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 ReportsReady to catch a salmon like this?
04/19/15 -- Joli Time Sport Fishing of Humboldt Bay specializes in salmon and halibut fishing on board the Bertram 31 Sportfisher, aka the Cuervo, for the ultimate in fishing fun. Captain Ian Kramer and the Cuervo will go to any depth... Full Story
Sardine Decline - Real or Imagined?
04/18/15 -- Are we in “A State of Emergency” or are we watching “Murder at the PFMC.” The big news lately is the Emergency Action for closure of the Sardine Fishery. It’s been all over the news and was even published in the Wall Street... Full Story
KMZ salmon season finalized; lings biting!
04/18/15 -- It’s time to start counting backwards. Various fisheries representatives from Washington, Oregon and California spent last week in Rohnert Park, California, crunching numbers at the annual PFMC meeting until they...Full Story
OR F&WC to set salmon/halibut seasons 04/18/15 -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will set ocean salmon and Pacific halibut seasons and discuss the status of wolves when it meets in Bend on April 24. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at Deschutes National... Full Story
F&GC closes Sac River in Redding
OR DFW seeks help with stocking program 04/16/15 -- This year the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to stock 11,000 rainbow trout (including 3,000 of trophy size) in popular Lake of the Woods, and the agency would like anglers help in figuring out what...Full Story
Generous recreational salmon season set
04/15/15 -- The most anticipated opener of the year for ocean anglers is a lot closer than we had thought. On Wednesday morning, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted the most generous of the three alternatives...Full Story
State’s BS meter running overtime By Gary Heffley
04/15/15 -- Let me first acknowledge that I was unable to attend the meeting regarding the proposed closure of 5.5 miles of the Sacramento River to all fishing to protect the Winter Run Chinook Salmon Run. The reason given...Full Story
Trophy trout, big cat mark Collins catch
04/15/15 -- Another trophy trout plant arrived today, Wednesday, April 15th. Although the wind picked up overnight and continued through the day, Ray and Margaret Johnson said their limit of trout just blew right onto their...Full Story
Charter Boat ‘Scrimshaw’ returns to Eureka
04/16/15 -- Just got home yesterday after a 9-day run starting on the April 1 opener fishing in Santa Cruz. It was great to be back on the water. Fishing was scratchy this year but we got the guys and girls fish every day. With the salmon... Full Story
Oroville Area fishing and outdoor report By Craig Bentley, Golden State Guide Service
04/16/15 -- Lake Oroville’s surface elevation has come up a few inches in the last week to 762 feet. The surface temperature is now 56 degrees. The water is clear up in the river arms and main body coves with mudlines...Full Story
Perch Fishing with Grandpa
04/15/15 -- Way, way back in the day, while experiencing my first panfish outings with my grandfather, he taught us, my cousin and I, ages 9, a secret system. Remember the pre-tied 6 pack of Eagle Claw bait hooks? The leader portion was... Full Story
The Uncertain Future of the Delta Smelt
04/13/15 -- The lowest ever recorded index of abundance for delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) was reported earlier this year in the results from the 2014 California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Fall Midwater...Full Story
Shasta county angling stays strong
04/13/15 -- Fishing on local waters remains very good this month. In spite of a CDFW proposal to close 5.5 miles of the Sacramento River above the SR 44 Bridge to Keswick Dam in Redding, our spring and summer rainbow... Full Story
Brookings lingcod action still red hot
04/11/15 -- If there is nothing more tenacious than a lingcod, it is perhaps the lingcod warriors who pursue them. This past week, anglers had plenty of opportunity to prove their tenacity when ocean conditions that were as flat as a sheet...Full Story
What to expect in E. Sierra this year
04/11/15 -- We are into the first part of the month of April, winter is behind us, and the outlook is grim for the rest of the year due to our prolonged drought. Here are some things that are currently occurring and will probably occur... Full Story
Trophy trout? Collins Lake has proof
04/11/15 -- Collins Lake continues to plant monster trout and the proof is in the pudding!! Most of these huge trout are picked up by trollers using anything from a Kastmaster, Rapala, Needlefish or worms and flashers. The graphs are... Full Story
Only one Eagle Lake ramp to be open
04/10/15 -- As you know the drought continues but it appears at least one ramp will be available for the opener on May 23rd. The one ramp to serve lake visitors is located at Gallatin Marina (Eagle Lake Marina) and is well...Full Story
Lake Oroville: Spit on your hook! By Chuck Giles
04/08/2015 – This is the time of year when Lake Oroville lives up to its name of a bass lake, albeit quantity not necessarily quality. It almost seems as if you could spit on your hook and boat a bass. I’m exaggerating of course...Full Story
Kids' Fishing Day in Paradise By Chuck Giles
04/08/15—Paradise Irrigation District (P.I.D.) will be hosting their annual Kids’ Fishing Day (KFD) on Saturday, April 18 from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Paradise Lake. This event is highly anticipated both by local and other communities...Full Story
ODFW to test new approach to fish passage
Good bite for Shasta Lake bass & salmon
04/08/15 -- Guide Kirk Portocarrero of Redding reports his clients were catching good numbers of bass and king salmon at Lake Shasta as of April 6. Portocarrero says trolling the main body at 75 feet deep was producing...Full Story
Loss of an outdoor buddy By Gary Heffley
04/07/15 -- I never fished with him, but he was often with me. When I drove around alone exploring new areas we often shared a conversation, but he was never in the car. In fact I never met the man but he was a good friend...Full Story
Now is the time to catch some shad
04/06/15 -- The American shad, first delivered by rail to Tehama in 1871, is an extremely sought after quarry today. Should you prefer to toss and fling on foot, the Russian River is a good bet. Although it takes a bit of effort...Full Story
And so it begins
04/04/15 -- Several friends were going to fish Grace Lake, a PG&E impoundment a few miles south of Shingletown, so I thought I could meet them Friday morning and give it a try. CDFW had planted Grace the day before... Full Story
Part of Sac River in Redding could close 03/04/15 -- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is holding a public meeting to solicit comments on a proposed closure of 5.5 miles of the Sacramento River above the Highway 44 Bridge in Redding...Full Story
Reducing Diversion Risk for Green Sturgeon
04/03/15 -- Water diversions make outmigration a risky business for juvenile green sturgeon in the Sacramento River, but new research points to solutions for reducing this threat. In a previous Fish Report, we described...Full Story
Drought barriers push Delta toward collapse 04/01/15 -- Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build water export Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to Gov. Brown’s...Full Story
Pot grows dry up streams; devastate fish
Coleman NFH to truck juvenile salmon again
Black Cod commercial fishing... what?
03/21/15 -- A fishing buddy of mine, John D, and I had a conversation last week regarding the ‘old days’ we had fishing Albion and Ft. Bragg for salmon and rockfish. As you probably know both these ports are located in Mendocino County... Full Story
How to improve your striper catch
03/18/15 -- Each particular species within our world of the outdoors holds a special place in not only our memory bank, but also in our immediate planning. All during the winter when we plan for sturgeon, steelhead and catfish...Full Story
Bay Area ab poachers get heavy fines 03/18/15 -- Three San Francisco men received thousands of dollars in fines and other penalties after pleading no contest to illegally poaching 59 abalone in November 2014. The daily bag limit for abalone is three. Jinfu Wu...Full Story
In Search of Hatchery Solutions
03/17/15 -- [Posted with permission of FISHBIO] As discussed in a recent Fish Report, the hatchery system in California is currently facing a growing number of concerns about the role fish hatcheries should play in helping wild...Full Story
Please respect your catch and the law By Gary Heffley
03/17/15 -- The state has set aside many waters to be managed as catch and release “Wild Trout Waters.” For some there is not enough and for some too many. The state also manages many waters as “put and take,” where those...Full Story
One canary rockfish allowed in Oregon
New Regs: Lingcod up; black rockfish down
Chinook Salmon Abundance: 2014 vs. 2015
03/10/15 -- The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) releases two key documents each February related to salmon abundance: a Review of Ocean Salmon Fisheries, which evaluates the status of salmon fisheries on the West...Full Story
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
Humbug to Horse Mountain: 1.3 million kings!
02/27/15 -- This year, at least 1,298,600 adult Chinook are expected to be finning their way through the ocean in the KMZ, otherwise known as the Klamath Management Zone, an area that spans from Humbug Mountain, Oregon to Horse... Full Story
Some steelhead & salmon tags carry reward 02/26/15 -- Successful north coast steelhead and salmon anglers could catch a $10-50 reward for returning their fish tags this season. Of the more than 4,500 fish that were tagged, 3,000 are eligible for a cash reward...Full Story
Mt. Shasta free kids fishing days set
02/14/15 -- Three of my favorite days of the year are spent at the Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery volunteering at the California Department of Wildlife’s Free Kids Fishing Days. Monty Currier of the CDFW has announced that the free...Full Story
Local lakes on CTT schedule
01/03/15 -- California Tournament Trail (CTT), the self-proclaimed Working Man’s Tournament Circuit, opened its doors in January 2014 at Lake Oroville and wrapped-up a successful inaugural season at Clear Lake in June... Full Story
Ocean climate revealed in tree rings
12/23/14 -- Scientists have tried many approaches to unravel the complex puzzle of past ocean climates. Now, a recent study in the journal Science uses an unlikely source to put the pieces together: tree rings. The study's authors found... Full Story
Bottomfish anglers get knuckles rapped
11/20/14 -- We North Coast rockfish anglers are a victim of our own success! 2014 has been an eventful year for many reasons, but there are definitely winners and losers on the horizon. In a nutshell, halibut is a win/lose... 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
A primer on fishing Lake Shasta By Gary Heffley
01/01/12 -- Shasta Lake draws more visitors to Shasta County than any other single attraction. While it is often a challenge to fish, it is more likely to produce stringers of fat trout or spotted bass. Trout to four and five pounds are caught here routinely...Full Story
Lake Oroville; 'tis the season By Chuck Giles
01/11/12 – Lake Oroville is probably one of the best lakes for sheer numbers of Spotted Bass in Northern California. This is not just on a seasonal basis, but year round. To start, I have a list of baits that produce decent results... Full Story