PAT NEAL: Clamming the night tides

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN terrible at following my own advice.

Maybe I was too busy fishing but I didn’t get a flu shot this year.

Then I got the flu.

This led to an extended period of hibernation that was interrupted by an invitation to go razor clam digging last Friday night.

I didn’t go.

It was going to be a crummy night for clam digging anyway with rain and a high surf.

Razor clams don’t like the rain and are reluctant to stick their necks out when it is pouring down.

A high surf makes them even more difficult to spot but a real clam digger doesn’t care.

I’ve dug razor clams when it was snowing so I was disappointed when I couldn’t go because of the flu.

Digging razor clams in the night tides of winter is not only a great way to beat the cabin fever, it is one of the most ethereal recreational experiences you can have.

The moon-lit beach is bathed in the light of hundreds of lanterns held by your fellow diggers as they scurry about the beach looking for the tiniest dimple in the sand that would reveal the presence of the elusive razor clam.

Spotting the razor clam and digging them are two different things.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to match wits with a clam until you remember they have no brain.

Then you find yourself kneeling on a tide flat in the dark with your arm in a hole in the sand feeling around for a clam and realize you have been defeated and outsmarted by a creature with no central nervous system.

Razor clams move with surprising speed in wet sand by extending their foot or digger then flattening it out like an anchor.

The clam pulls itself down to its anchor and repeats the process, digging down in a way that is unbelievable to anyone but a clam digger.

With any luck at all, you are able to grab the shell of the retreating clam, maybe with only a thumb and forefinger.

There you struggle with the fleeing clam as it tries to dig to China until you hear another clam digger rush by, heading back toward the beach shouting, “Wave!”

A decision must be made.

Let go of the clam or hang on and get creamed by a wave of unknown height bearing down on you on a dark and stormy night.

This can lead to a tragedy that is not worth all the clam fritters in the world.

Last Friday night, two people perished in the surf around 9 p.m. while clam digging on ocean beaches in Pacific County.

The fatalities happened within four minutes of each other.

These tragedies illustrate the danger of clamming the night tides as anyone who has done it can tell you.

There is probably not an experienced clammer out there who has not had a close call.

It’s an iron clad rule of clamming to never turn your back on the ocean surf but it’s easier to spot the clams while facing the beach.

The best advice might be to not clam alone.

It’s a good idea to have someone act as a spotter to warn you if a big wave is coming.

Some clam diggers recommend not wearing hip boots as they are likely to fill up with water if you are knocked down by a wave.

If you use waders it’s a good idea to wear a belt to keep the water out.

Wear a flotation device and a whistle.

Still the best advice might be, don’t clam at night.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]

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