We Mainers like our independence. Whether it’s hunting, fishing or gardening, we get great pride from putting food on the table ourselves and sharing that special meal with our loved ones.
Enter clam digging.
Unlike hunting and fishing, with a little research, minimal gear and a strong back, there’s a 100-percent chance you’ll come home with your quarry.
And unlike gardening, no planting, watering or weeding is required. Skip straight to the harvest.
I love digging. It gets me outside year-round, is good exercise and I find cool stuff on the mud flats. This past spring, the flats were full of mating horseshoe crabs, something I never saw growing up Down East because their northernmost population is in Franklin. Lately, I’m seeing baby horseshoe crabs!
A sore back and clams you dug yourself just taste better — it’s science. Steamed clams are one of my all-time favorite foods, and I save a lot of money digging them instead of buying them. Clams are extremely nutritious, too (not talking about the butter here). They’re a lean source of protein with far fewer calories compared with beef. Clams have negligible amounts of fat and carbs and have extremely high amounts of vitamin B12 and iron. They’re even moderately high in vitamin C.
Now that I’ve convinced you to try clamming, here are some tips.
You’ll need a rake, boots and bucket. Contact the town office where you want to dig and inquire about a recreational license (or go to Wolf’s Neck State Park in Freeport where your entrance fee allows you to dig one peck per day). Most towns give out one- or three-day permits that allow the license holder to dig one peck (2.3 gallons) per day.
Left to right: Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Christi Holmes (right) often goes clamming with her friend Meg DiMauro. Two horseshoe crabs are seen mating during a spring low tide. Credit: Courtesy of Christi Courtesy of Mathew Trogner
Ask for the town shellfish warden’s contact information and inquire about specific locations to dig. Always check the Department of Marine Resources’ Shellfish Sanitation and Management website or call their shellfish sanitation hotline (800-232-4733) to check for closures in the area before you dig.
Arrive around low tide and look for small, straw-sized holes in the mud. At high tide, clams stretch their neck up to the surface to eat and breathe. At low tide, the clam has retracted its neck and created a hole. Find a spot with a good number of holes and start turning over the mud (not really digging).
Go slow and be gentle as you get the hang of it. Feel with your fingers and look for necks or squirting water. Once your hole is at least a foot deep, dig it wider, by excavating the sides. Look and feel for clams as you dig your hole larger. When you find a clam, confirm that it is not broken, at least 2 inches in size and a live clam (not a mud clam, an empty shell full of mud)! Inevitably, one mud clam always finds its way home with me.
A young horseshoe crab is among the creatures you may see while clamming on the Maine coast. Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Christi Holmes said clamming allows you to enjoy nature and bring home dinner. Credit: Courtesy of Christi Holmes
Once you have your peck, or you’re covered in mud and have had enough, head home, give them a good rinse and enjoy!