PAT NEAL: A case of clam fever

I don’t know what made me say I was the fastest clam digger in the west. It must have been the COVID-induced cabin fever talking.

Unfortunately, exchanging cabin fever for clam fever is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

For the first and possibly the last time this year, razor clam digging was approved after marine toxin tests showed the clams were safe to eat — causing a massive clam rush to the coast, where, in an average year, over a more than a million people throng to the beach to get their clam fix.

It’s a clam party with thousands of your closest friends all looking for the same thing, the majestic razor clam.

Betting who can dig the first limit of 15 razor clams is not illegal, but it should be. Gambling by its very nature cheapens the adventurous spirit of clamming, and it really sucks to lose.

There are many different theories on how to dig razor clams.

Some use a shovel. Others employ a clam gun, which is a tube you push in the sand and pull out with a clam inside, hopefully. Both methods involve back-breaking labor.

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 while pumping sand and water out its siphon and repeats the process, digging down at a rate that is faster than some people can dig with a shovel, given the conditions.

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

When you find yourself laying on a tide flat with your arm in a hole in the sand, feeling around for a clam that is not there, it can hurt to realize you have been defeated and outsmarted by a creature with no central nervous system. Which makes perfect sense in the evolutionary scheme of things.

Bi-valves have been around since the Cambrian Era more than 500 million years ago. By comparison, modern humans appeared on the evolutionary tree only a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

Do the math. This whole time the clams have been evolving into stronger, smarter and faster organisms with complex abilities to survive in a hostile environment.

Watch the news. Humans seem to be evolving into weaker, slower and dumber creatures with each passing year.

It takes a sophisticated evolutionary tool kit to dig a razor clam. You must dodge the full fury of the ocean surf in hopes of spotting the faintest dimple in the sand that reveals the presence of the elusive razor clam.

Spotting the clam and digging them are two different things.

As the wave retreats, you have only a little time before the next one crashes in.

You must spot the clam and dig like a banshee with the roar of the surf at your back until you’ve dug as deep as you dare.

Then you reach down into the hole to grab the fleeing clam that is digging downward at a rate that is unbelievable to anyone but a clam digger.

With luck, you grab the shell of the retreating clam, maybe with only a thumb and forefinger.

There you struggle with the clam as it tries to dig to China.

It’s usually at this point that another wave approaches.

You must grab the clam and go, or continue to hold on and face the unpleasant consequences of lying in the sand in the surf.

It’s the only cure for clam fever.


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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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