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What Season is Clam Digging?

"What season is clam digging?”

Well, I get that question often over the phone and through e-mail! Clamming in the Coastal Bays has no season, and though most people do it in the summer you can actually clam all winter long. Keep in mind that in the winter you need a good pair of insulated waders or hip boots! You do not need a license to clam in the Coastal Bays of Maryland. You do need a license to clam in Delaware.
In the summer, the water is warm and all you need is an old pair of sneakers you don’t mind getting wet and sandy, a clam rake and a mesh bag, basket or bucket to throw the clams in. Clam rakes look similar to garden rakes except they have a basket or reinforced back that the clam falls in after digging. You can actually get away with a garden rake if the water is not too deep. You can dig up the clam and then feel for it in the water and pick it up.

The clams we get around here are hard clams. Some are big and we locals call them chowder clams. You need to chop them up and make clam chowder or stuffed clams. Smaller, hard clams are called Cherrystone Clams or Top Nicks or Little Nicks. We locals call them steaming clams! It means they are small enough to be tender when steaming whole.

In Delaware, non-residents may keep 50 clams each and residents may keep 100 and they must be 1.5 inches across. In Maryland, the legal size and creel limit for clams is 250 clams and they must be 1-inch across. That’s a lot of clams in Maryland, so if you really don’t need that many or just want the smaller ones, just take what you are going to eat or process. Remember, opening 100 chowder clams can turn into work!!!

If you have access to a boat your chances of catching a lot of clams is better than clamming from the shore. One productive area where you can clam from a boat in Ocean City is the big sandbar just offshore of Bahia Marina at 22nd Street. If you are going to rent a small boat to go clamming, this is your best bet. The big bar just north of the Route 50 Bridge, on the northwest side, is always good. We’ve usually found a good number of smaller clams here. The bar just east of Hoopers Crab House is also good. The bay behind Assateague holds a lot of clams from the bars at Buoy #13 to the popular area on the southeast side of the Verrazano Bridge. That’s the bridge that connects the mainland to Assateague Island.

Anglers from the shore can assess this same clamming spot, but have to park on the west side of the bridge and walk over to the east side of the bridge. It’s well worth the effort if you have a couple of hours to clam at low tide. Just keep in mind that this is a wetland environment and that during a west wind the flies can be very bad. Take bug spray!!!

The National Park has a couple of clamming areas as well, although I have never done as well there as I have from the area near the bridge.

In Ocean City, clammers can go behind Convention Hall at 41st Street and walk out towards the right and clam. At low tide there’s a lot of area here to clam. It’s an OK area but a lot of people go here.

I have been told that if you go to the Isle of Wight Park at 62nd Street and walk back towards Ocean City, you can find some clams in the area between the rocks and the bridge. I have also been told that there are some chowder clams at Northside Park at 127th Street if you walk out past the end of the pier at extreme low tide.

“How do you clam?”

Well, I like to take the rake and drag it behind me until I hear a “clink.” Clams are not down very deep in the summertime. Then, I go back and dig the clam up. Where there is one, there are usually more. If the water is clear, I dig where I see elongated holes on the bottom to see if there are clams underneath. When the tide starts coming in, the clams will actually spit out water and you can see it if the water is clear. That’s an easy way to find clams!

Big round holes are usually razor clams, so don’t waste your time with them. They are fast and not worth the energy to catch.

Clams move with the tide, so if you are working a sandbar you will usually find clams on the ledges and changes of water depth. Walk all along the edges with a keen eye looking for clam holes. As the tide comes in you will start to see these “signs.” This is called “signing” for clams by the locals. Look for key holes or any kind of hole in wet sand that is not underwater. Sometimes, on an outgoing tide a clam will be hiding under a dark muddy spot lying on the top of white sand!

Once you get some clams, wash them off and put them in a bucket of clean saltwater to purge. This will help get any sand that may be inside the clam. If you purge the clams for a couple hours they will be much better to eat! Sometimes clams have no grit in them at all, while other times they do. It’s just the nature of things.

People make clam bags out of chum bags, beach bags that the kids use to put their sand toys in, plastic laundry baskets or a good ol’ 5 gallon bucket. Floating clam/fish baskets can also be bought at tackle stores.

Clamming can be fun and something to do when the tide is low. Look at a tide chart of the inlet. Find low tide and add 2 hours for the bay. That will be dead low tide. Then go clamming 2 hours before and 2 hours after low tide and you should be good to go!

Good clamming…

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