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Only a very good friend shares a perch honey hole

My small spin rod was bent down deeply, and the delicate six-pound mono sizzled through the water as a small but mighty fish cut hard away, my spinner bait sparkling at the corner of its mouth.
    The sound of the lightly set drag feeding line was a sweet melody to my ears, reassuring me that its measured resistance would be unlikely to tear the hook from the perch’s delicate mouth. I intended to let that rascal run until it tired; then I would invite it to dinner, that very evening if things worked out.
    Behind my skiff’s console seat sat a small cooler designed for a six-pack of canned beverages but in this case perfect for another purpose. Half-full of crushed ice, it already nestled four 10- to 12-inch white perch that I had scored that morning. It had taken me over two dozen releases of smaller fish to garner these heftier prizes.
    I wanted these fish for a fry-up, and I knew from experience that the thicker fillets from perch that size would retain just the perfect amount of interior moisture and flavor yet yield a nicely crisp panko-coated exterior for a crunchy-on-the-outside-savory-in-the-middle dining experience. The thought of golden-brown fillets bubbling in hot peanut oil and the willingness of the numerous perch in residence to continually smash my small lures was turning my morning into a fine day.
    Recent problems with the rockfish bite in the mid-Bay had me baffled. Three straight six-hour outings with only undersized or barely keeper stripers to show for my efforts made me reconsider my strategies. Then I remembered an old axiom: If at first you don’t succeed, the heck with it. Try something else.
    The something else in this case was switching to white perch. The fact that I’ve also been having trouble consistently finding decent-sized perch did give me pause. The past season I had already had to write off extensive areas that had produced some great fishing over the past several years. The fish there had simply disappeared. Whether it was from over fishing or some environmental change, I was unsure, but there were no longer perch in residence. As tributary white perch are generally territorial and don’t move far from their home waters, I guessed it might take quite a long time for these locations to recover.
    My only option was to begin searching out new territory.
    The first attempts produced little success until a friend took pity on me. Fatigued by the unrelenting tales of my recent angling frustrations, he offered to show me the nearby location of his better perch successes. Of course he swore me to secrecy.
    I held out little hope that the area would live up to the hype. But having no better options at the time, I spent a morning with him testing the area.
    The shoreline we visited turned out to be one long honey hole. We were into good fish for more than three hours. The best white perch that day was a 13½-inch beauty boated by my friend. I easily iced down enough thick and heavy white perch for the dinner I had in mind.
    By then it was just 11am. Though overcast skies and a flood tide were extending the perfect conditions almost indefinitely, we quit the area for the day. It’s always wise to limit the harvest on a good fishing hole, saving the bulk of the population for later trips.
    Now I’ve got to redouble my efforts at discovering new perch fishing territory. One good spot is not enough to rely on for anywhere near the rest of the season. Besides, I’ve a favor to return.

If it’s entertainment you’re after, seeing this one is elementary

Fancy a spot of mystery to sharpen the old mind after summer’s idyll? Then you must check out Sherlock’s Last Case by Charles Marowitz, showing at Colonial Players through September 26. While I am forbidden by Colonial and Scotland Yard to divulge the particulars of this brilliant whodunit, trust me when I say Annapolis’ grand dame of amateur theater has produced another winner with this escapist spoof, rich in one-liners and plot twists.
    Here we have Sherlock Holmes (Jim Gallagher), sleuth extraordinaire, at his best: an aficionado of violin, fencing, handwriting analysis, history, chemistry, psychology, yoga and Jiu Jitsu, with a peerless intellect and ego to match. So what if Marowitz’s Sherlock is a touch more pompous than we remember? He has earned that privilege, especially since he dispatched his evil nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.
    Enjoying retirement at his cozy Baker Street home, Holmes is ensconced in silk settees and smoking jackets, listening to chamber music and bantering with his loyal associate Dr. Watson (Nick Beschen), that jolly good fellow. Blessed is the man who can count on such an indulgent friend. There’s also efficient housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Lisa KB Rath), upon whom they both rely for sustenance and the civilizing touch of a woman. She also comes in handy for amusement, as Holmes loves to joke about her parsimonious Scottish nature. Other than such entertainment and the newspaper, however, life is so boring that Holmes has taken to the opium pipe with renewed gusto.
    Then a letter arrives from Moriarty’s outraged son, Damion, followed by a visit from his daughter, Liza (Erin Leigh Hill). A delicate auburn-haired beauty who catches Holmes’ attention with her fair looks and temperament, Liza understands her late father’s faults all too well and has come to arrange a truce between Holmes and her brother, who resides in (shudder) America. No sooner has she left, however, than a mysterious assailant hogties Watson in the closet and threatens Holmes with death. Enter the venerable Inspector Lestrade (Morey Norkin), and by scene three the thriller is off and running.
    Marowitz’s script, winner of the Louis B. Mayer Award, challenges the audience to solve the perfect crime by thinking beyond the evidence and taking nothing for granted. It also entertains with such a rich repertoire of parodies and puns that you will find yourself stifling laughter so as not to miss the next zinger.
    This production, directed by Beth Terranova, is brilliantly cast with Gallagher delivering a spot-on Sherlock. Beschen, though a touch soft-spoken, brings lovable new dimension to the typically circumscribed Watson. The Victorian costumes — by Carrie Brady with Regina Todd — are stunning, and the accents — coached by BettyAnn Leesberg-Lane — melodious. The only hole in this show is the lighting: so dark during the two key suspense scenes as to be soporific, and so bright with black light effect at curtain as to be blinding.
    This is a don’t-miss, even for those who, like yours truly, don’t ordinarily go in for mysteries. If it’s entertainment you’re after, it’s elementary.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Includes simulated smoke, gunfire and blood.

Th-Sa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 7:30pm Sept. 13 (Sept. 13 only, students free with available seats at curtain time); thru Sept. 26. 108 East St, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410­-268-­7373.

Move crowded azaleas this month

Perhaps you planted young azaleas close together to achieve instant effects. Within a few years, those young azaleas will be crowding each other. Unless you remove some of them, they will grow tall and spindly.
    September is the best time of the year to dig and transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda, mountain laurel, blueberry and related species. By early September, the plants have stopped growing and are setting flower buds. When plants stop producing stems and leaves, they start producing roots. Thus, transplanting in September gives the plants time to establish themselves and be ready to resume normal growth in the spring when they begin to flower.
    When transplanted in the spring, the plants will flower, but new growth will be limited because the plants have to grow new stems, leaves and roots at the same time.  
     Azaleas and related species are very particular about where they grow. Unless irrigated during drought, they are best grown in light shade. On the other hand, the more direct sun plants receive, the more flowers they produce. Under dense shade, they will produce good dark foliage but few flowers.
    It is always best to grow these  plants in deep organic-rich soils that are acid in nature so they can absorb nitrogen in the ammonium form. Ammonium nitrogen is more readily available in acid soils than in neutral soils such as those good for growing annual flowers and vegetable gardens.
    To avoid problems, have your soil tested before planting. A good soil test will provide the pH of the existing soil, the amount of calcium and magnesium present as well as other essential nutrients essential for good plant growth. Never fertilize these species with lawn fertilizers; they contain nitrogen in the nitrate form, which will cause stunting.
    Acid soils tend to lack calcium, which is essential for good growth. Calcium is as important in plants as it is in humans. Thus, to supply calcium without making the soil neutral or alkaline, blend a few tablespoons of gypsum (calcium sulfate), into the soil before planting. If the soil is low in magnesium, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulfate.
    Successful transplanting also depends on careful watering. A newly transplanted shrub or tree should be watered thoroughly at three-day intervals. Light daily watering does more harm than good.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Two friends battle aging and the elements in this fun hike

It’s been years since acclaimed author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford: Captain America: The Winter Soldier) has written anything more substantial than the foreword to another writer’s book. Getting older hasn’t agreed with him, and he bristles at his social schedule, which is filled with funerals and staid gatherings.
    To shake things up, he decides to do something amazing: Hike the Appalachian Trail. He’s convinced he can amble over 2,000 miles of American wilderness on his own, with just his pup tent and a canteen. His wife (Emma Thompson: Effie Gray) is less sure of his skills, begging him not to go and printing out horror stories of people who have died on the trail.
    Finally, a compromise is reached. Bryson can go if he finds a hiking partner. He picks up the phone, but all his friends are too busy, too old or totally uninterested. The dream is starting to die when Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte: Run All Night) calls him. An estranged pal from his youth, Katz asks to tag along the trail. Desperate, Bryson agrees.
    When Katz arrives, Bryson is surprised to find his old hell-raising friend has grown old, fat and lame. Katz wheezes, turns purple at the slightest exertion, and is a general mess. He’s the last person who should walk the trail, but he’s the only person who volunteered.
    Together, Bryson and Katz take on one of the most challenging hikes in North America. As the miles roll on, the two old friends talk, gripe and laugh their way through the wilderness. Can two men past their prime trek from Georgia to Maine? Or will they kill each other before they can make camp?
    Based on Bryson’s novel, A Walk in the Woods is a journey film about two men who need to find themselves in the wilderness. Fans of the book will note that the characters are significantly older than those in the book, and the plot is a fast and loose adaptation. Still, the film manages to address the subjects of aging, finding yourself and friendship with humor and some insights.
    Director Ken Kwapis (Happyish) keeps the story simple. It’s essentially a two-man show, with Bryson and Katz trundling through the wilderness as the main attraction. Kwapis focuses on the comedy of the pairing and the majesty of the mountains and forests they traverse. John Bailey’s cinematography will convince you to visit the trail yourself to see the gorgeous vistas captured in the film.
    The core of the film is the relationship between Bryson and Katz. Redford is charming, infusing Bryson with intelligence and determination. He is a man missing something, and he convinces himself a few months of walking and eating camp rations will help him find it.
    The real star, however, is Nolte. It helps that his life has somewhat mirrored Katz’s life, as the years of hard living play plainly across the actor’s face. Nolte crashes into every scene, growling in his smoke-cracked baritone and saying the exact wrong thing 90 percent of the time. Katz’s oblivious crass nature hides a wounded man desperate to find some meaning in his life. Nolte manages to be both an exemplary buffoon and a tragic lost soul.
    A Walk in the Woods isn’t a perfect film. The production is a little too slick, and the film would rather go for shallow laughs than delve into what frayed Bryson and Katz’ relationship. In spite of its flaws, it is a funny, sweet story about finding yourself and an old friend in the woods.

Good Dramedy • R • 104 mins.

Hot weather is hard on anglers and hard on the fish, too

The first big fish came rather promptly, though in the end it proved a questionable blessing. I had flipped the half soft crab out to one of the bridge pilings and fed line under my thumb. The tide was crawling along, just slow enough to allow my quarter-ounce lead to sink the bait into the sweet zone.
    The sweet zone that day was at about 15 feet, halfway to the bottom. That’s where the fish arcs had shown on the sonar with our first exploratory drift past the bridge support. On our next pass we had dropped the baits.
    I felt a tap-tap, then a steady pull. Having been plagued by undersized rockfish the last few sorties, I did not want to deep-hook a fish that had to be released. So as soon as I had any indication that my quarry had the bait, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    My rod bent down, line feeding out against the firmly set drag, as the fish headed directly for the nearest concrete piling. Thumbing the spool a bit to slow that tactic convinced the clever devil to double back toward us … then to cross under the boat. The only thing to do in such circumstances is to plunge the rod tip deep into the water and hope the line doesn’t contact the hull. Fishing line rarely survives contact with a boat’s propeller or any of the other sharp metal edges down there.
    I struggled with the powerful rascal until the tidal current and wind twisted our skiff away from the structure. Then I put the helm hard over and shifted into reverse to clear the line from under the bottom. With the edge now in my favor, the bass began its surrender. When it flashed a few yards off of the gunnel, my partner readied the net.
    No need to measure this one, I thought. The fish was definitely in the 25- to 26-inch range, heavy and well proportioned. Then as it rolled into the folds of the net, I saw the ugly red sore on its shoulder. Without bringing the afflicted fish aboard, I removed the hook and turned it loose.
    The rockfish looked healthy enough otherwise, and I hoped that the coming colder water would kill the bacteria causing the infection so the fish could regain its health.
    The next few rockfish were undersized releases; then we got lucky with a fat 22-incher and put him on ice. But after that, no matter which bridge pier we drifted to (and there were many), the shorter rockfish plus some sizeable perch showed up to consume the rest of our supply of soft crabs.
    Heading back to the ramp tired and with just one fish in the box, we were happy to be nearing the end of summer. The latter part of August had not been kind to our efforts. Foul hot weather, temperamental fish (too many of them bearing sores) and the arrival of large numbers of undersized schoolies had jinxed us.
    September and the coming of autumn hold the promise of better things. Colder weather and cooler water seem to improve the vitality and size of the Bay’s rockfish. Plus, from recent reports and the count of boats launching in late afternoon, there is every evidence that the shallow water bite may come early this year.
    Fishing has often been described as the most optimistic of sports, a triumph of hope over experience. With the changing seasons, that pretty much describes my attitude.

Job by job, we keep our world turning

Sunny, sandy and salty from vacation, I’m ready to go back to work.
    I hope you, too, have had the kind of summer that returns you to your labor with love. I hope you had days and nights of fun, oceans of swimming, miles of hiking and biking, new horizons of sights and sounds — plus a good stretch of thoughtless time, vacationing your hard-working brain.
    Labor Day plus one will bring me back to Bay Weekly glad — as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote — “to sing in my chains like the sea.”
    In hoping the same for you, I am not beyond self-interest.
    Before my day starts, I’ve depended on you in so many ways that enumerating them makes my head spin.
    I wake up having depended for eight hours on the mattress maker, the cotton grower and pickers, the dyers, weavers, fabric designers, the geese and their down-pluckers — not to mention the truckers, shippers, buyers, sellers, entrepreneurs, merchants and ad writers who brought those goods to me.
    That’s before I’ve touched my feet on soon-to-be-replaced carpet whose fabrication is a mystery, though seller and carpet-layers linger in my memory. Beneath it is an equally mysterious pad resting on plywood framing milled and laid by whom I don’t know.
    Before my feet are in my German-made wool-felt slippers, I’m in debt to all the people who laid the floors of my house down to the dug-out basement, laid drainage, plumbed, wired, poured concrete, framed, insulated, paneled, dry walled, painted — and contrived from nature and craft all the materials therein. I have well-diggers and septic system installers and the engineers who designed those systems to thank, too.
    By now, I’m paralyzed. I don’t dare get dressed, for I’ll never be able to count the thousands of hands that filled my closet with clothes and shoes, my dressing table with ointments and cosmetics.
    Head spinning — and quite a few steps skipped — I need a cup of coffee. Thank goodness for the coffee plantations, growers, pickers, graders and Fair Trade regulators, importers, shippers, buyers, roasters who brought that beverage to my lips. Thanks, too, to the cow for half-and-half, the farmer for keeping the cow and the dairy buyer all the way through the grocery store checker. At least I don’t use sugar in my coffee.
    I don’t dare fetch my morning Washington Post, lest the thanks I have to give for its creation and delivery — not to mention Mr. Bezos — take me way past my weekly space allotment for this letter.
    What this all amounts to, dear reader, is that every day is Labor Day.
    Today I give you thanks for the jobs you’ve done.
    Turn the page to meet 20 more working people, all Chesapeake Country neighbors, in their own words.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

You’ll have to be as high as Mike to enjoy this stoner comedy

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg: The End of the Tour) is a loser. Ambitionless, he works a dead-end job managing a convenience store and suffers from a plethora of phobias. The only bright spots in this life are Mike’s endlessly understanding girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart: Still Alice) and the mountains of marijuana he smokes each day.
    The action begins with words mumbled by a convenience store customer. Mike thinks the pot has addled his brain, but when two men attempt to kill him, he surprises himself by handily dispatching them with a spoon.
    Mike is in fact a newly activated and expertly trained CIA operative. As ruthless killers come to town town, he must remember his training, protect his girlfriend and save his skin. That’s a tall order for a man who can’t cook an omelet without a joint in his hand.
    Violent, poorly written and featuring unbelievable performances, American Ultra is so ridiculous it’s almost as funny as it wants to be. Obsessed with the slick and stylish, director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) has made a movie as consequential as a car commercial. Action is frenetic, editing is choppy and stylized — and neither serves the story.
    Neither straightforward action film in Bourne style nor gonzo action comedy like Pineapple Express, American Ultra languishes in limbo. It is not innovative enough to be a gory action comedy and not restrained enough to be a classical shoot-’em-up. Like Mike, it has no ambition and nothing of interest to say.
    Characters are stereotypes, impersonal and uninteresting. As Mike, Eisenberg has the look and idiotic dialog of a stoner, and he acts the part. His attacks are slow, his strikes lack force and his hair hangs in his eyes.
    The relationship with Stewart’s Phoebe is only slightly less believable than this loser’s being able to find a spoon, let alone kill with it. Stewart and Eisenberg display no chemistry.
    The only person who escapes American Ultra unscathed is Walton Goggins (Justified), who plays Laugher, a psychotic soldier tasked with killing Mike. Goggins, who has decades of experience playing underwritten weirdoes, has learned how to make even the barest character interesting.

Poor Action Movie • R • 95 mins.

These sensitive trees show you air pollution in action

If your Heritage birch is dropping yellow leaves, blame it on the Orange Alert of early August. Heritage birch is a clone of river birch, which is highly sensitive to both ozone and sulfur dioxide. Both of these gasses are present in an Orange Alert.
    An Orange Alert is announced to warn the elderly and people with pulmonary disorders to remain indoors in air-conditioning and minimize outdoor activities until the alert is lifted. Heritage birch, the deciduous trees most sensitive to air pollutants, have no choice but to remain in place and try to survive.
    Maple, oak, cherry, apple, dogwood and other tree species are not affected.
    Only older leaves are yellowing and dropping. Younger leaves closer to the ends of the branches are remaining green, and the trees are producing new leaves at the ends of the branches.
    Age is the cause of the leaf drop. The spongy layer of plant cells in leaves converts carbon dioxide into oxygen by absorbing air through small openings called stomata on the underside of birch tree leaves. These stomata are surrounded by guard cells that open and close depending on moisture, time of day and the presence of air pollutants.
    In younger leaves, the guard cells remain very flexible. As soon as they detect air pollutants entering the leaves they close, thus preventing damage to the spongy leaf tissues that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, as leaves age, the guard cells become sluggish and sometimes stop functioning, thus allowing the polluted air to enter and kill the spongy leaf tissues. In other words, the guard cells are not as spry as they once were.
    Once the spongy leaf tissues are killed by the air pollutants, the older leaves react as if they had been damaged by an early frost.
    If the air pollution were to occur at night, it is unlikely the problem would be as severe because the guard cells close at about the same time the sun sets. The damage would be limited to only those leaves where the guard cells are stuck in the open position.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Osprey and eagles are no fine, feathered friends

Reading by the side of Loden’s Pond in Quiet Waters Park, I was distracted by a considerable racket up above. Three osprey, I saw looking up, were dive-bombing an eagle.
    This year’s baby osprey are still growing. By mid-September, they must be almost fully mature to make their long trip to the Caribbean and the Amazon, where they’ll spend their first two years. As the juveniles are not yet fully grown, they’re an appealing dinner to omnivorous eagles. To short-circuit that meal, mature osprey attack eagles.
    The eagle has a size advantage in its six-foot wingspan over the osprey’s five-foot span. But the osprey is the more maneuverable bird.
    As I watched, the osprey took turns attacking the eagle. As they dove, the eagle rolled over on its back, talons pointed skyward. The aerial battle continued across the pond eastward toward the Hillsmere Shores community. The spectacle, which ­lasted only 30 to 40 seconds, would have made an aerobatic pilot envious.

Finding feeding seabirds will save you time and speed up your catch

The seabirds, scores of them about 100 yards away, were wheeling, screaming and diving. We could see the splashes of fish wildly feeding just under the surface. They were not the explosive strikes of the big stripers we had hoped for, but it was impossible to ignore them.
    Running ahead but well outside of the feeding school, I chopped the skiff’s throttle, turned and eased within casting range. My partner and I flung our lures just to the edge of the action. I was fishing a half-ounce Bass Assassin, and Moe, a half-ounce gold Red Eye Shad.
    Moe’s rod dipped down almost immediately from a strike, and I felt a sharp tap, tap, tap. “Bluefish,” I snorted, “small ones.” I could imagine the toothy little devils reducing my five-inch soft bait to a stub.
    My friend landed, then carefully unhooked a wriggling nine-inch snapper blue from the treble hooks of his crank bait and released it. I pulled the shredded remains of the soft plastic body from my jig head and searched in my box for another to replace it.
    “This is not going to get any better,” I said, looking across the acre or so of small splashes. “Let’s vamoose.”
    Putting the boat up on plane and scanning the horizon, I soon saw another group of working birds about a quarter-mile away.
    Bigger birds, bigger fish.
    “Those are bill gulls over there,” I said. “Maybe we’re in luck.” Ten minutes later we had two fat rockfish thumping on the deck, though neither was a keeper. A few more casts and a look at the fish-finder confirmed the absence of anything approaching the 20-inch minimum, so off we went again.
    Across the Bay and into the distance were several groups of birds working over feeding fish. We had a job to do, and I was glad that I had remembered to top off the gas tank that morning.

How to Catch Them
    Late August is the beginning of fishing for breaking rockfish under birds. A more exciting fishery just does not exist on the Chesapeake. We were following up on reports of a couple of acres of 30-plus-inch fish just off Love Point. We never encountered that school. We did, however, enjoy lots of hook-ups and releases.
    You can do a couple of things to make the most of these opportunities. First, you need a good pair of binoculars; models with image stabilizing are particularly helpful. Scanning the waters to find birds that have located the feeding fish will save you a good bit of time.
    Next, know your birds. Terns and young laughing gulls are the smaller birds you see wheeling about the Bay. They feed almost exclusively on silversides and anchovies. Bigger predator fish will sometimes key on the small baitfish, but this time of year these schools attract mostly smaller rockfish and bluefish.
    Mature laughing gulls are a bit larger, the ring-billed gull larger still, then the herring gull on up to the black-backed gull, the largest of all. When these bigger birds are on the feed, you can bet that the baitfish will be bigger and the game fish chasing them larger as well.
    The very best trophy fish-finders are pelicans and gannets with wingspreads of more than six feet. They’ll be working over the schools of the largest menhaden and the heaviest rockfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
    There are other protocols. Never run into the midst of a breaking school. That will put them down and anger anyone else trying to fish them. Turn off your engine while engaging breakers for the same reason, and don’t cast into their midst. You’ll avoid cutoffs from sharp gill plates of rockfish and teeth and abrasive tails of bluefish if you always work the edges.
    If the feeding fish on top are small, go deep. Bigger fish are sometimes on the bottom picking up baitfish injured by the frantic, smaller fish feeding on top.
    Squash your hook barbs if you’re doing a lot of catch and release. It will make things easier for you and the fish.