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40 responses to “Chasing the Clam”

  1. Steve

    ….and this is exactly why I read this blog.

    Thanks Hank!

  2. Kathleen Bauer

    Fantastic story, Hank. Felt like I was right there alongside you. Let’s go clamming up here in Oregon sometime!

  3. Doriantake

    Sounds like a great way to spend easter – we did some hiking and got some gardening done.

    If you ever have room for another pair of hands, I’d love to get out there and learn some how-to. I don’t live that far from the Bodega clam beds, but I’ve been hesistant to start digging without someone to point me in the right direction.

    We did some clamming around Pismo when I was a kid, but norcal clamming looks like a very different animal,


  4. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Dammit, Hank. More then once I’ve said that clams are gateway prey because they can’t run away, and now I can’t say it any more.

    I will, from now on, appreciate my stationary East Coast clams but, If I ever have the chance, I would love to try for the horsenecks. Great story.

  5. protected static

    I can’t find the link, but a couple years ago I read an article by a marine biologist who worked for WA DNR that debunked the running away idea. He said that they’re really just buried that deep, and the retraction of their siphon is so fast that it gives the illusion that they’re digging in.

    It certainly seems like the damn things are running away, though.

  6. Russell

    Ah but did any of your horses have those horrible little symbiotic Pea Crabs in them? Totally harmless I know, but the first time one suddenly burst claws and legs out of a clam I was cleaning I nearly fainted!

  7. kurt


    Annually, a large group of us go to Bodega Bay when the tides are low. We call the two types of clams we dig Horsenecks and Washingtons. My guess is
    Washington’s are what you call Butter clams.

    What you didn’t describe is how hard they both are to clean. We sit for hours cleaning the clams that only took us 45 minutes to dig. Also, do you have any secrets for “skinning” the tube?

  8. Yens

    I’m not sure if he knows this, but I vetted my boyfriend by taking him steamer-ing on Martha’s Vineyard. His style is more hunting than gathering, so needless to say he passed my test. Also – I know from a lifetime of clamming that they can and do run away. Happy hunting!

  9. Eric S

    Ha ha, I knew you would like going for Gapers!
    It makes you feel like a kid again. Looking forward to the recipes!

  10. Carter

    Nice! Glad you were able to get out. Digging horsenecks is just too much fun to miss. Like “protected static” above, I too have heard that horsenecks cannot dig away quickly enough to make a difference, rather they just have incredibly long necks and are burried incredibly deep. That doesn’t mean they don’t regularly escape me simply by virtue of being so damn deep that they are beyond reach.

    I’ve been eyeballing the low tides in early May for another outing, you interested?

  11. Trent

    Editor’s note: This is the fight song of the Evergreen State College Geoducks. Wow. ~Hank

  12. michele

    I grew up in a clam-diggin’ town in NJ (Highlands), so I pee salt water when I laugh too hard. I meet so few people who grew up in that sort of environment and it really is an incredible memory. I also love the fact that not only do I know how to clam with my feet, I can gut a fluke, go seining for what usually turns out to be just seahorses and jelly fish (but still!), and I know how to make rainbows in the water at night.
    Thanks for posting this and talking about the other coast’s clam situation! Sounds fun!

  13. Doriantake

    @Hank: Should be fine 🙂 Just give me a few days heads up if you can?

    Looking forward to it,


  14. Ian

    you read some writing, and even before you have finished you know, they have been there, done that! Makes me even more eager for our trip in May…


    PS if you are freezing any, after they thaw the skin on the neck comes off like peeling a banana!

  15. amanda

    LOVED this! Since I moved to PDX from Cape Cod, I’ve been dying to get to the beach and go clamming, but have been a bit discouraged. Its a long drive and the licences only allow a scant number of clams… but this really inspired me! time to apply for a licence.

  16. Jim


    Excellent article, I enjoy reading your blog! Doubly so today, as digging for horse clams (what we call them in Washington State) is a family favorite. Almost nobody digs them up here, with butter clams and steamers being much preferred.

    Another poster asked about skinning the necks. Here’s what we do –

    Once you’ve got the clam out of the shell and the guts removed, I cut the tip of the siphon off, it usually has an orangish/purplish color in the top inch or so. Split the neck length-wise with a sharp knife to aid in washing all the sand off. Then pack the meat skin and all in vacuum sealed bags and freeze it. When you are ready to use for chowder or fritters, the skin comes right off when they thaw.

  17. Nick "clam man" M.

    Great great article and a very entertaining read. We will actually be clamming in Bodega next Saturday (6:10 low tide). My family and friends have clammed there annually for the past 20 years. We even have a “clammer of the year” trophy awarded to the clammer who digs the biggest clam.

    Oh, and we always tell the rookies to dig fast because the clams will run when discovered. Could be true… 🙂

  18. Peggy

    Hank, I have to say, although I’m not a hunter, I love learning about all the different methods that you use to hunt, as well as all the different foods there are out there! This is one of my favourite stories yet (only bested mushroom hunting and acorn picking). Thank you so much for the perspective.

  19. Bpaul

    Gapers are one of the few clams I have some experience with up here in Oregon. And cockles, which I do love. Great read as usual.


  20. semiswede

    What a great story. I remember going clamming with my dad and cousin when I was 7 and we lived in Oregon for a year. One day they got a little too ambitious about how far out they went in the flats. It was so muddy and deep with strong suction that they both had to leave their boots in the sand. We still laugh about that day. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  21. Ingrid

    Great story! Is there anything you have to worry about in terms of contamination or best time of year to do it? I remember hearing that you’re not supposed to collect molluscs in months that have the letter R in them… maybe just a superstition. Also, how do you go about getting a permit?

    Thanks for such inspired writing!

  22. Laura


  23. Mike Wascher

    My intro to geoduck in WA state was watching two young girls digging for one. I had visited the beach for oysters. Enjoyed grilled oysters while watching them dig. They used the sand to build a dam against the incoming tide.

    Near the end, an occasional wave breached the dam. So they’d bail then dig more.

    The girl that finally pulled it out was laying on her belly in the hole, when the hole completely filled with water. The other girl pulled her out by her feet and she was hanging on to the clam.

  24. Ricardo Rodríguez

    That was quite a story, Hank.
    I have seen clam holes/chimneys when in South Padre Island, TX in July, but have never found the clams below digging with my bare hands. I have not get at it really, have dig maybe 1 or 2 feet at best. Don´t even know what kind of clam can they be.

  25. Vicky

    Hank, what a exciting story. I am incredibly jealous.
    Living in Australia, there’s not much of a clam culture. Small clams and cockles, and very restricted in numbers.
    I’m Asian girl. I grew up eating razor clams and geoducks, neither of which are readily available here in Oz. You’re tempting me to hop on a flight over to the US of A just for the bivalves!

  26. Rhoda

    The later it gets in the year, the more clammed out things get. I’m not sure what area you’re in, but around here your best bet is to get a small boat (inflatable, kayak, etc.) and find the flats that happen during low tide. I went out with my brother, husband, and dad this past weekend and in a very small area we found 31 clams in an extremely short amount of time. Another cool trick is to bring a section of pvc pipe that is very wide, at least 1.5 feet in diameter. Once you find your clam hole, and have it partially dug out, you slide the pvc pipe into the hole and stand on it so it pushes further in, then you dig in the center of it. It prevents your hole from collapsing on you and makes it harder to lose the clam. Good luck in future clamming expeditions! ~A native Californian

  27. Daniel Roloff

    I remember my first trip in Washington state, I ended up with 2 horse clam syphons in my hand without the rest of the clam. If you get a chance hit up Penn cove, Wa. There are Oysters, clams and Mussels all over.

  28. Angela L

    Haha! You are a great writer! I was googling info about little butterfly clams on Padre Island Texas out of curiosity after seeing them on my beach vacation, and found this thrilling tale! Rock on, clam catcher!

  29. Waters at the Water | Why Wine?

    […] squirted from the sand, and someone indicated they were clams.   Ever since reading Hank Shaw’s entry on digging for geoducks, I had been waiting for this moment.  A little help from Clark and two sore arms later, I was out […]

  30. Anneliese

    Im going to share a tip with you which might help in future clamming.

    When I was a kid we used to go geoducking every summer, the holes always collapse because they are so deep down. My dad took a smooth metal barrel, welded handles on it, and sharpened the opposite end. The trick is to have a wide enough barrel that the clam doesn’t notice when you put it around it. Then you slowly rotate the barrel back and forth cutting into the sand until the handles are at sand level. Next, one person gets ready to grab while the other gets ready to shovel. One quick shovel and grab the neck. Then shovel down the barrel while the other holds the neck, don’t hit your buddys hand with the shovel. Walls stay in place and you get your clam. As I said, we used this for geoduck all the time and it worked really well, we would always get horse clams this way too. Now of course, you practically have to dive for geoduck, but maybe this will help you down in Cali…teamwork is key! Happy clamming.

  31. Kate

    This is a great post. A note on the gaper clams though: They don’t dig further into the ground as you pursue them; only razor clams, which are outer coast clams, do this. Gapers (and butters, softshells) will stay put. In fact, discarding gapers that you don’t want or break will doom them to certain depth; they can’t rebury easily and that is why some state regulations mandate that you must keep what you dig.

  32. Wayne towson

    At bodega bay sat,April 23. Can I take a guide and pay someone to teach my grandkids to clam.
    My Bucket List?
    W. Towson

  33. Chris

    Just back from early morning foray to Bodega clam beds and happy to report limits for junior and myself. Plenty to find and beautiful as ever. Minus tides all week for the early bird! Thanks for the delightful read.

  34. Chris Whitmore

    Hank, sounds like fun. Ironically, my son will be visiting Dillon Beach tomorrow with his summer camp (probably trying to show them how to dig clams! (7 year olds)). Anyway, seems like you are up for adventure, any interest in abalone? Had a great dive last week around timber cove, would love to share the experience? Grew up in Marin, luckily still here. Let me know…

  35. steve the clam guy

    hi all,
    great post! here’s some disambiguation. The clam shown in the top picture is a Washington or butter clam. The siphon show photo is probably another Washington, because a Horse neck has a chitinous plate at the siphon end. Geoduck clams do exist in California but it takes an especially low tide to get them. Geoduck live primarily at the sub tidal zone and are difficult to find in California because the tides are not as extreme closer to the equator. Horse neck clams, also called gaper, empire, horse, and summer clams exist in California in great quantity. The bottom picture is a horse neck (it looks like Tresus nuttallii). There are 2 types of Horse neck clams with capex being more northern and nuttallii more southern. I’ve been digging clams for over 30 years and I can unequivocally state that most clams cannot dig down quickly. The exception is razor clams. They have a smooth shell and a dexterous foot that spreads out and allows them to pull themselves down. If anyone wants to go clamming and be sure to get a limit send me an e-mail.

  36. steve the clam guy

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