Can he dig it?

Looking for something to do with Dad on Father’s Day? Take advantage of the lowest tides of the year at one of Whidbey’s beaches.

Squish, slosh, splash: it’s the sound of low tide at Penn Cove. Thursday’s tide of negative 3.5 was one of the lowest tides of the year. The low tide and sunny weather sucked in clam diggers from Oak Harbor, Anacortes, Mount Vernon and even Kirkland.

“Its the best leisure I know of . . . it’s fun,” said Jim Pierce, a Mount Vernon resident who had almost caught his limit of clams late Thursday morning. “I fry them, do them on a half shell, and make clam fritters. They’re real good for clam chowder too but I don’t waste them on that,” he said, explaining that he cooks them in water.

Clamming is not very time intensive at extreme low tide. “Usually about 15 to 20 minutes,” estimated Pierce, for the average time of digging up the clam limit.

“My back’s about to give out,” huffs Robert Deutsch, Mount Vernon resident digging for the mollusks with Pierce, but sore muscles seem a small price to pay for fresh clams.

Skipping lunch to dig up his dinner is Dan Penttila, a fish biologist from Anacortes. He has just unearthed his 39th clam, nearly reaching the limit of 40. Penn Cove is the perfect beach for clamming, he said. “It’s open year round, doesn’t have many paralytic warnings, is next to the mussel farm, and you know the water is being regularly tested. It’s an excellent beach.” The paralytic reference is to paralytic shellfish poisoning, which is an occasional problem, but not this year.

“There’s literally acres of clams,” laughed Penttila, alluding to the famous Ivar’s slogan. He described the many types of clams and other mudlife in the Penn Cove tideflats. “Horse clams, butter clams, cockles, native little necks,” he points out, as well as the shell of a female crab who has left it behind to grow a new one.

Penn Cove treats its diggers to tasty treats, but beachcombers should be kind to the beach and be careful to refill the holes they dig. They should also check the size of the clams, as clams less than an inch-and-a-half are supposed to be returned to the beach.

On another side of the beach, Alice Maxfield is packing up a Tupperware tub of oysters, which have to be shelled on the beach, according to state law. Young Lee and her sister visiting from Korea are hauling in oysters by the bucket, and looking forward to eating the shellfish for dinner. Clamming seems to be an activity enjoyed by all ages and personalities, and a great way to drink in more of Whidbey Island.

For more information on shellfish regulations, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at

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