How to Dig Clams – Woodmans Restaurant Essex MA

Learn how to dig clams from Steve Woodman. It can be a fun and exciting pastime that results in a delicious treat for all. Dig up some clams today and enjoy them alone or make them into a rich clam chowder or delectable clambake.

John Maher:  Hi, I’m John Maher. Today I’m here with Steve Woodman, co‑CEO of Woodman’s of Essex, in Essex on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about how to dig clams. Welcome Steve.

Steve Woodman:  Thank you John.

How do you dig clams?

John:  So, Steve, how do you dig for clams?

Steve:  You have to go out and get a boat and go to the clam flat, bend down, and start digging a hole and digging clams.

John:  It sounds so retro.

Steve:  There aren’t too many occupations that, when you’re working, your head is either equal to your butt or below your butt. Clam digging is one of those occupations. It’s hard work.

Has clam harvesting changed over the years?

John:  Is that how clams have always been harvested? Has anything changed over the years?

Steve:  No, that’s the way clams are harvested now — that’s the way they were harvested years and years ago. Probably the improvement that they have now is back years ago, they used to row their dories down to the clam flats and now they have motor boats that take them down and bring them back.

Family of Clam Diggers

John:  Do you have family members that were clam diggers?

Steve:  Yes, we’ve had family members. My grandfather actually taught me how to dig clams. He brought me when I was a kid to go down and take clams. My brother used to dig quite a bit. I have nieces and nephews both that have dug clams. There’ve been quite a few family members that have dug clams.

Best Places to Dig for Clams

John:  What are the best places to dig for clams? You mentioned the clam flats. Where do you find those?

Steve:  The best ones are of course on the Essex River.

John:  Right!

Steve:  But there are clam flats right next door, Gloucester, Ipswich, and of course you have your clam flats as you go up to Maine and all the cities in between.

John:  So they tend to be in the rivers where the rivers are coming in to the ocean…

Steve:  Tidal communities and so forth where the tide goes in and out. At high tides the clam flats are covered. At low tide, that’s when you can go out to the clam flats and start digging them as tide starts going out.

They’re down there. There’re different types of clam flats down there. The clams that have a really light colored shell like a white shell, light blue shell, that is typically dug in a sand clam flat. They’re a very sandy clam flat.

As you get maybe a little more silt, or a little more mud in there, mixed in with the sand, they can get a little bit darker. Then you have also just your plain old mud flats. They’re a darker shell and they grow in the mud flats.

They’re all the same clam, their color of shell could look a little bit different just because of what they’re eating and what they’re growing in and that could all be within a mile. You can have all those types of flats around depending on what you want to dig, and where you want to dig.

Artificial Vs. Natural Grown Clams

John:  Now, I’ve heard of at least oysters, I think, being artificially grown. Can you do that with clams as well? Or is it really best to go to these natural locations, the clams flats and get your clams from there?

Steve:  Yeah. The oysters, there’s a way that you can farm them and harvest them, and the same with mussels. You can grow the mussels on a rope and they can grow.

The clams, they have to be buried into the sand, into the mud, but there are ways that you can protect them and harvest them which some people are doing. The way that is, is you rake out the clam flat, make sure there are no predators or anything on the flat. You have this really fine mesh net, and you cover it, make sure its staked down. And you throw a couple of big clams in there so they can seed. And that net holds the seed into the flat and the flat would hold the clams that are produced and they’ll start growing there. It is almost like a farming type technique. But it takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of space to do that.

Tools for Digging Clams

John:  Right. What tools do you need for clam digging?

Steve:  You need a clam fork. Probably most people don’t know what it looks like but you can picture yourself a pitch fork. You’ve got the fork end of it. The tines are usually pretty far apart. With a clam fork, they’re more of them, they’re little bit closer together. You have a fork that looks like that and you need to put into the sand and pull the sand back to show you where the clams are.

In order to do that, where the handle goes into the pitch fork, you have to bend that down to even more than perpendicular, almost a 60 degree angle down so you can put the handle in it. When you’re holding that in your hand ‑‑ it’s a one hand instrument, it’s a shorter handle. The tines of the fork, wherever your hand is comfortable for digging and sticking in is going in perpendicular into the mud. I don’t know if that draws a little picture for you for what it looks like.

That’s what they use to dig. They start, they dig a hole and start pulling the mud back into the hole to reveal the clams that are in there. There’s a pretty good technique into how you dig a clam.

John:  Can you see where the clams are before you dig? Or do you just walk around in the mud flats and you start digging randomly at places?

Steve:  Most times, an experienced clam digger can find out where the clams are. The holes in the sand and so forth give away where they are and how many are there and so forth. But there are some times that the holes don’t show, whether because it’s been raining, or the flat is still wet.

And then experience, knowing where you are, where you’re going and where you think they are comes into play.

John:  All right, that’s good information, Steve. Thanks very much for speaking with me today.

Steve:  Glad to be here. Thank you.

John:  For more information, you can visit the Woodman’s website at or call 978‑768‑6451.

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