Clamming: Dirty work brings rewards

Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2000

Almost all the razor clams dug in Alaska for personal use come from the 50 miles of Cook Inlet beach between Kasilof and the Anchor River. In recent years, clam diggers have harvested more than 1 million clams annually.

To dig razor clams, you'll need a sport-fishing license, a tide table, a narrow-bladed clam shovel, bucket and pair of rubber boots or hip waders.

Razor clam beds become exposed on any minus tide, but the lowest low tides are the best for clam digging. Along Cook Inlet beaches south from Kasilof, low tides can dip to minus 5 feet. The best digging is usually one 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 below the dimple. Position the shovel blade three or four inches on the seaward side of the dimple and dig straight down. If you dig directly above the dimple or pry back on the shovel you'll smash the clam's fragile shell. After removing three or four shovels full of sand, finish digging with your hands. Move quickly because clams utilize a suctioned "foot" to dig deeper into the sand and escape.

Beginning June 1, the daily bag limit for razor clams between the mouth of the Kenai River and tip of the Homer Spit will be the first 45 dug and the possession limit will be two daily bag limits, or 90 total. Before June 1, the previous daily bag limit of 60 and possession limit of 180 will remain in effect. Bag limits include every clam you dig up, no matter how smashed or small.

Count your clams before leaving the beach. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers routinely patrol beach exit roads. The two most common rule violations are digging without a license and exceeding the limit.

On average, clammers leave the beach with about 35 razor clams. Digging up the clams is only part of the job; once you come off the beach you still have to clean them. Cleaning clams is twice as much work as digging them -- and half the fun. If you dig fewer than 35, you'll be glad that's all you got.

Razor clams are excellent pan-fried, deep-fried and in chowder. Keep cooking time short, or you'll spend more time chewing than you spent digging and cleaning.

An easy way to preserve cleaned clams for the winter is to freeze them in plastic bags. Add a little water and squeeze out the air before sealing.

If you've never dug razor clams, pick up a copy of "Kenai Peninsula Razor Clams" before hitting the beach. This free pamphlet explains how, when and where to dig clams and clean them. It's available at the Depart-ment of Fish and Game's Sol-dotna office at 34828 Kaliforn-sky Beach Road; office hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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