Digging Bay Clams

Gapers, Softshell, Cockles, Butter, Purple Varnish, etc..

Digging Bay Clams
Kids and Adults Love Clamming!
If you are lucky enough to be near one of the twelve bays on the Oregon Coast (see Oregon Bay Locations) you have the opportunity to go bay clamming in some of the most fertile clamming beds found in the world. This goes especially for people that enjoy making homemade clam chowder and there is nothing like a rich, hot, creamy, buttery, bowl of delicious, clam chowder.

digging gaper bay Clams
Gaper Clam

Digging Bay Clams – Gaper Clams

. Gaper bay clams don’t move in the sand, they are abundant in the Pacific Northwest, their shows are obvious and honestly clamming in Bays is a nice little reprieve from razor clamming because there is so much life to discover in these Bays. To get started find a good negative tide, as some bay areas require a lower tide then others. Bring a shovel and a bucket. Waders are best, boots are good to
but make sure they go up to your knees, a pair of tennis shoes will do also. But remember, you are going to get muddy, and going barefoot is not recommended. Also, you can use a clam bag but it’s going to get heavy and in the way, that is why most people prefer a 5-gallon bucket. So you are out on the Bay, it is a negative tide and all you see are small holes/shows everywhere. Most of the shows are made by other various marine life and other species of clams but the larger ones (can be over an inch in diameter) are going to be the gaper clams you’re looking for. The wonderful thing about a gaper bay clam is – they are stationary and you will be digging bay clams against Mother Nature, not the clam.

When you have spotted a gaper show
digging gaper clams
Digging Gaper Clams
you do not want to dig down on top of the show. You want to dig 6″ to 8″ around the show to give yourself some working room because the sand/mud wall is going to collapse and fill the hole. Use the razor clamming or other shovel to remove the first foot of material making sure not to go to deep, clam shells in general are easy to break no matter what the species, just some more than others. Once you have removed a good foot of mud/sand and have a relatively descent sized hole to work with, we recommend going at it with your hands here. You will notice as you clear the mud/sand by its layers the siphon hole, that’s the direction you are going to be digging towards. Don’t be surprised if you get down 2 or 3 feet, stay patient. Be careful pulling on the neck, attached to it is a clam that might be the size of your fist, so take the time to clear that sand away to find your prize intact.

Digging Bay Clams – Purple Varnish Clams

digging bay clam
Purple Varnish
If you’re going to Siletz Bay on the Oregon Coast
you are in for a clamming treat because these little guys (purple varnish clams) are everywhere and you don’t necessarily need a very low tide to harvest them. You can also take up to 72, but double check regulations just in case. They have a fairly small show of two holes close together, but when you find one you usually find many so bring that bucket and some waders or boots! When you do dig for them, go slow because these guys are easy to break.

digging bay clam
Digging Softshell Clams

Digging Bay Clams – Softshell, Butter, Cockle, Littlenecks.

Depending on the Bay you are clamming, you are going to run into a whole wide variety of clams that make for great eating. You’ve been introduced to Purple Varnish and Gaper Clams; the vast majority left will be Softshell Clams, Butter clams, Littleneck clams, or Cockle clams.


Softshell Clam

has a hole very similar to Gaper clam. A Butter Clam leaves a very particular type of show that looks like someone stuck a flat-head screw driver into the ground. These clams are not found nearly as deep as a gaper clam, so finding and digging them is very similar to the Gaper clam.
digging cockle bay clams
Cockle Clams

Cockle Clams

are easy to find because they live about one inch to two inches below the sand. Their shows look like two pea sized holes next each other. They are found so close to the surface people often rake for them; many times they are just under the surface and you can just pick them out with your hands. Cockle clamming really makes for some great clamming for the kids because they can do it with their hands. In fact depending on the area you sometimes can see them sitting on the surface, and just walk around and pick them up with your hands.

littleneck bay clams
Littleneck Clams

Littleneck Clams

(also known as Steamers) look similar to Cockles but are smaller and found deeper (5″ to 10″) below the surface. They both enjoy some of the same habitat so you might run into a few them together, but Littlenecks do prefer the more course, muddier areas of the Bay.

Digging Bay Clams – Geoduck

. The gaper clam has a close relative called a geoduck clam (Panope generosa). The geoduck is the largest clam in the world and can live up too (hold on to your waders)
Geoduck Clam
a hundred forty years old! The oldest being a whopping 168 years old. They are hard to buy in the U.S. because China pays up to $200/lb. That’s a lot of clams!

Geoducks are scarice in the State of Oregon. On a “very” low tide, occasionally they have been found in Netarts Bay, and other bays intertidal zone. Finding these clams is difficult, and harvesting these bay clams is time consuming as well. Some people mark the bay clam show by placing a lengthy dowel in the hole. They have a very long syphon which can be up to 3′ long, and are 3′ to 4′ down below the surface. The most difficult part is keeping the walls of your dig hole from collapsing. A lot of people use a hollowed out 5-gallon bucket and dig out the mud/sand from the center of it while continuing to go deeper. A lot of Sporting Goods stores will sell 4 foot metal cylinder too and it is not uncommon to see a galvanized garbage can without a bottom used as well. There is also the issue of water filling the hole. You can use an old coffee can to remove the water or maybe a friend that has a Shrimp Gun. The trick is removing as much sand, silk and mud out of that container while locating the bay clam. This should be done with your hands because it will save you time locating it as opposed to digging blindly into a hole, possible damaging the bay clam.
Always check to make sure Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) in cooperation with ODFW have collected and tested razor and bay clams for toxins and that the area your clamming is open and safe. Razsorclamming.com accepts no responsibility to the safety of clamming or consumption of bay clams or razor clams. To be safe contact Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife for information on regulations and testing for toxins.