It's been said by some that you haven't really experienced Alaska until you've gone clamming.
I grew up in the Southeast region of the Lower 48, and clamming was an integral part of enjoying the outdoors in coastal Georgia. Although summer was usually devoted to fishing for catfish from dawn till dusk, winter was the time to harvest shellfish.
Quahogs, littlenecks, cherrystones or chowders, whatever you call them, they were easy pickins if you knew where to look. It wasn't uncommon to get your limit within 15 minutes, and still have time to go pick oysters or find freshwater mussels.
That brings me to my point: Where is the challenge in finding shellfish with such ease?
No, I wanted a challenge. I wanted something I had to work for to receive my bounty below the sand. I wanted an elusive prey. A prey that wasn't scared to fight back. A prey like the wild razor clam.
I had heard tales of just how cunning and fierce these beasts could be. I'm told some people even used clamming guns to ensure their success. But that's not for me.
I enjoy the sport of the hunt. I like to get down and dirty, so I ventured out with only a clam shovel and bucket to meet my mean mollusks. Little did I know what I was getting into.
I went to Clam Gulch a spot infamous for its trophy clams. I walked down the sloping hill toward the large rock monoliths on shore and it was a glorious, sunny day on the surf-swept beaches.
I found myself wondering if I would succeed in getting my prey, or ... was this a good day to die?
South felt lucky, so off I went in that direction, and I didn't have to travel far before my sharp eyes saw the telltale signs of a razor clam. Despite their stealth and cunning, razor clams are always betrayed by what's known in hunting circles as "a dimple."
Vamori Burgheim and her husband Axel take a break from fishing to make lunch at their campsite at Crooked Creek. The couple have been down all week from their home in Willow.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
I stared down at the unmistakable depression in the sand that could only be the calling card of the prey I stalked. I knew my bivalved nemesis lurked just below the surface. My pulse began to quicken and a bead of sweat dripped from my brow, as I readied my trusty digging tool.
With a mighty thrust I sunk my spade into the shore. I pulled back, lifting my first shovel-full of wet sand. Success! There in the hole was the lone rubbery neck of my prey.
In an attempt to elude me, it spat vile liquid from its siphon. I shielded my face to avoid being squirted, and in that blink of an eye the cunning creature had fled.
I quickly dug another shovelful of sand, followed by another and another, before finally catching up to my prey. I had the beast locked in my sight, or so I thought, so I threw down the spade.
I was cocky and arrogant, thinking my success was imminent.
I squatted and grabbed for the creature, but its reflexes were lightning fast, and I only managed to grab the tip of the shell.
I began to pull, but this razor wasn't giving up with out a fight. He planted his foot, and dug in deep.
He was strong, much stronger than I had anticipated. I wasn't prepared for hand-to-hand combat of this nature, or in this case man-to-clam combat. I dropped to my knees, and was in mud up to my elbows as I grappled with the wild clam.
With my free hand I went for the shovel again, but it was too far out of reach.
I plunged my other hand beneath the surface, and for what seemed like an eternity we were locked in a tug-of-war. Man vs. mollusk.
Betrayed by a dimple. This mark in the sand is a tell-tale sign that a clam is just below the surface.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
We battled each other until finally I felt the beast begin to tire and weaken. This was it. It was now or never. So with all the strength I could muster, I heaved upward and dislodged the creature from its subterranean lair.
"Wahoo!" I hollered. "Triumphant at last!"
I sat there, covered in mud, and trying to catch my breath. I took a good long look at my cherished treasure.
The sun bounced off its golden brown shell. It was long and slender, and beautiful to behold. I briefly entertained the idea of mounting my razor, but I had heard that wild clams were quite a delicacy, so I decided to get steaks from it instead.
That night after cleaning my kill and frying it up with an old southern recipe, I had time to reflect on my adventure.
Clamming in Alaska was a lot different than clamming in Georgia.
There's a lot more work involved to both harvesting and cleaning razor clams compared to what I was used to. But the delicious taste of razors had exceeded anything I had eaten prior, and the fun of the hunt made them well worth the effort.
When, where are the clams? Razor clams can be harvested on Kenai Peninsula beaches from Anchor Point to Kasilof on minus tides. Any minus tide will expose clam beds around Clam Gulch, though a minus-2.0-foot tide is recommended for best results. Further south, where the beach is steeper, bigger minus tides are recommended for good clamming at Ninilchik, clamming is best on a minus-3.0 or lower tide.
A small series of minus tides occurs this weekend at Clam Gulch for the die-hard digger: a minus-1.5 tide at 11:21 a.m. today, and a minus-1.2 tide at 11:54 a.m. Saturday.
The next series of big clam tides begins May 14 and runs through May 20.
For more information on clamming, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Web site at www.state.ak.us/adfg/adfghome.htm. Fish and Game also has a booklet available entitled "Razor Clams."
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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