One of our favorite Alaskan activities is Digging razor clams! Alaska’s Razor Clams are commonly found along sandy beaches of Cook Inlet. They are the best tasting clams we have ever eaten and their meat has a succulent sweetness which is normally reserved for crabs.
Razor Clams are technically a marine bivalve mollusc, with a siphon, neck, foot and shell. Their shell is rather thin and range in size from your thumb to larger than a grown man’s hand. Razor Clams live on the sandy intertidal beaches of Cook Inlet in Southcentral Alaska. They are harvested on minus tides cycles and there are usually a few good days every month.
The State of the Clams
In recent years, Razor Clam populations on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula (east side of Cook Inlet) have been in a gradual state of decline. I’m no expert, but some say there were storms that disrupted the reproduction cycle while others will probably blame it on global warming. A local biologist would be able to give you a more accurate answer. Alaska Fish and Game has kept a close eye on the populations and put measures in place to protect the fishery. They started by reducing daily catch limits from 60 to 25, then closed some beaches, and currently razor clam digging is completely closed on the road system.
There is a place…
Not to worry, you can make a run across Cook Inlet to Polly Creek. Only being accessible by boat or plane has kept the clam beds healthy and bountiful. The best parts about going to Polly Creek are there is NO LIMIT and the clams are HUGE!
There are plenty of clamming beaches on the west side of Cook Inlet, but Polly Creek has been a local’s favorite for decades. People will fly in from all around Southcentral Alaska and Ninilchik is a popular launching point for boats.
There is a catch that can ruin your day at best and will kill you at worst, the tides. With a mean of 3o feet, Cook Inlet is home to the fourth largest tidal range in the world. That is a lot of water and it moves quick, the last place you want to be is stuck on the clam beds without a boat when the tide starts rolling back in.
Ninilchik is a small town on the Sterling Highway with a rich history. It’s hard to put into words, but Ninilchik has always been a happy place for us. The views are priceless, the beach is fun, and we can ride our ATV everywhere.
We have a couple of favorite places to camp in Ninilchik, Deep Creek State Recreation Area and Deep Creek View Campground. We love staying at both places, there is something nice about staying right on the beach, but having electricity and wifi is awesome.
John and Joan Smart own Deep Creek View Campground and J&J Smart Charters. We first met them in 2010, Rebecca and I were exploring the side roads of Ninilchik and stumbled upon an awesome campground up on the bluffs. The views are amazing and the rates are only a little higher than boondocking on the beach. They conveniently run fishing charters right from the campground and there are fish cleaning tables for the guests to use. This comes in handy when you have bucket loads of clams.
Ninilchik is also home to Salmonfest, an annual Alaskan music festival that takes over the fairgrounds and town. Our clamming trip was during Salmonfest and their campground was booked so we decided to stay down on the beach. Much to our surprise we found some of our blogging friends camping down there!
The following morning we met John down at the tractor launch and headed across the inlet. They use a unique method to launch boats in Ninilchik, a tractor hooks up to the trailer and backs the boat down the beach to launch the boat. The water dictates how fast you can make the run across the inlet, if its smooth boats will cruise at 30+ mph, if the water is choppy you might be bouncing along in the teens.
Once you drop anchor at the clam beds the waiting game begins. Minute by minute the landscape changes, I made a really cool time-lapse a couple of years ago. Before you know it, the boat is sitting high and dry on the beach. John sets out a ladder to make it easier to climb out of the boat and a rinsing bin to clean the sand off your clams.
Razor Clams taste great, but digging them is a workout and labor of love. We feel the work is well worth it, one trip yields enough meat to make amazing meals all year-long. If you have never gone clam digging before you will have to choose between a clam gun or a clam shovel, we use a gun. I don’t think one is better than the other, it all comes down to personal preference.
With our clam gun and buckets in hand we headed off looking for the show. The show is the mark or abnormality in the sand made by a clam indicating its location, most of the time it looks like a dimple, sometimes a crater, and others will squirt and pulse. Once you find a show you start digging. The gun has a handle with a little hole, line up the show with the clam gun and push it into the sand, cover up the hole on the handle to create a vacuum, then pull the gun and sand out of the hole, and repeat until you find the clam. Some clams are deep and some are shallow, some will even escape from you because they can dig pretty fast. Occasionally you will damage the clam while digging, make sure you keep it because it’s the law. Broken clams are completely edible, they just take a little longer to clean.
If it sounds like I am speaking a foreign language, we made a video of our experience.
Now the real work begins, cleaning them! Upon your return from a clam digging trip to Polly Creek you will have bucket loads of clams and they don’t clean themselves. It can be tedious, but when you combine it with your drink of choice and some good friends it almost becomes fun.
We blanch our clams in hot water to release them from the shells and then start cleaning. I’m not even going to try putting this part into words, Rebecca does a great job of showing you how to clean a razor clam in this video.
Yes, we have finally reached the best part of the day. After all that work digging and cleaning clams you get to reward yourself with eating them, we like to have a clam fry. We made a video of how we fry clams, but it is really easy.
- Drain standing water from clams.
- Season the clams, be creative!
- Dredge clams in flour.
- Dredge in beaten eggs.
- Dredge in a 50/50 mix of flour and crackers (Saltines Ritz, Pilot Bread, etc,).
- In a skillet, heat your oil of choice, place clams in skillet when oil is ready.
- Flip once when breading is nicely browned, clams cook fast and are usually cooked in perfect time with the breading.
- Remove to a plate with a towel when the other side has browned. Lightly sprinkle with a little sea salt at this time.
- Consume with your choice of dipping sauce; tartar, cocktail, or get creative with some mayonnaise.
There are certain experiences you really shouldn’t pass up [especially if you already live in Alaska] and finding your way out to Polly Creek is on that list. We would like to thank J&J Smart Charters for showing us a great time clam digging. If you are looking for a nice place to camp or would like to book a salmon, halibut, or clam digging charter across Cook Inlet give John and Joan a call, they are great people.
J&J Smart Charters
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