If the world is an oyster, Coos Bay is its clam.
The guy standing in front of Basin Tackle has a fleshy slab of clam meat in one hand and a wet knife in the other. He’s Rob, the owner, and he’s a wealth of information for visitors like us. My wife and I walk past him on our way to buy some shellfish licenses. An empty shell glistens on the asphalt at his feet.
“Some people use gloves when they’re digging for clams but I don’t,” he explains to a visitor who, judging by his shiny muck boots, is about to go clamming. “I like to feel the clam, get my fingers down around him and work him out,” we overhear him say. “Do it all with your shovel and you’ll just break the poor guy.”
Watch Rob demonstrate how to clean the clams once you’ve caught them:
My wife and I have come to Coos Bay on the southern Oregon coast to try our hands at clamming, too. We’ve been happily married for nearly a decade and yet we can count on a bivalve the number of real vacations we’ve taken together. Work, kids and an unruly yard:
Life and its flotsam now fill the calendar for months in advance. For us, the hardest part of a vacation has always been committing to take one, so when a friend offered to watch our kids we darted off to Coos Bay, just the two of us. We rolled over the moody Coast Mountains and along towering dunes. We passed a herd of elk and more and more seafood joints until the briny tang of Oregon’s largest bay filled the car.
Coos Bay, which is really three communities—Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston— has always stood out for its real-town feel. Fishermen with ropes for arms all knotted with muscle swig sweaty pints at places like the Portside while you can smell the freshly chopped wood chips from the mills down by The Mill Casino Hotel, a casino with the best rooms in town. There’s an Egyptian theater from 1925 with a grand balcony and an original Wurlitzer on South Broadway, where beer and movie nights bring out the crowds. People move about with the same what-me-worry flow as the easy rhythm of the tides.
And that’s really why we’re here. If the world is an oyster, then Coos Bay is its clam and it all hinges on the tides. Catch Coos on a good “low-low” tide and the mud flats will extend for miles in every direction. There are public spots like Empire, Pigeon Point, and Point Adams where you can dig deep for gapers and rake up the littlenecks. There are cockles, purple varnish clams and softshells, too. No other place on the coast has so many options within such easy reach of the car.
We buy our licenses and go looking for butters, which are heaven on the half-shell with garlic on the grill. A local says she’ll show us how to clean them later at the public cleaning stations. We catch a negative tide near Charleston and stomp out into the muck. The sun is a nickel in the sky. Even the seagulls seem content.
My wife and I so often spend our days working hard, meeting deadlines and racing to meetings. Out here in the soft spaces borrowed from the sea we are at the mercy of something as big as and free as the moon. Together, clamming, we steal the moments left to us, when everything peels away and we simply enjoy each other’s company.
We find a cigar-shaped hole and dig, letting the smooth blade sigh through the sand. It lands on something firm maybe eight inches down. A clam? What kind! The excitement would seem silly if it didn’t buoy us both. We do this over and over, digging then falling to our hands and knees and clawing through the muck, hole after hole. Butter clams, a few softshells, and a cockle too: They all fall into the bucket like dirty doubloons. Gloves have nothing to do with what we feel, and that is the appeal of Coos Bay.
Learn all about Coos Bay and plan your next adventure!