Baked, steamed, served as chowder or atop linguine, the thought of these tasty bivalves surely makes your mouth water. And although fresh clams are a staple among seafood snobs, they’re also favored forage to numerous species of prized inshore game fish. Fortunately, black drum, redfish, flounder, sheepshead, pompano, whiting and bluefish aren’t picky eaters and prefer them raw.
In suitable coastal waters, clams inhabit inshore shallows throughout the entire Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Bivalve mollusks with symmetrical shells and soft innards, clams are similar in appearance to mussels and oysters, although they vary greatly in regards to habitat preference. Oysters and mussels attach to hard structures like pilings, while clams prefer to burrow in mud and soft substrate. The most commonly encountered clam in Florida is the quahog although they are often referred to as hard clams.
Try cracking two shells against each other with a relative amount of force. If that doesn’t reveal the prize take a paring knife and insert it where the upper and lower shells meet.
Hard clams are long living and slow growing, so they are extremely susceptible to over harvesting. In addition, numerous aquatic predators enjoy freshly shucked clams as much as you and I. Blue crabs, conch, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, wading birds and a multitude of game fish are only some of the predators on the hunt for an easy meal. Because of the high demand commercial aquaculture is increasing in popularity.
If you’re not already a believer take it from anglers in the Northeast, clams work well. From trophy striped bass in the surf to big ‘tog inhabiting deep water wrecks, clams have been enticing quality game fish for years. For Florida anglers the catches can be equally impressive, sans cold-water blackfish.
While you certainly stand a chance of collecting enough clams to get you through a morning of fishing, they aren’t as easy to acquire as mullet or pinfish. Like previously mentioned, clams prefer to burrow rather than attaching to structure like other bivalves, so their presence isn’t always readily visible. Preferring areas of muddy bottom, you can either dig blindly or look along receding shorelines for the small opening left by the siphon of a burrowing clam. Fortunately, clams often converge in groups so if you’ve found one there are likely more in the near vicinity.
Although wild-caught hard clams can be found in Florida waters, to meet the growing demand with sustainable resources several counties have aquaculture operations. Aqua-farmers lease submerged plots of ideal substrate from the state, with Florida’s temperate conditions presenting ideal habitat for clam farming.
If you go through the hassle of harvesting clams yourself then you are in luck, as fresh is best. Frozen clams often have a soft, mushy texture and are prone to falling off the hook. If you don’t have the desire to dig up a few fresh clams these slimy enticements can be purchased shucked and frozen at most bait shops. As a last resort beachgoers on the hunt for pompano can even purchase fresh clams from local seafood retailers, though prepare to pay.
When you finally get your hands on some clams you’ll need to open the tough shells. Try cracking two shells against each other with a relative amount of force. If that doesn’t reveal the prize take a paring knife and insert it where the upper and lower shells meet. Twist and slide the knife around the shell and sever the foot that attaches the meat to the shell.
Now that you have access to the clam you need to prep it for fishing. Soft and slimy, clams require proper hooking techniques in order to keep you from fishing on credit. When you have the clam meat in your hands you’ll feel soft guts and harder tissue. Place your hook in the tougher tissue and be sure to double or triple hook the bait by threading it around the hook. Often times anglers form neatly cut strips for the best results. You certainly don’t want a huge glob of clam guts resting on your hook.
While effective year-round, with the winter months rolling around clams really turn on the inshore bite. This is especially true for beach and pier fishermen looking to entice an array of great tasting species. Even though they require some level of effort to acquire, clams are well worth the effort in the long run.
Know the Law
Within Florida waters it is illegal to harvest hard clams measuring less than 1 inch in thickness across the hinge. The bag limit is one 5-gallon bucket per person or two 5-gallon buckets per vessel, per day. There is no closed season, but harvest is prohibited when allowable harvesting areas are closed.