Fishing for Quahogs

Fishing for Quahogs

I dug my clamming rake into the sandy mix beneath two feet of bay water.

This was the time I'd drag up a clam, I told myself. Surely, I would find something beyond slimed-out rocks and seaweed.

All around me, other diligent shellfishing rookies scrapped their rakes in West Bay, too. Yes, there were plenty of misses, but then hard-shelled clams started to fall into their buckets. The shouts of success rung around the wandering cluster of soggy shellfish hunters.

"Alright," I said, speaking to the shifty shellfish tucked underneath the soil. "I need to dig out at least one of you, and whoever volunteers first, I'll toss back into the waters."

This was 20 minutes into my first shellfishing experience, and I was getting desperate.

I was part of group of about 30 newcomers, with a handful of teachers, who waded the waters of West Bay on a recent summer day for a shellfishing class held by the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing. This day, we were hunting quahogs, such as littlenecks and cherrystones and chowders.

So I headed into the water with a clamming rake and bucket, eager to record my first quahog snag.

The BARS teachers, decked out in body-length waders, stood oblivious to the rising waters, plucking out clam after hard-shell clam.

Every town has different shellfishing rules, in terms of the days, totals and areas that people can harvest, said Amy Raitto, a natural resources officer with the town of Barnstable. A license, either annual or seasonal, is required to shellfish in town, she said. First-timers can go without a license in special circumstances, if a BARS member agrees to let the newcomer use some of their weekly limit of shellfish.

That didn't seem to be an issue with me, since I kept up a steady barrage of unintentional rock collecting. I remembered the guidance from class instructor Jon Gorecki, who told us there is no one right way to use the rakes. Whatever is comfortable he said. Well, after trying about half-a-dozen styles, nothing was smooth sailing.

I tried short front digs into the bottom of the bay. I took long side lunges. I barreled it nearly right into the sand with a quick scoop.

Clam rakes come in slightly different shapes, Gorecki showed us. They all had several long prongs, with most of them merged together. The very sharp and strong prongs dig through the cluster of rocks and other sea detritus. The container part holds the quahogs.

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