You’ve made it down to your seaside vacation, got your shellfishing license and you and the kids are all set to go clamming. Except you are not. I’m not talking about weather, any weather’s great for clamming in the summer! OK perhaps not a hurricane. But otherwise rain or shine, you and the family can be wading up above the hems of your plaid beach shorts, going after clams except you’ll need one other thing. You’ll need a clam rake. These are for hard shell clams, quahogs, not soft shell or other clams.
These are wire buckets, coarse mesh, with rake tines at the top. Clams are raked somewhat like leaves except one is partially submerged in seawater, generally just above the waist. The rake is extended, then the end of the rake is dropped so that it falls through the water and touches bottom. The clammer then pulls the rake back toward him, taking care to drag the tines through the sand so that they will turn up whatever they are pulled against. Pull the basket all the way to you, carefully turn it upwards, then lift the basket through the water to just below the surface, where you can inspect what’s inside. With luck, after two or three rake pulls, you’ll have five to seven hard-shelled clams.
With time, you’ll know if your sand-covered basket will have clams in it from the vibration. Pulling the rake through the sand and coming up with nothing, always creates the same vibration through the rake into the hands. When the rake tines strike a hard calcium carbonate shell, the vibration through the handle will vary. Over time, this variance is easy to recognize. This sixth clam sense is the mark of the True Clammer. It is also useful for giving up on an empty clam bed all the faster.
If you grew up clamming, it may be the only searching you have to do for a clam rake is through some relative’s garage. If you are not this fortunate, time to go shopping. Traditional clam rakes are made of galvanized steel wire bent into a basket form, with a long wooden handle. These are still available, but modern engineering now provides us with improved plastic handles that do not give splinters. All new clam rakes are much improved in weight and performance, but with this improvement comes much greater expense.
Clam rakes are available at better-equipped tackle and bait shops. They have limited demand, and this often results in a high price, at least relative to comparable wood-metal implements as you’d use in the garden. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $70 for a new clam rake. Better-known brands include RA Ribb and KB White, old family companies (think “LL Bean”). Discount alternatives are preferable. A reasonably-priced retail clam rake sold in the US and Canada is the Turtle (small basket, 5’ long red wooden handle) or the Eagle Claw (large basket, 5’ handle, same). A smaller basket makes pulling the rake easier. Both baskets have black-banded openings of higher-gauge metal. The Turtle is said by clammers to produce better results. Both rakes sell for about $50.
Once you’ve found a sturdy clam rake, make your decision by price. There is not a great deal of variation between manufacturers’ offerings. Just about all of them are durable. A clam rake should last at least several generations.|