Capt. Clarence Corey is skipper and part-owner of the cruise boat Liberty Belle out of New Haven, Conn., but for at least a week each summer he's King Clam of Block Island.
"I don't have to dig around looking for clams," said the gray-bearded Corey, who catches his eight-quart limit every time out. "I just listen for them to cough."
Whether it's coughing or some other clam secret that leads him to the island clamming hot spots year after year, Corey always seems to have an edge. And generally he's willing to share it.
But he's been peeved at me ever since my last island visit a year ago, when I sent home a newspaper report about Block Island clamming that included not a word about him.
Last week, en route to the island, we stopped to see Corey and he exacted temporary revenge.
First he produced a feast of fresh steamers and quahogs, plus a huge pot of chowder, the results of a few days clamming on the island the previous weekend, he said.
But when I asked where he found all the clams, he refused to say.
Nor did he relent until the very last, as we were backing out the driveway the following morning.
"There's a sand road down by the dump that runs out to the beach," he finally said. "I parked there and walked across the dunes and the marsh, and then I walked out as far as I could go in the water to get the quahogs.
"The steamers are in the same area," said Corey, "but they're way up in the marsh this year, practically in the roots of the marsh grass."
Out on Block Island, Corey's younger brother confirmed that King Clam had apparently unearthed a treasure-trove.
"He'd get a funny look on his face every day at about low tide and say, 'The great clam is calling,' " said Harry Corey. The next thing anyone knew, King Clam was gone, and when he came back he had his limit.
The first chance we got, Harry Corey and I were hip-deep in the clear saltwater of the New Harbor where we'd been sent, digging up quahogs about as fast as you could drag the rakes through the sand.
It was so fast-paced it surprised even Corey, a lifelong island visitor whose grandfather and great-grandfather were among the better commercial fishermen ever to work the fishing grounds here.
He said he could remember days when it took an entire tide to catch what we were digging up in a half-hour.
That night we stuffed ourselves on buttery, cold, raw quahogs and beer, and a couple of days later, after we had recovered, we went back after steamers.
With strong winds blowing fog at us, Corey and I stalked the tidal mudflats near the edge of the marsh grasses looking for a place where softshell steamers might thrive.
We walked as far as we ever had in search of virgin clam grounds, finally settling on a place far back in the flats where the surface was dotted with little holes signifying the presence of steamers below.
King Clam's contribution to steamer clamming is a technical breakthrough. Instead of finding likely flats and digging them up, bulldozer-style, extracting clams as they turn up, he seeks holes marking the presence of individual steamers and digs each clam by hand.
We found a good spot right where he'd told us to go and started bailing steamers.
So engrossed were we in clam-catching, we didn't notice the two guys from Connecticut who dragged their dinghy up the beach and came barging across the mudflats, beers in hand, until they were breathing their fetid beer stench down our necks.
"Finding any?" the fat one roared, peering into my bucket.
He plopped down five feet from me and began burrowing a trench that would serve nicely if the town ever decides to move its landfill operation into the marsh.
Meantime, his partner ran from bucket to bucket, keeping a running commentary on who was catching what, so that a quiet day in the marsh was soon transformed into the clamming equivalent of the Indianapolis 500.
In the end it ruined a perfect trip. When we got home, burdened with a limit of huge steamers, all we could talk about was the jerks who had plopped on top of us and wrecked our day.
I have this funny feeling King Clam sent those guys.