Seeking a geoduck is downright dirty business.
It’s not about meeting somebody in a dark alleyway with a cash for bivalve transaction.
Simply put you’ll need to just about bury yourself head first into mucky sand and seawater to get to these deep dwellers of Puget Sound.
Last weekend, we took our geoduck (pronounced goo-e-duck) excursion on one of the more extreme low tides this spring and summer.
Maybe it was by coincidence, but a few days before I got an email from Susan Gibson, Director of Development for Pie Town Productions in North Hollywood, Calif. inquiring about these giant clams.
Gibson wrote: “I am currently trying to track down a series around big characters that geoduck recreationally. Any chance anyone comes to mind? This has been a tough nut to crack!”
For those who don’t know, Pie Town created some popular shows like Chef vs. City on the Food Network and House Hunters on HGTV.
“I don’t know a lot about the project yet, but we are desperately seeking geoduck fishermen,” Gibson told me over the phone. “It sort of falls in the catfish noodling, which is a popular show where they take people out to try it. So it kind of falls in that same vein.”
I told Gibson that I’d be willing to film our adventure, although the friends we go with are very secretive about the location. And the technique we use isn’t the “old school” method of digging it up with a shovel.
Our savvy clamming gear consists of a large strange-looking steel cylinder, wood planks, a golf cart, rusting shovels and plastic buckets.
We headed out two hours before low tide about half a mile onto the sandy flats. Then we began looking for “shows,” which are the brownish tip of a geoduck’s neck poking out of the sand.
Anthony Mizumori of Olympia immediately found six shows, and marked them.
Then came the hard work.
First we shoveled carefully around the geoduck’s neck, which quickly disappeared into the sand.
The big myth is that the adult geoduck digs down to escape when pursued. The retraction of the long neck fools one into thinking the clams is escaping downward. A burrowed geoduck’s siphon can stretch about 39 inches into the sea bed.
With the custom-made cylinder that resembled a hollowed-out garbage can we started to shove it into the sand around the show. The cylinder wall surrounds the clam, and prevents wet sand and water from collapsing inward.
Once the cylinder was almost completely buried we started scooping sand out of the interior with our buckets.
We dug down about 3 to 4 feet deep, and then I went head first into the cylinder to feel around for the shell, and slowly pried it loose.
This took a few minutes, and felt like an eternity, but after slowly massaging it free, I hoisted up a nice-sized geoduck that probably weighed about two pounds.
On average it took us about 20 to 30 minutes to get each geoduck, and we ended up digging six (a daily limit is three per person) before we burned out from exhaustion.
On our way back in, it dawned on me that we had just nailed down on video what Gibson had long been pursuing, and this could lead us to geoduck stardom under the bright lights of Hollywood.
I beg to differ.
Just give me a dish of soy sauce, lemon and a big plate of thinly sliced fresh geoduck, and I’m happy as a clam at high tide.
The geoduck is one of the oldest and most impressive clams. It can weigh up to 10 pounds and live as long as 140 years.
While the big bivalve won’t win any beauty contest, it is by far one of the most tastiest clams in the shellfish kingdom.
The geoduck’s name originated from a Native American word meaning “to dig deep.”
Its gaping, oblong shell is whitish with concentric rings. The siphon and neck of the geoduck cannot be withdrawn into the shell like its cousins, the Manila or razor clam.
The geoduck feeds on phytoplankton (single-celled marine algae), mostly diatoms and flagellates.
Age and growth studies have shown that geoducks grow about 1 inch per year in shell length for the first four years of life. The growth rate slows down after that. The average size of 2.2 pounds is attained in six to eight years.
Geoducks reside along the West Coast as far south as Baja California, but harvestable numbers are found only in Puget Sound-Hood Canal, British Columbia and southeast Alaska.
Puget Sound’s bays and estuaries host the highest density in the United States.
According to state Fish and Wildlife abundance of geoducks historically has gone up, and their population is fairly steady.
One needs to get below that intertidal area beyond the zero feet to minus-2 feet down to about 80 or 90 feet where the bulk of the population exists.
The trend of increasing biomass in recent years is due to additional areas being surveyed, which state fisheries began in 1967.
Biomass estimates taken in 1998 showed 159,200,000 pounds of geoducks inhabited Puget Sound. Recently, that figure increased to 180,824,000 pounds.
State and tribal fish managers take a very conservative approach to the fisheries.
The recreational harvest is very minimal, with an annual harvest of 4,000 or 5,000 pounds.
Guidelines to follow when pursuing geoducks
Before going to a beach, check the marine-toxin hotline at 800-562-5632 or Department of Health website for information on red tides and beach closures.
For beach locations and emergency closures go to the state Fish and Wildlife’s website. The regulation pamphlet also lists public beaches that are open for shellfishing.
The daily limit is three geoducks per person with no minimum size limit.
Another technique for those who don’t have a metal or plastic cylinder is to dig a trench about 2 feet deep, leaving a column of sand to support the siphon. Then expose the siphon by knocking away the sand and continue to dig until you reach the shell.
Avoid grabbing a geoduck by the neck or siphon. If you inadvertently break off the neck, be sure to take the siphon and the body in the shell. State Fish and Wildlife imposes a penalty for discarding dismembered clams.
Rinse clams well with seawater, then keep them moist by putting them in a wet gunny sack or covering them with a wet cloth.
Before leaving the beach, refill the holes you’ve dug.
Be sure to have a valid state Fish and Wildlife shellfish license, which must be worn visibly when digging.
Minus low tides are usually the only time you’ll find geoducks. Next best tides are: Monday, minus-2.2 feet at 9:27 a.m.; Tuesday, -2.8 at 10:12 a.m.; Wednesday, -3.1 at 10:56 a.m.; Thursday, -3.1 at 11:40 a.m.; Friday, -2.7 at 12:23 p.m.; Saturday, -2.1 at 1:06 p.m.; June 30, -2.1 at 10:46 a.m.; July 1, -2.5 at 11:26 a.m.; July 2, -2.5 at 12:07 p.m.; July 3, -2.4 at 12:48 p.m.; July 12, -2.1 at 9:09 a.m.; July 13, -2.4 at 9:57 a.m.; July 14, -2.5 at 10:42 a.m.; July 15, -2.2 at 11:25 a.m.; July 29, -1.9 at 10:24 a.m.; July 30, -2.1 at 11:05 a.m.; and July 31, -2.0 at 11:47 a.m.
According to state Fish and Wildlife natural beds of geoducks exist on many public beaches in Washington, although are rarely encountered on Pacific Coast beaches and west of Clallam Bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The most popular geoduck beaches are: South Indian Island County Park; Oak Bay County Park; Fort Flagler State Park; Hartstene Island; Shine Tidelands State Park; Dosewallips State Park; Duckabush; Penrose Point State Park; Eagle Creek; Frye Cove County Park; North Bay; and Faye Bainbridge State Park.
Boat access only areas include: Dabob Broad Spit; East Dabob; Toandos Peninsula State Park; Hope Island State Park; Seabold Beach; and Blake Island State Park.
How to clean a geoduck
Blanch the geoduck in boiling water for 10 seconds, then submerse it in cold water with ice cubes.
Using a knife, carve the clam away from the shell or simply pop off the shell with your hands.
Separate the viscera from the meat of the neck (siphon) and breast (mantle). Peel the skin from the siphon and mantle. Wash thoroughly to remove any sediment and sand.
Cut the siphon by inserting scissors or a knife into the lower siphon hole and cutting up toward the top of the neck. Wash inside of siphon.
The breast meat below the siphon can be split down the median line and cut into small lengths.
(Photo by Mark Yuasa, Seattle Times staff reporter)