Razor clams in four Washington Pacific Coast beach management sectors will be the focus of five proposed fall 2012 dig openings announced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last week.
The digs, each anchored to at least one weekend day, includes two lasting six days in a row.
Open for all dig days will be the Twin Harbors beach sector. The southernmost Long Beach sector and the two beach zones north of Grays Harbor, Mocrocks and Copalis, will be available for about half the total number of dig days.
The Kalaloch Beach zone, under the control of the National Park Service, will remain closed to digging due to low clam numbers.
This round of clam gathering will be on the so-called P.M. cycle, from noon to midnight each day when the lowest (minus tide) ebbs occur. It is unlawful to dig from midnight to noon.
In each sequence of evening low tides the first day has the earliest slack when tide-fall reverses. There is about a 45-minute progression in the slacks from day to day. Experienced clammers say the most successful digging occurs a half hour either side of slacks.
Be aware that Pacific Standard Time resumes Sunday, Nov. 4.
These schedulings depend on safe levels on naturally occurring marine toxin agents being present in clam tissues.
The state health department tests clams just before each proposed dig. Results and a go/no-go announcement are made five to seven days before each opening.
Following the fall digs, state shellfish managers tally the estimated recreational harvest and plan 2013 winter/spring opportunities.
BEACH BY BEACH
Washington's razor clam management beaches (from south to north) are:
? Long Beach: The southernmost management zone, from the Columbia River north to Leadbetter Point, the south headland at the entrance to Willapa Bay. Long Beach and Ocean Park are the two main community service centers here.
? Twin Harbors: Between Cape Shoalwater on Willapa Bay and the south jetty of Grays Harbor. Westport is the focal point.
? Copalis Beach: From the north jetty of the Grays Harbor entrance north to the mouth of the Copalis River. Ocean Shores and Copalis Beach are the main communities.
? Mocrocks: Between the mouth of the Copalis River and the south boundary of the Quinault Reservation. Moclips near the north end of this zone is a focal point.
? Kalaloch: The northernmost razor clam sector is between the Queets and Hoh rivers from South Beach Campground north to Brown's Point just south of Beach Trail 3. Kalaloch Lodge and Resort on Highway 101 is in the middle of this management zone.
Beaches in these sectors, below the high tide line, are open for razor clam digging except for the three reserves state shellfish biologists use to monitor the razor clam populations. Each of these "off-limits" areas is a quarter-mile long and is marked by orange poles and signs at the high tide line.
Also, all beaches on Quinault Nation lands are closed to razor clamming by non-tribal members.
GEARING UP FOR DIGS
Because the low tides on these dig dates come around dusk or well after dark, besides a good hand-digging tool, razor clammers will need a good light source.
Lanterns or headlamps: Successful clam digging almost always takes two hands, so a hands-free light is essential. Headlamps should have emitters or lenses that "flood" light. Gas or electric lanterns must be water resistant, and a two- or three-foot tall tree hanger or light, stable platform to elevate the lantern also is helpful.
Shovels or tubes: Two types of digging tools predominate on sandy beaches. Efficient clam shovels have narrow, curved and concave blades, plus significant angling between the blade and handle. So-called clam guns - minimum 4-inch diameter tubes made of PVC plastic or aluminum - also are popular. Technique counts. Tutorials are at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/howto_dig.html.
Bucket or bag: Each digger must have his or her own separate container for the up to 15 razor clams allowed. Either buckets or stout plastic bags will do.
Boots: Keep it waterproof for comfort. Savvy sand-beach diggers often wear loose-fitting hip-high boots.
Knee pads: If you wear ankle or mid-calf barn boots, a pair of gardener knee pads will help you comfortably get down on all fours and reach into the hole for a fleeing bivalve.
Rain gear: Loose head-to-toe lightweight wind and water repellent outer garments also are a big comfort. Given the abrasive nature of the coastal clam medium, tough fabric is recommended.
Legal documents: When digging for and transporting razor clams, any person age 15 and older must carry some version of a 2012-13 basic, long- or short-term Washington combination fishing, shellfish/seaweed or razor clam license on their person. Buy them online or at any fishing and hunting license dealership.
ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIMERS
Bag limit: The first 15 clams unearthed regardless of size and condition, are the limit.
Look for the shows: Called "dimples," "keyholes" and "doughnuts" because of their distinct shapes, tiny holes on the beach sand surface give away the razor clam's presence below. Move carefully, looking around you with each step. Clams are fast diggers. Any vibrations can send them deeper into the substrate.
Bad weather: Check weather forecasts before outings. Often storms reduce turnout and harvest, and managers can and will provide additional openings later.
Limber up: Razor clam digging can be strenuous and requires proper ergonomic movement to avoid injury, especially when using the clam gun - lift with your knees. Do some stretching before you hit the beach.
Reservations: Even if you have self-contained accommodations, consider making reservations for motel rooms or park RV and even tent camping spaces.
Licenses: It's best to your license before leaving home, since there can be waiting lines at coastal dealerships.
Don't bring your dog. Dogs galumphing around soft beach sands signal razor clams to flee.
Don't drive on beaches. Doing so risks a car bashing by angry diggers or getting stuck in "quick" areas and losing the vehicle to the sands and tides. You can also be cited for driving on beaches and killing clams. Also, do not block beach entrances when parking.
Don't risk a fall storm. Tide states and their timing change with storm surges. The most clam-laden sands are found in the inter-tidal zone exposed briefly at a tide's ebb. Wind-blown surf can overtake exposed beaches quickly.
Don't reject smallish clams. The discarding of smaller, damaged clams in hope of unearthing larger specimens for keeping is a significant problem in razor clam management. Throwbacks seldom survive, reducing future harvests.
Biologists estimate razor clam wastage in sport digging seasons by inspecting dig holes. A wastage percentage is calculated and that figure is added to the total estimated take-home. In past years estimates of clam loss due to illegal discarding has been as high as 2 million razors.
Since all razor clam exploitation is governed by sustainability guidelines as well as state/tribal agreements sharing the harvestable biomass, wastage inflates estimates of actual takes and can lead to earlier closures of beaches or seasons.
The five tentative fall 2012 planned razor clam dig sequences are set for:
Oct. 27, Saturday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of plus 0.2 feet at 5:57 p.m.
Oct. 28, Sunday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 0.1 feet at 6:36 p.m.
Oct. 29, Monday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.3 feet at 7:12 p.m.
Oct. 30, Tuesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.4 feet at 7:46 p.m.
Nov. 13, Tuesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 1.6 feet at 5:54 p.m.
Nov. 14, Wednesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 1.9 feet at 6:41 p.m.
Nov. 15, Thursday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, slack ebb of minus 1.9 feet at 7:29 p.m.
Nov. 16, Friday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 1.6 feet at 8:18 p.m.
Nov. 17, Saturday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 1.1 feet at 9:09 p.m.
Nov. 26, Monday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.1 feet at 5:16 p.m.
Nov. 27, Tuesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.3 feet at 5:52 p.m.
Nov. 28, Wednesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.4 feet at 6:27 p.m.
Nov. 29, Thursday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, slack ebb of minus 0.4 feet at 7:01 p.m.
Nov. 30, Friday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 0.3 feet at 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 1, Saturday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 0.1 feet at 8:10 p.m.
Dec. 11, Tuesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 1.1 feet at 4:51 p.m.
Dec. 12, Wednesday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 1.6 feet at 5:40 p.m.
Dec. 13, Thursday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 1.9 feet at 6:29 p.m.
Dec. 14, Friday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 1.8 feet at 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 15, Saturday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 1.6 feet at 8:01 p.m.
Dec. 16, Sunday, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 1.0 feet at 8:47 p.m.
Dec. 28, Friday, Twin Harbors only, slack ebb of minus 0.3 feet at 6:42 p.m.
Dec. 29, Saturday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 0.3 feet at 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 30, Sunday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of minus 0.2 feet at 7:47 p.m.
Dec. 31, Monday, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, slack ebb of 0.0 feet at 8:20 p.m.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoor.