If you're a fan of razor clams, the coming of extreme low tides is cause for celebration, especially on the northern Oregon coast.
These large surf clams are considered a delicacy at fine restaurants serving Pacific Northwest cuisine, but they are yours for the taking ... if you have a shellfish license, a clam shovel or clam gun, and some know-how. (For other types of Oregon clamming, see: Best Clamming Bays in Oregon.)
By far the largest population of razor clams in Oregon is located on the wide beaches from Seaside north to the Columbia River's South Jetty west of Astoria. (Similar razor clam populations are located north of the Columbia in Washington.)
Razor clams like the sand type and the fact that the beaches here have been very stable since the construction of the Columbia's jetties during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The remainder of Oregon's coast has pockets of razor clam populations that some years can offer good clamming. These beaches shift more and aren't as consistent for razor clamming as northern Clatsop County.
Several of the spring and early summer tides can be extremely low, which coupled with often-moderate conditions allows clammers to get to razors usually covered by pounding surf. Therefore, those are the most popular times to dig and the beaches from Seaside northward are covered with clammers.
Razor clams leave a "show" in the sand. This telltale sign is a small hole or dimple in the sand about the size of a small button. It can be revealed more clearly by pounding the handle of your clam shovel on the sand while you scan the beach in front of your feet as you walk along just above the water line.
The daily limit of razor clams is the first 15 (regardless of size or condition) that you dig. Diggers who are at least 14 years old must have a shellfish license, and all diggers must dig their own clams and keep them in their own container or bag. You may not possess more than one daily limit.
Razor clamming is closed north of Tillamook Head from July 15 through Sept. 30. The remainder of Oregon beaches south of Tillamook Head are open year-round, unless a temporary closure is enacted due to shellfish toxins.
For more information about razor clamming in Oregon, check out this Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife flyer.
Clatsop County Beaches
The 18 miles of beach stretching north from Tillamook Head (at the southern end of Seaside) north to the jetty west of Astoria are typically reliable -- and often outstanding -- for razor clamming. In a good year, this long stretch of sand can produce more than 2 million clams for recreational diggers.
Access is available at many points along this sandy stretch, although it takes a little more effort in the northern section, an area that includes Fort Stevens State Park. The middle sections include Sunset and Del Ray beaches, both state recreation sites. Next come the beach towns of Gearhart and Seaside, with plenty of public beach access.
Some years the clam populations vary by location. For example, the class of clams that will be 3 to 4 inches long in 2012 (and bigger in 2013) is stronger both in the south near Seaside and to the north of the wreck of the Peter Iredale (Fort Stevens State Park) than it is between those two ends.
Most clams harvested by recreational diggers are 1 to 3 years old, although Hunter said they can live up to 6 years in this region. Larvae typically set down in the sand in late summer, which is why the most popular Oregon beaches (everything north of Tillamook Head) are closed to harvest for much of the summer (July 15-Sept. 30).
Driving on the beach is allowed in some areas on the coastline, including parts of Clatsop County. The areas are marked, although a four-wheel drive would be a good idea in some of those spots due to soft sand. Driving on the beach is not allowed in all areas, including Seaside (where it's easy to walk to the surf).
More Oregon Razor Clamming Beaches
- Newport area: Agate Beach and South Beach can be pretty good for razor clamming most years, although clam populations fluctuate.
- Coos Bay area: North Spit and Bastendorff Beach (either side of Coos Bay entrance) and Whiskey Run Beach (north of Bandon) can all have reasonably good razor clamming.
- Other areas: Beaches (and nearby cities) where you might have success digging razor clams some years include Indian and Cannon Beaches (Cannon Beach); Short Sands Beach (Manzanita); Cape Meares Beach (Tillamook); Waldport Beach (Waldport); North Umpqua Spit (Reedsport); and Meyers Creek Beach (Gold Beach).
For current regulations, consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's annual regulations booklet or website.