Ocean to Table: An Introduction to Razor Clamming in Grays Harbor

Each year, thousands of clam diggers head to Grays Harbor County beaches as both locals and visitors hope to get their limit of razor clams. If you have never had this experience, it is well worth the investment to pick up a license from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with either a clam gun or shovel. Not only is it refreshing to spend a day at the coast taking in the expansive view of the ocean, but there is nothing quite like harvesting wild food in the company of family or friends.

On this particular Saturday, there was blue sky and a calm breeze. Vehicles lined Roosevelt Beach in preparation for low tide. Winter in the Pacific Northwest is not typically associated with full-sun so this was a rare treat for those who were camped out for the day with bonfires, barbecues and beverages. The energy was exciting to witness as men, women and children of all ages made their way towards the shorebreak.

clam diggers looking for signs of clams on Grays Harbor beach
Local Stephen Tyler teaches writer Jess Caldwell how to look for the anomalies in the sand, called a ‘show’ to identify the location of the razor clams. Photo credit: Dave Fairley

When the tide recedes, it is the perfect opportunity to look for the anomalies that might represent a razor clam. Commonly called a “show,” the hunter will see something that looks like a dimple or small doughnut in the sand. This occurs when the clam eats and loosens the sand above its neck. The clam gun or shovel is then used to dig for the razor clam below. Tapping or stomping the compacted sand can also create a “show” as the vibration causes them to dig down, which exposes their location.

Patrick Fallon holding a razor clam and a clam gun on a Grays Harbor Beach
Patrick Fallon traveled from Bellingham to enjoy his first razor clam dig. Photo credit: Jess Caldwell

The daily limit is 15 and it’s best to take home your harvest in a bucket of salt water to keep the razor clams fresh. “Some folks dip the fresh clams in hot water to easily open the shell, however I think that toughens the meat,” shared longtime Grays Harbor resident Stephen Tyler. “I simply use a knife to detach the meat and then pan fry the tender diggers using flour, egg and panko. I reserve the neck for chowder.”

man bent over using clam gun in the sand with a husky next to him
The last weekend of January brought thousands to Grays Harbor County for an afternoon of razor clamming on a rare sunny day. Photo credit: Jess Caldwell

Stephen has been razor clamming for 47 years since moving to Grays Harbor County in 1975. He suggests picking up a tide book or going online to look for a “minus tide” and be two hours early for the best success. “If you are new to razor clamming, look for someone who knows what they’re doing and don’t be shy to ask them some questions,” Stephen added. “Most people are happy to help. It’s a great feeling to watch someone who has never done this and witness their smile and excitement when they pull up their first razor clam.”

man standing with a clam gun on the beach
Many people use a clam gun that is a user-friendly way to harvest razor clams. Photo credit: Jess Caldwell

Stephen prefers the traditional method of razor clamming using the shovel. He has found this to be easier on his back as compared to the suction created from the clam gun that requires quite a bit of strength to pull up. Most people would agree however that the clam gun is more user friendly for beginners. His favorite location is Roosevelt Beach in front of the Iron Springs Resort. He also suggested the Green Lantern Pub as a great place to warm up with a hot meal after a successful dig.

bowl of clam chowder made from Grays Harbor Clams
Ocean to table clam chowder from an afternoon of razor clamming at Roosevelt Beach. Photo credit: Jess Caldwell

Razor clamming is a pacific northwest adventure worth exploring. Eating wild foods harvested locally offers an opportunity to connect with nature in a personal way. After reaching my limit, I followed Stephen Tyler’s advice and pan fried up the diggers as well as made a clam chowder that was not only gratifying as this was my first clam dig, but it brought friends and family together who were all very impressed with the ocean to table experience.

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