PENINSULA - When is oceanfront property not oceanfront? How about when 10,000 to 15,000 razor clam diggers move to the beach for a couple of hours during the upcoming fall's Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evenings?
Yes, the clamming season is again upon us and those licenses from spring are still valid. The best time to dig for razor clams is when a minus tide uncovers a significant portion of the beach. About two hours before low water should give you ample time to dig your limit of 15 clams.
To dig clams you need a gun or shovel, something to put your catch in like a sack or bucket, a light for night digging, and warm, dry clothing. Some diggers insist shovels are the most effective method to get razor clams, while the majority seem to be sold on guns to bag their limits.
Experienced surf diggers use a shovel to make quick work of opening up the sand when there is a 'show' and then using their hand to snatch the wily bivalves before they can get too deep. Many of us who have used shovels away from the surf know all too well the crunching sound and feel of a clam shell we have taken one too many scoops to dig. Of course, if you crunch a clam, you still need to keep the first 15 you have dug. A gun can eliminate the problem of digging too deep, but one must be careful to center the clam show before plunging the tube over the tasty bivalve. For best results, align the ring of your gun so the show is a couple of inches below 12 o'clock, then go straight down with your back to the surf.
Remember, the extra time you spend aiming your clam gun will give the razor clam a bit of a head start, but you will keep from crunching him into chowder before getting him out of his sandy sanctuary. To decrease lower back strain, use those legs to lift the contents of your gun. And if you reach into the hole to retrieve your clam, be careful of your fingers or you will quickly realize why they are call 'razor' clams. The shells are sharp.
Murphy's Law seems to apply to one's choice of apparel for clamming. Boots are invariably a couple of inches too short to keep out the frigid water of the Pacific, jackets are either too heavy or too light, and hats routinely blow off or droop over one's eyes. It is good advice to overdress and bring along a set of dry clothing if you have a long trip home.
Razor clams abound from North Head to the tip of Leadbetter Point. Spits, areas of smooth, raised sand near the surf, often provide the greatest concentration of clams. The bivalves, when retracting their necks, leave dimples in the sand a half inch deep and ranging in size from a pin hole to that of a quarter. Most often, the bigger the dimple, the larger the clam that made it and smaller holes are from immature clams, so dig accordingly. Doughnuts are the most obvious shows and look like miniature volcanoes. The clam has purged water and sand and is ripe for the taking. When the ocean is receding, surf diggers often see V's from the clam's extended neck. Spouting clams are the easiest to spot, as they are actively purging water as high as a foot or more in the air. And if the clams are not showing, stomping for a few yards and retracing your steps often reveals where a wily razor clam has pulled in his neck.
Driving to the area during a busy clam tide can be a test of one's patience and motoring skills. When on the beach, drivers need to remember that vehicles can only travel legally on the uppermost section of hard sand, classified as a state highway with a 25 mile per hour speed limit. With literally thousands of pedestrians and vehicles on the beach after dark, and with no marked crosswalks, and many minds on the prospects of a limit of clams and not on safety, a potentially hazardous situation exists.
Sneaker waves, those surges of water much larger than usual, may also be a hazard. It is always a good idea to keep one eye on the ocean at all times. Severe weather out at sea can cause sneaker waves, even during the calmest of weather inland. The effects of weather on clamming is underestimated by many. Conditions detrimental to clam digging include an east wind, a steady falling rain, or a strong surf that pounds. Conversely, mild weather and calm wind conditions can make digging on a plus tide a successful venture, and without the crowds.
Digging razor clams is not something new to the Peninsula. Chinook Indian women were the only members of the tribe to harvest razor clams. At the turn of the century razor clams were so prolific that horse-drawn plows were fashioned to turn up their beds and commercial diggers would then pick up the clams and toss them into their wagons.
During the Depression several Peninsula families survived, thanks to the area's bounty of seafood, including clams. In the 1930s an annual festival featured the making of a clam fritter nine feet in diameter. The gigantic frying pan used to cook the feast still hangs in downtown Long Beach. Local merchants would cut and flip the huge fritter using shovels, then serve the delicacy to festival goers free of charge.
Modern-day clammers face the problem of finding their vehicles following a night dig. A friend seemingly solved this problem by buying a battery-powered blue flashing light for his dashboard. Before going to dig, he dutifully placed the device on his pickup's dash and set it to blinking.
Upon procuring his limit, he confidently turned to look for his blue light. Much to his chagrin, he discovered dozens of the blue lights, all flickering brightly and all purchased that day from the same Ocean Park merchant.
So now is the time to sight in those clam guns and scrape the rust off those shovels, find or buy those licenses, test your lanterns, and be ready to dig the wily razor clam. The blue light for the dashboard is optional.