Razor Clam Digging Under a Beaver Moon

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

The long range forecast for Pacific beaches is calling for rain, but there will be a just-past-its-prime full moon behind the clouds — known as the Beaver Moon (which means it’s the time to set your beaver traps before the swamps freeze) — waiting to peek through an help light the way for razor clam diggers hitting the beaches this Friday and Saturday.

Low tide will occur in the evening at around 7 p.m. both days, plan to arrive about three hours before the turn of the tide. The lower the tide the more area that will be available for pursuing clams. When swells are low, clams are more likely to be closer to the surface and easier to dig.

The best place to dig, according to veteran clam digger Charles McElroy, is at the northern beaches of Mocrocks.

Iron Springs and Roosevelt Beach are his favorite haunts.

“Last month the clams were necking up there,” said McElroy, “and I talked to a guy that got his limit in about 15 minutes.”

Long Beach is crowded and competition for clams is heavy, but there are still a lot of clams out there to find, according to McElroy. The Twin Harbors beaches are a little tougher, he said, because the clams weren’t showing well.

Digging in the Sand How-Tos

Getting the right gear to light the way is essential. Headlamps are handy for aiming into a freshly dug hole to spotlight clams; lanterns throw off more light for spotting the clam “show.”

A “show” is where a clam has withdrawn its neck or started to dig leaving a hole or dimple in the sand. Always look for the larger sized hole; this is a good indication that the clam will be larger, but not always.

Clams will also show at the edge of the surf line when you pound the beach with a shovel handle or your foot. They may squirt sand and water out of the hole where they are located. You need to be quick when digging in the surf as razor clams dig quite fast in the soft fluid sand.

“Sometimes you’ve got to stomp the heck out of the sand to get ‘em to show,” said McElroy.

Rubber boots or waders are essential gear. Look out for the “sneaker waves” as you scout the surf seeking clam shows.

There are two types of tools used to dig for razor clams, the clamming shovel and the clam tube.

The clam tube is a plastic or aluminum tube, about 3-feet long, that is inserted in the sand over a clam show. After the tube is about halfway sunken into the sand, the clammer places a thumb on the hole in the tube and pulls a core of sand — and hopefully a clam — out onto the beach.

Check each core that you bring up, a clam may be concealed within the clumps. It may take two or three tries to come up with a clam. Pull with your knees bent and your back straight.

If the clam does not come up with the tube, reach into the hole for it.

There is a new clam tube out on the market, according to McElroy, that’s a lot easier on the back because it is designed to break the suction and allow the tube to come out of the sand with less effort. It’s not easier on the budget, however, they run around $50 — which, in the long run, is a small price to pay to protect the health of your back.

The clam shovel is a short-handled shovel with a narrow, angled blade.

“Generally, a person who knows how to use a shovel can get a limit of clams faster, you don’t bust up the clams as much and it’s easier on your back,” said McElroy.

If the clams are showing well, said McElroy, you can get 6 or 7 clams with a shovel without even getting up off of your knees.

Remember you are required to keep the first 15 clams regardless of the size or condition of the clam. Each digger’s limit must be kept in a separate container, although diggers may share digging devices.