If you’re looking for Gapers, also known as blue tips, Netarts Bay is the place to go.
Netarts is located west south-west of Tillamook and what makes it such a great bay for clamming is there’s no industrial development around it and no fresh water run off feeding into it. It’s a clean bay. The other nice thing about Netarts is you don’t need a boat to get to the clam beds. It’s a bit of a hike and you might have to wade across a few channels to get there, but still you can get there by foot.
The main thing to be aware of is the tide and the time. You don’t want to get trapped out on the sand flats by the rising tide! Here’s a link to the NOAA web site and tide predictions for Oregon.
The clamming season begins with the minus tides of May. Now that isn’t to say there aren’t minus tides before May, it’s just that they don’t happen during daylight and, while I’ve heard of people doing it, I’m not sure I want to try digging clams in the dark! What you want is a low tide during daylight that’s around -1 (the lower the better) and you also want a day when it’s not raining cats and dogs. It’s tough finding clams with a heavy rain beating down on the sand. It disturbs them, they pull their necks in, and the holes disappear in the rain.
As for what to bring, start with a state issued shell-fish license and pick up a copy of the rules and regulations while you’re at it. Then you’ll want some two and a half foot long sticks, a 5 gallon bucket with an improvised shoulder strap for hauling big heavy clams back across the flats, and a good long handled shovel for moving lots of sand. In addition, some folks cut the bottom out of a 5 or 7 gallon bucket to use as a kind of cofferdam as they dig down deep for the big ones.
Personally I’m not after giants and when I use my marker stick to probe the clam hole and feel the neck retract, if it goes down deeper than my two and a half foot stick the clam wins. Good job clam! You’re safe, I’m not digging you…
As for fashion, the sleeveless look is in. You’re going to be groping through sand with your hands in holes over two feet deep, the last thing you’re going to want is wet, heavy, sand packed sleeves. Go ahead and wear a sweatshirt or jacket for the hike out and the hike back but take it off before digging. If it’s chilly, wear a vest. And boots. Knee boots might cut it with a -1 tide or lower but hip boots are much better for kneeling and digging in the sand. The gold standard for me however is stocking foot breathable chest waders with oversized crocks in place of wading boots. Comfort, function, and high fashion style!
Fortunately for us the big gapers don’t move much and their only defense is their depth. Once you find a neck hole examine it closely. You might see the siphon tubes or the scaly flap that covers them. Then, when you poke it gently with your stick, the clam might squirt some water and it will begin retracting its neck. Then you can gauge how deep the clam is by following it’s neck down the hole with your stick, and as I mentioned earlier, it it’s too deep forget it. Unless you’ve got a bottomless bucket to shore it up, your hole will cave in before you can get down to the clam.
Next, leave the stick in the hole and begin your excavation off to one side. Dig down as deep as you think necessary and then work your way over toward the clam. Now the fun begins, reach down in then hole and grope around in the sand until you find your prey. Then, once you’ve got it in your grasp, good luck removing it. Often they’re wedged in so tight it’s a real struggle getting them out of the hole before it collapses and you’re forced to give up! Once that hole starts filling back in with wet soupy sand you’re through.
About limits. The bag limit for these large clams is quite generous and unless you’ve got a large family that really likes clams you’ll probably find just a few are enough to clean and enjoy. Take what you can use and use what you take. Waste not.
Finally, if you’d dig a home of your own here in the great State of Oregon don’t clam up, give me a call! Honest, hard-working, and dedicated. Put my 30 years of mortgage experience to work for you!