Sometimes I’m as sharp as an old razor. Other times razors are much sharper than me and more exciting but with one of the rites of spring happening here in the Pacific Northwest, its worth sharpening-up and gearing-up for digging razor clams on our Pacific beaches.
Last month was the opening (pre-spring) season which just happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day weekend along Washington’s Copalis and Mocrocks beaches, right there in and around beautiful Ocean Shores. Coincidentally, the opening met with Ocean Shores North Beach Chamber of Commerce’s 12th Annual Razor Clam Festival and seafood extravaganza. A much anticipated yearly event.
The “digs” were scheduled by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife but all of that depended on the results of marine toxin tests by the Department of Health, which showed the razor clams were safe to eat.
The Friday and Saturday digs lit up a group of us and even though they were considered evening digs by department standards (depends on low “clam” tides.) The added daylight time savings along with the low tides resulted in beautiful lit evenings with no lanterns or flashlights needed.
On my past few digs we would leave the metropolitan area in early morning and arrive to the shores in time for digging tides, lunches and returning that evening for cleaning the clams at home during the happy hour. Made us all smile. With evening tides we felt it best to overnight, which also gave us time to join in the Chamber’s celebration on Saturday
We landed on the sun-drenched beach early Friday afternoon with plenty of time to pull out the folding chairs, gather a bunch of spent driftwood and build a bonfire. Roasted hotdogs, chips with cheese dips, honey crisp apples, beverages and swirling smoke all added to beach ambiance as we watched the tide recede to digging levels, where the razors are most abundant.
Even though the weather was sun-perfect it was still the last few days of winter and the air was crisp, the water can be bone chilling. You want to dress warm but not bulky. Nearly everyone wears insulated coats, boots, hip waders or chest waders. There is always the one macho-guy in shorts. He is usually the first one off the beach with a low percentage of the available limit. Go figure.
When digging experienced catchers always face the waves and either use a clam shovel or tube-style clam gun (no ammunition required) for the harvest. Walking slowing along the edge of the water or in-and-out as the water recedes, clams will “show”, as it is called. This show may be a very small dimple or a circle of raised sand the size of a 50-cents piece with a hole in the middle. That is when the adrenalin kicks in. The clams are relatively deep, maybe 12” to 18” in many cases. When they feel you disturbing the surface their digger goes into action and you had better get your digger going too!
Remember when you were a kid playing in the dirt? Well, this is a “ditto” but with a buried treasure at the bottom of the hole. I was tickled at the amount of kids that were there on their first dig. One of my pleasures in life it hearing a deep chuckle out of a youngster as he/she reaches into the pile of soaking cold sand and pulls out the reward. Oh yes, people bring their dogs too and although the pooch, be it a little shaggy white mutt to broad-chested labs, I think they are having more fun than the kids and their parents. After all, they are natural “diggers”!
Many of the hotels along the beachfront have clam cleaning stations and ours was no exception. With enough notice it can be easy to get a room with a kitchenette but it’s best to use the provided cleaning station for the sandy hard-shells. The little kitchen can be a big plus for quick meals on-the-go but there are plenty of family pubs and family-style restaurants in Ocean Shores also, just don’t expect candle lit dinners with linen tablecloths.
When and where the razor clams do their “show” is a mystery to me. You can be hunting the beach for many minutes and see nothing but then all at once there are abundant shows at your feet only inches apart. The limit is 15 razor clams per day but you must keep every one that you dig, broken shells or whole.
The Chamber’s Razor Clam Festival was a fun diversion on Saturday before digging time started. There was something for everyone from outdoor activities for the kids to chowder tasting contests to guest speakers to booths with a variety of arts. There was even a parade and an evening karaoke contest.
Our second evening dig went as well as the first one with all of us limiting. The air was a little crisper and there were a few more diggers than the day before. That might have has something to do with the festival seminar by WDFW’s Day Ayres speaking on how to dig clams and how the fisheries is managed.
As a side note there was also a Razor Clam Harvesters Survey taking place, hosted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For eligible participants with 15 minutes to spare, rewards were $25 cash.
Growing up in Port Angeles we often rooted around for clams on our Sunday picnic outings. Those were more the steamer calm variety along the shores inside the Strait and east around Puget Sound. Razor clams are only found along the shores of the Pacific.
There are as many ways to prepare razors, with one of the most popular being a nice thick chowder. You can also make clam strips, clam burgers, clam steaks, clam this..clam that…clam… One of my favorite is to bread them and fry them quickly in a skillet with a little oil or butter. A friend of mine breads them and puts them under the broiler for 2-minutes on each side. Delicious! With the large size of a razor clam, two or three make a meal, as opposed to a bucket of steamers.
In Washington razor clams can only be taken by hand digging. Each clam you dig must be kept as part of the limit and you can’t return any back to the sand or water, regardless of size or condition. Each person age 15 or older must be licensed and each limit must be kept in a separate container. Seasons occur only after clam samples have been tested for marine biotoxins by the Washington Department of Health and are found to be safe for human consumption. Announced digs usually come about a week before the opening. If all is well there can be other scheduled digs into early June. Most of us start looking towards mid-October for announced fall digs.
There are four digs tentatively planned for April, from Thursday, April 19 through Sunday, April 22nd. Three-day razor clamming licenses are available or an annual combination fishing license works too.
For more information:
Ocean Shores/North Beach
Chamber of Commerce
Department of Health/Biotoxin
Washington Department of Fish
Region 6 Montesano: 360-249-4628
Shellfish Rule Change Hotline: