Alaska Clamming – Digging for Razor Clams at Polly Creek, Alaska!
story by The Alaska Life
A crisp, cool, and very clear 36 degree morning found us headed south from Soldotna to Ninilchik where we would hop on a charter boat aptly named Capture, operated by Rod ‘n Real charters. This particular Saturday showed greater than -5 tides, which would give us a ton of beach area to work with once the water receded from the shoreline. Our day of Alaska clamming was shaping up nicely!
Launching from the beach in this location is an experience in itself if you haven’t seen it before. Since the beach is not conducive to using a regular truck, converted logging skidders are used to launch and retrieve the boats from their trailers. Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna sat snow-laden while an otter played a short distance out in the water as the heavy equipment was hooked to our trailer and sent us floating on our way. Flat-calm seas on the trip over to the Polly Creek area enabled Captain Drew to move across the water at well over 30 knots, getting us across the inlet and in our Alaska clamming location in just over an hour’s time.
After coming to rest on the soft sandy ocean floor, the anchor was put out and the boat crew donned waders and began to dig. With the rapidly receding water, a few dimples in the sand began to appear, but the larger clams did not seem to start ‘showing’ until a bit later. In this particular area, there is no bag/possession limit for clams and with seven adults on the boat, we wanted to harvest enough clams in one trip for the entire year.
Being raised in Interior Alaska, I didn’t get the chance to do much Alaska clamming while growing up and I think my tired arms and shoulders told that story fairly accurately. It seemed that the older the clam digger, the more efficient he was at harvesting from beneath the sandy surface. My particular method of choice was to dig a 12-14 inch hole beside a dimple in the sand with a clam shovel and then dig by hand, while on hands and knees, until I could feel the shell and then extract the clam from the sand. The most senior guy on the trip, Randy Berg, made it look EASY! I didn’t actually sit and watch his method until late in the day, but it seemed that his method included one scoop forward, one backward, and then reaching in and picking up the clam. There’s definitely more than one way to skin this cat, and it seems that the levels of energy expelled per clam can vary as well!
We spent SEVERAL hours digging clams on the vast beach that formed from this large ‘minus’ tide and there were others taking advantage of it as well. More than a dozen small airplanes, several dozen boats, and lots of bucket-carrying Alaska clam diggers dotted the beach in the general vicinity. That said, the area was still large enough that none of our group came close enough with another group to even say ‘hello.’ The beach was a fairly vast expanse surrounded by breathtaking beauty. Absolutely gorgeous weather and playing in the sand was a killer combination for a great time!
We gave our clams a gross rinse before placing them in the coolers and were in awe at how fast the water came back to reclaim its ownership of the sandbars. The boat quickly budged free and began floating again, which allowed us to head back toward the Ninilchik beach where we came from. Partway home, a thick fog bank rolled in and slowed our progress a bit, but our sun-soaked faces and coolers full of clams didn’t keep us from enjoying the rest of our trip.
Looking for more stories about wild harvests in Alaska. Check out, “Urban Salmon Fishing on Ship Creek in Anchorage.”