Clam Digging in Alaska – Cook Inlet Fishery
Annually around the Memorial Day weekend, The Cook Inlet experiences some of the lowest tides of the season. During a weekend of good ‘minus tides’, the Cook Inlet personal use fishery suddenly become the ‘Mecca’ for clam digging in Alaska. There is not a required permit for this area but you do however, need a sport fishing license before taking part in the clamming frenzy.
When I moved to Alaska as a child, clamming was one of the first things we were taught how to do by a family friend. I will never forget getting up early to catch the tide on its way out, running around looking for dimples in the sand, and getting muddier that my mother had ever anticipated! I think that is why I still love it. We have always made clamming a no pressure family affair. Harvesting, cleaning and cooking together makes it that much sweeter! Clam digging in Alaska is a fantastic way to get the family outdoors.
I would highly recommend checking the Fish and Game regulations of your desired fishery the day you plan to harvest any species in Alaska but, here are the limits as they stand today:
Cook Inlet Personal Use Fishery
- Littlenecks and Butters: 80 per day, 80 in possession. Littleneck clams must be 1 ½ inch or wider; butter clams must be 2 ½ inches or wider.
- Pacific Razor Clams: 60 per day and 120 in possession with no size limit. You are required to retain all dug clams.
HERE is the link to ADF&G, be a responsible license holder and double check the regs before you head out!
If you are new to the sport you may be asking what do I need?
Firstly, you will need to get a tide book! These are free and they are all over the place; the local grocery or sporting goods store, and many gas stations likely have them available. If you have a smartphone, tide table information can also be found online. When reviewing the book, you are looking for negative numbers, and typically these will run for a few days in a row. Make sure you are looking at the tides for the beach you are hoping to start clamming in Alaska. Popular plans locations to find clams are the aptly named Clam Gulch area, as well as the Deep Creek, Kasilof, and even Polly Creek if you can access the Western side of Cook Inlet either by boat or airplane. These “minus tides” are the only times the water will be low enough to expose the clamming areas.
After you plan your tides you will need to make a gear list. There are many theories on the perfect clam shovel, just buy one, there is merit in both a clam shovel or a “ClamGun“. This is mostly a matter of personal preference. The “gun” is used when you see a dimple in the sand (which denotes a clam under the surface of the sand) you place it right over top of that spot and press the cylinder deep into the sand and pull out a core. In theory, the clam should be in the cored sand. The clam shovel is often a short shovel with a narrow blade and a rounded tip. With the shovel you find the dimpled sand and you put the tip just off of one side and shovel up the sand to find the clam. After a few tries you should have either way down pat! One thing to note is that digging clams can be fairly labor intensive, so be prepared for a decent workout as well!
Clam Digging in Alaska Using a Clam Gun
You will also need a 5 gallon bucket for holding your clams, mud boots, water gloves like Chilly Grips (which are a staple for TONS of Alaskan outdoor adventures) and some grungy clothing. We have worn full on rain gear but, have also gone out in junky jeans and coats. Take note that the mud will likely satin any non PVC fabric so plan accordingly. Plan to walk up and down a decent hill from the bluff if you’re fishing Clam Gulch or Deep Creek and possibly a bit of a walk on a busy weekend from parking to where you are able to start finding clams.
Clam digging in Alaska can be a fun family adventure but we can not stress to you enough, please don’t harvest more than you can process and eat. One hour of clamming generally leads to 3-4 hours of work back at the house so keep that in mind! Also, please be respectful of others while you are out. Be a good example to your kids as to how to act and be grateful for what you do come out with. We are training a new generation to love Alaska not to be demanding and destructive. Lastly, send us your photos, as we are excited to hear and see how you do!