Clamzilla chowder, anyone?
Jason Stricker was stunned at what his shovel turned up — a razor clam filling the palm of his hand.
“There were three or four of them that big,” he said. “All of six inches. Two clams and a normal person would be full.”
Stricker, a construction company owner in rural Clackamas County, took a break this past week from finishing the family’s new beach house in Rockaway and drove to Sunset Beach, north of Gearhart, to mine its sands for delectable razor clams.
“It was unreal,” he said. “I didn’t even have to go down into the surf. The doughnuts (’shows,’ made by razor clam siphons) were everywhere; even up in the dry sand. I could’ve dug them at an even tide. It looked like we’d been transported to Long Beach (Washington) and nobody told us.”
Stricker’s mention of Long Beach was a reference to Washington’s richest razor diggings, which also have yielded unusually large clams.
Unlike Oregon, which allows razor clam digging seven days a week, Washington tightly controls its razor clams with brief, tide-dependent seasons. The latest Washington season opened Friday for morning-only digging through Wednesday, taking advantage of a low-tide series.
The difference in philosophies doesn’t seem to have made much difference this year, with large clams common in both states, from Tillamook Head to Copalis Beach, north of Westport.
Matt Hunter, shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said extended closures the past couple of years because of toxins allowed clams to grow more, although most of a razor’s growth happens in the first year, when they reach four inches before slowing down.
Stricker’s big ones were likely five or six years old and may be reaching the ends of their lives, Hunter said.
Limit digs (the first 15 dug, regardless of size or condition) are the rule and usually done in short order, Hunter said, with fewer clams dug only by complete novices or diggers who simply don’t want any more than a meal.
Oregon’s razor season closes July 15 until Oct. 1 and Hunter expects to surpass the previous high harvest of 3.3 million. Nearly all are dug on Clatsop County’s beaches north of Tillamook Head.
A few hints (for the newbies):
1. Razor clams are in the surf lines, closest to low tide levels. The best tides are minus on the tables. But if the surf is quiet, clams can be taken at a low of 1 foot, 9 inches, and if it’s heavy, half a foot or so. The current low series in the mornings will last most of the week. The next significant low series will begin April 15.
2. Don’t use Seaside tides. They’re actually from a gauge up the Necanicum River. Hunter recommends using tide tables for the Columbia River North Jetty, usually found on Washington tide tables.
3. Park high in the sand, both to avoid becoming stuck and avoid passing over clam beds in dry sand. Start looking two or three hours before the low tide at minus levels.
4. Stricker (who describes himself as “not a normal person” because he can eat more than two large razors at a time) is one of the few still using a clam shovel, which he’s had since his youth growing up in Astoria. Nearly everyone these days use tubes, which are easier, faster and don’t require as much bending and hand-scooping in the sand.
5. Look for the largest dimples, or shows, which often indicate the size of larger clams.
6. Both Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife offer detailed information and instructions on razor clams and how to dig razors (and bay clams). Washington’s is well illustrated and most helpful.
7. Obey the law. Everyone, even youngsters, must dig their own clams and carry their own bag or bucket. Hunter said compliance has been a major issue and Oregon State Police range randomly through the crowd looking for diggers who high-grade by tossing back small or damaged clams and those who dig a limit, then return again to dig more.
Speaking of newbies: If you or someone you know is looking for information on how to get started in fishing, clam digging or crabbing, tune in to OregonLive’s Peak Northwest podcast on Thursday for some helpful tips from yours truly. Listen here.
You can also find detailed information about beginning fishing on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
The year’s first family fishing event is scheduled for Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. until noon at St. Louis Ponds, near Woodburn. The free event is sponsored by the department, which will provide instructors and fishing tackle for those who need it. Trout will be stocked.
Boaters alert! Starting April 20, the U.S. Coast Guard will require all boaters to carry fire extinguishers no older than 12 years from the date of manufacture. That date is stamped into the bottom of the bottle or near the UL label and may be two or four digits. If two, as in 08, that means 2008.
— Bill Monroe for The Oregonian/OregonLive