Dick Pinney's Guidelines: A couple of cures for cabin fever
A lot of us outdoors people get cabin fever with the occasional nice day that comes in this otherwise despicable (got that word from Bugs Bunny) month. It's too cold for open water fishing on most days. The ice is starting to get pretty scary. There's no real hunting season open. The party boats haven't started their seasons yet and if they had the fishing would be far from fast because of cold ocean water temperatures. Also the species probably caught would be mostly redfish with an occasional cusk or a (too)-rare codfish.
If you can stand a bit of cool weather outdoors experience a try at either clam digging or oyster picking could be a great way to kick the cabin fever and do it in a productive way. This isn't like the old days when you could clam dig seven days a week. Or pick up a bushel of Great Bay Oysters in an hour during all the months except those that don't have an "r" in them. Now, the first thing you have to do for clams is to call the clam telephone hotline at 1-800-432-5267 (1-800-43CLAMS). If conditions are good as far as pollution is concerned they clam digging in certain places in the Hampton and Seabrook Harbors and Great Bay is permitted. This activity is only permitted on Saturdays.
The easiest way to get into the clam grounds in the Hampton/Seabrook Harbor is by boat. Because of the poor condition of the boat dock in Hampton, the use of this until it's repaired isn't the best idea. But there's usually a shuttle service-boat that for a small price will ferry you to and from the digging areas. If you don't mind a pretty long walk and a bit of exploration there are quite a few places that you can walk to for your clams in this area but lugging a peck of clams a mile over broken ground isn't for everyone.
There are places in Great Bay and some of the tributaries that have pretty good clam digging but in most of the areas, instead of digging in sand, like you do in Hampton/Seabrook, you'll dig in rocky gravel or mucky stuff. And the clams are not the pretty white ones but are apt to be quite dark. But delicious. Again, all of the Great Bay system is not open to shellfish harvesting so calling the clam hotline will give you that information on closures.
Great Bay oysters, once so prevalent and so easy to pick a bushel of them have suffered to the point of almost extinction because of a disease that caused their shells to soften. They are making a comeback but are small compared to those of yesteryears but are getting to the point where it's not a bad idea to pick up enough for a meal or an oyster stew. All you need to do this is have a strong back for bending, a pair of heavy rubber gloves and a bucket to put them in.
Before you do any shellfish harvesting it's best to pick up Fish and Game's Saltwater rule book at a license agency and while there you'll need to purchase a license for clams, oysters or both. Four license agencies come to mind that specialize in the support of saltwater activities: Taylor's Trading Post in Madbury, Dover Marine Sports in Dover, Suds-n-Soda Sports in Greenland and Defiant Lobster (they are a little out of the way at Landing Road in Hampton) but close to the clam grounds.
If you have a back that doesn't like to bend, a pair of chest waders or hip boots will allow you to dig while on your knees or pick up oysters a couple of feet under water. That's how this old fool always did it.
One other suggestion: If you do gather some oysters and don't know how to shuck them, wash and scrub with freshwater but don't soak them in it. Put some foil on a cookie sheet and set them in an oven set at around 300 degrees. Keep a close eye on them so that you don't cook them (unless that's your goat) and you'll find that the shells will just pop open to allow you to remove the meat. We do not endorse eating raw shellfish taken out of our coastal waters unless they have gone through a purification plant.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.