If the tides and weather look right, take the kids clamming in Bodega Bay, They will for sure remember pulling up their first gaper clam out of the mud.
First of all, you'll need to have a tide that is very close to zero, or even better, negative. The US Harbors site lists when the low and high tides occur for the harbor entrance.
Plan on walking out to the clam beds about one hour before the low tide. You'll most likely be able to stay out one hour after the low tide. If there's a negative tide, you might be able to stay out even longer.
Just to be safe though, have a look at the water every now and then. It doesn't come in very fast. If you see if starting to cover some spots that were dry before. Round up your fishing crew and start heading in. There's no need to rush. The water doesn't come in very fast.
If the tides are looking good for the day that you want to go out, call the following number to make sure it is safe to collect shell fish in that area: (800) 553-4133. Safe meaning safe to eat. That hotline will tell you which California counties have issues with mussels, clams, crabs, and other shellfish.
Adults will require a fishing license. You'll need to check the CA fishing regulations for your kids. Depending upon their age, they might not need a fishing license.
The regulations will give you all information about licenses, what types of clams you can take, how you can collect them, and the limits for each type.
For the most part, you'll be finding large gaper clams. Sometimes you might find Washington clams and a few other smaller species. Get your fishing crew and research a bit how you identify gaper clams. It will be a good learning experience for the kids and it will help your team follow the fishing regulations.
You'll need a smaller shovel and a pail or bag. The shovels should have a smaller head. You'll be digging down about three feet into sand/mud. A longer handle on the shovel will be helpful.
Chances are good you will drop your pail or bag somewhere while you hunt around for clams. If you are using a pail, bring something to cover the pail. Maybe a jacket or t-shirt. If seagulls see a pail full of clams, they'll come visit you awfully fast. A seagull will be able to haul off one of your prize possessions without a problem.
You will get muddy and wet when you do this. There is no doubt about this. At the very least, everyone should have rubber boots, long pants, and a hat.
If you don't have a jacket and it starts getting windy and too cold, just head in. It's not that far of a walk back to the road. You could always bring a backpack with a jackets for the kids, just in a case.
Don't forget the sunscreen. Of course throw that on before you head out.
Bring an extra change of clothes to change into when you are done. Once again, you will be muddy and wet when you return to your car.
If you don't know exactly where to go, you'll want to drive out to Campbell Cove Beach. Once you get out there, turn around and drive back slowly. You'll probably see the mud flats no problem on your right. What you are looking for though are the signs in the water about 100 yards out that state that you can't trespass here because the area is being studied. You can clam anywhere to the right of those signs when you are looking at them from the road.
Once you park the car, you want to try to find the easiest way out to the mud flats for the kids. That will mean an easy trail through the rocks by the road and an easy way out to the hardpack sand/mud. Try to avoid the spots with the seaweed. You'll sink into the mud a little bit there. That will make it harder to walk through those areas.
You'll need to walk around and hunt for clams. This is the fun part. Check the holes in the sand and see if you can see a tip of a clam's siphon in the hole. The siphon of a clam is basically its neck. The top of the siphon will be about a half inch below the top of a hole. If it is your first time finding clams and you're not quite sure if you have found one, you can just try touching it. If it is a clam, it will pull back its siphon back very quickly. You'll feel that happen. Now you will know what to look for the next time. Ideally you don't want to warn the clam that you are there. But if you do, no problem. Gaper clams don't dig that fast. You can start digging in that area for the clam.
This site lists how they find gaper clams in Oregon. Their advice can be used to find clams here. Just remember that their regulations are different up there.
When you find a clam hole, take your shovel and draw a circle around it so that the hole is in the center of the circle. Then start digging on one side of the hole, about 6 inches away from it. Don't dig directly down on top of the hole. If you do that, you'll let the clam know that you are there. Also, you might end up cutting off part of the clam's siphon.
Dig down about two to three feet and then use you hands to dig horizontally. You want to grab the clam's siphon as fast as possible so that it can't retract it. Once you have the siphon, you'll know where the clam is. Take your shovel with one hand, close to the blade and start digging on slant slowly towards the clam. Once you find the clam, drop the shovel and just use your hand to pull the mud away from the clam.
Depending upon the ages of your crew, the digging part could be a team effort. Help the kids dig down. Maybe grab the clam's siphon for the kids and let them use their hands to dig for the clam. You'll want them to do some work to get their clam. If they had to work hard to get their clam, it will be a trophy for them. And that's what you want.
The kids dug up some clams ... now what? Once again, you'll usually be finding gaper clams. Keep the clams in a bucket. If the bucket won't be close to you, keep it covered. The birds might try to swoop down and steal a few from you if they can see inside.
Don't cover the clams with water. They might use up all the oxygen in the water and suffocate. Dead clams should not be eaten. Just throw the clams in a bucket or container. Be sure to keep them moist until you get back to the car.
When you get back to the car, get the clams on ice as soon as you can. Put something on the bottom of your "clam container" so that the clams won't sit in the melted ice water. Once again, if they sit in water, they might suffocate. You probably need a wire mesh box about 2 - 3 inches high to keep the clams off the bottom of your cooler or bucket when the ice is in it.
If you are heading back to highway 101, you'll pass by the Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm on the left side of the road. If it is still early in the day, you might ask the kids if they want to haul in massive trophy trout. Have the camera ready. They'll have fun doing this.
The Ramini Farm Tour is in this area. They offer tours, but you will have to book in advance. The kids would most likely find it exciting to get up and close to water buffalos. The farm uses the milk from these buffalos to make real Italian mozzarella cheese. Italian mozzarella cheese is quite different from what we in the US think mozzarella cheese is.
If you are headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area, you might think about continuing along Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH1) towards Tomales Bay. Nick's Cove is a nice restaurant to stop at and have lunch or a drink before making the trek home. They have valet parking, which is quite nice considering the road by their restaurant is quite narrow and curvy.
The Marshall Store is another nice spot to stop at if you kids are a bit older. It's an informal place right on the water. The food is really good. There's only outdoor seating which is fantastic. But it's also right on PCH1. So if you're kids can't sit still for lunch, this would not be a good spot. Traffic comes by here a little too fast. So you wouldn't be relaxing here too much with a younger fishing crew.
Once you get home, you'll need to check your clams. Only clean the ones that are still alive. Clams that are still alive will either be shut tightly or when you insert your knife, they'll close on it. Don't eat any clams that didn't survive the trip home.
Be aware that the ice might have made the clams a bit lethargic.
Have a look at this video. It gives some good instructions on how to clean gaper clams and what to eat from the clam. We usually only keep the siphon and the foot for eating.
The siphon of the clam will have a skin on it that you'll want to peel off. The easiest way to get the skin off is to blanch the siphon. Get a pot of water boiling. Drop the siphon into the boiling water carefully. Leave it in the water for about 10 seconds and then take it out. Let it cool off a bit before you start handling it. Once the siphon is cool to the touch, chop off the very end of the siphon. That will be the dark piece. Then you can take your fingers and remove the skin. It should come off pretty easily, in one or two big pieces.
After you've cleaned your clams, you can either use them for cooking right away or freeze them for later.
We don't have any special recipes to list yet. Usually we just cut them up into thin strips, bread them, and fry them.
Take pictures! The first time they find a gaper clam, they will be excited. Gaper clams are big big. They will be very proud ... as they should be.
Good luck and have fun with the kids!
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