Hard Shell Clamming

Clams - The All Purpose Bivalve


Hard-shell clamming takes work, but it’s well worth the effort. Hard shell clams are great by themselves or baked, minced for use in clam pie, put into a chowder, used for Clams Casino or many other dishes. Here are the basics for hard shell clamming.

First, you’ll want to get a shellfishing license from your local town or municipality. This license may be seasonal, or even per-month in some jurisdictions. With your license, you are normally provided a metal ring. Clams that pass through the ring are too small and should be put back. They’ll be the source of keeper clams next year, or the year after. Clams that don’t pass through the ring, are yours. The licensing authority can explain to you which beaches are (a) safe, (b) legal and (c) best in the area. It is important to ask about this, because in some years, some or all the beds in town may be closed for periods of time. This is due to red tide, a dynoflagellate organism that blooms from the Gulf of Maine south as far as Long Island in some seasons.

You also need up-to-date info from the licensing authority for protection of other potential contaminants. Runoff may contain heavy metals and often contains fertilizer, weed killer and other trace chemicals. The local authority will also test for the presence of E. coli, somewhat of a danger in itself but more often a marker for the presence of more dangerous microorganisms. In New England, it is generally the county that tests clam flats for safety by issuing requirements to the towns.

Next, check the tide chart. Digging for soft- or hard-shelled clams is best at dead low tide. And be sure to check the weather. Hard-shelled clamming means going into the water, so a very windy day, or stormy day, is a day not to head out. But let’s assume you have nice weather.

You will need:

• Waders. Unless the water is warm enough for prolonged exposure. In that case, old sneakers or the more modern swimming sandals are best. Don’t dispense with footwear. People that do, wind up with cuts on their feet. Where there are clams, there are broken shells to step on.
• A work shirt over an old t-shirt. Unless it’s warm, then just the t-shirt and some shorts. Expect the weather for your clamming to be somewhat colder than it appears. That’s because most beaches come with wind, due to the temperature imbalance between the water, land and air.
• Clamming gloves. I recommend rubberized, waterproof gloves. These will prevent your hands getting blistered or chapped.
• Sunblock. If it’s not summertime, you may wish to consider putting a layer of Lubriderm or other moisturizing cream on your face.
A clam rake. These are available at bait shops or saltwater fishing gear stores. The rake resembles an upturned wire basked with a ride of hooks at the end.
• A clam bucket.

You’re set! Now you get to your beach, set your bucket on the sand and wade in to about waist level. Extend your rake as far you can comfortably, then pull it toward you, raking down into the sand. When you’ve pulled the basket through the sand up to you, turn it over, to keep what’s inside the basket safe and slowly raise it out of the water. With luck, your first pull of the rake may turn up a few clams. If you make four passes and come up with no clams, walk ten feet in either direction and try again.

This method is used for littleneck, quahog and cherrystone clamming. Have fun!

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