Mark Fisher emerged from the Roosevelt Beach surf on a golden sunset fall evening with a triumphant smile, clutching a brimming mesh bag glistening with the season’s expanded limit of 20 prized Pacific razor clams, which the Hoquiam man proudly shows off for a photo.

Thousands of people just like Fisher have descended on the Washington Coast for the return of what has thus far been the most robust razor clam digging season in many years. In the first 25 days of digging, an estimated 126,300 diggers were able to harvest about 2.34 million of the mouth-watering mollusks.

Last fall’s digging opportunities were cut short by high levels of a toxin (domoic acid) found in the clam populations, and the season before was curtailed by Covid-19 concerns for the coastal communities.

The result has been a fall season of abundance for those who love to dig for the culinary delicacy and those who cook up the chowders, fritters and fabled concoctions featuring one of the most unique recreational pursuits worldwide.

“When Covid hit, we had clams for big digs that were expected in April and May 2020, but everything came to a halt. And then we barely got started last fall when domoic acid came roaring back,” says Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “When we did our stock assessment this summer, we were so pleased to discover that not only did the unharvested population hold over, but also more young clams were added,” Ayres said.

Photo by Angelo Bruscas

Deciding how many clams are available for recreational diggers involves many steps. After the razor clam population of each beach is determined, the number of clams on the northern beaches of Copalis and Mocrocks are divided equally between the state and the Quinault Indian Nation, because of state-tribal treaties.

The state also manages the Twin Harbors and Long Beach beaches.

The culinary clam

Razor clams for centuries have been a significant food and economic resource, as well as a cultural tradition celebrated and harvested by the Quinault Indian Nation and other coastal tribes. Some of the earliest historical photos of the Copalis area show a razor clam harvest being smoked on drying racks by the Indians. The clams are strung on sticks, each several yards, which are arranged over the coals of a fire against a platform resembling the beams of a small A-frame house. Just about every clam digger on the beach has his or her favorite way to prepare razor clams, but only a very few actually prepare razor clams for commercial dining.

Duffy’s Restaurant in Aberdeen undoubtably has cooked up more razor clams than any other establishment in all of Grays Harbor. Razors have been a menu item since at least the 1970s, says owner Paul Larson of the longtime family business at 1605 Simpson Ave., where his father and grandfather learned to savor and prepare the locally harvested delicacy.

At Duffy’s, you can order razor clams and eggs for breakfast or a razor clam dinner, and you can order one single clam as an appetizer or added to an entrée like the popular Logger’s Breakfast or chicken fried steak and eggs. 

Duffy’s also cooks up clam fritters. “We have done razor clams for a long, long time,” Larson says. “As long as I can remember, we have had them on our menu.” While Larson himself digs for razor clams for personal consumption, Dufffy’s purchases its supply from the Quinault Indian Nation’s seafood enterprise.

How does he cook his own clams? “They’re good, and I cook them the same way we do at Duffy’s: I do mine with flour, egg and then Panko. We used cracker meal for years, but when we bought the Bee Hive restaurant, that’s what they were doing.”

Photo by Rick Moyer
Photo by Rick Moyer

At Ocean Crest Resort’s acclaimed ocean view restaurant on Highway 109 in Moclips, both longtime chef Jess Owen (now resort manager) and executive chef Ronald Wisner field requests for razor clams daily, with regular menu items featuring clams or fritters, clams for breakfast, as a full meal, and as a side dish with the Crest’s special chili aioli, garnished with pickled onion.

“People ask for them a lot,” Wisner says, “especially when there is a dig going on, we may go through about eight pounds per night. They go and dig them and then they come and ask us how to cook them.”

Known as “The Culinary Madman,” Owen has even used razor clams for a Chocolate on the Beach Festival concoction and has developed a razor clam chowder that is gluten free. And the razor clam fritters that Wisner prepares at Ocean Crest have brought him top honors at the Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival.

When it comes to cooking razor clams whole, Wisner notes, the secret is to batter and bread them first, lay them on a flat pan and then freeze them before cooking later. “That’s how we do it here, on a 400-degree flat grill with hot oil. By the time the outside is nice and golden brown, the inside is perfectly cooked.”

Expert diggers offer tips

Between the two diggers, Tom Northup and Greg Johnston have about a century of razor clam experience, knowledge, and sea-worthy stories to tell. Tom is a retired shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Greg literally wrote the book on the coast, “Washington’s Pacific Coast: A Guide to Hiking, Camping, Fishing.”

At the northern end of the Copalis digging area, with the sun just setting into an incoming storm, it took the two veterans about an hour to unearth 40 of the prized clams, known scientifically as Siliqua patula.

“I always dig the first show I see,” Johnston notes as he pulls up a small one and bags it. You have to keep all the clams you dig, no matter the size, but this season the limit has been increased from 15 to 20 clams per day.

In a matter of minutes, Johnston digs another hole with multiple shows and emerges with three clams. Johnston and Northup know exactly what to look for in a clam show –the rounded donut hole where a clam has just has pulled in its siphon. Both wield shovels; it is sacrilege for either to use a clam tube.

Photo by Angelo Bruscas

“People keep calling the tube a clam gun, but this is the original gun right here,” Northup says, holding up his slim-bladed clam shovel. The men prowl the receding surf and then dig methodically as the next waves roll in. “A good show will be like a nickel or a quarter,” Johnston advises. “If it’s dime-sized, those are the one you pass on.”

Ayres hopes to continue to offer digging opportunities into the spring. And, he’s excited that there are plans for digs right around New Year’s, which is a special tradition that only occurs on years with the right conditions and low tides. “The most important thing is for us to continue to be vigilant. The Department of Health requires us to sample razor clam meat prior to every opener just to make sure it’s safe,” Ayres says. “My crew is always out there.”

Even veterans like Ayres – with more than 40 years at WDFW and a lifelong razor clam digger – still get knocked over by a wave now and then, so dig carefully, he advises. Also, a fishing or shellfish license is required. The information on when digging is allowed on various beaches is at the WDFW website at In addition, the website hosts videos showing how to dig razor clams as well as how to clean and cook them. Most of all, have fun frolicking in the surf with memories that can’t be made anywhere else and flavors that stand the test of time.

Ayres recalls getting “booted out of bed at four or five in the morning” when he was a kid to go clam digging with his parents and grandparents. “When we were done digging, we would sit on the hood of Dad’s ‘57 Chevy, still wet – even though Dad probably did most of the digging – and eat tuna  sandwiches, drink the hot chocolate and go home to have a clam feed. Those are sweet, wonderful memories that I still cherish to this day.”

Photo by Angelo Buscas