Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Signing for clams in Ocean City, MD
Signing for clams in Ocean City, MD
Driftin' Easy


Article by Sue Foster


Signing for clams in Ocean City, MD


If you drive across the Route 50 Bridge in Ocean City, MD at low tide, you can see boats pulled up to the sand bars. People are walking around on the bars, looking for sea creatures, shells, and clams. A clam rake will get you plenty of clams, but if you find yourself on a sand bar without a rake, don’t despair. You can still get yourself some clams!

“Really, that’s hard to believe!”, you may say.

It’s called “signing” for clams. The first time I saw it being done was when I was just a little girl out with my Dad, and we anchored over by Bird Island, that big island just north of the Route 50 Bridge. We stopped at the far northwest corner, where the “bird sanctuary” signs are now. There are plenty of clams there still; you just can’t walk past the bird sanctuary signs. Anyway, I saw this other little girl and a boy with a whole bucket of clams. They were walking along, would stop to dig, and would pull out a clam. So I figured they were “blind digging” which I tried and I think I found 3 clams. They kept walking along, stopping and digging up clams. Well, I just never figured it out that day!

Later, when I became a teenager, a friend of mine, whose father knew the art of “signing”, stopped our little boat on a sand bar and showed me. I’ve been a pretty dang good “clam signer” ever since!

What you do is walk the sandbar on the dry, semi-wet area, or anywhere in water where you can see the bottom. If you are walking in water, walk against the tide, so your footsteps do not cloud the water. Water clarity and being able to see the bottom is the key to “signing for clams.” I use a pair of “not too dark” polarized sunglasses to protect my eyes and I can still see the bottom clearly. Personally, I like the vermillion color of lenses.

What you want to look for is a hole in the sand that looks like a key hole, just like the one in your front door. Sometimes these key holes are more elongated. Sometimes they are half covered up by sand and you can barely see them. At times, especially in dry sand, the holes may only look like a tiny hole. Occasionally, actually more than occasionally, the holes look like little dents in the sand. A keen eye can differentiate between a worm hole and a clam hole. It takes practice and some scratching around at “false” holes till you get the “knack.” One thing is for certain, it’s like fishing - if there’s one clam around, there’s usually more. Once you find a couple clams, really look that area over carefully for the rest. If they are really thick, you can even go back to blind digging!

I have found in all my years of signing clams that on certain tides the clam signs look different. They are definitely more prevalent as the tide comes in. You can walk all over a sandbar on the outgoing tide and see practically nothing, then suddenly, when the tide starts coming in, you see clams everywhere. This is because the signs are actually caused by the siphoning of the water through the clam, and as the tide comes in, the clams start to feed.
One other little trick I learned is the “black spot.” I have found clams on the outgoing tide, by seeing where the clams had once siphoned sand on the incoming. The dark muddy sand below was sitting on top of the lighter sand above. No keyholes were to be found, just black spots. Dig those black spots on the outgoing tide and see if you find some clams! The bigger the sign, the bigger the clam, so if you are looking for smaller clams, you REALLY have to have a keen eye.

Just like fishing, changes of depth can be where the clams are. On any little drop off, edge of a sandbar, ridge of sand, you can find clams. Clams also spit up sand when you step close to a clam hole on the incoming tide. Look in the water, and see if you can actually see the clams filtering water and clouding the water as you step. It looks like they are spitting at you under water!

Of course you can scrape with a big clam rake, but if you learn to sign clams, you can dig with something smaller like a little garden trowel, stick, or your index finger! I have caught many a clam with nothing but my toes and fingers as clams are not down very deep. If you dig down deeper than 3 inches, you may be chasing a razor clam. Especially on the incoming tide, clams are usually just under the surface. I have also clammed with a dull fillet knife. When you see a hole, slide the knife into the sand next to the potential clam hole and see if you hear a “clink.” You can use any tool that slides into the sand easily.

When I do clam with a rake, I like to simply drag it behind me. When I hear a “clink” I stop to dig and see if it’s a clam. Remember, where there’s one, there’s more!

Think about what happens on the flood high tide when no one is clamming. As the tide comes in, the clams drop to their particular locations. The smaller, lighter clams generally get further up on the bar than the larger chowder clams. So, if you finding only chowder clams in 12-24 inches of water, go to shallower water or just the wet sand and you may find some smaller ones. Where you find one or two smaller, tasty “steamer clams”, you may find more!
Of course, you’ll catch more clams with a rake, but if you’re out there without one, it shouldn’t stop you from catching a few clams. Have a keen eye; watch out for foreign objects in the sand and water. Avoid jellyfish (that’s why I like to clam in shallow water or no water!) Hint: I also use bug spray on my legs and feet as sometimes there are mites in the water that can itch later, sorta like chiggers. The bug spray will pretty much eliminate that problem. A thick lather of suntan lotion also helps. Jump in the shower when you get home.

Have fun, and good clamming!

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE.



Last Updated on Friday, 03 September 2010 13:33