PAT NEAL: The daylight digs

THE END OF steelhead fishing season was the day my universe came crashing down. I remember it like it was the day before yesterday, because I guess it was. You lose track of time when you’re fishing.

It’s a theory of relativity thing. A person can go to a job they hate where one shift seems to last for two days.

The same person can go fishing at daylight, then act confused when it seems to be getting dark.

Call it a coincidence or a guide’s intuition, but years ago I started noticing that it got mighty dark after sundown. It’s all part of being a guide, to share the wisdom of years of experience on the river, but without steelhead, my life had no meaning.

Then something wonderful happened — the opening of razor clam season. These are daylight digs as opposed to the night digs, where you must venture out in the dark, dodging the full fury of the Pacific Ocean surf in hopes of spotting the faintest dimple in the sand that reveals the presence of the elusive razor clam.

Spotting a clam hole at night and digging the clam are two different things. Some clam diggers dig them in the surf, ignoring the warnings about rogue waves, sneaker waves and tsunamis.

As one wave retreats, you have only a little time before another wave 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 dark, wet hole to grab the fleeing clam that is digging downward at a rate 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. Then you struggle with the fleeing clam as it tries to dig to China.

It’s usually at this point that another wave approaches. Then you either let go of the clam and scram, or hold on to the prize and face a roaring wall of white water as your fellow clam diggers scurry by yelling, “wave!”

Surfing is cool. Being swept out to sea while clam digging in the dark is not.

I like the daylight clam digs. Where you can get together on the beach with several thousand of your closest friends to dig and gather one of the few species of marine life that we have not exploited into endangered species status. Yet.

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

Then, when you find yourself laying on a tide flat with your arm in a hole in the sand, feeling around for a clam that may or may not be 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, we 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.

Meanwhile, we humans seem to be evolving into weaker, slower and dumber creatures with each passing year.

Are you still reading this? Never mind.

The daylight digs are on! It will all be worthwhile when the chowder is simmering on the stove.


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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