Monday, June 13, 2005

Summer Clamming

Our late spring has thrown a kink in the usual fish schedule I've come to rely on. By May 1 the water temps in the ocean are usually in the low 70's, drawing the fish from the more southern states close to our beaches and the fishing kicks into high gear. This year was the coldest May on record and on Memorial Day weekend the beach water was a frigid 68 degrees-12 full degrees below the norm. The warm water finally pushed into the area in the last couple of weeks and now we're at 82 degrees in the surf and in the high 80's in the sounds and creeks-salty bathwater. Since the fish weren't in a cooperative mood, I would grab my trusty clam rake and try to scrape a few mollusks off the bottom of the Newport River instead. It's a pastime I came to late in life (last year at age 49) and attempted only because I felt foolish when folks asked me if I had ever been and I had to say "no." A friend told me of his friend who made custom clam rakes using stainless steel knife blades-the rakes were so good that you could drag the rake with one hand and drink a beer with the other-that was all it took to sell me on the rake. I bought it for $100.00 and I'm glad I did because the guy split up from his wife soon after that and she got all the clam rake shit in the divorce-no more custom clam rakes!
I had absolutely no idea what to do so I checked the web, found a few articles and also found out that clammers are about as tight-lipped as the clam itself. A good clam spot is as prized as a good trout hole and not given up lightly. I bought a couple of books and got the basic idea but really had no clue where to look locally when we set out for the first time. All I knew was to go at low tide and find a mud flat. Jane and I took off up the the Newport River, which really is nothing like a river-just a large shallow bay bisected by the 12 foot deep dredged channel that makes up the intracoastal waterway, and veered off to the left before entering Adams Creek. It was low tide and I guided the boat toward a mud shoal near the shore. Before we got to it, the skeg hit bottom and the boat dragged to a stop. We got out and took the rake and clam basket onto the shoal and began raking in the hard mud. It was pretty tiring work, nothing as easy as my friend had told me-I was anticipating the rake gliding through the mud as I threw down a cold beer. Hell this was as bad a weeding a damn garden. We clinked up a couple of small cherrystone clams but the yield did not match the effort. Shortly the tide came in and covered the shoal and I thought our clamming window had passed. The boat had drifted into some deeper water-2 feet-and was now a couple hundred feet away. Dejected we sloggged throught the water toward the boat, the rake dragged behind us. I noticed that when the water covered the mud flat, the rake was easily pulled because the mud was softer. Not a couple minutes later the rake hit a large hard object-not the tell-tale "clink" that the books speak of but more like a garden hoe hitting a boulder. I dug the rake in behind it, scooped it up, turned the basket over to wash away the mud and feasted my eyes on the largest clam I had ever seen-the thing weighed about 10 ounces and was as big as a softball- a chowder clam of immense proportions.
That beast was followed shortly by another and another. We would hit one with the rake and at the same time feel one beneath our feet. The best depth was about a foot of water. I gave Jane the rake and she filled her pockets until her pants almost fell off. I crawled around on my hands and knees in the soft mud using my hands and feet and shins to locate more clams. They were everywhere and we filled a laundry basket with them. It was so addicting we had to force ourselves to stop. Those clams were steamed, fried, made into chowders and clams casino and the rest were frozen.
It has become a favorite way to entertain our friends that visit. There is little that can top digging your own dinner with hands or rakes in the solitude of the salt marsh. I went out this evening to recapture that magic-they're still out there except for the ones shown below that ended up in the bucket. Not bad for 30 minutes of "work."


Anonymous Vin said...

Save some clammies for me...

7:31 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home