Places to go Clamming

Clams - The All Purpose Bivalve


Both hard-shell and soft-shell clams can be dug by hand. Digging clams is a great summer activity for children and adults! There are no hooks nor do hooks have to be baited: all a young person needs to go clamming is sunscreen, insect repellent, shorts, a t-shirt, a hat and a good attitude.

Taking young children clamming is a great way to introduce them to the natural world. Clamming is safe, clams do not bite, in the shell they are handsome animals and the gross-out factor is low. A great way to begin to teach children about the seashore, and clams, is just to stomp on the sand at low tide, when you know there are

steamers below. When they kids see the jets of water emerge from clam siphons they are guaranteed to be curious.

The best way to find a clamming beach is through word-of-mouth. But there are basic elements all clam beds share. Softshell clams require sand that is under water at high tide but exposed at low tide. Hard-shell clams like sand that stays covered with water at all times, but for a person most likely rises no higher than chin level even at high tide. Both types of clam are often found near the mouth of marshes. The incoming and outgoing tides carry suspended food clams filter from the water, such as plankton, diatoms and particles of larger organisms. Both types of clams are also common in semi-sheltered harbors, covers and bays. Clams do not thrive on open ocean beaches because heavy surf crushes them.

Clams you can dig by hand, also reliably prefer water temperatures not too far removed from what people like to swim in. There are exceptions. The mahogany clams of Maine are found in some of the coldest ocean water on the East Coast, which remains 60° F or colder even in summer months. For the most part, however, if you have a beach or marsh area in which it’s warm and clean enough to swim, chances are good clams may live there too.

Signs of a Healthy Flat for Clamming

Cockle Cove Beach toward Chatham, Cape Cod, Mass

This beach is sheltered by a barrier island on one side, and the mainland on the other. Less surf means a more favorable habitat for clams.

Healthy Looking Salt Marsh
In a marsh in the sheltered area, we see abundant eelgrass, an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Eelgrass die offs are common, and never a good sign.

Salt Marsh with Closed to clamming and shellfishing Sign

Despite appearances, this area is posted as unsafe for shellfish, possibly due to runoff from nearby residential development.”

Herring River Jetty, Cape Cod
This jetty abuts clean water. Herring River, Cape Cod.

Old Commercial Wharf

This is a commercial wharf, but this type of fishing is seasonal. Weirs (poles) are staked into the seabed to hold nets. We can see the wharf is not used at this time.

Channel with Clear Water - good sign for healthy clamming
Although this estuary is a berth for recreational boaters, traffic is light. Water this clear and calm is an excellent sign of a healthy potential clam habitat.

Beach with Old Windmill
The clean sand across the channel is where to look for steamer holes in the sand.

Healthy Clamming Beach close to boats
Although this beach is close to boats, the presence of the great blue heron suggests a clean potential clam bed. The heron is after small fish that eat even smaller marine animals. Some of the residue of the smaller animals is eaten by clams, ingested via siphon.

Bad areas for clams

Clam Flat too close to many boats
Too close to a lot of boats.

Clam Flat - too mucky
Looks mucky. Muck, unlike most sand, tends to be contaminated. The sign indicates the area is CLOSED to shellfishing.

Clam Flat with way too much muck
Clams may survive in mud like this, but it’s best not to eat them. Thick black mud can contain dangerous products of decomposition, animal fecal matter, petroleum distillates and heavy metals.

Freshwater Clam Spot

Freshwater clams are less well-known in the United States than salt-water clams.  Nonetheless they have their uses, including as bait.  Again, the presence of larger predators, in this case Man, suggests a clean ecosystem and a healthy potential bed.

An Area Seeded by the Town for Cherrystones

Allens Harbor, Harwichport, Cape Cod, Mass
Despite appearances, recreational boat harbors can be great places for clamming. Harwich, Massachusetts seeds cherrystone clams in front of and around the wharf in front of the house.

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