Gearhart: Digging for razor clams a Northwest pastime

Road Journals Blog—Razor clams are tasty little critters, abundant for the taking on the beaches of Gearhart—provided you know how to catch them. In long oval shells shining in the colors of wet driftwood and kelp with a tuber-like head poking out the end, clams dig fast and are tricky to trap.

Local devotion to tracking them down is fierce. Small bands of people, bundled in raincoats and long boots to protect against driving wind and rain, hit the beach as early as 4 a.m., shovels in hand, to gather up bounty. Lanterns light their path.


A freshly dug razor clam | Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

Razor clams are tasty little critters, abundant for the taking on the beaches of Gearhart—provided you know how to catch them. In long oval shells shining in the colors of wet driftwood and kelp with a tuber-like head poking out the end, clams dig fast and are tricky to trap.

Local devotion to tracking them down is fierce. Small bands of people, bundled in raincoats and long boots to protect against driving wind and rain, hit the beach as early as 4 a.m., shovels in hand, to gather up bounty. Lanterns light their path.

If this sort of thing sounds appealing, you can do it yourself. Start by procuring a $15 clamming license from Bud’s Campground (4412 Highway 101 N.; 503-738-6855). Clam guns—not actual guns but pieces of pipe with handles, designed to suck up cylinders of sand (clams included) from the beach—are also available for rent here.

Avid clammers can also buy clam shovels (distinguished by their very narrow heads), bags (to lug your clam booty), belts (on which to clip the bags), boots (tall and waterproof), and how-to and tide books.

Bill Roady, the owner of Bud’s, says to “go out an hour or two before low tide to get the best catch, and make sure you’re looking at the Pacific beach tides, not the tides of the Columbia River.”

An easy way to find your quarry is to look for groups of like-minded people already on the beach. Stomp on the sand, or hit it with your clam gun or shovel. When a dime- or quarter-sized indentation appears, there’s a clam underneath. Act fast, before the clam has time to dig. Dig or push your clam gun into the sand and scoop it out.


They've been at it a long time: razor clam diggers, 1912 | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

If you don’t reach the clam on first try, you’re required to search around in the sand in that spot to make sure you didn’t hit your clam target; hitting a clam can break its shell and fatally injure it. (This is an admittedly odd piece of legislation to protect an animal which would otherwise have been sucked up by a clam gun and subsequently cooked and eaten.) The 15-clam limit includes those whose shells have been broken by careless clammers.

The reward for all this is a bag full of fresh clams, still scented with seawater and ready to cook. There are many recipes for razor clams; one of my favorites comes from Kevin Walter, the talented chef at Gearhart’s Pacific Way Bakery and Café.

Note: Clamming in the Gearhart area is prohibited from July 15 to Sept. 30, and on red tide days when the Oregon Department of Agriculture deems the levels of toxins unsafe for shellfish consumption.

Cashew Razor Clams

From Kevin Walter

Serves Two

  • 4 fresh cleaned razor clams. It is worth the effort to use a meat tenderizer on the necks.
  • 1 cup All-purpose flour seasoned with salt & pepper.
  • 2 eggs, beaten.
  • 1 cup chopped roasted cashews (pecans, hazelnuts, or pistachios can also work).
  • 1 cup panko, Japanese-style bread crumbs.

In three separate bowls set up:

  1. Seasoned flour
  2. Beaten eggs
  3. Cashews and panko mixed

Pat the razor clams dry with paper towels. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in eggs briefly; allow to drain. Finally, coat with cashew mixture, gently pressing to adhere.

Place clams on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet and refrigerate for an hour or two. This will enable the breading to set up.

Heat a large skillet on medium-high. Coat the bottom with a layer of olive or vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering and just starting to smoke, place the clams in a single layer and fry for about one minute. Turn with tongs and do the same for the other side, until golden brown. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve.

These are great served as is or with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Amara Holstein wrote about Gearhart for the March/April 2011 Oregon edition of VIA.

This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.