Razor clam digging is “fun, and it’s cheap. People don’t understand how easy it is. You just get out here and do it. Everyone I’ve gotten to try it ends up loving it. You get to be out here early in the morning – it’s beautiful. What’s not to love?” Trey Simmons, who lives in Bend but whose family visits the Oregon Coast every year, makes the effort it takes to go razor clam digging sound simple. Although many Clatsop County residents and tourists might agree with Simmons, digging for clams still takes skill, a practical knowledge of tides, and a solid understanding of laws and regulations.
On one particular tide, Simmons and his family start their day at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for their outing. “It’s the one thing that I think throws people off. You’re dedicated to the tide. We try to get out in a minus tide if we can. Sometimes that means getting up super early or going out really late,” he says.
According to a popular clam digging website, a “minus” tide is any tide lower than the mean lower low tide, or below zero. Simmons clarifies, “Basically a minus tide is just when the water goes out further than it usually does. You get to see all the things the water normally covers up, which also gives clam diggers more real estate to get after the otherwise covered clams.” It seems no time is too early or late for those who are dedicated to the experience. To be in place and ready for the dig, Simmons recommends being on the sand at least two hours before the peak low tide.
Because they only get to visit a few times a year, Simmons and his family have to get their annual shellfish license before they hit the beach. Diggers 14 years and older must have a license and dig their own clams. License prices vary and are higher for nonresidents, but Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife keeps an updated fee schedule on their website. Licenses can be purchased online at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website or through a licensing agent like Knappa Mini Mart or Maritime Texaco, both located in Astoria, or Mariner Market in Cannon Beach. Bakers General Store, Trucke’s Inc and Hamlet Quick Stop can also sell you a license in Seaside. Tackle Time in Warrenton can also hook you up. “The license isn’t expensive. We all get ours every year we come out here. I remember getting my first one – still have it in my wallet I think,” Simmons muses.
Stepping out onto the beach in the pre-dawn hours is a northwest experience like no other. With guns and shovels in hand, Simmons and his family make their way to the edge of the water. There is a thin slab of dim light on the horizon, but the beach is far from deserted. A dozen or so other people are scattered about – all with bags and shovels of their own. Simmons is searching the sand; “We’re looking for tells. They will be pretty close to the surface. We want to see little dimples – that lets you know where they are.” Each person gets a limit of 15 razor clams, and the first 15 must be taken regardless of size. “It’s pretty easy to hit your limit. It may not seem like a lot, but if you have a family of five that means you’re taking home 75 clams that day!”
After a few of his family members begin their digs, Simmons explains the actual dig process. “Digging is simple, especially with a gun because you don’t have to stick your hand in the hole. You press the gun into the sand over where the clam is showing, cover the hole with your finger, pull it up, and let the sand out. If you’re lucky there will be a clam in it somewhere.” The process is easier said than done. Depending on how far the gun travels into the sand, it can be quite heavy lifting it back out. ODFW gives some tips for proper lifting technique on a useful clam digging flyer located on their website.
“It’s addicting,” Simmon says, “it’s like panning for gold. Once you get one, you get really pumped to find the next one.” At the end of the day, Simmons and his family are happy with their haul; “It’s easy to walk away happy. Even if you don’t get anything – which rarely happens – you get to watch the sunrise on the coast. You can’t beat it.”
To stay up to date on the latest razor clam digs, visit the ODFW website.