The Hunt for the Perfect Fishing Cottage
words of another satisfied Eastern Shore Buyer....
by Lisa Doricchi (as published in The Mariner: Beacon of the Bay)
If your winter was anything like mine, it was much too long a stretch to be full of glee. To improve this mindset, I considered purchasing a small fishing cottage in a desirable location. Interest rates are down and houses are plentiful at a good price.
We started our search in Florida after a good friend recommended a fishing hotspot in Sebastian, Florida on the Indian River. My primary research uncovered a vast number of fish species in this location and I became instantly intrigued. We looked at many properties, but somehow this place didn’t capture my soul, especially after seeing the insurance rates and having to deal with the airport issues.
Our next target was Hatteras because of the beauty of the beaches and the great surf fishing. That is until we found out the real estate prices were way above our means. The thought of those pesky hurricanes always cropping up also made me a little more than nervous.
After researching a couple of other places only to find other shortcomings, desperation set in. I began asking questions through my anglers’ network to determine where people would live to fish. I was surprised to hear the same general locale mentioned on several occasions. Perplexed and intrigued, the more I looked into it, the better it looked.
The eastern shore of Virginia is the place to be for fishing! The sea is on one side, and the bay is on the other. The drive is a little over 3 hours with no major tolls or bridges to cross. I thought to myself, well this place sounds too good to be true! Can’t wait to see this piscatorial paradise and soon decided to go in search of the perfect fishing cottage.
I talked some friends into coming with us and we embarked on our first of many weekend trips. We stayed at the Fisherman’s Lodge in Quinby, Virginia, on the seaside. Three of us shared one room at the reasonable cost of $68.50 a night. The main lodge includes a living room, kitchen, dining room and fireplace as well as an outdoor grill and refrigerator, all overlooking the seaside. In the morning, I watched the local waterman bring in 40,000 little neck clams on one small Carolina Skiff boat in mid-February. Evidently that is their daily winter haul and in the warmer season, the number often doubles. The waterman farm-raise their clam beds off of leased portions of the seaside on the Atlantic Ocean.
The area’s lack of pollution probably stems from its lack of industry. Judging by what we saw along the highway, the primary industries appear to be chicken processing plants and tomato farms. But the majority of the area’s workers are making a living from the water. The serenity of the barrier islands on the seaside protect the land from the crashing ocean waves and allow fisherman to catch their share in mostly shallow and protected waters. Some of the barrier islands are owned by the Nature conservancy and are preserved by some restrictions. Many artifacts wash ashore after storms and such things as sea glass, fossils, whale bones and conch shells can be found on a treasure hunt.
On the Chesapeake Bay side only a few miles in the opposite direction, there are a multitude of boat ramps and slips that offer good access to go fishing with low ramp fees. The average winter temperature is 51 degrees and thus the fishing can be good almost all year round.
We drove around town with our realtor Phyllis [Ward] who has an interesting background as a college instructor and documentary film maker. Her and her husband discovered the eastern shore and relocated from Washington, D.C. Phyllis is full of personality and humor, and has a multitude of interesting friends. In addition to introducing us to available properties, Phyllis went above and beyond the call of duty and also introduced us to a lot of special people during our stay. The first day we drove around various towns and ended up on a tree lined back road near the Machipongo River. We saw an elderly woman with a knit hat and gloves and noticed that she was pulling something out of a large bush. I asked Phyllis to slow up so that we could see what she was doing.
“Hi,” I said cheerfully, “We’re just out looking around at houses and wondered if you could recommend a place to get some local seafood?” The old woman turned around and I noticed her ruby red lipstick, gold earrings and bright rouge on her cheeks. She was dressed for a party in the middle of the day. She smiled at the delight of meeting new people and the sagging lines in her face placed her age in the mid 80s.
She sweetly replied, “You want seafood do you?” “Well,” she smiled “You’ve come to the right place. We’ve got clams, we’ve got oysters, and we’ve got arseholes.”
There was dead silence as we all looked at each other and finally I said, “Excuse me?”
She said again…”We’ve got clams, we’ve got oysters and we’ve got arseholes. You see, my first husband was a sunavabitch and my second one was an arsehole - -so you can have him too.” Then she pulled a container of goldfish food out of the large bush and offered us a shot of whiskey.
Phyllis, quickly recognizing a personality that was far too interesting even for her eclectic tastes (and fearing perhaps the loss of a carload of prospective clients) quickly interrupted. “OK well, we gotta go now,” she said and hit the gas pedal and sped away while our seat belts dug welts into our shoulders. My first thought was Love Canal gone awry in Virginia and wondered what might be in the drinking water. That was our first experience with the local color.
During the rest of our tour with Phyllis, we learned that a fixer upper can run from $45,000.00 to $85,000.00 - - but if you’re not handy, there are some nicer homes in the $90,000.00 to $145,000.00 range, and some with a water view. Taxes are between $100.00 and $600.00 a year for a second home. Insurance costs are similarly priced.
Some of the numerous fish species include Flounder, Striped Bass, Bluefish, Red and Black Drum, Croakers, Dolphin, Tuna, Tilefish, Cobia, Spanish mackerel, Tautog and on occasion, Tarpon! Shellfish include conch, clams, oysters and crabs galore (and yes, the occasional arsehole).
Our love for this spot increased with each trip, and we were able to find a great fishing cottage on the bayside. The towns we liked best were a few miles apart so we ended up in the middle, a town called Painter, Virginia, which is a picturesque community with a ramp to the river and a scenic view. Painter is close to Onancock, which offers movie theatres and eclectic dining, and is not far from the seaside where we plan to dig for clams and catch flounder. Although we haven’t moved into the house yet, it is a dream that certainly has come true!
The Fishing Cottage: On second thought....
The learning curve for fishing in a new place can be steep, especially if the locals are tight-lipped. In a previous article, I described my search for the perfect fishing cottage. After many sleepless nights spent pondering maintenance of another house in a far away land known as the eastern shore of Virginia, the promise of low taxes, inexpensive housing prices, and good fishing lured me to the Chesapeake Bay just west of the flounder capitol of Wachapreague. Along with the cottage, I found a little 13-foot 1972 classic Boston Whaler with a nice 4-stroke engine, and boy was I ready to fish. Or so I thought.
Unfortunately, a family illness coupled with 50-hour work weeks prevented frequent journeys south to find the fish. In our extended absence, the boat trailer sunk deeper into the mud in the back yard, the winds tore some siding off the house, and our tap water took on that distinctive rotten egg smell. Soon my thoughts of going south were sinking further into the mud than that boat trailer. In our rare trips to the cottage, the wind was always blowing like hell, and the lightning across the bay was more conducive to interior decorating than fishing.
More recently, however, fair weather prompted me to finally uncover the boat. I soon discovered that the lights weren’t working and the bilge pump wasn’t gurgling. Another trip spent painting and decorating the house I guess. It can’t get any worse, right? Or so I thought. I dislodged the trailer from the mud and towed the boat to the local marine mechanic. I was hoping that not all the electronics were bad, maybe just a few switches? Sucking in some fresh air and holding it in my lungs and slowly breathing out is something I’ve learned in my Yoga class to deal with stress. I did this several times before walking in to meet the only outboard engine mechanic in town. After all, I was a female boat owner from out of town--easy prey for the ridiculously high cost of unnecessary boat maintenance. After discussing the minor electrical problems and an oil change, the mechanic said, “Well I’m guessing this is gonna cost around a hundred dollars.” Pretty reasonable. Or so I thought.
A week later, the mechanic called and told me the boat was ready. When I asked for the final tally, he said, “it’s gonna be around $230.” Apparently they installed a bait and switch instead of a wire. When I asked for an explanation of the difference between the estimate and the actual cost, he evaded the question as much as he could. Instead, he talked about how other people have more severe problems because of the ethanol gas and how everything is getting gunked up in the carburetors, yada yada yada. I asked him if I had any problems with that and he said no, but that the wiring was fixed. I asked him if he replaced any wires or any switches and he came up with another diversionary approach: “Well down here on the Eastern Shore we can’t hire full-time employees because of the lack of business so we hire out piecemeal to the bottom painters, the wiring guy and the engine mechanic, so whatever the wiring guy wrote up is what it is.”
When I returned to the shop to pick up the boat and again asked for an explanation of what was done, he couldn’t locate the work order and was distracted by several phone calls. I reflected on the situation and decided that if I continue to press the issue, I’m basically screwed. Not only have I not been fishing at all because of other dilemmas, but if I can’t get a mechanic to work on the engine in the future, I’ll never get out on the bay. And what good is a fishing cottage if you ain’t fishing? People with broken boats can’t afford to burn bridges. So, I turned 180 degrees and found myself being nice and actually joking with the guy instead of asking for a simple account of what they fixed on my boat.
On my way home I became disgusted with myself for not requesting line items or even a general invoice. But on the bright side, I had my cottage that I’ve waited my whole life to get and was finally taking my boat out on the water the next day with a picnic basket. Life was good again. Or so I thought.
Around noon the following day, I’m sitting in my boat that has conked out in the middle of the river and I’m rowing the boat back to shore. My mind was racing with thoughts of clever things I could say to the mechanic in front of his groupies when I towed the boat to the shop, but by the time I managed to reach the shore and get the boat back on the trailer, the shop was closed. So another day spent gardening, painting, refinishing furniture, everything but fishing. This whole fishing cottage idea was a bust.
But just when all seemed lost, my friend Skip Thomas called from Silver Beach, a community a few miles down the coast. After hearing my story (told in my typically less than calm way), he says very calmly, “Don’t get discouraged, why don’t you come fishing with me?” We left the half-finished furniture behind, met Skip at Morley’s Wharf, and hopped in his old 1983 pleasure boat. I asked Skip if he really thought we could catch any fish and he looked at me like I was crazy. “Catch any fish? It’s not a matter of how many fish you’ll catch, it’s a matter of how many different species you’ll catch…you’re on the Eastern Shore of Virginia!” So I’m looking at this creek which is about the size of the Sassafrass River on the upper Chesapeake Bay and chuckled at his optimism.
I baited my rod with bloodworms and right off the bat we caught close to a dozen croakers--those hardheaded little fighters really did a number on our light tackle. That was followed by three spot. The action was fast and fun. Using the spot for bait, did a couple of drifts, and the next thing I feel is tap, tap, tap and a hard pull and up next is Mr. Flounder, followed by yet another flounder. Ten minutes later, we’ve got 3 bluefish, followed shortly thereafter by two beautiful gray trout all in less than 2 hours of fishing. The Occohannock “creek” is calm, salty water about 3 minutes from a beautiful sandy beach with a clam farm right next to our drift pattern. We were in 3 feet of water drifting over an 11 foot drop off. My kind of fishing!
Well, I’ve got to get going. I have to call my outboard mechanic and take him out to dinner soon. I just can’t wait to go back to that great little fishing cottage again!