Of the many recreational opportunities, few rival the memories and fun that a day spent “clamming” can bring to your family. The east side of Cook Inlet has a healthy population of Pacific razor clams, referred to simply as “razors” by the locals. The activity is fairly simple and inexpensive. All you need are a sport fishing license, a bucket, a clam shovel, waterproof boots and clothing that can withstand a little mud.
There are thought to be eight major concentrations of razor clams on the Pacific Coast. Oregon and Washington each have one, British Columbia has two with Alaska boasting four. Of these, four areas, the eastern shore of Cook Inlet is considered the most accessible and popular, and supports the states largest sport and personal use razor clam fishery in the state.
The most concentrated populations of razor clams can be found on a 50-mile area between the Kasilof and Anchor rivers. Clam Gulch, most obviously, is the first location many people head towards when the tide books indicate a “minus” tide window during the main clamming season. While clams can legally be harvested throughout the year, April – September are the main months that digging occurs. Early summer is considered the prime harvest period for razor clams on the Kenai Peninsula, so as to avoid the July- August spawning period.
Clam Gulch is located 20 miles south of Soldotna, and the Clam Gulch State Recreation Area draws visitors with a day use parking and overnight camping area located on the bluff overlooking the inlet. An access road allows people to drive four wheel drive or all-terrain vehicles to the beach. (Note that two-wheel drive vehicles should NEVER be taken onto any Alaskan beach. Even with properly equipped vehicles, drivers should stay high above the tide line. Much of the shoreline, particularly at low tide, contains pockets of extremely muddy glacial silt that can stop even the best of rigs. When the tide turns, your mired-down vehicle will be engulfed and will be a total loss!)
Other popular access areas include Ninilchik Beach and Deep Creek to the south. In addition to outstanding views of Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range, many species of shorebirds can be seen while walking along the beach.
Razor clams can be found be first identifying a dimple, or small depression left on the surface of the wet sand that are created from the clam’s neck as it is withdrawn. A couple quick scoops of sand dug away using a clam shovel beside the dimple will reveal the clam, which is then pulled up from the sand. When digging, the clam will use its foot to pull its self deeper in the sand to rebury its self, so working quickly is crucial. It is important to remember that the shells are quite sharp, hence the name “razor”. When digging, one should be careful not to dig too close to the dimple or the clam will be damaged. Diggers are required to retain all razor clams regardless of size or broken shells. Clams with broken shells are slightly more difficult to clean, but it will not affect their eating quality. (see Evy's Clam Chowder recipe below!)
Refer the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish for a useful harvest guide, and more importantly, a step by step cleaning guide. Experienced clammers will tell you that cleaning their harvest of razor clams is the least enjoyable part of the day, but the savory chowders and fried clams are well worth the effort.
Complete online tide information can be found at: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/boating/tides.htm Generally a minus tide of -2.0 or greater are suggested to adequately expose the clam beds.
Here is a story about some folks enjoying a low tide at Clam Gulch.
Gear you will need to go clamming for razors: State of Alaska Sport Fishing License, a Clam Shovel (Available in the Soldotna area at Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware & Fishing, or Fred Meyer, or in Kenai at Three Bears) rubber boots (Actually waders are a good idea as you will be on your knees to pull the clams from the silty glacial sand) heavy rubber gloves are also a good idea - there is a reason they are called "razor clams".
Clam Chowder (Evy Gebhardt)
4 slices of bacon, minced
1 large onion, chopped
3 raw carrots, grated
¼ teaspoon crushed thyme
Approx 4 cups chopped clams (save the clam “nectar” that pools with the clams to add later)
¼ cup butter
3 good sized potatoes, boiled and cubed
1 small can corn
4 cups milk (or half & half) plus 1 cup of the reserved clam nectar
½ cup instant mashed potatoes or flour for thickening
Salt, pepper (black or cayenne)
Saute onion in bacon until translucent, add carrots and thyme. Add clams and butter, sauté just until butter melts. Gently add cubed potatoes, corn, milk, and clam juice. Continue stirring and bring to a slow boil. Add instant mashed potatoes to thicken and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.