Oregon (Summer, 2008)
Clamming at Netarts Bay (July 5,18-20)
We were up early for the Wild Food Adventures clamming workshop at Tillamook, a 1½ hour drive from here. It was cool and drizzly, which is perfect coast weather in Steve's view. Steve and I had cobbled together a weird assortment of clamming gear from around the house - thigh waders for me and neoprene hip waders for him among other items of clothing lacking in sartorial elegance, blunt-nosed shovels and mesh bags for our catch.
We met the 40-odd other participants in the workshop at Tillamook, then convoyed to Netarts Bay (an Indian name for "Home of the Water") a few miles further south. The tide was still going out and was going to be very low (-2.3), making it easy to reach the clam beds out in the bay.
We clambered down the boulders on the side of the road, then tramped through mud to a channel of water. The current was still running, and it was a bit scary for me as it was at least knee high in places and the waders were heavy to walk in. After more trudging out over the mudflats, we gathered around our guide, John Kallas, who gave us instructions on the types of clams found there, how to spot their sign and how to dig. There were heaps of other people there already, as this was one of the lowest tides of the year.
We followed the instructions, found ourselves a promising area each and set about digging clams out of the sand with shovels:
Steve and I were rewarded by finding the clams easily. We found butter clams (mostly), a couple of littleneck clams, and one cockle. We didn't get any of the bigger gaper clams, as they live deeper down, but others did, proudly holding their clams aloft for others to see. The limit per person is 20, which Steve reached easily, and I made it to 19 before it was time to go back.
The channel was easier to cross this time as the tide was not yet coming back in. We all met up again at the cafe at the new Safeway in Tillamook and shared our experiences and tips. A few of us had broken fingernails from the hand digging, but we were otherwise exhilarated by our successes. John encouraged us to try it on our own sometime, seeing we had all invested in shellfish licenses and more big low tides were coming up.
After we returned home, Steve boiled or steamed the clams, and they tasted great! The butter clams were particularly nice. He saved the stock, the littlenecks and cockle and a few butters to make clam chowder for dinner the next night. Sorry, no pics, as we were keen to eat and forgot to take any photos.
Feeling pleased with our success at the workshop, we went raking for cockles with Ron at Garibaldi flats whilst camping at nearby Barview. However, the tide was only +0.5, so what beds were exposed had very few clams in them. After over an hour of strenuous raking, we managed only 28 or so clams among the 3 of us. They were mostly small littlenecks, with a few cockles thrown in.
Some more low tides were coming up, just two weeks after the workshop. We decided to try our luck again, and see if we could get our limit of clams in a tide of -0.7 or so. On Friday we woke early and drove down to Netarts Bay (via McDonalds at Tillamook for a bathroom stop). The weather was overcast but still, as a front had come in.
There were not many people there this time. I didn't trust the waders staying dry, so had worn shoes and long pants, but the channel was easier to cross than last time! We walked a fair way across the bar and settled in to dig. I found an area with the keyhole signs of butter clams and went to work. I found it quite hard to dig them out, as they were at least a foot deep, but they were reasonably big and I was pleased with my haul. Steve found a few gapers as well as butters. It was hot, sweaty work but we finished reasonably quickly. When we walked back to the channel, we found a few large cockles just lying on the sand!
This time we were much more organized. Steve had brought milk jugs of ice to keep the clams cold (they like the cold). We took a bucket of salt water home with us, as we wanted the clams to pump out the grit and sand over the next day. We laid out our haul first, though, for a photo - 6 gapers, 3 cockles, 2 littlenecks, a softshell and the rest butters.
The softshell, littleneck and butter clams made a great chowder!
The next morning, we took our friend Ron with us. It was still overcast, and later the wind sprang up a little, making me glad I had put on my windproof jacket.
Ron went after a few bigger gaper clams, and then filled up his limit on butters. Steve went after some gapers as well this time, but they were hard work. Once again I found a good spot with a lot of butters, and for my last one I went for a bigger hole, which turned out to be a Pacific gaper (see bottom right clam in bowl). These are smaller and thinner than the regular gaper (the four large clams on top) and it was the only one found on any of the trips.
That night, Steve steamed the butter clams (I forgot to take a pic!).
These gaper clams are something else! Steve had soaked yesterday's catch in fresh cold water overnight to kill them and stretch out their long necks. It's supposed to make the leathery covering skin easier to remove.
Peel the leathery skin from the neck, cut off the foot and save for chowder, throw away the rest, and you're left with a nice piece of meat. After a good pounding to tenderize it, it will make great fritters!
One neck ready - three to go! Oh, the little things are tiny pea crabs that live inside the gapers and feed on all the stuff that the clams feed on.
We decided to go after the gaper clams the next day, and cut the bottoms off two large plastic planter pots lying around the back yard. Armed with these and our other paraphernalia, I was wondering if it would all get too heavy for us before we had even dug up the first clam!
The weather the next morning was more beautiful and sunny than we had ever seen at Netarts Bay. The Three Arch Rocks to the north at Oceanside could be clearly seen, adding to the summer adventure feel of the day.
We were there early, as were quite a few others. We took our time getting across the channel. Steve waded waist-deep at times, whilst I made sure to cross at a much lower spot.
Then after spotting the large holes indicating gapers, we started digging early. One way to check before digging is to stick your finger in the hole, akin to "knocking on the door". If you feel suction, see water bubbling, or have water spray up at you, then "someone is home"! Sometimes you can even see the neck sticking out of the hole, and walking nearby or poking your finger in the hole will cause it to retract with a bit of a spurt of water.
We got the hang of pushing down the plastic pots around the gaper to stop the sides of the hole caving in and filling it in, and having to push the pot down further intermittently. Then we dug inside the pot to reach the gaper.
Every hole dug yielded a large gaper. Sometimes we amazed passers-by when we pulled out these monsters that were over 5 inches across the shell!
Unfortunately, the plastic pots were flexible and had a tendency to cave in at the bottom, making retrieving the gaper somewhat more difficult. After finally digging out a particularly hard one (and getting my glove shredded in the process), I gave up and went in search of butter clams. This time it was hit and miss, as I stumbled on cockles and softshells in amongst a couple of butters. But I then found an area that had quite a few big butters, and I dug at them till we felt the need to get back before the tide came in too far. Other people, predominantly Asian, were still raking for cockles a little further out.
Seeing it was such a nice day, we took a trip up to Oceanside to see the Three Arch Rocks.
At low tide, a tunnel in the cliff at Oceanside beach leads to Lost Boy Beach and some interesting tide pools. Bring a flashlight if you don't like walking/stumbling in the dark.
Here is a view of Lost Boy Beach from the road above. Caves in the north cliff lead to Short Beach.
Cape Meares lighthouse is just visible on the point.
When we reached home, we checked out the day's haul - 13 gapers, 10 of which Steve had dug out, as well as the big butters we both had found.
Here's a pic of me with a long-necked gaper and a butter clam that I had dug out.
That evening Steve cooked up fritters out of the gapers collected in the first 2 days. Here are the strips of tenderised gaper necks. The other pieces chopped up were put aside for chowder, and the neck tips - hopefully went into the compost bin......
The necks were then cut in half and breaded, ready to fry.
They were yummy with a bit of lemon (I love lemon on seafood), but still fairly chewy for me.
Something more up my alley was this Thai Tom Yum - with some of the chopped gaper bits and a few butter clams.
Steve tried out a few more recipes over the next day or so, including another try at the New England clam chowder.
He also prepared some of the butters for its rival, the Rhode Island clam chowder. Here's a pic of a shucked butter clam with its shell.
The clams were roughly ground in the food processor, then added to the chowder, making for a smoother consistency.
The stuffed clams were another taste treat.
The necks of the gapers from the last day's clamming were put in the freezer, as was lots of clam juice over the various days.
One day he used some of them for linguini in clam sauce, and it was very flavourful! (sorry, no pic)