Claude Rogers is something of a living legend in these parts.
The tall, toothy, silver-haired Rogers has them snowed at the Holiday Inn.
"Is Mr. Rogers in?" asked a guest arriving at the front desk.
"Oh, you mean claude ? cooed the female desk clerk.
Down at the landing the visiting fishermen from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania gather when Rogers shows up to launch his sturdy Well-craft.
"Mr. Rogers , I just wanted to tell you I've read all your articles in the magazines," said one.
"Oh?" replied Rogers, watching the boat slide back off the trailer, then come to an abrupt halt where a safety chain was accidentally left on. "Did you read the one about how to launch you boat with the chain still on?"
Claude Rogers is the patriarch of Virginia saltwater anglers. He caught the first tarpon in Virginia waters, a 90-pounder that held the state record for a number of years. He had the state-record striped bass for years, as well. He is a top-level tournament casting specialist.
He courses through the sloughs and backwaters of the barrier islands near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay with the abandon of a child exploring his own backyard.
He catches 50- and 60-pound red drum, even bigger black drum, citation-sized gray trout and bluefish, tarpon when they visit. He helped design the Hatteras Heaver, a special superheavy surfcasting outfit now extremely popular on the Outer Banks, and its first cousin, the Jetty Jockey.
For the last two decades he has been head of the Virginia Salt Water Fishing Tournament, the outfit that awards trophies for the biggest catches and citations for commendable catches each year.
But principally Rogers is a fisherman. The best thing that's happened to him and the other surf-sloggers here at the end of the Delmarva Peninsula didn't come from some fisheries man-agement program. It came from the Transportation Department.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
"We call it the $200 million fishing hole, because that's what it cost to build," Rogers said. "In the old days this was just a big, empty space out here. But the bridge pilings attract bait fish and marine organisms.That attracts bigger fish, and they attract anglers."
May is high season at the bridge-tunnel. If there's a faulf with it it's that there's too much to do and too little time to do it in.
"We've got a choice," Rogers said as we zoomed away from the landing last week.
"We can go out here and try to spot some red drum and sight-cast to them along the beach; we can anchor out in deeper water and bait-fish for black drum on the bottom, or we can go over to the bridge-tunnel and jig for trout and pickup some blues, too."
Bob Hutchinson and I were still pondering this gaudy array of opportunity when Rogers solved our dilemma by driving the boat high and dry on a salar bar. It dug in and there it sat like a beached whale for two hours. We watched the tide fall and then rise again to float us off.
By then we had a plan. "We'll do all three."
That is the quickest way to end up with an empty catch-box, of course.
We did manage some thrills. We spooked a pod of big red drum out from along the beach. They scattered on our approach and Rogers spotted them. He horsed the boat to a halt and grabbed for a rod, casting 75 yards off the stern and pulling a shiny Hopkins lure back through the school. No strikes.
We anchored out and listened to the fast tide lap at the bottom while we waited for a black drum to strike our sea clam balts.
Boats anchored nearby had two and three of the lugubrious bottom-feeders tied off the sterm on ropes, but we managed to boat only a couple of sharks.
Then, as dusk began to gather and the tide started to roar out again, we motored to the pilings at the base of the 20-mile expanse of the bridge-tunnel. A traffic jam of boats had gathered around the first tunnel entrance.
We rigged grub-type lures on light tackle and drifted through a deep hole.
Bang - the trout and blues began to hit.
In two hours we managed to boat six huge gray trout - the biggest 11 pounds and the smallest about eight - and a pair of blues in the same size range.
All around us small boats bearing visiting anglers from points north were doing the same.
It was a day's-end bonanza.
Rogers and Hutchinson regard the Bay Bridge-Tunnel area as the small-boat fisherman's best opportunity to land big fish. Any moderately sea worthy skiff can get to the black drum grounds and even lesser craft can ply the sloughs for red drum.
The bridge-tunnel lures in the fish and it gives out-of-town boatmen an unimpeachable navigational bearing Most of the holes are within sight of it.
The best of the black drum fishing, which was excellent this year, appears to be over. But red drum should be working near the beaches for several more weeks.
Bluefish and trout angling should continue to be excellent for a few more weeks, and then flounder join the throng a little later on. Cobia follow in smaller numbers. Croaker and spot abound in summer months.
The trouble with the bridge-tunnel is that it takes forever to get there - 4 1/2 hours from Washington. But the ride down the Eastern Shore through spring corn, bean and potato fields is a breezd, and prize catches lurk at the end.