Hunting the Elusive Geoduck

 

 

 

 

Introduction ;  Initially I was unsure as to the size of shotgun or shot needed to take down these elusive creatures.  However after a bit of lurking on the sidelines, we finally got the time and chance to get involved and get our feet wet (muddy) at a recent Puget Sound Anglers club outing.

 

Geoduck gun

 

 

OK, enough of the Bull $hit and let's get down to the real world of chasing/catching geoducks.  NUMBER ONE, you don't hunt them with a gun, but use a shovel and dig DEEP in the sand.

 

History ;  Geoduck (pronounced  gooeyduck) is one of the largest of the clam family.  This impressive clam in the Pacific Northwest is the geoduck (Panopea generosa).  According to Washington Department of Wildlife, as the world's largest burrowing clam, the average size of recreationally caught geoducks in on intertidal public beaches of Puget Sound is 2.47 pounds (including the shell) .  The clam's name, is of Native American origin and means "dig deep."

 

The largest geoduck ever weighed and verified by WDFW biologists was a 8.16-pound specimen dug near Adelma Beach in Discovery Bay in year 2000.   Much larger specimens have been reported by commercial harvesters.   Geoducks grow rapidly, generally reaching 1.5 pounds in three to five years.  They attain their maximum size by about 15 years, and can live at least as long as 168 years.

 

These clams are found buried two to three feet deep in mud, sand, or gravel.  They can be abundant in the inland waters of Puget Sound, British Columbia and Alaska, where the sub-tidal populations support important commercial fisheries in some locations.   Their range extends from Alaska to Baja California, but they are rarely found along the Pacific coast, and populations are likewise scarce west of Clallam Bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

 

The commercial harvest is usually accomplished by divers using hydraulic pumps to wash away the sand, providing no damage to the ducks for the resale market.

 

The gaping, oblong shell is white with concentric rings, and generally has thin patches of flaky brown covering at the edges.  For the duck's overall size, the shell is not that hard and you can break parts of it easily when trying to pull the duck out of the sand.   The siphon and mantle are so large that they cannot be withdrawn into the shell.  There is a commercial as well a recreational fisheries for these clams.   In the State of Washington, the recreational bag limit is 3 per day.

 

Time and Tide Needed ;  Timing is very important as you need a tide of probably at least a MINUS 2 feet, extending to even -3 or -4 feet (depending on the areas).  This limits the number of digable days in any given year to those tides, then narrowing that down again as being a daytime low tide.   If you look at your tide book, this may translate to a possible of only 3 tides a year that are low enough and digable.  Weather can also be important in this situation where a storm is in full swing, preventing safe access to the clam beds.  For a link to internet tide tables for Washington State, CLICK HERE.

 

How to Locate Them ;  Probably the best way to locate these clams would be to go to the link to WDFW website giving links to public locations and other information, at  http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/geoduck/.  Find a geographic area closest to where you live or would consider driving to.  Then possibly start with asking Park Rangers or WDFW enforcement officers, because the few recreational geoduck diggers you may encounter are usually hesitant about sharing any information with strangers.   For the uninitiated, you might even visit one of the beaches at a LOW tide and just do a lot of looking.  However, remember there may be other types of clams may be dug there also, so just be there and be inquisitive.

 

Some beaches will be privately owned, so you will need to do your research.  You may be able to access the ducks haunts from a public shore, however this is where the bulk of your digging competition will have been embarking from in the past so the duck concentration may be have been "picked over" by the time you decide this game is for you.  That leaves access by boat the most logical and practical if you want to have a wider range of possible digging locations.   But that also has it's restrictions.  If you have boated any in lower Puget Sound or Hood Canal, you will have found that there are very few boat launches that can accommodate launching (other than car toppers) at those low tides, which also compounds your consideration of where to go.

 

Clothing ;  Actual clothing will be determined by the weather, and unless you want to get MUDDY, rubber boots would be about mandatory.  Then you will find much of this tidal area can have slimy mud covering a couple of inches of the exposed area before you get to "high ground" a few inches higher than just above water's edge.   Knee boots may work, however you may find a few areas that are SOFT and you may sink down kind of like quicksand where being able to pull your boot out becomes a chore in itself.  Hip wader boots will probably be the footwear you will see the most here.  Some chest waders will also be seen.  On the other hand, some diggers just go for it, wearing whatever, expecting to get muddy and take extra clean clothing along back at the vehicle.

 

Digging Gear ;  Here you will see a multitude of digging gear.  However, depending on your location, the gear could also change as some beaches may be softer/soggy as compared to a beach, that even a couple of hundred feet a way that has harder sand.   So what works on the harder sand will not be as efficient on the softer wetter sand that would cave in more readily.

 

Some diggers simply use a common #2 garden shovel.  Others have been known to use the folding clamshell type post hole diggers.  However the tube type clam guns do not seem to perform well as this sand is usually more sticky than ocean beach sand.

 

Those that do any amount of digging may shift over to using a digging tube.  These are not the only way to do it, but adds more tools to your arsenal.  This tube will be a HOLLOW metal or plastic tube from 14" to 18" in diameter and up to 3 feet long.  Any longer may pose a couple of problems in that #1, does the digger have arms long enough to reach deep enough.  #2 trying to recover one of these tubes buried that deep may be approaching impossible.  These tubes will have some sort of a handle which facilitates carrying it around AND then being able to retrieve it out of the sand after the duck is dug.

 

Since these clams do not burrow or dig like razor clams do when you go after them, their body stays at the level it is (usually down between 2 and 3 feet deep) and their neck extends upward to the surface where they feed.  This digging tube allows you, by placing it around the show hole or showing neck, you can dig deep without having to dig a BIG hole (as when using a shovel) without the sand caving in.   However, a short armed person may be handicapped in this situation.   An observation of the different tubes in use, was that the plastic tube was easier to pull back out of sand when it was in really deep than compared to the steel tubes.  The reason appeared that the plastic tube even though it had two slight ridges near the bottom, when rocked back and forth would flex enough to help break any suction on the sides as compared to the more rigid metal tubes.  The metal tubes can be rocked, but are about impossible to rotate being that deep.

 

For those using the digging tube, you will also need a shovel or hoe, as it is easier to start the hole with a shovel and then again be able to refill the hole when you are finished.  Some may also use a garden rake to help in refilling the hole.  When using the tube, you need some digging device to excavate the sand inside the tube with.  This could be a metal coffee can, (if you can find them anymore) however I have found that a metal cattle feed scoop available from a farm store works great.

 

You will also need something to put the ducks in after you capture them.  I like to travel light so the nylon clam bags that you can clip onto your belt while digging works for me.  For transporting them later, then a plain old plastic bucket works fine.  These geoducks have no digger like razor clams, so even laying them on the beach after extracting them from the sand has no ill effects of them trying to escape back home.

 

Now, depending on whether you dig by walking onto a beach, or by boat, this may also determine just what level of equipment you will want to accompany you.  Walking in muddy sand could become tiresome if you have to travel some distance with all of your gear.  However by boat, you could "Load Her Down" and have a few more luxuries closer by.

 

Finding the Ducks ;  The preferable beaches for digging these ducks would be a sandy type.  However they do live in somewhat rock infested environment at times.  Under these conditions, digging becomes WORK real fast.

 

Many times, in today's world of many people trying to utilize the natural resources, finding a public location where there are more than just a few ducks, would be considered a real rarity.  It happened this time, but it took a lot of scouting and some luck thrown in, so don't give up, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may still be there. 

 

First, you will need to find a older "show hole; or a "necking duck".  The show hole may be just a sharp depression about the size of a 25 cent piece in the sand, if it was from a duck that had been necking a few hours or the day before, or to find the actual neck exposed above the sand as seen in the two photos below.  The neck in the RH photo is probably 1 1/4" across.

Geoduck neck showing in sand A close up Geoduck neck showing in sand

 

Digging the Ducks ;  OK, you found a duck show, now the fun (work) begins.  As stated before, these clams do not dig, (going deeper to get away as if it was a razor clam) as the body stays stationary.  So if your back and energy prevails AND your arms are long enough you will find the duck.  Sometimes you may have doubts, but keep digging anyway.

 

Using a shovel, many diggers just keep digging until they dig it out, and may never realize just what was happening as to depth.  And the chances of crushing the duck or cutting the neck off becomes considerably greater, than for the digger using a tube.

 

No matter the type of digging you will be using, when you start digging, the duck will retract it's neck.

 

Using the tube, when you get down to where you can see/find/feel the neck, the body is probably from 6" to 8" down deeper.  You need to dig deep enough so that you can run your fingers around the whole duck's shell enough to loosen the sand's grip on the shell and rest of the body.  If you get down to where all you can get ahold of is the neck, and think you can pull the duck loose by it's neck, in all probability you will pull the neck off the duck where it joins the upper part of the shell.  Go deeper allowing you to loosen the body, as described above, then by grasping the body, and applying steady upward pressure, success will be achieved.

 

Using a shovel, as seen in the photo on the left below, these diggers teamed up in their excavation operations.  Note the size of the hole and the amount of sand moved.  Also note their boat in the distance, looks like it is pretty close to being high and dry until the tide comes back in.

 

Here the diggers are teamed up using shovels, this hole looks large, but they got more than one out of it. Here a steel tube was used, but it is buried so deep after getting the duck, help was summoned to pull the tube out of the sand

 

As seen below, this digger was using a plastic tube.  Here the sand was wet enough here that it would have been very hard to dig here using a shovel alone.   In sand this soft and with a slight amount of water on top (as seen in the RH photo), where this tube was only 22" deep, water was starting to run in through the hand holds on the top.  So when digging with one of these that short, you might consider to build a dam around your location with what was excavated to keep the water from running in the handhold holes.  In the photo on the right, you will notice the farm feed scoop that was used inside the tube to dig the sand out.

 

When using a tube and the scoop, it is advisable to not place the tube centered over the duck show, but position it so the duck is inside but close to one edge, allowing more room for your digging operations and yet not cutting the duck's neck off while digging. 

 

Here the digger is using a tube So this is what a geoduck actually looks like !

 

The photo on the left below, shows a little boy making the best of a muddy day while allowing mom and dad time to dig without worrying about him wondering off far.   And dry land is a long distance way. 

 

The photo on the right gives you some idea of the size of these things.    The skin off the neck of the larger duck after blanching in preparation to preserving them was 24" long.  Upon close inspection of the neck, the outer skin is heavily wrinkled, having the appearance of an shallow accordion, with the neck being one big elastic muscle.  The shell on this one was 6 1/4" long.  The necks in the photo below are retracted to as short as they will go.

 

This little guy was having fun  but ultimately needed help to get out of an old dig hole Lots of clam chowder here

 

Preparing Them ;   The RH photo above shows how ugly these things are.  In preparing them, by initially blanching them in boiling water for about 5 or 6 seconds, this allows the dark outer skin to be peeled off the neck.  However immediately after blanching them, dip them in COLD water to prevent the meat from becoming tough.  On the larger ducks, this blanching may not totally loosen the shell attachment muscles like the same amount of time does for razor clams, so you may need to cut the shell loose from the body.

 

Depending on the size of the duck, the breast can be utilized as it is, or sliced into chunks to be dipped in eggs/breaded and then cooked.  The necks off the larger ducks are usually ground up for clam chowder or if off the smaller ducks, TENDERIZED twice for frying.

 

Digging Tube ; The white plastic digging tube shown in use above was made from a 13.5 gallon syrup flavoring compound barrel that had Dr. Pepper / Seven Up on the label.  This plastic is heavy (like 3/16"+ thick) and with the slight ridges for stiffness near the top and bottom seems to function quite well.  It is marginal as to the 14" diameter size, but the blue version #2 shown below, (same barrel only different color) being a couple of inches deeper by moving the hand holds up, giving more support and rigidity does help a bit.  Not perfect, however these are cheap, light weight and experience shows that it works (the white one shown above was a prototype).  All that was required to make it was a saber saw, a felt marking pen and a course file.

 

Initially with the shallow ridges near the bottom, there was some concern that this tube may have a problem being retracted from the hole.  This however proved not to be a problem.

 

These barrels were given to me by a elk hunter who acquired them for a water supply at his hunting camp.

 

Geoduck plastic digging tube Metal cattle feed scoop

 

 

Other Activities ;  If all the stars align and crab season happens to be open during one of these extra low tides, and you are using a boat to access your duck hunting grounds, dropping off a crab pot or two on the way out would be a real plus at the end of the day.

 

 

Copyright © 2013 - 2016 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

 

Back to Ramblings

 

Originated 05-27-2013, Last updated 11-2-2016
Contact the author

proofed by Mike & Julie