There's nothing quite like going to the water and coming home with food for the family or gang. There's some real chest-puffing involved when you can offhandedly say, "Yeah, I just dug them up today," or "Yeah, just grabbed a bunch down at the bridge last night."
That said, harvesting edibles from the sea isn't necessarily easy, yet (in most cases) it isn't that difficult either. So here's a brief guide and some tips.
One of the first places to start is at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's site. Here you'll find the latest size and catch limits.
Then, depending on what you're chasing, you'll need some equipment. For clams, while you can go at it with your foot, a rake will make life a lot easier. Local hardware stores sell rakes, but for a good commercial rake (figure in the $200 range), check Craigslist for used gear or go toR.A. Ribb, out of Massachusetts or K.B. White out of Massachusetts. You can also use tongs (if you have a boat), but you'll note that most of the old-time baymen have shoulders similar to NFL linebackers; that's from tonging. Tongs look like posthole diggers. Casual users should stick with rakes.
You'll also want to get a basket of some sort with a tire tube to float it (and a length of line to keep hooked to you). That's for holding the clams. You can go anywhere as long as it's in state-owned land (check the DEC). Your local township will have their rules and regulations as well, so check them out.
For crabs, using a net on the end of a pole is the easiest method. Go to some place that's well lit at night (light attracts crabs) and start scooping them up (again, check the DEC for sizes restrictions). Bring barbecue tongs for getting crabs out of nets...blue crab claws will definitely draw blood. You can get dip nets at any tackle shop or anyplace selling fishing gear, or go to Frabil. You can also use traps, generally a round net trap that collapses in on self. Toss in some funky bait (chicken wings or bunker), let the net down to the bottom where it'll open, wait about 15 minutes or so, then smoothly pull the trap up (smooth is the key word; this keeps it closed).
For those of you who like eels (for something other than bait!) it's a matter of having some access to slightly deeper water — 10 to 20 feet. Get an eel pot (try your local tackle shop or lobstering.com or eastcoasttackle.com), put some crushed bait in it (the longstanding bait was horseshoe crab, but that population is in decline right now, so use crushed clams, mussels, crab, etc.), attach a line and buoy. Drop it at dusk, check it around dawn, and then open your own sushi shop!
Seems like everyone likes lobster, but that's another fishery in decline on Long Island. I can remember night diving for them from North Shore beaches, but those days are long gone. You'll need a boat, traps, line, buoys, etc., or dive gear and a boat to get to offshore wrecks to get lobster nowadays. Recreationally, you'll need a permit and can only take six.
Another delectable saltwater option is the Peconic Bay scallop. The season opens the first Monday of November and runs to March 31. You'll need a boat, dredges, culling board, etc. You can snorkel/dive for them as well, but use some common sense when anywhere near boats — especially on opening days. Snorkelers also have clear sailing on Sundays, because dredging isn't allowed on Sundays. You can take up to a bushel recreationally.
In Search of Peconic Bay Scallops
Speaking of diving, spearfishing has seen a resurgence over the past few years with freedivers (i.e. no tanks ...just breath-hold diving) taking on ocean-going pelagic fish that were once the sole province of the rod and reel crowd. You can spearfish just about anywhere. If you're a freediver, the equipment is mask, fins, snorkel and speargun...about as technologically simple as possible. That said, it takes a fair amount of skill — and you'd better be in shape, as well. Visit freedivenyc.com and extremespearfishing.com for more info.
Get a copy of The New England Clam Shack Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny ($16.95; Storey Publishing; 211 pages) and start cooking some of the ocean's bounty you brought to the table.