Shellfishing 101

Recreational shellfishing is an easy Cape Cod pleasure: even for raw rookies who don’t know a cherrystone from a little neck.

There is something so simple, yet deep-down satisfying about shellfishing. On a warm summer day you can pull on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and a pair of old sneakers, grab your rake and basket and head to the beach to dig for steamers. Later, you can steam up these soft shell clams and serve them hot with bowls of clam broth and melted butter to grateful friends and family.

Shellfishing 101

A good trick for finding steamers is to look for small spouts of water, or holes in the mud, on tidal flats. When we were kids, we used to drop the biggest rock we could find on the mud to make the steamers spout before they burrowed back to safety.

Shellfishing 101

If you are a fan of quahogs (there are two sizes of these hard-shelled clams: larger cherrystone clams for chowder, stuffing, or sauces, and little necks, which are great served raw on the half shell), you can walk out until the water reaches your knees and drag a special shellfishing “basket” rake through the sandy mud for bounty.  It’s a good idea to attach a floatable device (we sometimes use a shortened child’s styrofoam ‘noodle’) around your wire basket so you don’t lose it.

This is more work than just scratching around with a long handled tines rake such as that used for digging steamers, requiring a little more muscle. The good news is that quahogs are much closer to the surface of the sand, so it can be easier to fill your basket and head home to make chowder or one of our favorites, spaghetti with clam sauce made with lots of garlic, olive oil, and fresh chopped parsley or basil. (Enjoy this recipe on our website at

Shellfishing 101
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Susan Dewey is the associate publisher and editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. She lives in Centerville on Cape Cod and enjoys gardening, sailing, walking on the beach, gallery hopping, cooking with fresh seafood, and exploring Cape Cod and the Islands from shore to shore.

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