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Originally published Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 8:02 PM

Digging for geoducks: Work is hard, but rewards are big

Seeking a geoduck is downright dirty business. You'll need to just about bury yourself headfirst into mucky sand and seawater to get to the deep dwellers of Puget Sound.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seeking a geoduck is downright dirty business.

You'll need to just about bury yourself headfirst into mucky sand and seawater to get to the deep dwellers of Puget Sound.

Last weekend, we took our geoduck (pronounced goo-e-duck) excursion during one of the more extreme low tides this season.

Maybe it was coincidence, but a few days before our trip I got an email from Susan Gibson, director of development for Pie Town Productions in North Hollywood, Calif., inquiring about the giant clams.

For those who don't know, Pie Town has created popular shows including "Chef vs. City" on the Food Network and "House Hunters" on HGTV.

"We are desperately seeking geoduck fishermen," Gibson told me over the phone.

I told Gibson 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 the geoduck up with a shovel.

Our clamming gear consists of a large 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," the beige 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 clam is escaping. 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 3 to 4 feet, and then I went headfirst 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 geoduck that weighed about two pounds.

On average it took us 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 home, I realized we nailed the video Gibson had been long pursuing, and that it could lead us to geoduck stardom under the bright lights of Hollywood.

But I beg to differ.

Just give me a dish of soy sauce, lemon and a 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. Its name originated from a Native American word meaning "to dig deep."

While the big bivalve won't win any beauty contest, it is by far one of the most tastiest clams in the shellfish kingdom.

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.

Biomass estimates taken in 1998 showed 159,200,000 pounds of geoducks inhabited Puget Sound. The recreational harvest is 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 www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm for information on red tides and beach closures.

• For beach locations and emergency closures, go to state Fish and Wildlife's Web site at www.wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shellfish/beachreg. The regulation pamphlet also lists public beaches that are open for shellfishing.

• The daily limit is three geoducks per person with no minimum size.

• 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; Harstene 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.

Outdoor calendar

June 15: Lingcod fishing season ends in Puget Sound; June 16: Columbia River above I-5 Bridge opens for hatchery steelhead, sockeye and summer chinook; June 18: Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay open daily for hatchery-marked chinook selective fishery; June 18: last day for halibut fishing in Sekiu-Pillar Point area in western Strait of Juan de Fuca; June 19: Jimmy Green Memorial Fly Fishing and Casting Expo at Lake Tye in Monroe (www.jimmygreenflyexpo.com); June 26: Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay opens for chinook and hatchery-marked coho (check regulation pamphlet for specific open dates and rules); June 26: Statewide Fish Release Awareness Day; July 1: Most of Puget Sound and Hood Canal opens for Dungeness crabs (check regulation pamphlet for specifics); July 1: Sekiu to areas west of Ediz Hook off Port Angeles in Strait of Juan de Fuca opens for hatchery-marked chinook; July 1: San Juan Islands open for salmon fishing; July 16: Northern Puget Sound and most of Central Puget Sound opens for hatchery-marked chinook fishery.

Notes

• Eastside Puget Sound Anglers Chapter meetings are 7 p.m. June 15 at the North Bellevue Community Center, 4063 148th Ave. N.E. in Bellevue. Gary Krein of All-Star Charters in Everett will discuss summer salmon fishing in Puget Sound. At the July 20 meeting Randy Doucet of Northwest Fishing Chartes will discuss pink salmon fishing in Puget Sound. All the meetings are free and open to the public. Details: 206-473-1613.

• The Washington Fly Fishing Club meeting is June 21. Johnny Boitano of the Troutwater Fly Shop in Ellensburg will discuss fly-fishing in the Methow Valley area. To attend the meeting contact the club on the website. Details: www.wffc.com.

• The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is hosting the Salish Sea Native American Culture Celebration with the Samish and Swinomish tribes 11 a.m.-4 p.m. June 18 at Deception Pass State Park. The event features canoes, singers, drummers, storytellers and a salmon and fry bread lunch. Artists from the tribes will demonstrate weaving, cedar work and woodcarving. Details: www.parks.wa.gov.

• The Jimmy Green Memorial Fly Fishing Show and Casting Expo is June 19 at Lake Tye in Monroe. Details: www.jimmygreenflyexpo.com.

• The Northshore Trout Unlimited meeting is the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center, 18560 1st Ave. N.E. in Shoreline. Details: http://northshoretu.blogspot.com.

• Mount St. Helens climbing permits are on sale. Cost is $22. Permits are required year-round to climb above 4,800 feet. Details: 360-891-5007 or www.mshinstitute.org.

• The Issaquah Alps Trails Club hosts weekly hikes and meets in downtown Issaquah. Details: www.issaquahalps.org.

• The Washington Trails Association offers statewide trip reports and trail conditions. Details: www.wta.org.

• The Seattle Audubon Society offers field trips and classes every month. Details: 206-523-4483 or www.seattleaudubon.org.

• The Western Bass Club meets every third Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Kennydale Hall in Renton. Details: www.westernbassclub.comor www.nickbarrfishing.com.

• The new nonprofit Cascade Musky Association is looking for members. Cost is $25 or $35 for a couple/family membership. Details: www.cascademuskyassociation.com or www.wafish.com.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com; twitter.com/MarkKYuasa

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