now i ain’t saying she a clam digga: your beginner’s guide to clamming…mostly if you’re going to cape henlopen in delaware

for the first time in a bazillion beach camping trips, we finally had no rain and no crazy storm where i thought the tent would collapse and we would die from a lightning strike. it was amazing!

it had been so long since we had nice weather while camping that i forgot exactly how pleasant it could be. it was nothing like the time that a thunderstorm whipped the tent around so violently i stood up holding the poles inside praying we wouldn’t die while the kids slept like logs. it was not like the time the sky kept spitting rain on us so we lit a fire while holding an umbrella over it only to have the fire keep smoking us out. it was also not like the time our whole entire site was sitting in 3 inches of rainwater so we set up on higher ground but then it rained and water leaked into the tent anyway.

this time, it was perfect — sunny, 80s, no real humidity, not too many bugs.

AND this time, we discovered new things… like clamming. as in digging. for clams. also known as quahogs.

none of us really knew what we were doing. so i looked up youtube videos and online forums to figure out what we needed to do…. and little of it was actually helpful in the end. like, i watched videos like this one and thought: ha! easy peasy! i can totally do this! you just take the rake and push the mud around and voila….

yeah. it didn’t exactly work out like that.

so i’ve decided to document some tips. from one beginner to another. keep in mind i’m obviously not an expert. but clamming also isn’t rocket surgery either.

tips for clamming… (especially for quahogs at cape henlopen state park in delaware):

first things first. obey the law: if you are an adult and want to go clamming in delaware, you need a fishing license. kids under 16 years old don’t need a license. and don’t try to go without — because chances are, you’ll get caught as natural resources officers make their rounds. luckily, cape henlopen makes it easy to get one on the spot at their tackle shop. note that it’s cash only to get one though. and looky here, it appears you can even purchase your license online. (fun fact: in maryland, if you’re a maryland resident, you don’t need a license to clam.)

also know the legal size for clams you can keep. the tackle shop can give you a ruler that has a notch for easy clam measuring. if a clam fits in the notch (1.5 inches long), it is too small and needs to be put back into the wild. if it doesn’t fit, it’s good for keepsies. the officers checked the sizes of our small ones… so don’t try to get away with keeping illegals!

equip yourself: we brought one trusty gardening hand rake and a plastic bucket and dishwashing gloves. it worked out ok, but with three of us clamming, we pretty quickly ditched the gloves and took turns using the rake. next time, i would make sure each person has either a hand rake (which is good) or a long-handled rake with sturdy tines (which is better) or a smallish shovel (which we saw a lot of other people using so i assume is good too). if you’re feeling fancy, you can get a rake with a built-in basket. or even waders to get out into the water. or rain boots to keep your feet out of the muck. but are these totally necessary? nah… some people also swear by just using your hands, but i found the rake a lot easier for finding a clam. for storing your clams, you can get a bucket and just put ocean water in it. or you could use a net or a bait bucket or an onion bag suspended in the water. i like the idea of an onion bag inside of a bucket for easy water-changing. think i’ll do that next time.

this was all we had between three people…. *sob*

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timing is everything: look up the time for low tide, then plan to clam within the timeframe from a couple of hours before to a couple of hours after low tide. note in delaware, you can’t clam at night, which should leave you with one time for low tide during the day. if you have to buy fishing licenses, give yourself time to do that too.

the reason why you want low tide is because of access. we walked out to sand bars exposed by the waning tide and did most of our digging above water, in the wet sand. you can rake under the water like i’ve seen on youtube but… we obviously did not want to be using this stumpy little hand rake in water where we can’t see anything and don’t know what we’re doing… so we stuck to the exposed sand bars. it was easier to rake and see what we’re raking.

location is everything: at cape henlopen, there are some areas where you’re allowed and not allowed to clam. by the fishing pier, clamming is permitted to the right of the pier if you are facing the ocean. so like noobs we started at the exposed sand bars along the closest point from the beach access next to the pier. and we got nothing. then we started noticing people farther out were getting clams, so we moved out and hit our tiny jackpot too. so i’d recommend going out farther from the pier as opposed to going closer.

what we realized from this exercise of digging for 1.5 hours before hitting anything was that the location was more important than any skill or tools. duh, you say. well we thought maybe we were just lacking in our ability to dig fast enough or lacking in our ability to find the right kind of air holes in the sand. but it turns out, we were just in unproductive locations at first.

so how do you actually do it then: when digging for quahogs–aka the hard clams–what you are looking for while walking on the exposed wet sand bars is a small slit of a hole that looks like someone jammed a key into the sand and pulled it out. then you dig under it with hopes of revealing a beautiful clam of legal size. that’s the short version of the instructions.

those squirtholes supposed to be the telltale signs of clams underneath. HOWEVER… there are lots of holes and we couldn’t always distinguish between a round one v. a key-shaped one v. something else, so we just dug everything. what i do know is if you don’t hear the clang of your rake hitting a sturdy shell pretty early on, you probably won’t find anything so give up and move on. they were merely 2-3 inches beneath the surface, and while people told us to dig quickly because they’ll move, we didn’t find them especially mobile. i think the razor clams are known for being faster.

if you have a long-handled rake, you could alternatively rake the sand under shallow water until you hit something, like i saw in some other youtube videos… but then you’d really have to rely on feeling your rake hitting something and pulling it out to check. i’d have no idea how to do this based on feeling alone because even while looking at our piles of raked up sand/mud goo, i sometimes got confused by the clang of small snails and shells.

once you find a clam, rinse it off, measure it, and keep it if it’s big enough!

keep the clams alive: once you start catching clams, keep them alive until you’re ready to eat them. we kept ours in  bucket filled with ocean water. you don’t want them to die because you shouldn’t eat dead or damaged ones… something about bacteria and poison and the plague.

you caught ’em, so cook ’em: before you dine on your harvest, you should give the clams somewhere between 1-3 hours to spit out their grit. what we did was soak them in salted tap water in a pot for a couple of hours then lift them up out of pot so as not to stir up the grit, and rinse them. i’ve heard of other people keeping their clams suspended in the ocean water overnight in a net or bag, and i’ve also heard of people using straight tap water for a shorter amount of time so as not to kill them prematurely. but the idea is that you want to give them some time to have a final purge so you don’t bite into pockets of sand.

i suppose you could eat the quahogs raw if you really wanted to, but i usually prefer my clams steamed or chowdered or battered/fried. since we were camping and short on equipment, we grilled them over the fire until they opened up then dipped them in melted butter heated over a little camp stove. SO FRESH. SO GOOD. TOTALLY DOING THIS AGAIN.

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and maybe now would be an appropriate time to mention that we only ended up getting seven legal buggers in about 3 hours. so hopefully we’ll hit a bigger jackpot next time since we are now one step closer to knowing what the hail we’re doing.

 

 

 

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