Winter Night Dig: Don’t Hide the Fire

Arriving at the beach in winter in early evening, for a night-time dig

Rich went to a night dig at Copalis in early February, with his friend Mike and Mike’s kid in second grade. It was a Sunday. They arrived about 4 PM for a 6:30 PM low tide. Rich gave this report:

<<We took the Ocean City beach access road, and drove north up the beach several miles. Mike brought a giant pile of wood in the back of his pick-up, split fir, nice and dry, for a fire. The temp was 40 degrees and it was blowing. It was cold. There were other people and cars on the beach, but it wasn’t crowded. Mike had the bright idea we should be put ourselves on Gaia, a GPS tracking app. That way, we could follow the track back to the car. It can be hard to find the car when night falls, in the blackness of the beach. Like being in a cave.

We started digging right away to catch the light; there were a lot of shows, but the clams were small. I was digging with the shovel, prospecting and pounding the sand near the surf. I started looking for bigger shows, to get bigger clams. Mike and his son each had a tube. So there we are, digging and digging and digging. It’s getting colder, and dark. I had my giant headlamp on. Mike’s stopped working. “Hey” he said, “I paid like $19 for that on Amazon.” Mike and his son together have 7 clams. I want to get my limit. I say, “You have the track back to the car. We’re a little south. Maybe go back to the car?” They think this is a good idea.

I ask, “How will I know where you are when I’m done? Can I call you on the phone?”

“The ringer on my phone doesn’t work,” Mike says.

“How will I know where you are?”

“I’ll light a big fire.”

Big fires are distinctive, so that seemed like a good plan. And off they go.

I’m digging, clams are on the deeper side, and it’s cold, but I finally get my limit.  The clams at the largest are 4 inches. I start back up the beach, looking for a bonfire. Given the amount of wood Mike brought you should see the fire from space. But I don’t see anything. It’s just black. It’s now late. The beach is desolate. At first there’s a big truck with a blinking light, in what I take to be about the right location. But then that’s gone; they have their limit or whatever and have departed. All that’s left is night and darkness.

I continue walking south, thinking, I’ll see him if I just go in a straight line. I’m uneasy.  Where the heck are they? Then I see a tiny spark. Practically a hallucination. I walk in that direction. When I get close I see it’s them. He has started the fire but it’s behind the car. In a pit. I couldn’t see the fire till I was right next to it. I was lucky to find him. I just happened to see some sparks flying up.

“Hey man, the fire is hidden in a pit, behind the car. I had no way of finding you. I just happened on you. What’s the deal?”

“The wind was blowing so much, we had to make this giant pit,” he says.

I warmed up by the fire, and we ate marshmallows, and heated some stew. It’s tough when it’s cold and windy, and dark. And even tougher when your buddy hides the fire in a hole. Always assume the worst with Mike>>

A beach fire is a welcome companion at a night dig


Large Numbers for October “Covid” Dig at Copalis

Lots of folks turned up for a mid-October evening dig at  Copalis Beach

It’s an astounding number. On Saturday night, October 17th, over ten thousand clam diggers folks poured onto the sandy flat beaches of the Copalis management area to dig razor clams. 10,100 intrepid souls to be precise, according to the count by Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

For this eye-popping number of diggers you can thank the covid-19 pandemic. With the spring 2020 digs cancelled due to covid (local officials didn’t want a bunch of covid-carriers blustering into town) – not too mention the many months of closed movie theaters, gyms, coffee shops, and restaurants – there was pent-up demand for something fun.

And so when the beaches were green-lighted for digging, folks showed up. The clams did their part: they appeared in quantity. Though officials couldn’t interview diggers to assess catch results due to covid, digging was good and they assumed every digger hauled out a limit of 15 clams. So about one million five hundred thousand clams were harvested this one minus-tide day, and a lot of clam chowder and fried clams consumed.

Those who participated made a good decision as just a few weeks later domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxins that doesn’t harm the clams but is dangerous to humans, showed up.  All razor clamming was shut down. Groan. 2020 has indeed been the year of miseries.

Don’t expect the season to open any time soon. Unfortunately, it can take razor clams a long time to rid themselves of domoic acid, sometimes as long as a year.