The Oregon coast is teeming with seafood you can catch yourself, including razor clams – rewarding to dig, and delicious to eat. There are a few ways to catch these tasty mollusks, and the method we’ll be talking about involves using a clam gun (I know, it sounds wild. More on that later).
A local couple recently tipped me off to recreational razor clam digging in Clatsop County, and I’ve been enamored ever since. Digging razor clams is so different from clamming back on the east coast – and it’s a lot of fun. Without further ado, let’s dive into the how-tos of razor clam digging in Oregon.
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Clam Digging on the Oregon Coast
When is razor clam season in Oregon?
First thing’s first – make sure it’s the right time of year to harvest razor clams before you go. In Clatsop County, razor clam season is from October 1st through July 14th. Razor clamming is not permitted from July 15th through September 30th, so that younger clams have a chance to grow.
As far as when to go razor clamming at ocean beaches, a negative or minus tide will expose more sand, and therefore more clams. Any low tide will do, though. Aim to be at the beach somewhere between an hour before and an hour after low tide so you have time to dig while the water level is low and the sand is exposed.
What is a razor clam gun?
Okay, let’s talk about the coolest purchase I’ve made since moving to Astoria – a clam gun. The name is a bit deceiving – it’s not really a gun; no bullets needed. A clam gun is essentially a PVC tube with one open end, and one closed end with a handles attached. The closed end has a tiny opening you can easily cover with your thumb to create suction.
I snagged my clam gun at Big 5 for about 50 bucks. There are nicer clam guns out there than my PVC one – made of stainless steel and a little less bulky – but personally, I don’t currently feel the need to upgrade since I’m happy with the results! But for anyone looking for a stainless steel clam gun that slices through sand more easily than PVC, here’s a highly reviewed one:
How to use a clam gun
Before you get to use your clam gun, you’ve got to find the clams. Walk along the beach and scan the ground – you’re looking for dime to quarter sized divots in the sand. These “shows” are signs that there’s a razor clam burrowed underneath.
Once you’ve located a show, line the end of your clam gun up over the hole. Angle your gun slightly toward the ocean, since razor clams tend not to be right underneath the hole. Now for the fun part – grab the handles, and twist back and forth to push your clam gun deep into the sand.
Once you’ve dug deep, cover the hole on top of your clam gun with your thumb. This creates suction, so you can pull the chunk of sand containing the clam out of the ground. Squat down low and use your legs to lift up and pull your gun out of the sand.
Dump the chunk of sand you pulled up onto the ground, and sift through to find your razor clam. They’re pretty big, so it won’t be hard to find!
Brush the sand off your clam (you might want to rinse it off in seawater) and add it to your clam bag. Keep walking the beach and digging until you have up to 15 razor clams – that’s the harvest limit. Then head home to clean and cook them up!
Once you have your clam gun, you have access to seafood right out of the ocean all fall, winter, and spring. And with the low price of an annual shellfish permit, this is some of the cheapest yet freshest seafood you’ll ever find! Living in Astoria comes with the perk of super convenient access to the Oregon coast, so take advantage of world class razor clamming while you’re here.
Razor clam digging tips
Purchase a shellfish license from ODFW before you dig razor clams.
Annual shellfish licenses for residents are only $10, and $28 for non-residents. You can easily purchase a shellfish license online through the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife website.
Stick to the harvest limit of 15 razor clams.
The official harvest limit for razor clams in Oregon is 15 per day – this includes broken, damaged, and small clams.
Bring a mesh bag with you to collect your razor clams in.
Razor clams are decently sized, and you’ll need more space than your pockets to carry them home. And having clams in your pockets is icky. Bring a mesh drawstring bag with you to collect and carry your razor clams home.
Keep track of the tide.
Digging razor clams during a negative tide is best. Or, from about an hour before low tide until about an hour after. Even when the tide is low and the surf seems small, watch for sneaker waves.
Use seawater to soak your razor clams before cleaning.
Soaking your catch in a bowl of seawater for about half an hour helps the clams push out sand from their systems. Doing this before you clean them means less gritty eating for you!
Learn from the best.
I have this book at home, Clam Digging & Crabbing in Oregon by John A. Johnson, and it’s been an awesome resource when it comes to razor clamming! It helped me jump start my clamming journey, and is full of step-by-step information about how to dig many different types of clams. I can’t wait to start going after more types of clams (and maybe even start crabbing). Here’s the book, if you’re interested in learning more about clamming and crabbing on the coast:
Let the clamming begin
So that’s the scoop I’ve got on digging razor clams! As a new Astoria resident, I’m excited to have found clamming and to share what I’ve learned so far so you, too, can get digging. It’s super rewarding to dig up your own dinner, and I hope you get the same odd little thrill I do when you bring your clam gun to the beach.
➤ Looking for more free things to to in Astoria? Browse through this list of 11 free things to do in Astoria to find your next free adventure!
Razor Clam FAQs:
You can eat razor clams – razor clams are large, meaty shellfish that can be eaten may ways. Fried razor clams and razor clam chowder are popular ways for people to enjoy eating razor clams.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife dictates that the razor clam limit per person is 15 clams per day.
You can keep razor clams refrigerated for up to 4 days before cleaning them. Once shucked and cleaned, you can keep razor clams refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Razor clams cost between $28 and $40 per pound, depending on current market value, season, and whether the clams have already been shucked and cleaned.
Razor clams contaminated with domoic acid (DA) can be dangerous and make people sick. Razor clams with high levels of DA can cause lightheadedness, nausea, and diarrhea in humans. DA contamination of bivalves usually occurs after an algal bloom occurs in a particular area and produces the toxin.