Cabin resort on Washington coast offers guide and all the equipment for bagging razor clams, a Northwest obsession.

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Washington offers many kinds of outdoor fun, and one activity topping the list this time of year is razor-clam digging along coastal beaches.

There is something mystical about this iconic Pacific Northwest pastime that instantly arouses your senses with the brisk, salty air, the cackle of seabirds flying overhead and the roaring sound of surf.

But for many finding clams can be daunting, especially those new to Washington, which is why a popular, longtime coastal destination, Iron Springs Resort, in Grays Harbor County, offers guided clam-digging outings for guests.

My family decided to try it on a recent weekend, and my wife and two boys were filled with excitement as we headed out of Seattle and made the 2½-hour drive to the coast.

The daunting forecast was for 18-foot surf and winds up to 45 mph. But it was our good luck as we pulled into the resort’s parking lot — about 14 miles north of Ocean Shores — that the clouds parted, the wind died and the surf resembled a calm day on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

Hitting the beach

Our group included a family from Ballard who were first-time razor-clam diggers.

Jerry Lacey, the Iron Springs Resort caretaker and razor-clam guide, informed us during a tutorial on the short walk down to Copalis Beach, south of Boone Creek, how good digging had been. It immediately sparked a warm shot of “We’re in luck” adrenaline.

“In front of the resort is one of the first and foremost beaches for razor clams,” said Lacey, who helped restore the resort’s beach-view cabins in recent years and has lived nearby for most of his life. “I love this place, and you feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, but you’re actually not.”

With our razor-clam “gun” — actually a cylindrical clam-digging tube with a handle at one end, not a firearm — we quickly made our way down to the edge of the surf with hundreds of other people just before the low tide.

Lacey helped by pointing out telltale quarter-sized dimples in the wet sand.

“See that squirt coming out of the dimple?” he asked as he stomped his boot over the hole. “There’s a clam sitting just underneath.”

My oldest son, Taylan, pointed the tip of his clam gun into the sand.

At first we struggled to find the dimples as we followed the surf out, only to retreat as the surging water pushed us back to higher ground.

“Watch out for the wave,” my son Tegan shouted as I knelt with my hand elbow-deep down a hole, grasping for a retreating razor clam.

The warning came too late as the briny water swept under me, filling my boot. But I got the razor clam, lifting it above my head with a grin on my face.

Clammers from across the region dig to catch razor clams at Grayland Beach on the Washington coast. Millions of clams will be harvested this year during razor clamming season. (Erika Schultz and Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)

Beauty, too

In between digging we took breaks to take in the reddish-orange sunset and the wildlife around us.

“That bald eagle likes to come down to the beach to look for things to eat, and there is a lot of other wildlife to see,” Lacey noted. “Earlier in the week I saw two huge bull elk grazing around the beach.”

As the midafternoon low tide reached its lowest point, we began noticing more and more dimples, and digging clams became much easier. In about an hour everyone in my family had their 15-clams-per-person daily limit.

And not a moment too soon as the weather turned for the worse, which happens often in winter. Gusts of wind ramped up, bringing a drenching sideways rain, but as we made our way back to the resort everyone chatted gleefully about the fun experience.

At the resort’s sheltered clam-cleaning station a blazing fire in a pit kept us warm. Lacey, along with fellow resort guests, showed us how to clean a clam, a tedious chore but simple once you get the hang of it.

Our clams were destined to be dipped in panko crumbs and deliciously pan-fried in our cabin’s kitchen (recipe: st.news/2hDftb7). And the outing was so much fun that my boys asked when we could come back again.

If you go

IRON SPRINGS GUIDED CLAM-DIGS

Iron Springs Resort, off Highway 109 north of Ocean Shores (800-380-7950 or ironspringsresort.com), offers guided clam-digging outings for $50 per adult and $25 per child, plus the shellfish-license fee and nightly cabin rate starting at $219.

The guided trip includes use of clam guns, shovels and clam bags, plus lanterns and headlamps if needed for night digging. Guests are offered wine or hot chocolate upon return from the beach, plus a clam-cleaning tutorial and tools.

DIGGING TIPS

  • You’ll need a clam shovel or a cylindrical tube with handle called a clam gun, found at most fishing-tackle and outdoor stores, generally for $35 or less.
  • Because of the timing of low tides, fall and winter digs often occur in the dark, so it is vital to carry a flashlight and lantern. If you bring children, keep them close by your side.
  • Recommended: waterproof jacket and rain pants with a layer of warm clothes beneath, along with rubber boots or waders.

Regulations

  • The daily limit is 15 clams. Diggers must keep the first 15 clams they find.
  • Diggers age 15 and older must have a shellfishing license. Razor-clam licenses start at $9.70 for a three-day license. Keep your license with you while digging.

Find complete rules at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/

Finding clams

  • Head to the water’s edge and look for “shows” — indentations called dimples, keyholes or doughnut holes. The bigger the hole, the bigger the clam.
  • Many try their luck right on the surf line where clam necks sometimes stick out of the sand. The exposed siphon is the darkest colored part of the neck, which gathers nutrients from seawater. Some diggers will stomp on the sand to see where clams spew water.
  • Dig quickly, clams will burrow when disturbed. Most can be found 6 to 24 inches under the surface.

When and where

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has set  razor-clam digging dates — most of them still tentative —  for January and February:

  • Jan. 8-9 at Kalaloch (confirmed)
  • Jan. 13-15 at Copalis and Mocrocks beaches
  • Jan. 27-28 at Copalis
  • Jan. 29-31 at Copalis and Mocrocks
  • Feb. 7-9 at Copalis and Mocrocks
  • Feb. 10-12 at Mocrocks
  • Feb. 24-26 at Copalis and Mocrocks

Final approval for digs is made about a week before each opening, dependent on testing for domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities. State testers have given the final OK to the Kalaloch dig.

For more information

wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams