Best Fishing in Oregon
Bay Clamming Bays on the Oregon Coast
Photo courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Oregon’s coast is home to numerous bays where, given favorable tides, recreational diggers often can easily harvest a limit of clams.
Many bay clammers prefer to harvest butter, cockle and gaper clams, which are found in the best numbers in Oregon’s top four clamming bays, listed below along with some other bay clamming options.
(Note: For beach clamming, see: Oregon’s Best Razor Clamming Beaches.)
Combined with littleneck and the very rare (in Oregon) Geoduck clams, the limit for these species is 20 per day. Only 12 may be gapers or Geoducks.
Softshell clams and purple varnish clams are very numerous in many Oregon bays and make a nice chowder, but these days fewer clammers target them. The most common of these species are not native to Oregon, but there are some native species among them. The daily limit for these clam species is 36, except diggers may now keep 72 purple varnish clams.
If unbroken, diggers may return butter, cockle, purple varnish and littleneck clams to their digging area so they can “high grade” to a limit of larger clams. With other species, including gapers, you must keep the first ones you dig up to your limit.
All clammers who are at least 14 years old need a shellfish license, and all clammers must dig their own clams and place them in their own separate container. You can’t have more than a day’s limit in your possession while in clamming areas.
Depending on species and the composition of the bay floor where you are clamming, you can use shovels or possibly a clam gun. Rakes are popular for gathering cockles.
For more information about bay clamming in Oregon, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s bay clam pages.
Justin Ainsworth, shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, helped with this article and also helped us select …
Oregon’s Best Clamming Bays (listed north to south):
The Garibaldi Flats on the west edge of town are one of the more popular clamming areas in Oregon, easily reached from a public parking area off 12th Street. You might bring a pitchfork along with your shovel to gather butter, cockle and gaper clams from this rocky area. This location is best in a strong minus tide.
Hobsonville Point, which sticks out just south of the Miami River, is another easily accessed location for shore-bound clammers. You’ll find mostly butter clams here. Or walk up the Bay Ocean trail from the southwest side of the bay to get to additional clam flats holding a variety of species.
Boaters will find additional access to parts of these and other clamming areas for butter, cockle, gaper and softshell clams in a number of locations across the North Coast’s largest estuary.
For more details, check out Tillamook Bay Fishing, Crabbing and Clamming.
Despite being a favorite clamming bay within easy reach of the majority of Oregon’s population, Netarts Bay southwest of Tillamook continues to produce regular limits of a variety of favorite bay clams, especially butters and gapers.
Clamming is easy at Netarts, and you can even do fairly well here even when tides don’t get into minus territory, Ainsworth said.
There is a popular spot to gather both types of clams (with more gapers) on the north side of Netarts, accessed from Crab Avenue just off the road to Oceanside.
Another good spot is located along the shore at the south side of town, just off Netarts Bay Drive near the mouth of Rice Creek. This area has a mix of gaper and butter clams.
In both of the above spots, you’ll be digging around a lot of rocks. A heavy-tined garden fork will help, along with a shovel.
Additional areas south on Netarts Bay Drive and Whiskey Creek Road also are quite good for a variety of clams, including littleneck clams north of Whiskey Creek Cafe.
Boaters will find additional access to prime clamming on the west side of the channel.
For more information on the great shellfishing here, read Netarts Bay Clamming, Crabbing and Fishing.
Yaquina Bay at Newport isn’t as good as some of the other top bays for butter clams, but it’s a very good spot to gather gaper clams as well as cockles.
A popular area for those two clam varieties is on the south side of the bay, from the shoreline on either side of Yaquina Bay Bridge and up the bay to the marina area. Get there from the South Jetty Road or Rogue Brewery, and bring a shovel for gapers and a rake for cockles. This area is best during a good minus tide.
Up the bay, the Idaho Flats area near Hatfield Marine Science Center on the south side of the bay has a variety of clam species. On the north side of the bay, the wide flats around what’s known as Sally’s Bend, east of downtown Newport, run soft but hold butter, cockle and littleneck clams.
The upper bay along Yaquina Bay Drive or South Bay Road is accessible on foot in spots and also by boat. This is softshell clamming territory.
This is Oregon’s largest bay, with widespread clam beds, mostly used by local clammers but also known to shellfish lovers from elsewhere from southern Oregon to Eugene.
Coos Bay is particularly good for butter clams, Ainsworth said.
Some of the best spots can be found along the west side of South Slough, in Charleston, and along Cape Arago Highway from Charleston north to Empire. Both areas have good walk-in access for all of the most popular bay clam species.
There also are quite productive clamming grounds on the bay side of North Spit, reached by a boat ride across the bay (across and up the bay from Charleston or across and down the bay from Empire). You also can get to these clam beds taking a four-wheel-drive vehicle down the spit and then walking in to the digging area.
Softshell clams are common in the upper bay, with walk-in flats near Highway 101 or East Bay Drive.
More Oregon Clamming Bays
The following areas have fair to good clamming, especially for softshell varieties. Some of them also have small populations of other varieties popular with clammers who take time to learn the areas.
- Seaside: There are some softshell clams in the Necanicum estuary at this popular beach town.
- Wheeler: Nehalem Bay has good populations of softshell and purple varnish clams, with a modest number of butter clams along the shore just north of Brighton Marina. More: Nehalem Bay Fishing, Crabbing and Clamming.
- Pacific City: The Nestucca Bay has good softshell clamming in the upper area off Brooten Road.
- Lincoln City: Siletz Bay has primarily softshell clams, including a recent influx of purple varnish clams near Highway 101 in the Schooner Creek area, a favorite spot to pump sand shrimp for bait. You don’t even need a very low tide to get to these non-native clams.
- Waldport: You can find some cockles and gapers on the south side, west of Highway 101 near the interpretive center, or tucked in on the bay side of the spit off Bayshore Drive. Softshells dominate the wide flats east of the marina.
- Florence: Rake cockles and perhaps dig a few gapers from Siuslaw Bay on the north end of town, inland from the north jetty. Softshells are located on the big flats east of Highway 101.
- Winchester Bay: You’ll find some gaper clams on the south side, just down-bay from the Winchester Bay Marina, plus softshells up the Umpqua River’s estuary near Gardiner and Reedsport.
- Bandon: The Coquille River estuary’s tidal flats near the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge offer good softshell clamming.
Note: The Columbia, Rogue and Chetco river estuaries tend to have too much fresh water to support good bay clam populations.
For current regulations, consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual regulations booklet or website.