A Cape Cod Notebook 7/29/08

ListenSecret Summer Clammers

By Robert Finch

As far as summer clamming goes, I am, admittedly, a winter snob. Normally I set foot on our tidal flats with bucket and rake only during the "R months" - not because I fear red tide or other health hazards during the hot weather, but because clamming conditions are more to my liking in the off season. For instance, in winter there's a relative scarcity of other clammers, a lack of insects, the presence of all sorts of wintering waterfowl, searingly intense sunsets - just to name a few advantages.

So it was with some reluctance that I recently agreed to take a visiting friend out clamming. When we arrived at the town landing there were already forty or fifty other clammers there with rakes and buckets, all scratching in a relatively concentrated area. This was a "put and take" area. That is, a few days ago the town had recently "put" out several bushels of quahogs in this area, and now we were going out to "take" them in thigh-high water. It was hardly a sport, but it was nonetheless competitive. The quahogs tended to be in concentrated clumps, and had not yet had time to dig themselves into the mud. So each of us was eager to locate one of these "honey holes," as they are called, and clean it out before anyone else got there. Some people did this by energetically wielding their rakes, which, of course, was a signal to others that they had found treasure. Another method, employed by some teenage boys, was to dive underwater for them, which allowed the boys to scoop up most of the clams before others could reach them.

But there was another, more subtle method of stealthily securing clams that I eventually employed. If I found a good clump of quahogs in waist-high water, I discovered that by holding my rake upright and on the bottom, I could place a quahog onto the rake tines with my bare foot. Then, still holding the clam on the rake with that foot, I could raise the rake slowly until I was able to reach the shellfish with my free hand and surreptitiously drop it into my still submerged bucket - all this without ever lifting the clam above the surface of the water.

After a while I got quite adept at this method and even devised an improvement. I found I could lift a quahog with one foot, place it on top of the other, and then flip it directly into the bucket - a kind of slow-motion underwater soccer move. Thus I could conduct the whole process completely underwater and collect the clams without ever having to move my rake at all.

It was not long before I began to realize that I was not the only one who had stumbled on this method. Certain other clammers, I noticed, had a suspiciously unconcerned look on their faces. They seemed merely to be standing around abstractedly in belly-high water, turning and weaving from side to side with no apparent purpose, as if they had nothing better to do than to muck about in the mud while staring vacantly upwards. It was only the slow, almost imperceptible raising of someone's clam rake, or the sudden tightening of another's upper torso that signaled some submarine flip of the foot that identified one of them to me. A sudden meeting and quick separation of glances between two of us confirmed that I had spotted another member in the fraternity of secret summer quahog collectors.