Gapers and Cockles

April 25, 2011 · 2 comments

a collection of cockles

I read the kid’s book One Morning in Maine by Robert Mccloskey about eight years ago, and after that, I was dying to find someone to take me clamming. Finally five years later, one of Henry the Husband’s clients who was an avid clammer agreed to show us the ropes. It turned out to be not only a good time but a bountiful harvest. We’ve been many times since. Last Thursday morning was a   -1.7′ minus tide, so we packed up the family and drove about an hour and fifteen minutes to the Alsea Bay in Waldport, Oregon.


To dig clams legally in Oregon, you need a shellfish license issued by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. An annual shellfish license for an Oregon resident is $7, a real bargain. The daily limit is 20 bay clams (gapers, cockles, butter clams, littlenecks, and geoducks), including not more than 12 gapers.

The first order of business when digging gapers is to find a “show,” a quarter-sized depression in the wet sand caused by the clam sucking down its neck to make it less vulnerable during low tide.

a gaper "show"

Henry the Husband digs for gapers with the Alsea Bay Bridge in the background.

When you’ve found a good sized “show,” dig alongside it, following the course of the neck back to the shell. The trick is to reach the clam before your hole walls collapse, and your hole fills with water. In these photos, Henry is using a 5-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out to stabilize the hole walls, giving him more time to locate the clam.

Gaper or Horse-neck clam (Tresus capax)

The guys in the photos below were using rakes to dig cockles. Cockles dwell just an inch or two below the surface of the sand. I didn’t have a rake, so I got my limit by pawing in the sand of a little inlet. I probably didn’t find the biggest ones of the day, but I did well enough without any special tools.








Cockle (Clinocardium nuttallii)

For more info about digging gapers or cockles, check out the ODFW guide for digging bay clams.


a gaper ready for cleaning

Cut the mantle and abductor muscles to separate the flesh from the shell.














Trim the tip of the neck and split the neck down the middle. Pull the gills off, split the stomach, and scrape out the stomach contents and the digger (cartilage thingy). The foot (below) remains attached to the stomach.










The neck is the majority of the meat.

Squeezing out gross stomach contents.









Cockles need a little boiling water to coax open their shells (otherwise clamped shut).








After a minute or so in the hot water they pop open.

Use tongs to transfer them from hot water to cold. Cockles don’t have a neck like a gaper, so you get the foot, two abductor muscles, and the cleaned out stomach.








The meat from the six gapers and and thirty-four cockles that we harvested went into the freezer. We’ll turn it into a big batch of (goat milk-based) clam chowder in the near future.

Our chickens went nuts over clam waste.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Caila May 3, 2017 at 10:21 pm

I am working with Project Watershed, an environmental non profit in the Comox Valley. We are creating educational signage for our estuary and were wondering if we could use the image of cockles on the top of this page called “a collection of cockles” on one of our signs. We would give the proper photo credit.


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