Sunday, February 1, 2015

Clamming: A Photo Essay by Mark Larson

Posted By on Sun, Feb 1, 2015 at 7:32 AM

click to enlarge Clam Beach featured a very low tide and a beautiful sunset, plus lots of clam diggers looking for the elusive but very tasty razor clam on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Using a long telephoto lens compressed the distance between the surf line and those looking for clams. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • Clam Beach featured a very low tide and a beautiful sunset, plus lots of clam diggers looking for the elusive but very tasty razor clam on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Using a long telephoto lens compressed the distance between the surf line and those looking for clams.
Our recent very high king tides also brought some very low tides to the North Coast – and low tides this time of year mean fans of razor clams head to Clam Beach south of Trinidad.

My first introduction as a child to eating seafood was my Aunt Sara’s clam chowder, made with razor clams she’d dug from the ocean beach south of Westport, Washington. Hard to imagine anything better than fresh clams, lots of butter, bacon, potatoes and a few of her other secret ingredients.

After we demolished Aunt Sara’s supply of clam chowder, she then took us out to the ocean beach on the next low tide to teach us how to find the tell-tale razor clam “dimple” in the wet sand – and the digging adventure began. It’s harder than it looks.

click to enlarge Lots of clam diggers were out on the north end of Clam Beach at sunset along with a very low tide  looking for the elusive but very tasty razor clam on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Using a long telephoto lens compressed the distance between Trinidad Head to the north and those looking for clams. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • Lots of clam diggers were out on the north end of Clam Beach at sunset along with a very low tide looking for the elusive but very tasty razor clam on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Using a long telephoto lens compressed the distance between Trinidad Head to the north and those looking for clams.
I recently showed up at low tide on a Tuesday just before sunset to get photographs of local clam diggers, anticipating the good light and expecting to find a crowd. And, indeed, about 40 to 50 “newbies” and very experienced clam diggers were congregated at the surf line on the out-going tide at the north end of Clam Beach.

The clam diggers, most dressed in chest waders, were armed with short- and long-handled shovels and “clam guns” (metal or pvc tubes designed – in theory – to allow you to suction up the wet sand and the clam). The men intently wandered the emerging sand flats looking for the “tell” (the dimple on the surface of the sand), some of them tapping the sand ahead of them with their shovel handles to help stimulate the clam’s defensive response (tunneling rapidly down and ejecting water and sand to the surface).

click to enlarge Louie Sousa, of Eureka, of Eureka, joined 40 or 50 others in pursuit of razor clams on Clam Beach on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • Louie Sousa, of Eureka, of Eureka, joined 40 or 50 others in pursuit of razor clams on Clam Beach on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Did I mention a surf line? One set after another of rough waves continued to break just beyond the group of men, which added a more than a little tension to the scene.

My friend Tom Peters, of Eureka, says he tends to avoid clam digging with any high surf. “It’s a memorable experience, while kneeling on the wet sand, arm buried to the elbow digging out the clam, to discover a wave crashing down on you. Once was enough for me.”

click to enlarge James Louis, of Eureka, known as the "black belt clammer," went to his knees to dig out a razor clam on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • James Louis, of Eureka, known as the "black belt clammer," went to his knees to dig out a razor clam on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The sun slowly disappeared into the sea and the pursuit of clams continued for a few who wore head lamps as the ebbing tide revealed more clam habitat. The majority slowly walked in the growing darkness across the dunes to their vehicles, the newbies happy with just finding one or two clams. The others had enough to make some chowder.

click to enlarge James Louis, of Eureka, said he's known as the "black belt clammer" after 45 years of successfully pursuing razor clams on Clam Beach. He held up one example of the tasty clam after going to his knees to dig it out on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • James Louis, of Eureka, said he's known as the "black belt clammer" after 45 years of successfully pursuing razor clams on Clam Beach. He held up one example of the tasty clam after going to his knees to dig it out on a low tide just before sunset on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Editor's note: If this has inspired you to grab a shovel and head to the beach, remember: A sport fishing license is required to clam in California.
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