Recreational clam digging on Cape Cod is a fun family activity that offers the added benefit of a tasty meal as a reward for labors! The Cape is renowned for its abundance of hard shell (quahogs), soft shell (steamers), oysters and razor clams. Recreational clam digging, in comparison to fishing, requires relatively little gear to be able to successfully harvest a legal limit. Here is what you will need to get started:
1) A permit from the town in which you will be clamming
Permits can be secured at the town hall of the location you wish to clam. Fees and regulations vary by the town. When you pay for your permit, you will be given a copy of the town regulations and likely a map or list of open areas in that town. Follow these regulations carefully…a run in with the shellfish warden over an infraction is likely not the happiest ending to a good days clamming! Most towns maintain and update their websites with all the information you will need regarding permitting and regulations.
2) Boots/ Waders /Hip Boots:
Depending on which body of water you choose to clam, the footwear you require will vary by the prevailing conditions found in the bodies of water open to recreational clamming.
In towns that offer long expanses of very low water (flats) with easy access, rubber boots will suffice during the summer months. No matter the warmth of the water, some type of protective footwear should be worn to protect against the broken shells and glass that can be prevalent in areas that clams like to live. Knee high rubber boots offer great protection from mucky bottoms.
In some towns, the best spots to clam have deeper water-even at dead low tide. In these areas, it would be wise and much more comfortable to wear hip boots or even chest waders.
For hard shell clamming, having a pair of waders will greatly increase the time you spend clamming, as you can continue to dig with a basket rake almost to high tide in some locations. There are very few, if any waders / hip boots that will withstand consistent kneeling on clam shells or rough bottom…use care.
On the exposed sand flats, digging for soft-shelled clams is usually done with a short handled clam rake or a spading fork with its short handle bent perpendicularly away from the fork’s head. A digger typically uses the rake by digging down into the mud, clay, or sand and then pull it up and towards him/ herself. This digging action, done in close proximity to the tell tale siphon holes of the clams, opens up the soil to expose the clams. The digger then gently removes the clam by hand.
Recreational clamming for the larger surf and quahog clams (chowder clams) is primarily done with a basket style rake. The head of these rakes have long tines attached to a “basketlike” cage in which the clams are collected as the digger rakes through the sand or mud. There is a tell tale sound/ vibration produced when the rake tines run across the shell of a quahog.
4) Legal Limit Basket and clam gauge
Most towns on the Cape use the 10 quart wire basket as their legal limit and recognize the size limits of the commercially available clam gauge. To meet the legal size limit, a clam must be large enough to not be able to pass through the opening in the gauge.
In most cases, a legal soft shell will not pass through the gauge lengthwise (2 inch), while a legal hard shell will not pass through the gauge width wise (1 inch).
Most towns have strict regulations on how sub legal size clams must be returned to the water…be sure to follow these regulations to help insure the future of this abundant Cape fishery.