How to Razor Clam Like a Pro

January—halfway through the season—is prime time for razor clamming. Here's how to do it right
  • Washington state's razor clamming season
CLAM UP: A razor clammer on Long Beach uses a clam gun, a tubular contraption that sucks up the long clams without breaking their shells

This article appears in print in the January 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

The razor clam is a sweet, meaty mollusk native to the Pacific Northwest and is easy to find along the beaches of Washington state. The clams are a delicacy that taste even better when you’re doing the harvesting yourself. Extracting the burrowing shellfish, however, takes some skill. We asked food writer and Seattle magazine contributor Jess Thomson and Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest author David Berger (who is waiting to see the razor clam named Washington’s official state clam—sorry, geoducks) for their tips.

1. Get licensed.
A shellfish license, widely available at sporting goods stores and other businesses, is required. A license will allow you to collect a legal bounty: a maximum of 15 clams per day.

2. Check online.
“The razor clam population is very carefully managed by the state, so only dig when and where it’s legal,” says Thomson. Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website  for details of upcoming digs.

3. Dress for the weather.
Berger advises waterproof lower-torso gear to protect against incoming waves (you will be digging at or near the surf line), but also stresses the importance of mobility and comfort, as digging, he notes, requires tenacity. 

4. Arm yourself.
With a clam gun, that is. Available at sporting goods stores and coastal bait shops, clam guns are tubular contraptions, often made of PVC pipe or stainless steel, that are plunged into areas of the sand where the clams show faint dimples, marking their location. Clam guns are easier to use than a shovel and give you a better chance of extracting a clam without damaging it.

5. Dig in daylight. 
At least while you learn the ropes. “Nighttime digs are fun, but it’s best to have some experience under your belt before setting off into the dark,” Berger says. January’s low tides bring favorable conditions to areas such as Long Beach and Ocean Shores, popular razor clamming sites for beginners.

6. Fresh is best. 
Thomson maintains the popular sentiment that razor clams are best eaten as a fresh catch. “Plan to shell or cook your clams immediately,” she says. Some beach resorts and Airbnb properties will have amenities for cleaning and cooking your clams; if not, Thomson suggests “drinking lots of coffee if you’re heading back to Seattle.”

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