Web posted Saturday, April 20, 2002

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Razors are the most popular clams on lower Kenai Peninsula beaches, with a bag limit of 45 per day.

Clams of all kinds there for the digging

Clamming on lower Kenai Peninsula beaches can be a rewarding and nourishing experience. Novice and experienced clam diggers can find a wide variety of succulent mollusks during extreme low tides every spring, summer and fall.

Cook Inlet has among the widest tide range 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 tables on Page 24 of this guide, especially tides of minus 2 feet or lower.

Razors rule

Although there are several delectable species of shellfish in our region, many mollusk connoisseurs consider "Siliqua patula," better known as the razor clam, the best.

Found on most beaches from Kasilof to the Spit, the razor clam reaches an average size of 3 1/2 inches, but is 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 sport fishing license and a shovel. You can keep no more than the first 45 clams dug.

You'll probably find the highest density of razor clams 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. 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 can also 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 -- look for any "minus tide" and plan to be on the beach an hour before and an hour after low tide. Grab a sturdy, narrow-bladed clam shovel, gloves, rubber boots and a bucket, and head for the beach.

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.

The search for butter, steamer and other hardshell clams is approached differently 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 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 2002 sport fishing regulation summary or call the Department of Fish and Game for size and bag limits. The same permit required for shellfish taken in pots is required to harvest hardshell clams and is available at the Fish and Game office on Douglas Street or at selected businesses.

After you've finished gathering any clams, leave them in a bucket of sea water for several hours to allow them to clean themselves. A handful of corn meal thrown in helps the cleaning process.

Here's something to remember when you're digging: 45 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 on the mollusk beds is rising as tourism and the local population increase.

Others clams available

EASTERN SOFT SHELL CLAM: An introduced species from the Atlantic Ocean, the eastern soft shell clam is most likely found in muddy, sandy or gravel bottoms where the salinity has been reduced by fresh water influx. Mud Bay (on the east side of Homer Spit) is one good source.

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HORSE CLAMS: Horse clams are the "granddaddies" of the local mollusks, reaching a weight of up to 4 1/2 pounds. They are found on the south side of Kachemak Bay, along the rocky beaches in the more protected bays.

COCKLES: These shellfish make a good chowder base. They are also prevalent in Mud Bay.

BLUE MUSSELS: Blue mussels are abundant throughout Kachemak Bay, attaching themselves to rocks and pilings. Often ignored, these are delicious when prepared with care.

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.