How to Dig for Razor Clams

Forager Langdon Cook digs deep for razor clams on the Washington coast

By Seattle Mag February 11, 2015


This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Seattle magazine.

Luck was in the air. It was a day to double down, to let it ride, to put it all on the long shot. Rarely in the month of March is the mercurial Washington coast so beneficent, and I was feeling good about my prospects. Above, the sun warmed my face while brightening a cloudless blue sky; below, the Pacific Ocean lapped gently at my feet, its reputation for rogue waves a distant memory. And the shows! They appeared like coins spilling from a slot machine.

Razor clam shows, that is—silver-dollar-size impressions in the sand revealing the hidden lairs of my quarry. Within a few yards of where I stood on Pacific Beach on the Olympic Peninsula, I could see enough razor clam hidey-holes to fill several limits, and just one limit was all it took for a pot of chowder, sauce for pasta and a mess of fried razor clam diggers, the tender foot of the clam used for burrowing to safety.

I scouted for the biggest show of all and drove my clam gun into the wet sand, coming away with a beautiful specimen, its shell golden-hued and 6 inches long, mottled with the dark markings that indicate an elder among clams; a prized mossback, with twice the meat of its slightly younger and smaller neighbors. Around me the joyous whoops of clam diggers rose above the sounds of wind and surf. It was a jackpot day for everyone.

Spring is my favorite time to hit the ocean beach and dig for razor clams. The days are getting longer, and while bluebird skies are still the exception rather than the rule, it’s time to put away the headlamp and dig in the sunlight. A newbie might be intimidated by the boisterous scene—the beach thronged with people decked out in fishing waders and hip boots, armed with strange-looking shovels and those weird tubes with handles attached—but the learning curve is not as steep as it might seem, and most beginners get the knack of it fairly quickly. By the way, those tubes—sometimes called clam guns—are the easiest way to get started. Just center the tube over a show and work it several inches down into the sand to unearth your prize. If you come up empty, try again—or reach into the hole with your hand and probe for the sneaky mollusk. But be quick: A mossback can dig itself out of reach in seconds.

Unlike many species of clam, razors require cleaning. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has tips for cleaning and preparation on its website (, along with tips on where to go and how to avoid damaging your clams while in hot pursuit, plus downloadable shellfish licenses.

The limit is 15 clams a day per person, and you can only dig on days when an opening is announced by WDFW (again, check the website). Of course, the digging is just half the fun. When I get my limit home, I know a New England–style razor clam chowder is on the menu, as is linguine with clam sauce, or pasta alle vongole as it’s known to my Italian-American father-in-law. But lately I’ve been enjoying the clean, slightly sweet flavor of razor clam ceviche. A splash of seasoned rice vinegar along with plenty of lime juice, diced red onions, red bell pepper, a touch of jalapeño pepper and chopped cilantro make a colorful presentation that will inspire your dinner guests to break out their own clam guns and head west.

Find his recipe for razor clam linguine here.


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