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Discovering Block Island: Clamming in the Great Salt Pond

by Will / June, 1 2016 01:30

Clamming on Block Island in the Great Salt Pond

One of my absolute favorite things to do on Block Island is to go clamming. What do you do? Simple, dig up some fresh clams to eat...they taste so good. Nothing beats a fresh clam you caught that day.

Plus clamming is not only fun but also a great family activity. From toddlers to great-grandparents it’s an easy and rewarding activity for everyone.

The Short of It

  • Get a clamming license and tide chart from the Harbor Master’s Office at the Block Island Boat Basin (without a license the Clam Warden will confiscate your clams)
  • Head to Andy’s Way in the Great Salt Pond around low tide (be sure to apply your sunscreen before heading out)
  • Dig for clams in the shallows - they’ll be an inch or two below the sand
  • Cook up the clams for a great sunset treat

What You Need

Before you head out make sure to pick up a few things - a bucket / mesh bag or two, a clamming rake (although many prefer to use their hands and feet to dig) and a clamming license.

Yup, you need a clamming license to go clamming. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pass a test but you do have to go to the Harbormaster’s Office with a photo ID in hand. The Harbormaster’s Office is located in New Harbor at the Block Island Boat Basin. Make sure everyone who wants to clam gets a license or the Clam Warden will confiscate the clams you catch. I can’t remember if kids need a license so ask if there’s an age cutoff and if you just want to go and watch, you don’t need a license.

At the Harbor Master’s Office they’ll issue you a shellfish license once you show your ID and pay a fee. If memory serves me you can buy a license good for as little as 7 days or up to one year. They’ll also give you a little metal rectangle with a hole in it. This is actually how you tell if a clam is a keeper or not. Any clam that fits through the hole you can’t keep. Throw it back so it grows for next season.

While at the Harbormaster’s Office ask for a tide chart too. It’s best to go clamming during low tide which happens twice a day. However, the exact time changes everyday so it’s best to get a tide chart.

Of course, we always recommend applying sunblock before you go.

Truck driver whose left side of his face had increased sun exposure

When to Clam

It’s best to get out there around low tide. I like to arrive about half an hour / forty five minutes before low tide and stay out for an hour or so past low tide. That gives me plenty of time to catch a dozen if not a few dozen clams.

So when is low tide? One way to tell is to ask for a tide chart when you are at the Harbormaster’s Office. Another is to look in the local paper. The weekly tide chart will be in there. You can also check online here.

Where to Clam

Block Island’s Great Salt Pond is where you want to head. Every year the town stocks it with new clams so there’s always some to catch.

The Great Salt Pond is pretty big and I think the best place to head is Andy’s Way. To get there take Corn Neck Road away from town. As you go you’ll see the ocean on your right (to the east) and the Great Salt Pond on your left (to the west). After about two miles (and after passing Town Beach) look out for a white sign post with “Andy’s Way” written vertically on it in red lettering. It’ll be on the left (west) side of the road. Turn down Andy’s Way and maybe 500 feet later you’ll arrive at a small parking lot. Note that Andy’s Way, like many of the roads on Block Island, is a dirt road. This one’s pretty short and well maintained so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Once you’ve parked, grab your stuff and head to the end of the parking lot where there is a short path that leads out to Andy’s Way - a long stretch of beach in the Great Salt Pond.

You can clam just about anywhere along Andy’s Way but I like to head to the right (north) and into the shallows. It’s often easier to dig in the shallow water plus for little tykes it’s an easy place to play. The water in the Great Salt Pond is calm and warmer than the ocean, so that’s a benefit too.

Likely you’ll see other folks clamming - don’t be afraid to ask them where they’ve had success. There are enough clams for everyone.

Coast Guard Beach is another spot to try clamming. I haven’t tried it but it’s also along the Great Salt Pond.

How to Clam

One of the reasons clamming is family friendly is it’s easy to do. Just dig a few inches under the sand in shallow water (some like to clam in waist deep, I prefer ankle deep, and you can even find clams in the wet sand), pick up what you find, test them in the handy clam-measuring-rectangle you got at the Harbormaster’s Office, toss back the ones that fit through, and drop the other ones in your bucket.

To dig you can use your feet, hands or a clam rake. A clam rake is a long pole with a basket at the end. Attached to the basket are a few prongs you dig into the sand with and then pull along. As you are pulling along the prongs turn up the sand and anything reasonably sized ends up in the basket. So after a short pull just lift the basket out of the water and see what you have.

How to Cook

I’m sure there are a ton of ways to cook clams and I’m definitely no expert chef. That said, my family's favorite way is very easy - just plop them on the grill and wait for them to open up.

It really is that simple. After 10 minutes or so cooking take off the open ones and leave the others to cook until they open. Then serve up the clams with a cup of melted butter to dip in. Fresh...sweet...juicy clams.

More Block Island Discoveries

If you want to know more about the island including things to do and how to get there check out our Discovering Block Island series.

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