By Douglas Scott
Razor clam season brings joy to those who enjoy watching tides and standing on the windswept, often wet Washington Coast. The beaches this year are packed with clammers, as all signs are pointing to this being the best clamming season in more than three decades. Early estimates from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are looking extremely promising even compared with last year’s amazing clamming season.
Last season’s clam dig was the largest since 1982. In the 2013 clam season, more than 6.3 million clams were harvested along the coast of Washington State. With the majority of those clams coming from the beaches of Grays Harbor. This season, the officials at WDFW are anticipating an even better year. Nearly half-a-million dig trips were recorded last year, resulting in an average of 13.9 clams per digger. Those numbers, according to the WDFW reflect a spectacular razor clam population.
“When the ocean is really healthy, the razor clams are also healthy,” explained WDFW’s Coastal Shellfish Lead Biologist, Dan Ayres.
Ayres went on to explain that the high population of razor clams is directly related to the health of the ocean, though one local region isn’t seeing the clam population boom the rest of the coast is experiencing. Kalaloch Beach will remain closed this season, as the numbers of clams are not good enough for more than one or two diggers. Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are unsure of reasons why clam populations are dwindling in the area, but it could be due to any number of explanations, including a possible shift in diet for the local sea otter population.
Beaches from Longbeach to the Mocrocks will are already seeing their share of boots and hip waders.
The 2014-15 clamming season is already creating a buzz, not just with Grays Harborites, but with residents from every neighboring community. With so much interest in clamming this year, we decided to ask locals their preferred implement of clamming, as well as asking for tips and advice for those looking to experience the fun of clamming for the first time.
“I use a shovel. The gun hurts my back,” longtime clammer Mitzi Schindele of Montesano answered when asked what her preference was. For her, it is a matter of comfort, explaining that she she also dislikes using the gun because, “I tend to chop the clams when I use a gun!”
“The clam gun is fast and efficient,” says lifelong digger Dave Grundberg of Curtis, WA. Dave prefers the gun over the shovel, telling us that he uses the clam gun because he is less likely to break the shell when going after a razor clam.
Both Mitzi and Dave offer great tips for staying safe and warm while getting your 15 clam limit. From wearing a wetsuit under your clothes to using gloves with rubber fingertips, protecting yourself from the elements while on the beach is extremely important. Bringing a headlamp instead of a flashlight will help free up your hands and limit the chances of losing your light. For more tips, take a look at our clamming post from last year. Clam digging isn’t hard work, if done properly, and the WDFW has some more helpful tips on how to dig for razor clams using a gun or a shovel.
Clamming isn’t for everyone, but it is something every Grays Harbor resident and Washingtonian should try. Standing on the coast in good or bad weather, in daytime or in darkness, there is something soothing about the process of clam digging, even for those who didn’t grow up doing it.
“I really enjoyed the chase, once I figured it out. I used the clam gun and got pretty good toward the end of the weekend,” explained John Soltys, a WTA Correspondent and the man behind moosefish.com. “The lowlight came a day later when my back decided it didn’t appreciate clamming. I’d still tell everyone to go with the clam gun rather than a shovel. Just remember to push hard and lift with your legs.”
With the season for clamming upon us, it is time to find our guns and shovels, grab our clam nets or buckets, and start checking the tides for the best days. The lower the tide, the better the clamming, as it gives more of the razor clam habitat exposure to the thousands of eager clammers looking for signs of these sharp-shelled creatures. Remember, while clamming be safe and follow all rules. Your limit is the first 15 razor clams you catch, no matter what the size or condition of the clam. Fish and Game officials will be out monitoring the beach to make sure everyone is following the rules and has the proper permit, so be honest and clam within the law.