How to Catch Hard Clams Around Chincoteague Island
Catching wild hard clams, also known as quahogs, is a fun way to enjoy a day on the water. The activity takes very little skill and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. A few simple items are all that are needed to catch hard clams around Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island.
Before a clamming trip, enthusiasts will need to do a little planning and go over their checklist. Checking tides is important as most clamming around the islands can only be done at low tide. Checking the weather forecast before beginning a trip is important, making note of any impending weather, especially if boating is involved. Another pre-trip task is to check for local clam harvesting regulations, restrictions or closures.
It is a good idea to pack light, but have essentials on hand. Depending on the season and weather, these may include only light clothing or a few layers of warm apparel. For cool weather, clammers may choose to bring waterproof gloves or cotton work gloves. Boots are also important for cool weather clamming as well as in areas where sharp objects are common. Regardless of the season, a hat, sunglasses and sun block are also beneficial.
Equipment is simple and inexpensive. For digging or "signing" clams, a bucket or mesh bag and a gardener's hand rake may be all that is needed. Serious clammers may choose to purchase a more extensive set of clamming tools, but the simple hand rake will do for beginners. Other options include a New England style hand rake which is longer, or a full sized 4 tined rake. For clammers that work in deeper water, a special rake is needed, or for those that have the talent, clams can be located with nothing more than an old pair of sneakers and swimwear.
Many clamming areas are accessible by foot, while others require a boat to reach. A good way to find clamming areas is to visit tackle shops, hardware stores or talk to local fishermen and boaters. Several charter boat captains and guides offer clamming trips. To sign clams effectively, harvesters need access to large areas of exposed sand or water that is just inches deep. The best days to sign clams occur when there are very low tides, which only occur at certain times of the month.
Most productive clam beds for signing are found in areas of flat or gently sloping sand or mud. When scouting potential clamming areas, it is good to work in a group, covering a large area. Experienced clammers scan the flats while walking, looking for the telltale "keyhole" that indicates a buried clam. During high tides, clams move vertically in the substrate to feed. As the tides recede, they bury deeper, eventually settling down about an inch beneath the sand. To breathe, they expel water which makes a small hole in the sand or mud. On sandy bottoms, the hole may not form the distinctive keyhole shape that is seen in muddy areas.
On a falling tide, these holes may sometimes be found in areas that are still covered by water. Other holes may be in areas that are totally above the waterline. Besides the shape of the hole, a clam may be indicated by a squirt of water, or by seeing the mud or silt expelled while exploring the shallows and tide pools. Not all holes belong to hard clams, as a variety of sea creatures also bury in the bottom to feed. Experience helps and once clams are found, enthusiasts quickly to learn to recognize the clam "signs" and to tell which holes to pass up.
Once a clam breathing hole is found, a few scrapes with a tool is usually all that is needed. The metal tine makes a distinctive ring when it contacts a clam. Harvesters then dig and lift the prize from the bottom, rinse it off and store it before moving on. As a clammer or small group begins to find clams, it is usually worthwhile to note where the clams are found in relation to the shoreline. In some cases, most clams will be caught right near the water's edge. Other times, clams will sign better farther up the towards the high tide mark.
Time flies as harvesters pluck their quarry from the mud and soon the catch begins to pile up. It is a good idea to pay attention to time while clamming, especially when boating. More than one happy clammer has lost track of time and looked back to find their boat unable to move until the next tide returns. Another reason to pause is to re-apply sunblock, catch one's breath and get a drink of water.
For raking clams in the shallows, a clam rake is best, the type that has a cage in which the clams fall. When raking or wading clams, some people rig a basket inside a tire inner tube, which is then tied to the clammer's waist. Raking and wading can be done almost anywhere that sandbars or other shallow areas are found.
After gathering clams, they should be rinsed well and stored out of the sun. In cool weather, clams are tolerant of being out of the ocean, but as temperatures go up, clammers need to be more aware of handling procedures. Clams should always be kept out of the sun for long periods and kept most and cool. During hot weather, it may be necessary to bring a cooler with a small closed container of ice. The idea is to chill the clams without shocking them or allowing them to submerge in ice water, which could kill them.Hard Clam Sizes
Littleneck: approximately 1" in diameter, 10-13 per pound
Middleneck: approximately 1.25 " in diameter, 7-9 per pound
Topneck: approximately 1.5" in diameter, 5-7 per pound
Cherrystone: approximately 2" in diameter, 3-4 per pound
Chowder Clams: Any size greater than 2"
Submitted by: cin