Clam Digging
A Rewarding Exercise

Clam digging can be a lot of fun. If you have kids with you on the vacation, they'll probably love it. What's more fun than getting wet and dirty - and getting a reward at the end!

And here's the good part. As with all fishing, anyone under 16 years of age doesn't need a license. So let the kids dig to their heart's content.

Alaska clam digging can be done by hand, with rakes, shovels or clam guns that you operate by hand. If you are 16 or over, get your Alaska fishing license and find out what all the current regulations are, as there is a daily limit for clam digging on Kenai Peninsula's clam beaches. If you go across to the west side of Cook Inlet, there are no limits.

Types of Clams in Alaska and their Growth:

I know of three types of Alaska clams that are good for eating and are available in a few different areas. The most well-known is the soft-shelled Razor Clam. Next is the hard-shelled Butter Clam, which can be found in Kachemak Bay at Homer and a few of the southeastern coastal areas. The last is the hard-shelled Littleneck Clams, also found in Kachemak Bay.

All clams live on algae that grows in the ocean, so that makes them good for eating. Some of this algae has also been known to cause severe poisoning. However, cases of poisoning from Cook Inlet razor clams are almost unheard of, and the south side of Kachemak Bay, where the other two are most prevalent is tested regularly.

Razor Clams - are oblong in shape. These soft shell clams have to be about 4 years old before they are a good size and they can live up to 18 years! In Cook Inlet, they reproduce sometime in late July or August because that's the only time that water might get as high as 55 ° F (12.78C).

Butter Clams - are more rounded in shape. Rounded clam shells are what you usually see pictures of. They have growth rings that go around the shell only.

Little Neck Clams - are also rounded in shape. In addition to the growth rings that go around them, they also have ridges that cross those growth rings. These are smaller in size.

Clothing for Clam Digging:

Alaska waters are extremely cold! The weather along it's beaches can be quite windy and cold even in July and August, the two warmest months of the year.

Wear high rubber boots, protective clothing, and rubber gloves would be helpful. Knee pads can be useful on the rocky beaches when digging Butter and Little Neck Clams.

Where to go Razor Clam Digging in Alaska:

The Kenai Peninsula of Alaska is considered to be one of the best places on the west coast of America for razor clam digging. And the best place on the Kenai Peninsula is on the beaches of Cook Inlet, along the 20 miles (32.19km) from Clam Gulch to Deep Creek. That's on the west side of the Sterling Highway, from about Mile 117, going south to Mile 137.

Bluffs at Clam Gulch
Photo of Clam Gulch Beach and Bluffs
Photo Courtesy of Angel

There are three State Recreation Areas along the way that give you easy access to the beaches, for razor clam digging. You can use an ATV along the beaches if you have one. Just remember that these beaches aren't just pure sand. They also have some clay mixed in at certain places. You could get stuck, so be alert. Also check the tide tables and watch for the tide to start coming in. It can come in fast and you want to be out of there before you get caught in it.

Clam Gulch Beach - got its name from the many thousands of razor clams harvested every year from the beaches next to the Clam Gulch State Recreation Area. At Mile 117, Sterling Higway, turn west onto Clam Gulch Road and drive about 1/2 mile (0.8km) to parking. It's about a 200 yard (182.9m) walk to the beach from the parking area.

Ninilchik Beach - is at mile 135 of the Sterling Highway. Another popular beach for razor clam digging. When the tide is out, you can get to the clamming beds which are located next to the campgrounds. Parking is available. When you do go out to dig clams, be sure you know how much time you have before the next tide comes in, and come back before it arrives. Tides come in quite rapidly and you can get stranded out there. The clamming sandbar is higher than that next to shore and you don't want to have to walk through that icy cold water!

Deep Creek Beach - At Mile 137.3, Sterling Highway. A campground and day use area are located along the beach where Deep Creek enters the ocean. A good spot for clam digging is from about a mile south of Deep Creek, going on down to Happy Valley.

How to do Razor Clam Digging:

First, you have to wait until the tide goes out (minus tide). Minus two feet to four feet is best. You should get a copy of the tide tables for the area you are in before going out to dig clams.

Razor clams can dig themselves down into the sand pretty fast. Cooler weather and dryer sand makes it easier to catch the clams before they can dig too deep.

You have to find them before you can dig them. So look for dimples or holes on the surface of the sand. That is where a clam has dug himself down. Since clams cannot move from side to side, but only go straight up or down, they will be directly below that dimple.

When you find a small depression in the sand, use a clam shovel to dig a hole about six inches from the dimple, keeping the blade vertical. Then dig sideways towards the dimple with your hand until you find the clam. Don't get closer with the shovel or you could break their shell and then cut your hand when trying to dig them out. Broken clams are also harder to clean.

Be sure to keep all razor clams no matter how big or small, or whether broken or not. That's part of the Alaska State Fishing Regulations. They all count toward your daily limit.

How to clean Razor Clams:

Don't dig more clams than you have time to clean, or more than you can use. They do take a bit of work. Use a sharp knife and kitchen shears.

Start by cutting the tissue that connects the clam to the shell, on each side. Remove the extra pieces of flesh sticking out from the body, then remove whole clam from shell. Cut the digging foot from the body of the clam. Then cut off the black tip of the neck (siphon) and throw it away. Split the foot and split open the siphon.

Butter Clams and Littleneck Clams:

The best area in Alaska to find these two types are the beaches on the south side of Kachemak Bay. This is across from Homer. There are a number of protected coves or bays that have a slightly gravelly beach surface. This makes them ideal for the Butter and Littleneck Clams.

Because commercial clamming is also done on these bays, they are constantly tested for shellfish poisoning. This is the only area that is tested regularly, so would be a safe area to harvest clams.

Photo Courtesy of
Isaac Wedin

You cannot reach these clamming beaches by road. Boating over from Homer is the best way to get to there.

Because these two types are hard shell clams, you don't have to be so careful as with the soft shell razors clams. However, there are size limits on them in some areas. Find out what the minimum size is for harvesting them, when you get your fishing license.

If you do accidentally dig up one that is too small, be sure you rebury it carefully, just as it was. Then it will continue to live and grow large enough to be harvested. These clams can't turn themselves around easily, so place them back in the hole with with the long edge pointing up (rounded tip pointing down). Refill the hole with the sand you dug out.

Butter Clams like the sandier but still somewhat gravelly beaches. They will generally be found from 6" (15.24cm) to 1' (0.3m) deep in the sand.

Little Neck Clams do well on the rockier beaches and will generally be found from just below the surface, down to 6" (15.24cm) deep.

Preparation after Clam Digging for Butters or Littlenecks:

Keep clams refrigerated with a damp cloth over them, if you are not eating them immediately. You don't want them to die. If the shells are not tightly closed, tap them lightly. They will snap shut if the clam is alive. If they don't snap shut, throw them away.

Do not store them in water, as this will damage or even kill them if it is fresh water. Cook these hard shell varieties in the shell.

That's all for Alaska clam digging, but there are other types of Alaska shellfish you might like to harvest...

Return to Top of Clam Digging Page

Return To Fishing in Alaska Page

Return to Tips for Backwoods Alaska Vacations Home Page