Neck deep -3.8 tide opens lower beach to diggers

If Shawn Olson could he would find himself reaching neck-deep into the sand, gravel and mud of Kitsap County beaches more often.

If Shawn Olson could he would find himself reaching neck-deep into the sand, gravel and mud of Kitsap County beaches more often.

Olsen is a recreational clam digger chasing a prize that recedes several feet into the beach when perturbed. At some point, he’s going to reach down neck-deep into a hole to grab the delicate geoduck – the largest clam in the world.

Tuesday, Olson, a Silverdale resident, reached his limit of three clams quickly from the beach below the boat ramp in Tracyton, a seemingly poor place to find geoduck to eat.

“Everyone thinks its polluted and ruined,” Olson said. “It’s not.”

He found nice looking “ducks” with golden siphons and belly meat protruding from a healthy white shell far too small to protect against predators. Olson’s clams ranged from two to six pounds. The geoducks were high-grade, the kind that fetch more than $100 a pound across the Pacific where the market is big and hungry for them.

Olsen, a recreation fan of the “duck,” said he thinks that today people are less interested in digging geoduck recreationally and it’s dying out as an “art.”

On an industrial scale, geoduck harvests are worth about $100 million a year to communities surrounding Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

The recreational digger is far removed from the high-tempo world of commercial geoduckers in local waters where dive harvesters think of earnings in minute-level increments and the prices paid abroad have at times driven the industry into organized crime tactics.

Olsen and his pal Steven McGuire surveyed the lower tidal reaches of the beach Tuesday during some of the lowest tides of the year. It was McGuire’s first duck dig. Olson showed him the ropes; search the beach, locate the tops of their delicate siphons that blend in with the beachscape, mark them and then dig.

The big clams are what Olsen is looking for. His biggest came from Hood Canal and weight 8.75 pounds. The biggest hand dug geoduck on record in Washington state was 13 pounds, it’s in a bar in Port Townsed, he said.

“Nine-pounds is [my] goal,” he said.

Olsen said that while he has been known to nibble on his ducks raw, chowder and fritters are more likely eatables to make his table. The delicate “belly” meat will get lightly battered in flour and cooked in garlic and butter, he said.

Tuesday’s dig was Olsen’s sixth day geoducking this spring. There are three more -3 foot tides next month and then it’s over for the year, he said.

Working a duck closer to the water, which was returning to fill Dyes Inlet, Olson and McGuire took turns digging quickly to fetch a big clam before the water covered it.

“I don’t mind swimming a little for them,” he said.