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Rake ’em in

Whether you twist and shimmy, use a rake or dive in headfirst, clamming is an experience every Connecticut resident should try at least once.

The Madison Shellfish Commission is working once again, to keep the tradition of clamming alive. There’s a rich history of shellfishing in Connecticut that dates back to the Native Americans.

When the first European settlers came to Connecticut in the 17th century, they found local waters teeming with shell fish, especially oysters. In fact, the traditional New England clambake, featuring steamers and quahogs baked on a bed of seaweed, was already a custom of the native people. They spent the late summer and fall along the coast harvesting conch, soft shell clams, quahogs, bay scallops and oysters in large numbers, leaving sometimes enormous shell heaps called “middens.”

Not only did shell fish serve as a food source, but until 1792 they were also used by native people and Europeans as legal tender for commerce. They would lathe the shells into beads for jewelry or use them as currency to barter for other goods.

Recreational shell fishing was established formally in the 1960s and 1970s. Municipal shell fish commissions were formed in many coastal Connecticut towns to manage the dwindling resource.

Today, the Shellfish Commission holds two clam digs in Madison and oyster harvests on two separate weekends. This year they will take place on Sept. 21st and 22nd. The dig will be held at the Madison Surf Club at Garvin Point from 10 a.m. through 1 p.m.

“The key to the time we have them is that we try to find low tide at noontime on the weekends,” says Steve Nikituk, chairman of the Shellfish Commission.

As any ardent shellfisher knows, low tide is the time to scratch the bottom for clams. However, on a full moon tide, when the water line dips lower than the norm, or during a perigee tide, when the moon exerts the greatest gravitational pull and dips even lower, these are the best times to go clamming.

Soon you’ll find the water warmer than the air, and the light salt breeze off the Sound quite refreshing. The sea bottom, although easily worked, will most likely be slightly firmer than in the warmer months. That said, the first rub of the rake’s tine on a shell will get your attention. From that point on, your clam basket begins to fill and you start imagining how good these shellfish will taste.

“Just keep digging, and maybe you’ll find a Honey Hole,” Nikituk said, explaining that, sometimes, you can find a spot where several clams have been hiding out together, like a jackpot, and you can rake them out all at once. “If the clam is nice and black, that’s how you know it’s alive.”

Connecticuts strict federal guidelines that each town adheres to through collaboration with town shellfish commissions, which perform regular and stringent tests on the water to make sure the fish are safe to eat. “People think that the Sound isn’t clean,” Nikituk said, “but it is. And folks don’t realize, either, that the shellfish they are eating in restaurants are most likely from a local catch.”

Clam Dig & Oyster Harvest at the Surf Club in Madison

September 21September 22

This event will feature locally raised oysters that will be stocked in the beach area along with little neck clams and cherrystones. This is a family event with a special section designated for small children. Prizes will be awarded to the lucky individuals that find painted clams. No experience is needed, members of the commission will supply clam rakes and will demonstrate clamming techniques to beginners. It is recommended that diggers bring a cooler with ice to store and transport their clams/oysters. A shellfish license is required and can be purchased on site at the Surf Club event on the day of the event. Licenses are also sold at the Town Campus and Captain Morgan’s. For out of town visitors, special one day $25 passes will be available on the day of the event at the Surf Club.

SATURDAY, September 21st: 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
SUNDAY, September 22nd: 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

This event is weather permitting. Check the Shellfish Hotline at (203) 245-5600 option 3 for conditions. The parking area at the Surf Club will be open for this event.

Please note: Town shellfishing license is required (available at the event).
*This event is sponsored by the Madison Shellfish Commission

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