The demise of Long Island's commercial hard clam industry has been well documented, but enough of the tasty, hard-shell bivalves remain to ensure that recreational shellfishing fans can have fun rounding them up. With summer's heat unrelenting, digging for a bountiful harvest has added appeal as you can always enjoy a refreshing dip in the bay.
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
Treading, scratch raking and donkey raking - all of which can be accomplished without a boat - are popular recreational clamming techniques.
Treading Shuffle across the bottom, digging your toes into the sand when 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. Basket rakes are sold at sporting goods, hardware and general stores.
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.
Most towns require an inexpensive recreational shellfish permit (usually less than $10). These are available from the town clerk's office and often include a map of local shellfishing waters, plus rules and regulations. See a summary of size and catch limit regulations on the outdoor activities page of the DEC's website (www.dec.ny.gov)
WHERE TO GO
Think sandbars and shallow flats in bay or harbor waters. Not all waters are open to shellfishing, so be sure to gather clams and other shellfish from certified waters. Such areas are noted on maps provided with clamming permits. Before heading out, always check for temporary closures due to pollution, storm runoff and such by calling 631-444-0480.
Recreational clammers may take up to 100 clams per day on state and county waters, but all must measure at least 1 inch thick at the hinge. No permits are required to take clams from state and county waters, including:
ACCESS Dune Road
FEE $9 parking 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Consistently good clamming on Moriches Bay. Path to bay is at the northwest end of the parking lot.
CEDAR POINT PARK, EAST HAMPTON
ACCESS Montauk Highway
Decent clamming in Northwest Harbor is available directly in front of the parking lot.
ACCESS North Country Road
Easy access to prime clamming waters on Long Island Sound
CHANDLER ESTATE COUNTY PARK, MOUNT SINAI
ACCESS Mount Sinai Harbor via Old Country Road
Both hard clams and steamer clams are available.
OTHER CLAMMING HOT SPOTS
Hobart Beach and Sand City, Huntington
Mount Sinai Harbor
Port Jefferson Harbor
Ponquogue Flats, Shinnecock Bay
Dam Pond, Peconic Bay
Short Beach, Noyack Bay
Sandy areas are easy to dig and provide clean, appealing clams.
Low tide is usually best. Catch an ebbing tide on the full or new moon when the water reaches its lowest point and exposes areas that are otherwise too deep to prospect.
Stow your catch in a mesh net, bushel basket, bucket or cooler. Keep clams damp, but do not allow them to sit in standing water or they may deplete the oxygen and suffocate.
Serious clammers should consider using a cull rack, available at commercial fishing supply stores, to sort legal clams from seeds (baby clams that must be returned to the water).
For donkey raking, a bushel basket wedged in a tire inner tube makes a great clam holder. The tube keeps the basket upright and afloat. Use a short length of rope to tie it to your waist so it doesn't drift off with the tide.
Clams are divided by size with the smallest most tender and sweet.
SEEDS Those that are less than one inch thick across at the back (hinge) of the shell are called seeds and must be returned.
LITTLE NECKS These measure greater than 1 inch at the hinge and up to 2.25 inches across the shell at the widest point. These are highly prized for eating raw, steaming, grilling and clam bakes.
CHERRYSTONES These clams, 2.25 to 3 inches across the shell, can be eaten raw or served in chowder, but are preferred for baked clams.
CHOWDER CLAMS Greater than 3 inches across the shell, these can be used for baked clams but are best offered in soups and chowders, or sliced into thin strips to be breaded and fried.
Never eat shellfish that die before cooking (open shells will not close).
Avoid areas with slippery rocks, muddy bottoms or deep water nearby.
Wear water shoes or old sneakers to protect against broken shells and occasional bottom debris - even when treading.
Water-resistant sunblock may help you avoid overexposure.
Youngsters should always wear a life vest in and around the water.
Long-sleeve shirts and sweatpants defeat jellyfish.