Clamming Humboldt Bay
By Casey Allen
Governed by the gravitational pull of the moon the tides are the rhythmic heartbeat of the sea. Twice each day the mud flats of Humboldt Bay are exposed by the low tide. A few days each month the low tides are at their lowest and are called minus tides. It is during these minus tides that people search the seldom exposed mud flats for food among a large variety of clams. This activity has occurred since the beginning of human history and continues to be popular today.
Today the tides are predictable and a quick look at a tide book will reveal the hour the tide is low. It will also tell how low the tide will be with zero being the mean or average low tide. Humboldt Bay’s lowest tides measure around minus 1.8 which is almost two feet lower than normal. Clams may be dug on any low tide but the lowest tide provides access to more and larger clams and also gives the clammer a little more time before the tide turns and ends the digging.
There are places on Humboldt Bay where you can walk to productive mud flats but a boat is needed to reach the best spots. As with any type of fishing the places hardest to get to usually produce the best because there are fewer people. From the boat ramp at Fields Landing you can easily see where people are clamming. It is perfectly okay to join them or go looking for a secret spot of your own. Clams are not hard to find. Their siphon tube stretches to the surface of the mud and occasionally squirts water into the air. At times whole colonies are squirting at once and at the very least their siphon holes dot the mud flat. Most people feel the bigger the siphon hole the bigger the clam and some can tell the species of clam by the shape of the hole.
Humboldt Bay is home to the Pacific Gaper Clam commonly known as horse necks. They cannot retract their siphon and completely close their shell which gives them the name gaper. They can be found from one to four feet deep. Butter Clams also called Washington or Martha Washington clams are common. They can retract their siphon, have a smooth shell, and live shallower than the horse neck. Pacific little neck clams and cockles have serrated edges on their shell and are the smallest of the group, sometimes called steamer clams. They live just under the surface and can be taken with a rake. The largest clam in Humboldt Bay is the Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck). This gaper clam can grow to a whopping eight pounds and live 168 years. Its name comes from a Native American word that means dig deep.
Gene Morris and I launched my 12 foot johnboat at the Fields Landing boat ramp the morning of the first low tide in March. I wanted to try for razor clams on Clam Beach near Mckinleyville but the tide was only a minus .7 and the surf was predicted to be too rough. We motored north in the sheltered channel of the South Bay and turned the corner to the west side of the big mud flat. There were two other boats already there and people were scattered digging in the mud.
Gene was excited to be clamming again. He lost part of his foot to a blood clot and that restricted his mobility. He planned to dig from the bow of the johnboat. I slid the boat onto the mud and the clams were squirting right and left. I was wearing chest waders and a rain jacket with neoprene gloves duct taped to the sleeves. I walked a few paces away from the boat and started digging on a likely looking siphon hole. In a few minutes I started pulling clams from the mud. I found that trenching worked well. Once I got to the depth of the clams it was easier to dig sideways than down on top of them and I broke fewer shells. Gene had spread a tarp in front of the boat and was busy digging with a nice pile of horse necks filling his bucket. I noticed the other clammers were searching for just the right place to dig and I thought they must be after a specific clam. We were after quantity for a big pot of chowder and there were plenty of clams right in front of us.
I don’t know how much time passed, you can get lost in your digging, but Gene called, “the boat is floating away.” On our way out Gene told a story about a guy who had to swim for his boat and I told Gene I brought a line and anchor to keep the boat where we put it. But then I neglected to deploy it. An unexpected surge must have lifted the boat enough to float it clear of the mud and as I looked past Gene I could see it gaining speed in the morning breeze. I took off running across the mud as fast as I could without falling. My boat was at the edge of the floating eel grass that marks the deep water of the channel and I wondered if I could reach it in time. I plowed into the water and realized it would be close and then realized I was committed. With my last step still touching the bottom I dove outstretched reaching for the boat. I grabbed the side with both hands and with strength only available in such situations I pulled myself over the gunnels and into the boat. Then I realized another thing I had neglected to do. I did not strap up my chest waders or zip up my rain jacket. If I had I would not be near as wet as I now was. Of course, I should have put the anchor out.
The motor started on the first pull and moments later I pulled the boat back next to Gene and put the anchor out. I was shaken that I let that happen and thought if I was one step slower we would be begging for help. Thankfully, Gene went back to digging so I did too.
We ended with about 75 clams, well short of our limit of 50 each but more than enough for our planned chowder feed. We removed the clams from the shell and slit open the siphon tube before soaking them in cold fresh water overnight. The next day the skin on the siphon tube was easily removed and all except the guts went into the pot. I was sore all over from the unusual muscle activity and still sore at myself over not placing the anchor. But we had a good time, collected some good food, and have another story to tell.
Fishing ReportsNorth State fishing is hot!
07/28/16 -- As many of you know, my Dad had Cancer. This past January we stopped Chemo treatments since it was no longer working. Dad had a couple of good months, but by early March Dad's health declined. I stayed home with...Full Story
Bait-chomping kings thick off Eureka
07/28/16 -- The weather finally got the best of the Eureka sport salmon fleet. What had been a wide-open bite for the past week was cooled by Wednesday’s rough waters. Only a few of the bigger boats chose to cross the bar into the...Full Story
August 1 brings changes to Sac River By Gary Heffley
07/26/16 -- A couple of major fishing regulation changes for the Sacramento River in Shasta and Tehama Counties will take effect on August 1, opening a couple of popular stretches of water to both trout and salmon anglers...Full Story
Gravel Bar Anglers-Bridge Closure Alert By Gary Heffley
07/26/16 -- Jelly's Ferry Rd. Bridge across the Sacramento River which provides access to the Gravel Bar from the Red Bluff area and points south from the Jelly's Ferry exit off Hwy 5 is closed due to a recent fatal vehicle accident...Full Story
A Perfect KIlarc Morning
07/25/16 -- Folks who read my stuff know how much I enjoy fishing with kids. They are, after all, the future outdoors men and women, the people who will carry on the lifestyle we are living today. The kids I’ve been fishing with...Full Story
A Hot Summer’s Day on Chico Creek
07/25/16 -- I’ve been exploring Northern California’s streams -- above and below the surface -- for most of my life. One of my most memorable adventures took place on a hot summer’s day in 1964, not long after my sixteenth...Full Story
Hot tuna and salmon fishing dreams
07/23/16 -- I have always said that Brookings is the most strategically-located fishing city on the Oregon coastline. Allow me to explain what I mean by strategically-located. Brookings has without a doubt what I would call...Full Story
Collins Lake visitors leave with limits
07/22/16 -- You never know where exactly you will hook a fish at Collins Lake, but to be sure, hooking fish is what Lake Collins fishermen do best! Little Amy Fleming from Yuba City defied all odds and limits out on trout...Full Story
Eureka boats finding salmon close to home
07/21/16 -- Haven’t seen your neighbor’s boat in the driveway lately? Co-workers not showing up to work or calling in sick? I’m pretty sure I know where they are. The red-hot salmon bite that’s happening inside Humboldt Bay and...Full Story
Night Surf Fishing for Striped Bass
07/17/16 -- Knowing that it doesn't get much better than July for striped bass fishing on the beaches of San Francisco, I decided I’d try fishing Thursday evening for just a couple of hours to see if I could feel that familiar tug again on...Full Story
Pigeon Point Rock Crab Fisheries Open
July 2 is Free Fishing Day in California
State offers $200,000 in Habitat Grants
CDFW: Dungeness, Rock Crab schedule
Nor Cal Kokanee Power Tournaments set By Gary Heffley
02/18/16 -- Dates for the popular series of Kokanee Power's Trout and Salmon Tournaments are set for 2016 with three of the events taking place in Northern California. Kokanee Power is one of the top organizations promoting not only the...Full Story
Disregard the story’s title. I don’t really have a “first” name. If I did, it would probably be something like Leviathan or Behemoth or maybe Lunker. Officially, I’m a trout. A brown trout. A giant, brown trout. Possibly the biggest, fattest...Full Story
11/14/15 -- Adjacent to both Lake Almanor and Mountain Meadows, between the towns of Westwood and Greenville, is a seemingly forgotten piece of backcountry; Keddie Ridge – aka Ridge World – where ancient rocks... Full Story
Let’s check out the Upper Sac
09/06/15 -- The Upper Sacramento River – The Upper Sac – begins at Lake Siskiyou’s Box Canyon Dam and continues ~37 miles downstream to Lake Shasta. It is a classic freestone river born from the Mt. Shasta and Mt. Eddy... Full Story
Finding Fish from Discarded DNA
06/22/15 -- To round out our series on environmental DNA (eDNA), in which we've described the basic concepts of this technique* in aquatic research, as well as its challenges and limitations**, here we highlight... Full Story
How to make Tuscan Tuna Salad with Fennel By Frank Galusha
05/04/15 -- OK, you went ocean fishing. If your fish is fresh or if you have processed, vacuum packed and frozen your catch properly, there are many ways to enhance your meals. Almost everything taken from the ocean is not... Full Story
Agencies halt commercial sardine fishing
Fishing the Klamath below JC Boyle Dam
03/02/15 -- Year round trout action can be found on the Klamath River within the 20 or so miles of free flow within Oregon and California. While fishing below the flumes at the JC Boyle powerhouse, it can be difficult to know just when...Full Story
The Mystery of the Middle Fork, Part IV
11/10/14 -- This trip was to be the final chapter in the saga that began three years ago but is actually over 20 years in the making. As Bruce, Tuck and I journeyed back to the Middle Fork of the Feather River we made...Full Story
Climbing Terms for the Fisherman
German brown trout afternoon in Modoc
09/04/14 -- Catching a German Brown Trout from the creeks in Modoc County is a fine way to spend an afternoon. There are many creeks in this part of California that drain the Warner Mountains. Stream trout fishing in this region opens...Full Story
Throw the kitchen sink at them
08/20/14 -- Our wilderness areas are special, where Mother Nature is landlord and natural forces operate freely. Within the wilderness you will find no roads, shelters, picnic tables, toilets, or other conveniences. You enter at...Full Story
Humboldt Bay: Busy port, excellent fishery
Pulled into the pipes: Green Sturgeon
03/04/14 -- [Posted with permission of FISHBIO] Living in the Sacramento River can be a risky business for juvenile green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris). The young fish must swim through a gauntlet of water... Full Story
Not Just Any Fish
02/14/13 -- Trout have inhabited California waters from the Sierra Nevada and Warner Mountains to the Pacific Ocean since prehistoric times. However, most of the trout caught by anglers are either hatchery raised fish...Full Story
Fishing with Phideaux
01/26/14 -- Meet Phideaux, a 110-pound neurotic chocolate Lab. His name is pronounced “Fido” but it is spelled “Phideaux” because he is a Cajun dog. Anyway, last summer Phideaux took his human (that’s me) on a trout hunt up into...Full Story