Digging razor clams on the Washington Coast is one of the true signs of being a resident of the Evergreen State. During the fall, winter and spring months along the breaking waves of the mighty and majestic Pacific Ocean, the hearty and the adventurous find themselves wandering the sandy coastal stretches in search of savory bivalves. Before one can go out and start to dig for their clams, there are a few things to know.

Is it Clam Digging Season?

Grays Harbor Razor Clams
From Kalaloch to Long Beach, the Washington Coast is known for amazing razor clams to dig and eat. Photo credit: Mike Murry

The very first thing you need to check is whether or not it is clam digging season. The easiest way to get this information is to check out the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website. This will not only give you the information needed, but also get more in-depth about many of the topics covered below.

Permits Are Required!

Before you head out and legally start your clamming digging adventure, you’ll need a permit. Permits, which can be purchased on WDFW’s website or directly from license vendors found all around the state, are required for those 15 years old or older. All locations offer a few different types of razor clam licenses, based on how long you plan on going clamming each season. Options range from a three-day razor clam license, typically the best deal if you only plan on going for a weekend, or an annual combination clamming and fishing license for those looking to go often.

Once you have the licenses for your friends and family, there are a few rules that must be followed. They are simple to follow and ensure that everyone will have a good time. To start, know that each clam digger is allowed to take up to 15 razor clams per day. It is important to remember that you are legally required to keep the first 15 razor clams you dig, no matter the size or condition. The clams also must be placed in a container, which each individual clammer must carry. Combining containers is a violation of the rules and regulations and you will more than likely get ticketed if caught.

Where Can I Go?

Grays Harbor Razor Clams
With this map, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website, you’ll be able to see which beaches are seasonally open for razor clam digging. Photo courtesy: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Washington State is home to five razor clam digging regions, all of which are in or right near Grays Harbor. Stretching from Kalaloch Beach to the north and running all the way down to the Long Beach Peninsula, you’ll have great options of where to go. The open beaches, which can change with each season, can always be found on the WDFW’s website. It is important to know that most clam digging dates are centered around the lowest tides of the year. During the fall and winter digging dates, low tides most often take place in the dark, when it will probably be rainy and cold. Conversely, spring tides allow for daylight clam digging with a potential for better weather.

The five locations, shown on the map below, are:

– Long Beach from the Columbia River north to the mouth of the Willapa Bay.

– Twin Harbors from Willapa Bay north to the south jetty at the mouth of Grays Harbor.

– Copalis Beach from the north jetty at the mouth of Grays Harbor to the Copalis River.

– Mocrocks from the Copalis River to the south boundary of the Quinault Indian Reservation

– Kalaloch from the South Beach campground north to ONP Beach Trail 3.

How Do I Dig for Razor Clams?

Once you have the right days and a permit, you’ll need to figure out how to get the clams out of the sand. Your two choices are between using a shovel or a clam “gun.” Beginning clam diggers typically prefer the clam gun, which is a metal or PVC tube that you twist into the ground and pull out the sand all around the clam. This is the easiest and simplest method of getting your limit of razor clams, but takes some getting used to. Advanced or experienced clam diggers usually use shovels and many pride themselves on this. Digging for razor clams with a shovel requires patience and practice before you can use them quickly and effectively. Shovels and clam guns can be picked up at most of the stores shown on the map below. Definitely call before you go, because store hours vary.

What Should I Wear?

Grays Harbor Razor Clams
Copalis Beach is a popular and beautiful spot to dig for razor clams in Grays Harbor County. Photo credit: Tom Collins

When digging for razor clams along the Washington Coast, you’ll need to be ready for any and all weather. Be smart, safe, warm and dry by layering your clothes, making sure to include a sturdy pair of rubber boots, good rain pants, a warm hat and a trusty rain jacket. By layering your gear, you will be ready to take off some layers just in case the weather gets nicer. Always assume it will be wet and cold, though. In the winter months, you’ll also need to bring a lantern or headlamp, as there are no street lights along the beach.

How Do I Find Razor Clams?

Plan to start digging about an hour before low tide. Starting early allows you to follow the receding tide, giving better chances are getting your 15 clam limit. Locating razor clams is easier than many think. Once on the beach, head down toward the wettest sand and look for one of three marks in the sand that are from clams. You’ll either see a dimple, which is a depression in the sand; a doughnut, which has a small hole and raised sides; and a keyhole, which usually occurs in drier sand and looks like an hourglass or hole. A general rule of thumb is that the larger sized holes indicate larger clams, but this is not always 100% the case.

Once you see what you think will be a razor clam, you’ll need to be fast with your digging, as razor clams burrow quite quickly in soft, watery sand. After you have successfully retrieved your clam, be careful as you grab it; their shells are the reason they are called “razor” clams. Once you have your 15, head back home, clean the clams and pick a favorite razor clam recipe from the WDFW website!

For a map of stores for licenses and beaches, click here.

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