Of the many recreational opportunities on the Kenai Peninsula, few rival the memories and fun that a day spent “clamming” can bring to your family. The east side of Cook Inlet has a healthy population of Pacific razor clams, referred to simply as “razors” by the locals. The activity is fairly simple and inexpensive. All you need are a sport fishing license, a bucket, a clam shovel, waterproof boots and clothing that can withstand a little mud.
There are thought to be eight major concentrations of razor clams on the Pacific Coast.
Oregon and Washington each have one, British Columbia has two with Alaska boasting four. Of these four areas, the eastern shore of Cook Inlet is considered the most accessible and popular, and supports the state’s largest sport and personal use razor clam fishery.
The most concentrated populations of razor clams can be found on a 50-mile area between the Kasilof and Anchor rivers.
Clam Gulch, most obviously, is the first location many people head toward when the tide books indicate a “minus” tide window during the main clamming season. While clams can legally be harvested throughout the year, April – September are the main months that digging occurs. Dig in early summer if you want to avoid the spawning period when clams are plump or dig in July - August when they are spawning if you prefer clams when they are “full.”
Clam Gulch is located 20 miles south of Soldotna, and the Clam Gulch State Recreation Area draws visitors with a day use parking and overnight camping area located on the bluff overlooking the inlet. An access road allows people to drive four-wheel drive or all-terrain vehicles to the beach.
Note that two-wheel drive vehicles should NEVER be taken onto any Alaska beach. Even with properly equipped vehicles, drivers should stay high above the tide line. Much of the shoreline, particularly at low tide, contains pockets of extremely muddy glacial silt that can stop even the best of rigs. When the tide turns, your mired-down vehicle will be engulfed and will be a total loss!
Razor clams can be found by first identifying a dimple, or small depression left on the surface of the wet sand that are created from the clam’s neck as it is withdrawn. A couple quick scoops of sand dug away using a clam shovel about 3-6 inches from the dimple will reveal the clam, which is then pulled up from the sand. When digging, the clam will use its foot to pull its self deeper in the sand to rebury its self, so working quickly is crucial. It is important to remember that the shells are quite sharp, hence the name “razor.” When digging, one should be careful not to dig too close to the dimple or the clam will be damaged.
Diggers are required to retain all razor clams regardless of size or broken shells. Clams with broken shells are slightly more difficult to clean, but it will not affect their eating quality.
Refer to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish for a useful harvest guide, and more importantly, a step-by-step cleaning guide. Experienced clammers will tell you that cleaning their harvest of razor clams is the least enjoyable part of the day, but the savory chowders and fried clams are well worth the effort.
Other popular access areas include Ninilchik Beach and Deep Creek to the south. In addition to outstanding views of Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range, many species of shorebirds can be seen while walking along the beach.