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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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July 01, 2012

Clamming the North Fork of Long Island

by Bob Banfelder

Clams (quahogs) make for interesting fare with which to create many a fine meal—from appetizers, to soups, to magnificent main courses. Clamming is really a simple process requiring little more than a decent clam rake; a basket, be it made of wood, wire or whatever; a small inner tube in which to set and float the container, and a length of line wrapped around your waist to pull along your prizes as you rake bottom structure. Additionally, you'll want to check the local regulations for Shellfish Harvest Areas, as you may need a permit or license. For productive clamming, simply work a sandy-muddy shoreline, the periphery of a sandbar, or in-between patches of eel grass. The further away from traffic—be it bathers, other clam diggers, boats, et cetera—the better.

Unless you want to look at this activity as a form of labor instead of a labor of love, arrange your schedule to coincide with working one hour on each side of a low tide, and you are sure to score without becoming enervated and/or sore. Two hours is a good amount of time to collect a decent amount of clams for the table, which should provide many a meal for family and guests. If the pickings are great and you're a bit greedy, or if the start proved slow from the get-go, you can always elect to continue for another hour or so. However, if you are not used to working a clam rake, a half hour on each side of a low tide might be enough activity the first time out. A moment or two of instruction is all that is needed to operate a clam rake efficiently. In a matter of a couple of outings, you'll probably be able to discern the difference between a rock and a clam as you scratch away at the watery floor for quahogs.

Quahogs are a general term relating to the family of edible clams having a relatively hard shell. Littlenecks, cherrystones, topnecks, and chowders comprise the list. However, there is a bit of confusion leading to a heap of controversy as to size order. Some folks argue that topnecks are larger than littlenecks (true) but smaller than cherrystones (not necessarily true). By strict definition, topnecks are actually larger than cherrystones; region determines interpretation. Even its spelling is argued in some instances; sometimes shown as two words: top necks.

To belabor the issue and to have a little fun, I set forth the argument in one of my novels titled The Author. The setting is a Sicilian restaurant on the south shore of Long Island. A mafia boss and his henchman, both customers enjoying dinner, argue the point insistently. Who is right? The boss (our parents frequently told us) is always right. Right? Well, in this case, the boss' henchman's family were Bonackers (blue collar folks from the south shore of Long Island who had for generations made their living from fishing and clamming) and, therefore, knew better. The argument escalates and is presented to a tactful waitress who, right or wrong, realizes that the customer is always right. But which customer—the mafia don or his henchman? The waitress resourcefully addresses the dilemma when challenged by Don Ciccio as to what kind of clams were set before him. She simply states, "I believe you [Don Ciccio] call them topnecks."

That's pretty much the crux of the matter. It has become, for the most part, a regional issue or argument. In New England, it's unquestionable that a topneck is larger than a cherrystone. On Long Island, some folks insist that a topneck has found its niche between a littleneck and a cherrystone in size order. A good many fish markets in our area cull, grade, and sell them accordingly; that is, littlenecks being the most expensive per dozen, followed by topnecks, cherrystones, and then chowders. If you want to belabor and argue the point intelligently, go to the source for meanings and spellings. For openers, open an unabridged dictionary—as you probably won't find what you're looking for in a desk copy reference. Enough said. Now that I've shamelessly plugged one of my novels and made my point with regard to quahogs, let's look at an important book to keep in mind; your log book. You may already keep records of your fishing excursions.

Keeping a log of your outdoor activities, be it for fishing or clamming, will provide you with important information for future outings that if went unrecorded might prove nothing more than a pleasant yet distant memory. By keeping an accurate accounting of your excursions, you will be quite surprised and pleased to see a pattern emerge that will aid in enhancing your abilities and enjoyment. Just short of revealing our secret locations, you will see that in most cases Donna and I quickly became more productive as we proceeded through the years. Too, you will note how we truly upped our ante by securing a second clam rake. Not just any clam rake, but one better suited to securing more clams. The initials below, BB and DD, belong to Donna and me; then later, to those of our friends. Where you see two sets of initials but only one rake, it means that one of us is trailing a basket while the other digs for clams. Hence, the designated hours are to be interpreted as man-hours per rake, not the number of persons per se.

June 25th, 2008. Fishing was off. Headed to our clamming area(s); 2.5 hours; 1 rake operation–36 clams; all sizes; BB, DD
June 27th, 2008. 3.5 hours; 1 rake–47 clams; BB, DD
June 30th, 2008. 4.5 hours; 1 rake–90 clams; BB
July 3rd, 2008. 4.25 hours; 2 rake operation–133 clams; BB, DD, GF, SF
July 10th, 2008. 2.75 hours; 1 rake–48 clams; BB, DD
July 18th, 2008. 3 hours; 1 rake–51 clams; BB, DD
July 22nd, 2008. 5 hours; 3 rake operation–193 clams; 8 scallops; BB, DD, GF, SF
August 3rd, 2008. 3 hours; 1 rake–50 clams; BB, DD
August 19th, 2008. 3 hours; 3 rakes–101 clams; BB, DD, GF, SF
August 21st, 2008. 3.5 hours; 2 rakes–211 clams; GF, SF
August 22nd, 2008. Donna and I decide to purchase a second rake. We are taken to a secret spot by two other secretive souls: Bob Johnsen and a female friend. Bob finally broke down and took Donna and me to his secret area. 1 hour; 4 rake operation–339 clams! Wow! BB, DD dug up 227 clams; BJ, LW 112 clams. We are sworn to secrecy and may only visit that spot by special invitation. If you think fishermen/women are secretive souls, wait until you meet up with a few clammers.

Note: A good part of our success I attribute to the new rake's design: nine tines configured with corners to its basket. The new rake outproduced our old rake by a considerable margin. Compare the old So Lo rake to our new Ribb rake. It was purchased for $70.55 (including tax) at White's Hardware Store in Greenport. It paid for itself after a couple of outings. No, you don't need a twenty-one-tooth bull rake with an extension handle to cash in on recreational clamming— unless you're thinking of going commercial. Keeping it simple is sound advice.

Back to our old spots:

September 2nd, 2008. 3 hours; 1 rake (new)–73 clams; 1 scallop; BB
September 3rd, 2008. 4.5 hour; 1 rake (new)–97 clams; BB
September 12th, 2008. Secret area by BJ's invitation only. Very windy and rainy. 45 minutes; 3 rakes–105 clams; i.e., BB, DD: 58 clams–BJ: 47 clams.

Donna and I love this life. Can you dig it?

For those of you in the Riverhead area, I will be giving a presentation titled Clamming & Crabbing on Long Island at the Riverhead Free Library, 330 Court Street, Thursday, July 26th, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

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