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Clamming for Pismo Clams

Updated on June 28, 2008

Clamming for Pismo Clams

Ah, Pismo clams. They are huge, they are delicious and they are easy to get. The method for clamming Pismos (Tivela stultorum) is simple. The only thing I won't say is where to clam for them. There's a good reason. Because these clams were formerly hunted to the verge of extinction, good clamming grounds are well-kept secrets. I will give you some tips on what to look for though, and it should be easy from there.

Just remember, the limit for Pismos is ten a day, and they have to be 4.5" at the widest point. It's hard work to find that many. But you don't need ten for a good pot of soup.


First, you need a pitchfork.

Second, you need a bucket.

That's it.


Now, what your looking for is evidence. You need to find an open-ocean facing beach with a good sandy base. Walk that beach and look for shells and broken pieces of Pismos. These clams are food to a lot of critters. In fact, they make excellent bait. When something eats a Pismo, the shells often wash onto the beach, usually in multiple pieces. The shells are easy to identify. They are really thick, white or grayish, with pronounced ridged lines (see pic).

Once you found some shells, you found a beach where the Pismos are living. Put some salt water in your bucket. I use about two gallons in a five gallon bucket to help prevent spills on the drive home.

Okay, the method. All you have to do is wait for a low tide. Taking your pitchfork, wade out to the low tide zone, about ten feet from the breakers during a low tide (see pic). Now, working parallel to the breakers, put your pitchfork about four inches into the sand and rock it pack and forth. If you feel a hard object on the tines of the fork, reach down and pick it up. It's probably a Pismo. Otherwise, walk a parallel line to the breakers, working the sand with the fork. Pismos do not burrow deep. A little disturbance of the sand usually brings them right up. If you don't actually hit the clam with your tines, you can feel an uprooted one hit your feet. A little sand disturbance and the wave action uproots them easily. The waves will push them around and they will bounce off of you. If you feel a hard object tap you, reach down and grab it.


I prefer New England clam chowder for Pismos. Also, I have fried them and they are delicious, but a little on the chewy side. Pismos provide a lot of meat per clam. You'll be surprised how big they are, so don't be angry if you don't get ten of them. Five or six make a great soup for a family of four.

This is about 4" wide
This is about 4" wide


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      Kristin  7 years ago

      I was wondering if I could use your picture of the pismo clams )the last one in this posting) for a personal website I am creating. (I am a marine biology professor who is creating a lab/research webpage.) I don't want to break any copyright laws so I was hoping to get your official permission to use the image. Let me know what you think.