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Story last updated at 9:21 AM on Monday, January 23, 2006


Clamming is part hunting and part gathering, and if you like getting a little dirty, it can be a whole lot of fun.

Visitors from all over travel to Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay beaches to find a wide variety of succulent bivalves during extreme low tides every spring, summer and fall.

Cook Inlet has some of the widest tide ranges in the world, rising or falling as much as 25 feet in a six-hour period. Only when the tide is low, exposing a broad expanse of beach, are clams available for the picking. For the best clamming, look for so-called “minus tides” in the tide table on Page 38 of this guide, especially tides of minus 2 feet or lower.

Although there are several delectable species of shellfish, many clamming connoisseurs consider razor clams the best.

Found on most beaches from Kasilof to the Homer Spit, razor clams reach an average size of 3.5 inches, but are often 5 or 6. It is legal to dig for them all year, but the Department of Fish and Game recommends the July-August spawning season for table-quality clams. All you need is a valid sportfishing license and a shovel. You can keep no more than the first 60 clams you dig.

You’ll probably find the highest density of razor clams, and clam diggers, at Clam Gulch, about 20 miles north of Ninilchik. The beach is noted by a roadside sign, and there is easy access to the campground facilities available at the beach. Four-wheel drive vehicles are needed to drive on the beach itself, however. Other razor clam beaches in the area include Deep Creek, Ninilchik and Whiskey Gulch, which have large clams but narrower beds due to steeper beach gradients. Razors also can be dug on the inlet side of the Spit.

The novice clam digger would be wise to remember a few pointers when undertaking a first expedition. The farther the tides retreat, the more exposed the clam beds will be — plan to be on the beach an hour before and an hour after low tide. You’ll need a sturdy, narrow-bladed clam shovel or circular clam gun, gloves, rubber boots and a bucket.

Once you arrive, it’s time to play detective. When the clam withdraws its neck into the sand, it leaves a telltale imprint, or “dimple.” That’s your clue, but be careful not to dig directly below the dimple. Instead, quickly shovel a scoop or two beside it and then reach into the sand for the clam to avoid breaking its fragile shell. Should you break it, you must take the clam anyway and count it as part of your limit.

Here’s something to remember when you’re digging: 60 razor clams is a lot of cleaning. Multiply that times the number of diggers in your party, and you can see why clams often are wasted. Take only what you can use and come back for more another time. Although Fish and Game studies indicate that razor clam stocks are relatively stable, the impact of recreational digging is rising as tourism and the local population increase.

The search for butter, steamer and littleneck clams is approached differently than razors and the best tool is a rake, not a shovel. These clams, mostly found on pebbly beaches such as those on the south side of Kachemak Bay and the east side of the Spit, can be raked out of the gravel.

Like their cousins of the sandy beaches, they are best sought during minus tides, near the waterline. Using care, rake gradually deeper into the beach until you uncover the white shells among the pebbles and small stones. There is a one-inch size limit for butter and littleneck clams. If you don’t take a clam, bury it with the siphon point upward. Unlike razor clams, hardshell clams cannot bury themselves and will die if left exposed.

Consult the 2006 sportfishing regulation summary or call the Department of Fish and Game for bag limits. In most years, the limit is 1,000 littlenecks and 600 butter clams.

A permit is not required to rake for these clams.

After you’ve finished gathering any clams, leave them in a bucket of seawater for several hours to allow them to clean themselves. A handful of cornmeal helps the cleaning process.

Watch for PSP

Those who harvest clams and mussels should be aware of paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can be caused by natural toxins in the water ingested by shellfish. PSP levels tend to rise later in the summer months when shellfish are eating more and ingesting higher levels of toxins. Samples on certain beaches are regularly tested by the state and if the PSP toxin is present, PSP alerts are issued.

They happen rarely in the Kachemak Bay area, but check with the Department of Fish and Game to see if an alert has been announced.

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