I couldn't help but think of a line from the crabbing show Deadliest Catch when it was a slow day: "We're crabbin' for nothing!" The difference was that I was looking for chocolate clams on the low tide on a beach in Mexico instead of braving the rough and frigid seas off the Alaskan coast.
Clams are a big part of the diet here around Santa Maria Bay, with over ten miles of pristine beach usually loaded with pismos and chocolates. A couple weeks ago, there was a guy here at Cielito Lindo camping in an RV spot and traveling by bicycle. He was headed from Buffalo, New York, to Panama. On a bike. He was paying his way by playing cards on the internet, mostly, but here at the compound the internet was too slow for him to stay in a game. So he decided to try his hand at clamming.
I do a lot of surf fishing and, while walking in the shallows at low tide, I find quite a few clams with my feet. The going rate here is 100 pesos (about $6.60 with the exchange rate right now) per 24 clams the size of a man's fist or larger. I figured that, with the ease I was finding them with my feet, he would do well.
So, off goes that guy to the beach at low tide with bucket and pitchfork. Long story short, he spent a couple hours and only came back with six clams — 25 pesos — enough for a Dos Equis beer at regular price at the bar. So, he had his beer and decided to pedal on south to a better IT connection.
I thought I could do better, so at the next low tide phase I got a cubeta (five-gallon bucket) and my tenador por trabajo (pitchfork), and headed to the clam beds. This was the first time I had been clamming since I was a child, when clamming was still popular at Imperial Beach. Back then you could still drive out on the sand, and the sloughs were full of life. I seemed to have forgotten how to clam in the four-plus decades since.
I timed it well enough to have four hours of productive time, two hours before the low and the two hours after. I watched the other folks — there were many — and their clamming techniques. I could see piles and cages filling with the target catch, and felt the anticipation of a new lucrative side-job welling inside of me ... maybe three, four hundred pesos today, Daniel!
Not even close. After the first hour I started keeping some of the smaller ones. You have to poke and wiggle the fork until you hit something solid. There are no rocks, and the sand crabs just crunch. So, solid means a clam. After two hours I could feel the blisters forming on my palms from the pitchfork handle. After three hours, pride was the only thing keeping me going, as I told the bartender how much better I was going to do than our biking friend, Carl. By the fourth hour the chant, We're clammin' for nothing, was stuck in my head. With arthritic hands curled painfully around some new blisters, I surrendered and retreated with about 22 clams, only about eight of which were marketable.
They did, however, make a fine dinner. The cook charged me 50 pesos to prepare them in a garlic-butter sauce and serve them over rice with steamed vegetables. I paid 25 pesos for the accompanying beer, as I had missed happy hour.
Here are the dock totals from yesterday, March 19:
Fisherman's Landing took out 15 anglers on 2 boats and reported 5 sculpin, 1 sand bass, 57 rockfish, 1 sheephead and 2 lingcod caught.
H&M Landing had 80 anglers on 4 boats and reported 2 spiny lobster, 4 spider crab, 18 yellowtail, 85 rockfish, 1 lingcod, 1 bonito, 4 sheephead, 6 sculpin, 45 halfmoon, 2 calico bass, 1 cabezon and 60 mackerel, with 71 spiny lobster released.
50 anglers rode 2 boats out of Point Loma Sportfishing and caught 6 sheephead, 2 sculpin, 42 rubberlip seaperch, 65 rockfish, 1 halibut, 4 sand bass, 21 yellowtail, 1 calico bass and 1 bonito.
Seaforth Sportfishing reported 95 anglers on 4 boats with a catch total of 423 rockfish, 2 sheephead, 1 sculpin, 64 yellowtail, 2 bonito and 2 barracuda.