How to Dig Clams to Make Clam Chowder

Updated April 17, 2017

Making your own clam chowder is a culinary adventure, and it's even more adventurous if you dig your own clams for it. Digging for clams -- or "clamming" -- is a popular year-round pastime in many coastal areas around the world. Many different species of clam can be used for chowder, but the technique for finding clams and digging them out of the sand is pretty much the same no matter whether you're going for Little Necks in Maine or razor clams in Oregon.

Ask at a local sporting goods store whether a clamming license is required in that area, and buy one if it is. Be sure to find out what the daily catch limits are, and where the best digging areas -- or "clam flats" -- are likely to be. Finally, ask for the hours of low tide at the time of year you're digging.

Put on your rubber boots and take your shovel or hoe, your bucket and your clamming license down to the clam flat at low tide.

Go down near the water line and look for signs of clams beneath the surface. These will be quarter-size holes in the sand, sometimes surrounded by a raised area of sand that looks like a doughnut. You may also see clams squirt water in the air if they're disturbed by noise on the surface.

Stick your shovel or hoe into the sand about 6 inches away from the hole in the sand, on the seaward side. Excavate toward the hole until you find the clam itself, being careful not to break the shell with the shovel. Grab the clam by the shell with your hand and drop it in the bucket.

Gather clams that are about 4 or 5 inches in length. Do not keep broken clams, clams with open shells, or clams that smell putrid -- these are all signs the clam is already dead and starting to decay. Be sure not to gather more than your legal limit of clams.


It's easier to get the clam meat for chowder if you steam the clams first. To do this, rinse them several times to clean them of any sand, then put them in a pot with 1/2 cup water and heat the water to boiling. Steam the clams just until the shells open. Save the steaming water to add flavour to your chowder. There are also tubelike devices called "clam guns" that you stick into the sand around the clam hole, and then pull up all the surrounding sand by withdrawing the tube with your finger covering a vent hole.


Some localities have laws requiring licenses for all clamming, while others require licenses only for non-residents, or for people gathering more than a set limit of clams. Always check on licensing requirements before you go clamming. Local authorities may sometimes close clam flats because of high levels of high levels of a toxin-producing algae called "Red Tide." Always check for flat closings before going out to dig clams.

Things You'll Need

  • Short-handled shovel or clam hoe
  • Bucket
  • Rubber boots
  • Clamming license (varies by location)
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Scott Knickelbine began writing professionally in 1977. He is the author of 34 books and his work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including "The New York Times," "The Milwaukee Sentinel," "Architecture" and "Video Times." He has written in the fields of education, health, electronics, architecture and construction. Knickelbine received a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in journalism from the University of Minnesota.