Clam digging in Clam Gulch

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by stvchin on August 5, 2013

Clam Gulch is a State Recreation Area famous for razor clam digging. To get there, take the Sterling Highway South from Soldotna to Clam Gulch Road, by mile marker 117.5. There is a parking area at the end of the road, about half a mile down from the Sterling Highway. You do have to pay $5 for daily parking. The parking lot has bathrooms, a campground, and a picnic area.

It was a nice, warm, sunny day when we arrived at the Clam Gulch parking lot. Unfortunately for us, this meant that there were plenty of people there, and we had to circle around to find parking spaces. We found a nice space to park, got out our clamming gear and headed down a side walkway to the beach. Once off the path down from the parking lot, you’re walking mostly on sand, but there is a stretch of mud that makes it incredibly hard to walk. Use your bucket as a "third leg" in the mud.

Clamming gear usually means waders of some sort, a clam shovel or clam "gun" and a bucket. The clam gun is simply a tube you jam into the sand above a clam hole. Using suction, you pull out the entire core of sand what contains the clam and sift around what you pulled up until you find the clam. The shovel is a lot lighter to carry, and that’s what we had. Of course, always carry your valid Alaska fishing license with you.

When we got to the beach area, it was quite packed with people digging clams. Due to the sunny weather, and the very low tides, people had brought their entire families, including kids, and some had brought their dogs. This made it hard to find clam holes that people hadn’t already dug through. Clam Gulch is fairly picturesque. There are two large boulders sticking out of the sand that Clam Gulch is known for. On clear days, there are nice views across the Cook Inlet of ice and glacier covered Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt, both active volcanoes.

To be able to dig clams, you have to wait for low tide. There are tide books available online and where you buy the fishing license. I’d start digging an hour before low tide, and follow the tide out, then retreat a bit as it comes back in. Walk around on the beach near the water and look for the clam "show," which is a little hole in the sand the size of a drinking straw hole. That’s where the razor clam "breathes." Sometimes the shows get covered up with sand, and it looks like a little dimple. Once sighted, carefully approach the hole, as too many vibrations will alert the clam to dig deeper in order to flee.

They say to use the shovel to dig away from the clam. If you hit the clam with the shovel, you might break the shell, and these you must keep and count as part of your limit. They are still good to eat, but harder to clean. I usually dig beside the clam hole, in hopes of digging deeper than the clam, then using my hands to dig sideways to where the clam should be. I’ve seen people use the shovel to slowly skim away layers of sand from the surface. As they dig, they see if the show hole is still there. This seems to be a good way to keep from hitting the clams. Bear in mind that the sand is very loose, so this is nowhere near as strenuous as digging holes in your garden. The waterlogged beach sand eventually collapses in about 45 seconds to a minute, so there is a point of diminishing returns if you don’t get a clam right away.

Clam digging can be quite a fun activity, especially if you’re getting clams. I seemed to end up digging mostly empty holes. Out of maybe 100 holes dig, I only got 6 clams, including one that was not razor clam shaped. Overall, our catch was poor, as a group of 4, we only had 18 clams between us. With only 18 clams, we had fresh, homemade clam chowder, as you can mask the amount of clams with other ingredients.

I hear people say that Clam Gulch is way too crowded and dug up. Plus the parking fee and inconvenience of the longer walk make Ninilchik a better clamming destination, even though it’s 18 miles further down Sterling Highway. We usually clam dig in Ninilchik, but we simply wanted to try Clam Gulch as we hadn’t been there for over a decade. I think next time, we’ll go back to clamming in Ninilchik. There was an Alaska Department of Fish and Game report that clam counts were low on the east side of the Cook Inlet, where Clam Gulch and Ninilchik are located. I’m hoping the clam digging will be much better next year when we return.
Clam Gulch State Recreation Area
Mile 117.5 Sterling Highway
Clam Gulch

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