The sand gaper is very common throughout UK waters and is the largest clam we have growing up to about 6″. The shell is a rounded oval shape and varies in colour depending on the type of ground the clam is living in.
In sand it will be a brownish yellow with some slight whitening in the centres. A mud living gaper is a dark grey, some even slate blue to black.
The tellins vary in colouring mixing a basic yellowing with pink, purple and white tinges, others grey to black. Their overall size is the give-away as they don’t exceed 1″ in length. All the tellins make good bait.
HABITAT – GAPERS
Sand gapers are more varied in their habitat than most anglers realise, though they are far more frequently found in the estuary environment and on lee shores.
These big clams are found on the lug beds of the inner estuary where the ground is made up from sand mixed with a little mud. Their numbers are not heavily concentrated over this ground but they are in sufficient numbers to usually be individually targeted.
They tend to be down below the cleaner surface sand and burrow in to the darker coloured layers of sand carrying the rich nutrients from decayed matter deposited and buried after storms. This depth is usually about 12″, roughly the depth of a normal potato fork’s tines.
Lug bed living clams also show a preference for burrowing close to the low water edges of the actual draining channels that always have some depth of water in them at low tide. In other words, they like wet sand, not dry.
It’s less well known, but these same clams also like to bury in the soft mud banks and flats that also feature along the edges of estuaries. This is the mud that you can loose your wellies in if you’re not careful. The burrows are deeper though, extending upto 18″ down.
This muddy ground is where the greatest numbers of clams are found and they seem to create little clam cities with individual burrows often only a few inches apart.
HABITAT – TELLINS
Tellins are lovers of the open surf beaches. They like clean surf washed sand, fairly tightly grained, and favour only the low tide areas and never seem to venture close to the mid tide mark. Tellins inhabit the same ground as razorfish.
Gapers and tellins can be collected over the whole year, but expect the gapers to burrow deeper down for insulation and the tellins to dig themselves deeper in to the sand during the coldest part of the year.
COLLECTION – GAPERS
Gapers living in a sand and mud mix tend to leave a small depression at the head of their burrows. This is the burrow where the clams syphon extends from to feed on the flooding tide, but when the tide ebbs and gaper goes deeper the hole fills in with passing sand leaving only the depression. It takes practice, but slowly walking along the beds and looking carefully will highlight the depressions.
Once you’ve located a clam depression, then dig down with a fork in front of the depression about a foot and repeat dig going forward and deeper until the clam is exposed.
Collecting clams living in mud is very, very messy, but location is easier. The burrows are left exposed as round holes the size of a 5p piece as the tide drops because the mud is more solid and does not cave in when the tide runs off.
You can’t dig this sticky mud and besides, it looks like a mechanical excavator has been at work when you’ve done and it takes time for nature to heal the scars. But you will need full length waders, even chest waders are not ridiculous to help keep the mud contact to a minimum.
The best and most efficient way is to roll your sleeve up to the armpit, get down on hands and knees, then slowly push the hand and arm down in to the burrow a few inches and then remove the mud a handful at a time. Eventually, you’ll feel the gaper at your finger tips.
The knack now is to work the fingers down the side, then underneath the gapers shell so you can lift it up through the opened burrow. It’s actually quite easy once you’ve got the hang of it. You will get the odd cut from hidden broken bits of shell etc., but it’s a case of man or mouse!
Once collected, wash the clams in a nearby channel and carry them in a bucket of fresh sea water.
COLLECTION – TELLINS
The smaller tellins have much shallower burrows and are mostly found just a couple of inches under the surface sand.
Instead of the gapers depression, the tellin often leaves a slight hump in the sand denoting it’s presence. This is caused as the tellin burrows down for safety after exposing the syphon at the surface to extract passing minute food sources present in the tide.
It’s just a case of walking the low water tide line starting during the last hour of the ebb and looking at the surface sand until a “hump” is spotted. Scrape away the sand to free the tellin. Again, keep these in a bucket of fresh water while your collecting.
Although tellins can be found in some sort of grouping, mostly you’ll be looking for spread apart individuals which makes forking both time consuming and slower than locating single tellins.
Similar to using mussels. The best way is with a blunt butter knife worked between the open side of the shell towards each end until the flesh is exposed.
Cracking the gaper with a toffee hammer is okay, but it can damage the meat inside if the shell is broken away in small pieces.
Smaller tellins need the tip of a thin, blunt pocket knife worked inside the shell to open the two halves.
Gapers live for a few days in the fridge providing their given a daily immersion in fresh sea water, also stored in the same fridge. Alternatively, soak several layers of newspaper in sea water and wrap the clam in this placing it in an ice cream tub with air access holes in the lid. The same rule applies to the tellin family.
Both gapers and tellins freeze extremely well. Big gapers should go individually in a separate plastic bag, but four to six tellins can go in a 6″ x 4″ sealable plastic bag, the type you put rigs in, and place them in the fast freeze section of your domestic freezer.
When the clams have been frozen, the shells easily come apart with finger pressure when ready for use as bait and there is no need for a knife.
Especially the smaller tellins thaw quickly when removed from the freezer, so always carry them to a fishing session in a cool box with enough ice packs to last the session in mild weather.
The gaper has a long and very hard fleshed syphon ending in a soft body very similar to mussel flesh. The syphon, or foot, is protected in a brown leathery skin. This needs removing to leave the creamy coloured meat before putting on the hook.
The idea is to push the hook point into the soft body, then down along the inside of the syphon until the hook point comes through and then round. Now bind on the flesh with sheering elastic. Done this way, the bait will cast a fair way, but the soft body flesh is not capable, even when bound on with elastic, of anything more than a semi-powerful overhead cast.
Just the foot on it’s own is an excellent bait and being tough will cast long distances. You can also cut off strips from the foot and use these as splints etc., to help protect less tough baits.
The smaller tellins also have a small hard syphon or foot and a soft body. Mount several of these on to a hook shank, then bind them in place with elastic thread. Alternatively, use a single tellin as a tip off bait.
WHEN TO USE GAPERS AND TELLINS
Gapers especially, have no definite time table to be used, but all shellfish do fish best just after storms when many off their numbers are washed from their burrows and smashed on the seabed and shingle.
Gapers take bass, dabs, dogfish, whiting, codling, but are especially good for flounders, both off the beaches and inside the estuaries.
Tellins, either bunched or as tippets, are eaten by dabs, flounders, plaice, whiting, pout, poor cod, rockling, codling, bass and dogfish.