Before you sport-hunt, or catch, clams, oysters and mussels, be sure to check license requirements and ascertain whether an area is approved for such hunting. It also helps to know the likely habitat of the mollusks, bivalves or shellfish you are hunting, unless you don't mind taking your chances on whatever "bubbles up." Some clams live at mid-tide levels, some are found in low-tide conditions, and mussels and oysters, depending on your location, may be in plain site.
Wear foot protection, such as rubber boots or canvas shoes, and tread for clams in shallow water. A small boat, raft or float is useful with this method, since you need a place to store your catch as you hunt. This traditional method has the hunter use one foot to feel under the sandy or pebbly bottom for something hard. When a small lump is felt, dig in with the toe, roll out the clam, reach down with a hand or clamming shovel, which has a flat-edged blade and may be slotted, to pick it up. Place it into the basket or bucket in the boat or on the raft or float.
Use a rake or tong to collect clams in shallow water with sandy bottoms. Clams are under the sand, rather than on the surface -- some more deeply than others. There are many different kinds of clams. Clamming rakes are best for shallower clams, while tongs dig deeper. Tongs and rakes both have a scissors-like action and many teeth spaced to capture different sized bivalves. The way these tools work is unlike any other; sore muscles are a normal after effect of use.
Toss the tong's or rake's contents onto the boat, raft or float. You may have captured something you don't want to keep, so go through your findings every so often. Throw back undesirable objects and separate creatures that might feed on one another.
Hand-dig or rake to search in low tide beach sands, such as are found on either coast of the United States. After a wave comes up onto the sand, you can observe bubbles where clams and other creatures are hiding. Dig carefully into the sand, since breaking the shells of mollusks renders them unsuitable for eating.
Rake the bay, creek or riverbed and inlet for oysters. Oysters dwell on the top of the bottom of the sea floor. Oyster larvae, or spat, float around and adhere to sand grains, pebbles, rocks and shells; they grow wherever they land. Dredges, rather than rakes, were used by large companies to harvest oysters off the coast of New Jersey in the early 20th Century. Future oyster gathering was eliminated in the process because the spat was not "replanted" when they dredged up their catches.
Hand gathering of oysters is feasible also. In some areas with warmer waters, oysters grow in areas that are exposed between tides. In South Carolina, for example, saltwater marshes are fed by creeks and rivers with exposed mud flats. These creeks, riverbeds and mudflats are home to these intertidal oysters.
Place caught oysters into baskets or buckets and knock off the young oyster larvae, or spat, into the water using a piece of metal -- such as an old or broken tool -- when you go over your catch at the waterside. This ensures a new generation of oysters will be there for future sport-hunters.
Hand-gather mussels from where they grow. Mussel clusters are located on pebbles, rocks, pilings, floats and boulders. Care must be taken to avoid sources from contaminated areas. Accounts from the New Jersey shore tell of a type of brown mussel that was not suitable for human ingestion. Theses stories may have come from the teller's personal knowledge of becoming sick after eating them, or that they grew in contaminated water.
Keep your catch cool as you hunt, since heat kills clams and shellfish quickly. Cover the catch with seaweed and keep it in the shade.
Check for local area warnings about water contamination and red tides that make eating harvested mollusks dangerous for humans. Eat only mollusks with shells that close tightly when tapped prior to cooking. Do not eat any clams, oysters or mussels that do not have open shells after cooking.
Tips and warnings
- Keep your catch cool as you hunt, since heat kills clams and shellfish quickly. Cover the catch with seaweed and keep it in the shade.
- Check for local area warnings about water contamination and red tides that make eating harvested mollusks dangerous for humans.
- Eat only mollusks with shells that close tightly when tapped prior to cooking.
- Do not eat any clams, oysters or mussels that do not have open shells after cooking.
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Fishing and Shellfish: Clams
- "The Bayman;" Merce Ridgway, 2000
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Fishing and Shellfish: Oysters
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Fishing and Shellfish: Mussels
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; Sea Science - Oysters and Clams