Minus tides prove bountiful

July 02, 2013 09:22 pm

A 12-clam limit of gaper clams and five bonus butter clams lay on the kelp after being dug out of the sand and rocks during a super minus tide on a beach north of Gold Beach. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
A 12-clam limit of gaper clams and five bonus butter clams lay on the kelp after being dug out of the sand and rocks during a super minus tide on a beach north of Gold Beach. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Anytime the tide is out people can be found on beaches up and down the Oregon coast with shovels, rakes and clam guns looking for a number of different clam species, but when the tide is a super minus tide like it was Sunday, Monday and Tuesday the 23, 24, 25 of June, the real gems of low tide expose themselves.

Gaper clams.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), minus tide is anytime the tide recedes below mean lower low water (MLLW) levels. Many tide books will have the minus tides printed in red for ease of understanding. 

A super minus tide happens when the moon, the sun and the earth all line up perfectly and the tides dip one foot or more below MLLW. 

The tides during the three-day period mentioned previously were at -2.1, -2.2 and -2.0, and exposed a boat load of rocky crevices and sandy areas perfect for gaper clams to hide.

Gaper clams, also known as blue, empire, horse and horseneck clams, are Oregon’s largest common clam and are delicious fried as steaks or in chowder.

Gaper clams attach themselves to rocks and do not dig like razor clams do, so when searching for dinner, slow and steady is going to yield a greater number of clams than quick shoveling will.

The easiest way to find gapers is to look for their show — a quarter-sized depression in the sand — and then dig down next to the show being careful to not lose track of it as while digging. After the hole is dug 14-18 inches deep, or more in some cases, move laterally through the sand to find the neck or the clam itself and pull it off the rock.

As sand gets pulled out of the hole it should be examined for butter clams which like to inhabit the same terrain as gapers and are delicious when steamed open and dipped in melted butter.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website the south coast is not a good place to go clamming.

“Chetco and Rogue river basins have high freshwater influence, and therefore no accessible bay clams,” the website states. “In some of the south coast’s rocky nearshore areas, littleneck and butter clams can be found under rocks and amongst gravel. Due to the tough terrain, very few clammers harvest on the rocky nearshore of the south coast.”

With patience and a knowledge of how gaper clams live though, dinner can be placed on the table for nothing more than the cost of $7 shellfish license and a little hard work.