The Mast-Head: Contest Ready

“Hey guys,” I shouted, “I’ve hit the mother lode!”

Digging opened Saturday for the East Hampton Town Trustees 2018 Largest Clam Contest. I should say officially opened, since it is my well-nursed suspicion that somecompetitors prospect for potential prizewinners all summer long, reserving the heftiest quahogs in deep hidey-holes for a shot at September glory.

The winning clams are big all right, as big as your head almost. I’ve never seen the like, and I’ve been clamming on and off for over about 50 years. Damned if I know where the really huge ones are found — other than Napeague, from where, without fail, comes the crowning bivalve.

Other than glory and bragging rights, there is no big money or valuable prize. Still, the story goes that one year when someone entered a Napeague clam claiming it was from one of the lesser harbor categories, the sharp-eyed judges were able to pick out the fraud. I don’t know for sure; I wasn’t there.

On Sunday, the day after digging officially opened, as I said, Ellis and I and my oldest friend, Mike Light, headed out in the boat to a favorite flat with our rakes. The clamming was slow at first as it often is. Mike pulled up a few near where we had anchored. But the action wasn’t active enough for me, so I went prospecting. Closer to shore, I felt the bottom change — softer, with a layer of fine gravel on top. I jammed the rake down. One, then two, then three. “Hey guys,” I shouted, “I’ve hit the mother lode!”

There is an odd thing about clamming. Once you hit a good vein, it is near impossible to force yourself to stop. As our baskets filled, I went to the boat to grab an official trustees clam bag, into which I transferred them by the dozen. Still we could not pull back.

“I am going to put my rake in the boat,” I promised, pausing three times to scratch up a few more. Mike begged me to take the rake out of his hands. Ellis could not be stopped. With sunburned backs, even after we had stowed the gear aboard, we kept at it, probing in the sand with our fingers and toes, cramming clams into our swim shorts pockets.

We won’t know until the contest Sunday whether the fat, nearly pure white clam that Mike found or a thick, mean-looking number of Ellis’s will be in contention. They are safely in one of those hidey-holes keeping hydrated until we enter them in advance of the deciding weigh-in.

The rest of our 50-pound haul has various obligations to look forward to in the kitchen: clams casino, clam chowder, clam fritters. That is, other than the two dozen we had for lunch over linguine an hour after getting home from the boat; they are already gone. Ah, September.