Ah, to savor the salty, sweet, delicate juices of a hard-shell clam.

Served raw on the half-shell, baked, fried, chowdered or even in spaghetti sauce, this is the shellfish most familiar to Long Island palates. It comes packaged naturally in a sturdy limestone container with just enough seawater to keep alive the tender contents that so perfectly complement a cold drink on a hot summer day.

Although the glory days of Long Island’s commercial clamming industry drew to a close decades ago, recreational clammers still pursue the tasty bivalves. Cruise the coast and you’ll spot them here and there, digging at low tide on shallow flats in bays and harbors.

TREASURE HUNTS

However great those clams must taste, true bliss lies in the journey.

“It’s the chance to spend quality time with family and friends that seals the deal,” says Stephen Curti, 50, of St. James, who works in the bio-tech field and digs for clams in various North Shore harbors. “My kids, especially, love clamming because it’s like being on a treasure hunt. The clams are the main prize, but we have fun discovering starfish, horseshoe crabs, sponges and a host of tiny sea creatures while digging on the flats.”

Stacey Kruk-Damiano says clamming runs in her blood because her father was a bayman. “Growing up, I went with my dad,” says the graphic designer, 42, from Cutchogue. “Now I take my entire family. We gather clams for barbecues and get-togethers. Often, the time spent digging up dinner turns out to be the highlight of the day.”

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Reed Riemer, 65, a window-cleaning contractor from Merrick, truly enjoys the hunt. “I like to explore the shallows of western Great South Bay and find my own food,” he says. “Poking around on shallow flats and discovering where the clams are hiding — it’s sweet satisfaction to gather some up.”

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Treading, scratch raking and donkey raking — all of which can be accomplished without a boat — are the most popular recreational clamming techniques. Each is easy to learn but takes time to master. (Note that the use of clam rakes may be prohibited in some areas for fear they might damage sensitive sea grass beds.)

Treading Just shuffle across the bottom, digging your toes into the sand if you feel bumps underfoot. When your toes push up against a buried clam, simply bend down and pick it up.

Scratch raking Dig the tines of a small basket rake into the bottom and pull at an angle that allows clams to roll up into the cage. Combine treading and scratch raking by using your feet to locate clams and the rake to dig them up. Inexpensive basket rakes are sold at sporting goods, hardware and general stores.

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Donkey raking Pull a commercial clam rake — known as a bull rake — in waist-deep water so the tines dig fully into the bottom. This is the most productive — and exhausting — way to clam on foot. Bull rakes are available at commercial fishing stores.

SECRETS OF THE PROS

Just about every recreational clammer has a theory about how to maximize a catch. Curti, for example, suggests raking lightly across the surface of the sea floor when the weather is warm and digging a little deeper during cooler periods. He prefers to prospect in a rough sand substrate as opposed to muddy bottom.

Riemer likes to explore close to marsh edges, around isolated rocks or close to shore in ankle- to knee-deep water. These are places, he says, other clammers overlook.

Kruk-Damiano emphasizes the importance of timing the tide. She arrives at dead low water so more shallow areas are apparent. “You can really exploit this theme on a new or full moon,” she adds. “Tide changes then are most dramatic, so the flats are really exposed.”

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Gary Grunseich, who manages Silly Lily Fishing Station in East Moriches, encourages those renting the shop’s fishing skiffs to incorporate clamming into their day. “With a skiff or kayak, you can take a break from fishing, pull up on a sand bar and clam areas that aren’t worked often because they can’t be reached from shore. That’s a great way to gather a seafood buffet.”

All four experienced clammers agree on one point: Don’t harvest more than you need.

“You’d be surprised how many clams can be gathered in a couple of hours,” says Grunseich. “But how many can you eat? How many do you really want to open? It’s always a good idea to leave a few for next time.”

WHERE THE CLAMS ARE

As a rule, recreational clamming is best in shallow waters where the tide draws down to thigh-deep or less. Sandbars and shallow flats in bay or harbor waters are ideal clam habitat. Most areas surrounding marinas are closed to clamming.

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Observing other clammers having success is a sure sign you’ve stumbled upon a spot worth investigating — but leave plenty of space between yourself and others as crowding is considered bad form in this laid-back sport.

Permits are not required to take clams from state and county waters, including the places listed below:

Cupsogue Beach County Park, Westhampton

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Consistently good clamming on Moriches Bay. Path to bay is at the northwest end of the parking lot.

FEE $16 ($9 with Green Key pass) for parking 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Cedar Point Park, East Hampton

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Decent clamming in Northwest Harbor is available directly in front of the parking lot

FEE None

Cordwood Landing County Park, Miller Place

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Easy access to prime clamming waters on Long Island Sound.

FEE None

WHERE THE CLAMS ARE

As a rule, recreational clamming is best in shallow waters where the tide draws down to thigh-deep or less. Sandbars and shallow flats in bay or harbor waters are ideal clam habitat. Most areas surrounding marinas are closed to clamming.

Observing other clammers having success is a sure sign you’ve stumbled upon a spot worth investigating — but leave plenty of space between yourself and others as crowding is considered bad form in this laid-back sport.

Permits are not required to take clams from state and county waters, including the places listed below:

Cupsogue Beach County Park, Westhampton

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Consistently good clamming on Moriches Bay. Path to bay is at the northwest end of the parking lot.

FEE $16 ($9 with Green Key pass) for parking 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Cedar Point Park, East Hampton

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Decent clamming in Northwest Harbor is available directly in front of the parking lot

FEE None

Cordwood Landing County Park, Miller Place

CLAMMING POTENTIAL Easy access to prime clamming waters on Long Island Sound.

FEE None