Clam Digging in Sand

If you live in the Northeast, you’ve probably gone clam digging in the summertime. If so, then you know that finding even one or two quahogs is no mean feat. You stomp along the surf line looking for big holes dug into the sand by these bivalves, and if nothing is there, don’t despair — you’ll find out where they are soon enough as you work your way down the beach. If you’re like most people who go clam digging, you come up with as many clams as the number of holes awaiting them in the sand — zero. So why does this happen?

The answer is simple: there’s more to clam digging than making a big hole in the sand. You have to know where to dig, and you have to make sure that the clam isn’t at a depth too deep for you to reach. The white part of the quahog’s shell is made up of calcium carbonate — it’s as hard as limestone. This means that those little bivalves can dig through the sand when it comes time for them to bury themselves so they can rest and preserve their energy. This is when they dig deep into the sand at low tide and settle in for a long winter’s nap.


The clam digs down with its foot until it hits solid soil, and then works its way along at that depth. The only way to know where it’s going is to follow it. This fact alone accounts for why you’re not likely to find more than one or two quahogs on your clam digging trip, even if there are many holes in the sand.

The other reason has to do with how deeply the quahog digs itself into the beach. You’ll soon discover that the clam at your feet is no easy catch. If you’re lucky, it’ll be just far enough below the surface of the sand so that you can reach it with a spade or shovel. Otherwise, if you try to dig it up with just your hands, forget about catching that quahog — all you’ll have left is a big hole.

If you do manage to catch it, you can be sure that your hand or shovel is going to get a good workout as the clam tries to stay buried. Quahogs have strong adductor muscles, and these are what allow them to clamp down their shells tightly enough for them not to be pulled out of the sand.

By the time you’ve succeeded in bringing your quahog to the surface, your prize will probably be covered with sand and seaweed. You’ll want to get it cleaned up before you cook it, but doing so is easier said than done. The best way to clean a quahog is to blast its body open using compressed air in a water tunnel.

There used to be quahog farms throughout the Northeast, with most of them located on Cape Cod where quahogs are plentiful all year round. Part of their business involved using blasting technology to open the clams so they could be cleaned. A lot of people have gotten pretty good at digging up clams by hand, but it’s really not worth the effort. If you want to try your hand at clam digging, just be sure to bring the appropriate tools with you so you don’t go home empty-handed.

Clam Digging
Clam Digging

Where do you find clams in the sand?

Clams burrow into the sand at low tide. Find places where there are big holes in the sand and dig at their edges. Clams will usually be within reach of your spade or shovel, so you’ll have to bring one with you to dig them up. Another places to find clams are under rocks, in rock crevices, and amidst seaweed.

What equipment do you need to dig up a clam in sand?

You’ll need a spade or shovel with a sturdy handle in order to dig clams from the sand at low tide. If you’re lucky, the quahog will be close enough to the surface that all you’ll have to do is lift it out. If it’s buried too deep, you’ll need a spade or shovel with an extra-long handle. Another optional item that can come in handy is a spud bar — it’s basically the same as a crowbar and can be used for prying up rocks.

Why can’t I find clams by just digging randomly in the sand?

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get to the clams by digging randomly in the sand. They burrow deep at low tide, so you’ll have to follow them with your spade or shovel to get them out of their holes. Otherwise, all you’ll be left with is a big hole — not exactly the outcome you were hoping for.

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