Tourists are expanding their range south from Ocean City into Chincoteague, Va., but they haven't found Wachapreague, 30 miles further down the road, and it doesn't look as if they will.
What Wachapreague has going for it, according to those among its 450 residents happy to see progress stalled, is no sandy beach. "Without a beach, it doesn't develop," said Zadoc Randolph Lewis III, who owns the marina and the motel here, "and that's just fine. We still cater to fishermen and we're satisfied the way it is."
Instead of a beach, Wachapreague overlooks miles and miles of marsh, and when the sun rises fiery orange, all it illuminates are great islands of brown, spiky grass waving in the breeze and the egrets and herons hunting the potholes for minnows. Unlike Chincoteague, there are no billboards in the Wachapreague marsh.
To this wild place Washingtonians Luther Carter, Ruff Fant and I repaired last weekend after plans for a seagoing mackerel fishing expedition off Ocean City were blown out by a three-day gale.
Flounder season has started at Wachapreague, consistently the first place in the region where ocean flatfish come inshore behind the barrier islands to feed in spring, and we reasoned that the wind would be less an enemy in the marshy backwaters than 10 miles out to sea.
"But get here early," said Lewis. "The wind has been dropping out about dawn the last few days, and the ones who are catching flounder have been getting them before it picks back up. I watched one group count out 54 here on the dock yesterday."
Lewis wasn't around when we arrived at 6 a.m. "Randy's down at sunrise service," said a smiling fellow behind the tackle-shop counter who turned out to be "his 230-pound baby brother, Jim."
Jim Lewis had frozen squid and minnows. He offered directions on how to cut the squid into strips and how to stick one strip and one minnow on a hook for a flounder bait known locally as an Eastern Shore sandwich.
He had charts showing the intricate gullies and flats of the marsh between Wachapreague and Parramore Island, and he confirmed that the flounder were starting the season as they usually do, congregating at a place about six miles away down winding creeks, at the intersection of two drains called the Green Channel and the Drawing Channel.
This was no Ocean City tourist trap. While Lewis charted the complexities of navigating the marsh ("you'll know when you're there because of this tump of grass that sits up high"), some old-timers already had convened at the hash house in back, and in the light of dawn on Easter Sunday you could hear murmurings about fine fish caught the day before.
We had a sunrise service all our own when the outboard, called upon to spring to life after a winter's rest, refused. Before long Jim Lewis was on the dock, offering encouragement, and then Randy turned up with a can of ether and a promise of jumper cables if needed, and in the end all the expertise overwhelmed the poor machine and it roared.
The marsh is an endlessly interesting place. Unlike a beach, it's alive, and therefore subtly different each time you visit. On Easter morning it was winter brown but the summer birds were back, a compromise. Before the wind came up, you could almost feel the sun burning life into the dull, dead grass tumps. And on the second drift across the mouth of Green Channel, there was a more distinct signal of life when the rod went down with the tug of a two-pound flounder.
The proper flounder fisherman operates from a moving boat, bouncing his Eastern Shore sandwich slowly along the bottom as he drifts across the channels, going from shallow to deep water and back again, marking his progress and waiting for bottom-hugging flatfish to lunge at the passing delicacy.
Which is just about how it went for the half-hour before the wind came howling back from the southeast, and then the water grew roiled and cloudy, the air got cold, the boat started skimming along at excessive speed, the sinkers wouldn't hold bottom and things got tedious.
So we went back and enjoyed the nice, empty town.