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  Home >> Alaska Fishing >> Razor Clamming >> How to Clean Razor Clams







- More Info on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska Razor Clamming -

- How to dig 'em!

- How to clean 'em!

- When to dig 'em!

- How to cook 'em!

Over one million razor clams are dug annually on the beaches of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula ... with the vast majority of these clams dug from the Cohoe area just south of the Kasilof River mouth Razor clamming before a salmon fishing trip on the Kasilof Riverto the mouth area of the Ninilchik River.

Found on the exposed beaches of very low tides (visit out tides page to see the dates of times of clamming tides), the clams are dug in a window of approximately one hour before and one hour after low tide. Requiring more than just finding a clam hole or 'show' and moving a little sand to expose the bivalve, digging involves a specialized technique to avoid clam breakage. In addition, unlike most Pacific clams, the razors are quite mobile and often escape from slower, or less experienced diggers.

Razor clams are cold-blooded organisms. Low temperatures make them slow and sluggish, although they become more mobile as the temperatures increase in the latter part of the Alaskan summer.

Razors dig downward from the clammer by extending their foot or 'digger' from the shell and moving it downward in the sand. The clams flatten out this digger, anchoring it in the sand ... they then pull their body down to the anchored foot.

The clams are able to dig faster in softer, wetter sand nearer the surf's edge as opposed to the drier sand further up the beach, although the drier sand is often tougher to dig in.

Ninilchik, Alaska razor clamsResearch has shown that, on average, razors descend at a rate of about nine inches per minute, although it has been shown that they can dig as fast as one inch per second for short periods of time. They also can be quite difficult to extract from the hole when the foot is 'anchored', explaining why you often see other diggers a full arm's length into the sand, playing tug of war with a creature that is usually no bigger than your hand. This also explains the cries of anguish you often hear when the clams 'get away'!

Razor clams are found by the hole left in the sand when the clam's neck is withdrawn. When this 'show', 'hole' or 'dimple' is found, a couple of scoops of sand is dug out from along side the show and reaching through the side of the hole. It is very important not to break the shell or you will encounter two problems: first, broken clams are very tough to clean and you often are not left with an entire 'clam steak' and secondly, broken shells are extremely sharp and can easily leave you with a nasty gash ... hence the name 'razor clam'. Proper digging technique will almost completely eliminate broken shells.

Most people dig razor clams with a specialized narrow-bladed shovel ... these can be purchased at many local stores, and a few other places rent them. Some people prefer to use a clam 'tube' or 'gun', these too can be purchased or rented. "Good gunners' will usually dig their limit faster than a shovel digger, but it requires a lot more body strength to dig rapidly with a gun. Below, are some illustrations of how to dig with each:

Shovel Digging

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Insert Shovel 3 to 6 inches from 'show'. This distance depends upon the length of your shovel blade and the amount of 'hook' that it has.

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Remove sand with a lifting motion. Try twisting the shovel at the same time. Make sure to keep the blade nearly vertical!

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Succeeding shovelfuls expose the calm enough to grasp him by the neck or shell ... note that the shovel stays away from the clam!

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DO NOT pry back on the handle at any time. This will cut off the neck or break the shell causing waste or a cut finger!

Gun or Tube Digging

While you certainly are familiar with a shovel ... you may not be familiar with a clam 'gun' or 'tube'. Working on a vacuum principle, the gun is a metal cylinder with an attached handle fitted with an air vent that may be covered by the operator's finger.

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Place the gun over the show ... as you face the ocean ... check the impression of the tube's edge in the sand to make sure you are centered.

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Work the tube in carefully with an up-and-down, rocking, or twisting motion. Place your finger over the air vent and pull up. You can remove the core of sand from the tube by removing your finger from the air vent. Do this again if necessary.

A couple of caveats about digging with the guns:

  • Use your legs as much as possible when removing gun from the sand ... just as if you were lifting a heavy object.
  • Store-bought and rental guns usually have a four-inch diameter tube ... many clams along the Kenai Peninsula beaches lay at a slight angle to the sand's surface due to pieces of coal, rocks, etc. ... we use a set of custom-built, six-inch tube guns to eliminate the breakage of the clam that can occur with a smaller tube.
  • Regardless of the size tube you use, listen and feel carefully for cracking shell noises as you descend, if you hear something that sounds like a shell cracking, stop the guns descent immediately and slightly reposition gun until you go down without any cracking.

After a clam is dug, place it in your bucket ... remember, the law clearly states that each digger must have his or her own container. You also MUST keep the first 45 clams dug, regardless of condition ... so be careful ... and also take note that clams with any sort of shell breakage will likely die if left in the hole!

Upon leaving the beach, it is advisable to cover the clams with seawater ... although this makes for a heavy lug up the beach. Water from the many creeks dumping into the Inlet may also be used, but the clams will not live nearly as long in this freshwater ... about 8-10 hours as compared to about 24 hours in saltwater if kept cool. You also want to make sure that the clams are still alive when you clean them.

For more information on how to clean the clams ... visit the cleaning page ... or if you would like to find out how to cook them, visit the recipe section. Our listing of diggable clam tides can be found on the tides page.


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