It can be said that visitors haven't really experienced Alaska until they've dug into a sandy beach and extracted a supper of delectable clams.
Alaska residents know about the bounty below the sand. They come by the thousands during prime clam tides, sometimes driving for hours from other parts of the state to enjoy some of the best clamming beaches in the world surrounding Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay.
Depending upon the beach, you can find razors, butter and littleneck clams.
A successful clamming day takes preparation to avoid minor inconveniences such as chafed hands, soaking socks and youngsters whining about the cold. Warm tall boots, waterproof rain gear, a set of appropriate gloves, a sizable bucket or two and a stout, narrow-bladed clam shovel built for the purpose can set you up for a delightful few hours in the fresh sea air digging the critters out of the beach.
Oh, yes, encouraging a group of youngsters to tag along and help carry the bounty back to the Buick is a smart idea, too. Just make sure they're appropriately dressed. Wetness is a fact of life, as is the potential for chill, even on a warm Alaska summer day.
You'll need a fishing license. Be sure to stick to the daily bag limits, which still will get you plenty of clams: enough, in fact, that it is wise to schedule a couple of hours to shell, wash, chop and bag your harvest for the freezer.
State clamming regulations are straightforward. They can be downloaded from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Web site if you want, but here's what they say:
For personal use, there is no closed season. That means that if the urge arises, you can head down the shore in a howling blizzard and dig for dinner if you wish. Most people prefer the relative leisure of summer hunting.
Along the beaches from the mouth of the Kenai River south to the tip of the Homer Spit, you may take 45 clams a day and have in your possession up to 90 clams. Everywhere else in Cook Inlet waters there are no limits at all.
The bag and possession limit for littleneck clams is 1,000, and the minimum size is 1.5 inches in length. The bag and possession limit for butter clams is 700, and the minimum size is 2.5 inches.
Here's a point to remember, just so you don't accidentally run afoul of the law. Every clam you dig up counts, even the smashed ones. As cheap as a license is, there's no good reason to risk a $200 ticket by clamming without one. A sports fishing license for a resident is $15. Nonresidents can buy a one-day license for $10, a three-day license for $20, seven-day for $30, two-weeks for $50 and a license to clam all year for $100.
According to enforcement officers, the two most common rule violations are digging without a license and exceeding bag limits. So if you really want to haul away 2,000 littlenecks in one day, take someone with you. Make sure they have a license.
So now you're ready to clam. Consult a tide book and set your watch. Tides can come in fast in Cook Inlet. The best time to clam is during the lowest low tides an hour before to two hours after a low tide.
To find a razor clam, look for the dimple it makes in the sand. The clam usually will be one to two feet down. Position the shovel three or four inches to the seaward side of the dimple and dig straight down. Digging directly above the dimple or prying back on the shovel can smash the clam's fragile shell.
Dig out three or four shovels full of sand and then dive in with your hands. Clams use a suctioned "foot" to dig deeper and can sometimes out-dig you.
Remember the warning about making time to clean your haul? This part's unavoidable so be prepared to devote some time to it. It's not that much fun to do alone, so try making an assembly line party out of the enterprise. A little conversation goes a long way toward making this chore tolerable.
Now comes the really good part. Clams are excellent pan-fried, deep-fried and in chowder. Keep the cooking time short, however, or you'll find yourself exercising your jaws -- and we don't mean by talking.
If you want to freeze the cleaned clam meat, pack it in plastic bags. Add a little water and squeeze out the air before sealing.
If you've never dug razor clams, pick up a free copy of "Kenai Peninsula Razor Clams" from any Fish and Game office.
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