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Treat yellow-green leaves with ­compost or fertilizer

If your hollies are heavily loaded with berries this fall, most likely the foliage will turn yellow-green, downgrading the contrast with the red berries. It takes a lot of energy and nutrients for plants to produce fruit. This is especially true if the branches are heavily laden with large clusters. Heavy-fruiting hollies generally appear chlorotic. This problem can be corrected by applying a nitrogen-rich mulch such as lobster compost, chicken manure compost or lawn fertilizer between the trunk of the plant and the drip line. For hollies, this treatment should be applied now and the trees irrigated weekly until early December.
    If the plants have had pale green foliage all summer long, they most likely are deficient in magnesium. Without soil test results to confirm this diagnosis, I often recommend spreading one-third cup of epsom salts per 10 square feet. Magnesium deficiency is not an uncommon problem with hollies laden with bright red berries.
    Boxwoods that appear yellow-green in the fall often experience excessive leaf drop due to nitrogen deficiency. If the winter is especially severe, many boxwoods will also exhibit bronzing. Both of these symptoms can be prevented by fertilizing the plants soon after the first frost. Applying one-half cup of a lawn fertilizer for every three feet in height or spread is generally adequate. Make certain that you use only a lawn fertilizer that does not contain weed killers. Apply the fertilizer uniformly beneath the drip line of the branches. Since boxwoods are very shallow-rooted, they will quickly respond to the treatment.
    Azalea are also susceptible to early fall discoloration and loss of leaves. Roots are unable to provide sufficient nitrogen for flower-bud development. As a result, nitrogen from the lower leaves migrates upward to the developing flower bud at the tip of the branches. Chlorosis of the bottom leaves is very common on white-flowering azaleas because they flower in abundance. This problem can be solved by mulching them with either Maine Lobster Compost, compost made from crab waste or ammonium sulfate fertilizer. If using ammonium sulfate fertilizer, apply only one tablespoon per two feet of height or spread of the azalea plants. Apply the ammonium sulfate mostly under the drip line of the branches.


What’s Killing My Spruce?

Q    I have a 50-year-old spruce tree that is dying from the bottom up. What would cause this (just old age?) and is there anything that can be done to save it? Thanks for your advice. I love Bay Weekly.

–Mary Jane Gibson, Lothian

A    It is not old age because spruce trees can live 100 years or more. Which spruce is it — Norway, white, black, red, Colorado, Engelmann, Siberian, etc.?  Look at the ground under the branches for holes about the size of a silver dollar. If you see such holes, it is possible that pine mice are girdling the roots. If so, you have to kill the pine mice with poison bait for mice (available at the hardware store). If the trunk is bleeding sap, then the tree is infested with cankers. Or the tree may be suffering from weed killers if you have used them on your lawn.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Gas, oil and battery need attention before the freeze hits

There’s lots to do to winterize your boat and motor, and lots of checklists online and at marine stores tell you how. Let me remind you of the steps that can be the most critical.
    Topping off your boat’s gas tanks and dosing with the correct amount of fuel stabilizer is first on the list of must-do’s. Seek out ethanol-free gasoline (E-0), as it is relatively stable during storage.
    Ethanol is an additive present in 90 percent of all gasoline sold in this country. E-10 contains 10 percent ethanol, and E-15 has 15 percent. Ethanol is mandated by the U.S. government to reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources. Modern marine motors are designed to run on all of the ethanol-added fuels, but problems can occur in extended storage.
    Gasoline itself can absorb a small amount of moisture. Ethanol can accumulate 50 to 60 times more, generally from condensation inside the fuel tank. When the ethanol accumulates too much moisture, phase separation occurs. The fuel separates into two distinct layers, a top layer of (now) low-octane gasoline and a bottom layer of water-rich ethanol. Neither of these is desirable in a modern outboard engine. Both can cause damage.
    If your motor will not start or it suddenly runs poorly, phase separation might be the cause. Do not try adding fresh gas, as it will not effectively mix with the separated fuel. Drain the tank and dispose of the spoiled gasoline at a hazardous waste site.
    The next most important step is changing the lower unit oil. The lower unit of an outboard contains the drive gears and prop shaft, rather like the transmission of an automobile. The gears are lubricated by thick 90-weight oil. It’s a good idea to change it every year.
    Winterizing is the best time, for two reasons. First, so you don’t forget to do it. Second, to be sure the prop shaft seals have retained their waterproof integrity. When drained oil has a white or milk-colored tone, your seals are failing and should be replaced.
    If you do not drain your oil and the engine is stored outside over winter, any water that has leaked into the lower unit will eventually separate from the oil and accumulate at the bottom. When temperatures drop below 32 degrees, that water will freeze. Expansion can crack the unit’s casing, disabling your engine and incurring a costly repair.
    Replacing the seals is not a difficult operation, and manuals and websites describe exactly how to do it. If you prefer to have a professional mechanic handle the operation, be sure that you do it over the winter while their workloads are at a minimum. If you wait for springtime, the busiest time of year for marine mechanics, you may wait weeks.
    The last must-do is to disconnect your engine’s battery. Optimally you should remove it from the boat, store it in a temperature-stable area and place it on a maintenance charger. At minimum, it should be completely disconnected.
    Most boat motors, bilge pumps and general electronics are sophisticated enough to include some monitoring devices that will continue to operate even if the unit is off. While drawing only a miniscule amount of power, they will drain the battery over time, then keep it drained. And you’ll need a new battery come spring.

Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better

When outrage-stage author Edward Albee passed away in September, the theater world mourned with a collective gasp, as if his death from old age were just another violent trick designed to snap us out of complacency. The triple Pulitzer prize-winner aimed to make audiences so uncomfortable they would “run out of the theater — but come back to see the play again.” He succeeded most notably with his first full-length production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Pulitzer committee chose to grant no prize in 1963 rather than award it to Albee.
    Virginia Woolf, wrapping up its run at Colonial Players this weekend, is a ­surreal stress-fest about a middle-aged couple of psychological sado-masochists at a quaint New England college who entangle a pair of unsuspecting newlyweds in their calamitous sport. The ensuing mental warfare and infidelity, stemming from ancient domestic skirmishes, is booby-trapped with antagonistic gibes, outrageous lies, professional sniping and personal sabotage. Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better.
    It all starts one Sunday morning at two o’clock when Martha (Debbie Barber-Eaton), the college president’s feisty daughter, informs her weary husband George (Joe Mariano), a history professor, that she has invited the new faculty couple, Nick (Ron Giddings) and Honey (Sarah Wade), over for a post-party nightcap. George balks, but Martha rules, drunkenly and teetering with schizophrenic fervor between love and hate. The feeling is mutual, and George, less a victim than he appears, ultimately proves more acerbic and dangerous than even Martha could imagine, increasingly so as night lifts to morning amid broken and empty liquor bottles.
    As campus royalty, Barber-Eaton is a superb braying siren with a magical hold on her subjects and surprising frailty that she drowns in gin. Mariano delights as the only man who can tolerate her, percolating with ironic menace like sunrise coffee laced with arsenic. Giddings is every inch the uptight opportunist with Ivy League breeding and athletic bearing. Wade is adorably vulnerable as his naïve wifey. So impressive is this foursome that they just may sweep this year’s WATCH awards for acting.
    The only catch in casting, which would not be a big deal save for significant references in the script, is the unfortunate fact that the slim-hipped and therefore implicitly weaker of the two women plays Martha rather than Honey.
    The set is homey and collegiate with costumes richly detailed and period appropriate. Sound and lighting effects are few and unnecessary, as the characters provide all the pyrotechnics. It’s quite remarkable to watch these people drink, an average of six stiff drinks each in the three and a half hours it takes for the action to unwind. Yes, you read that right: for by the time the sun rises, presumably at 5:30, the audience has endured this emotional roller-coaster in real time, and that is most unfortunate.
    The script bills this as a three-hour production, already longer than most, yet Director Craig Allen Mummey chooses to draw out the dialog for dramatic effect at the expense of audience comfort. That trade-off many resented on the weeknight I resented.
    Still, this is theater at its best. Come fresh, without the kids.


Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Stage managers: Bernadette Arvidson and Kevin Brennan. Set designer: Barbara Colburn. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady.

Playing thru Nov. 12, Th-Sa 8pm, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis, $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

A poignant look at one man’s struggle for self-acceptance

There’s something wrong with Little (Alex R. Hibbert in his screen debut). His mama (Naomi Harris: Our Kind of Traitor) and the kids at school see it. He walks funny; he’s soft; he ain’t no man. Mama calls him names, and the boys at school chase and beat him. There is no place he feels safe.
    With Juan (Mahershala Ali: Luke Cage), a local drug dealer, he finds acceptance. Juan teaches him that being a man is more than going hard and showing off. Being a man is knowing who you are. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe: Rio 2) offer Little the first safe space he’s ever known.
    In high school, Little — now Ashton Sanders (The Skinny) — calls himself Chiron. But he’s still a pariah, still called gay and still tortured. Chiron also has a crush on the only boy in school who’s ever been nice to him. The attraction is clearly mutual, but consummation seems impossible.
    Chiron tries to navigate his feelings, his neighborhood and what it means to be a gay black man in America. Will he crack under the pressure?
    Beautifully acted, skillfully shot and heart-rendingly written, Moonlight is a powerful movie with important things to say about the perception of masculinity. Director Barry Jenkins uses his feature debut to examine the duality of male lives, exploring how they vacillate from hard swagger when trying to impress to genuine emotions and tenderness with loved ones. Even Juan, who preaches being true to oneself, is divided. On the streets, he’s all bravado and no nonsense. At home or with Little, he shows his nurturing side.
    Characters are authentic. There is no Hollywood sheen on these streets, and motives may not be explained. It’s up to you to enter Chiron’s world.
    The role of Chiron is divided among three actors: Hibbert in youth, Sanders as a teen and Trevante Rhodes (Westworld) as an adult. Their roles blend seamlessly into an epic portrayal of one man’s journey. Hibbert and Sanders both excel at Chiron’s fear and uncertainty, making him a timid, quiet boy always seeking someone to care. As an adult, Chiron becomes a parody of stereotypical black masculinity, blasting rap music, wearing grills and being the toughest guy on the block. Rhodes shows how hollow that existence feels.
    Lyrical, emotionally heavy and full of commentary on race and gender, Moonlight is not a popcorn flick. This film requires you to think and dig deep to understand the mass of conflicts that make up the principle characters. If you’re willing to put in the sweat equity, you’ll see one of the best films of the year.

Great Drama • R • 110 mins.

Four generations later, returning to a home they’ve never known

See a monarch this time of year, and you’re seeing an insect with superpowers. Passing through Chesapeake Country is the migrating fourth generation of the distinctive butterfly whose orange wings are patterned like leaded glass. The great-great grandchildren of last spring’s migrating monarchs, these featherweights are repeating the 3,000-mile journey to Mexico, flying on instinct.
    Leaving Chesapeake Country, these long-distance fliers funnel through Point Lookout, Maryland’s southernmost tip, before hopping over the 11-mile-wide mouth of the Potomac River, says Calvert County naturalist Andy Brown. Over the weekend of October 22 and 23, Brown netted and tagged 100 or so there.
    Thence, they continue inexorably southward.
    Their fuel for the long flight is autumnal nectar from such plants as goldenrod and wild aster. As they won’t be laying eggs for many months, they have no need of the milkweed that sustains larval monarchs.
    Before these endurance fliers become parents, they’ll have migrated to Mexico, overwintered in the Oyamel fir tree forests of the state of Michoacan, and flown north again. Their children will be born on the northward migration that will take three generations to complete. 2017’s fourth generation, like this year’s, will pupate perhaps as far north as Canada, perhaps as close as our own yards — if their parents found milkweed there.
    Remember these monarchs. Plant milkweed in your garden next spring to help the age-old fragile cycle ­continue.

Three destinations to enjoy mild days while you can

At Halloween, we passed the halfway point, 45 days from past the autumnal equinox, 45 days until the winter solstice. Halloween, you’ll remember, shortens All Hallows Eve, the lead-in to All Saints Day and All Souls Day, feasts of remembrance and reverence for the dead, borrowed from Roman Catholic liturgy. These are the Days of the Dead, as they’re celebrated in Mexico.    
    Another old story tells us what we’re in store for: Persephone, daughter of fruitfulness, is stolen by Hades and held captive in the underworld, meaning her mother Demeter and all the northern hemisphere mourn until her spring escape.
    In Chesapeake Country, the news is not so bad. November usually begins as a gentle month, with temperatures often in the 60s till mid-month and seldom dropping to freezing. Trees are at their colorful best right now, and while this year’s color will not be full-blown, it’s not bad. Butterflies and bees still have flowers to feed on. At home, we’re still eating ripe tomatoes from our own plants. These late autumnal good days are fleeting, which is all the more reason to enjoy them while we can.
    Thus, Bay Weekly’s November 3 issue offers you excursions. I recommend them particularly as I’ve been on them all myself.
    For a hike, alone or with your dog, or a horseback ride, I suggest Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, 198 acres of rolling terrain with lovely pastoral vistas. As this is a recently retired farm, most of the land is native grasses filled with birds and wildlife. Artful mowing of wide paths and meadows improves the views. You can see a long rolling road, named for its original use: rolling hogsheads of tobacco to the water to be loaded on boats for market. Hardwood forest of about a half-century’s growth trims the edges, including Battle Creek. Historic farm buildings still stand. Trails are marked on a map you can pick up at the unattended park, including the Cathole Trail, which takes you by the centuries-old native homesite you’ll read about in this week’s story Digging Back into Our History.
    This Calvert County Park is south of Prince Frederick and just south of Battle Creek Nature Education Center, another distinctive natural destination with a boardwalk through Chesapeake Country’s northernmost cypress swamp. There is no charge to visit Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, but equestrian use requires a permit (410-535-5327); open dawn to dusk.
    At Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, you’re only 20 minutes by car from Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, about which you’ll read in New at Calvert Marine Museum.
    That’s good reason to visit both in a day, especially if you’re coming from Anne Arundel County. If you’re ambitious, that is, for Calvert Marine Museum can fill a day on its own. The museum campus, a pretty spot with waterviews, is perfect for a picnic, reading, drawing or painting, if the day is fine. Outdoors is also where you’ll look for the playful otters in their pool. Inside this fascinating museum, you’ll see other live animals, including skates and rays; get close-up views of prehistoric life; and step back in maritime culture.
    You can’t bring your dog or horse, and admission is charged to the museum: 410-326-2042.
    For an Annapolis excursion, visit either campus of the expanded Annapolis Maritime Museum, about which you’ll read in A Giant Step into the Future. The museum proper, in Eastport, offers an Annapolis view of maritime history and a lovely waterfront space to be outdoors on a good day, to fish, read, draw or simply enjoy the feel of the place. Across Back Creek — three miles by car though Eastport and down Forest Drive — the museum’s new campus, the Ellen Moyer Nature Park, offers retreat from the city into 12 acres of mostly untamed nature, where you can explore or launch your paddle craft. Free admission on both sides of the creek: www.amaritime.org.
    Enjoy the spots now, and you may want to come back in winter for very different experiences.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Our estimable forefathers were as bad — maybe worse

If you’re disheartened by the tone of this year’s presidential election, you won’t find refuge in the good old days.
    Historical presidential contests were as bad as — perhaps even worse — than what we’re seeing. In fact, we seem downright civil compared to some of the low-down dirty tricks and harsh rhetoric of prior elections.
    The 1800 election, pitting then vice president Thomas Jefferson against president John Adams, was heated. Jefferson’s team called the president “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
    However, the lie that could have had the biggest impact in that election was Adams’ camp’s declaration that Jefferson was dead. Jefferson won anyway.
    Even Abraham Lincoln was not above political mudslinging. In the 1860 campaign against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s camp took shots at Douglas’ appearance, calling him Little Giant because he was only 5 foot 4 inches, and noting that he was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”
    Perhaps setting the standard for ugliness was the 1828 election, pitting Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Supporters of Adams called Jackson “a slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.”
    His supporters, in turn, went so low as to call Jackson’s dead mother “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers.”
    Jackson’s supporters said that Adams was a pimp, claiming he had provided the Czar of Russia with an American prostitute while Adams was Russian ambassador. Both campaigns took shots at the other’s wives and created lurid stories about their pasts.
    While it would seem that ugly mudslinging is a part of our electoral heritage, I don’t know that we should be heartened by that fact.

Give yourself plenty of options for catching stripers this time of year

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. With ice in my cooler, a couple of bottles of water and a box of surface lures, I headed out just before sundown for the mouth of a nearby tributary. Planning a top-water assault to repeat a recent evening’s triumph, my hopes were high.
    Everything was perfect: low light, high water, moving tide and no wind. The only missing element was the fish. I worked up and down the shallow shoreline to no avail. Finally, searching in my boat bag, I discovered a lone Rat-L-Trap. On my third cast with it, I finally came tight with a rockfish. However it was only a 16-incher, and worse, it was alone.
    Looking about in frustration I noticed a group of boats working a distant channel edge. Time was running out as I quietly motored near. One look at my electronic finder explained the fleet’s presence. Scattered marks of sizeable fish suspended at 10 feet were along the edge, definitely a rockfish signature. I drifted and cast through the area, allowing my crank bait time to sink. No success.
    The other anglers appeared to be casting assassin-type baits. I dove into my under-seat storage, praying I had some stashed somewhere. Near the bottom, I came up with a small, weathered box of half-ounce jig heads and a couple of old five-inch assassins in white. That would have to do.
    Keeping an eye on the nearest skiff to see if anyone was actually catching, I finally noticed an angler lean over and furtively lip a fish in the mid-20s up and over the side.
    The boats were crowding each other unceremoniously close. It was getting dark. The action would soon cease, if the presence of so many craft wasn’t forcing it already.
    Flipping my jig out and giving it a chance to sink below the marks, I worked it back with an erratic stop and go. It took two or three drifts and a few dozen casts, but I finally hooked a good fish. Letting it run a bit, I began to think I wasn’t going to get skunked. Then it was gone.
    For another hour, I worked the water. As it grew deep dark and the fleet dissipated, I reconstructed my poor decisions. I should have been on the water earlier … I shouldn’t have wasted so much time working a poor method … I should have had a wider selection of baits. Betting all my chips on surface action in one area was too risky.
    The mouth of this river had become recently popular. I knew that rockfish get lure- and boat-noise shy after just a few encounters. I persisted. Yet I knew better — and will do better the next time.
    For spooky fall fish, assassin-type bodies on jig heads tend to be the most reliable bait. Even better are assassins rigged Texas-style with a bullet-shaped head weight and the hook point buried just under the soft body.
    Such bait is virtually snag-free, a real advantage in working the shallows. It will also fish well in deeper water, and it can be retrieved extra slow, allowing the stripers to mouth it, another real advantage with tentative fish.
    As my ace in the hole, I’ll have four or five small white perch in my live well. They might do the trick in the end. It’s hard for a hungry rockfish to resist the real thing.
    As I headed for home, the skunk smell following me, I swore that the next time I would be better prepared.

Three steps to keep them happy indoors

Some houseplants have to be repotted every six months, while others can stay put for two or three years. Frequency of repotting also depends on container size, quality of care, productivity of the rooting medium and frequency of nutrient applications. Annuals — such as grape ivy, begonias and marigolds — have very vigorous habits of growth and should be repotted at least twice yearly. Foliage plants such as ficus, schefflera and crotons tend to grow slowly and can be left alone for a year or two, depending on the age of the plant and container size.

Step 1: If root-bound, repot
    As you move houseplants in for the winter, check first whether they are root-bound. Knock the plant out of its container, holding the still-potted plant with your fingers on each side of the stem, then turning it upside-down amd rapping the top of the container sharply on the edge of a solid table or bench, dislodging the root ball. If it is covered with a solid mat of roots, the plant is root-bound.
    To stimulate root-bound plants to produce new roots, take a sharp knife, and make four or five cuts through the root mat from the top to the bottom of the root ball. Using your fingers, loosen as many roots as possible, and shake out old rooting medium from the center of the ball.
    Unless the roots of a root-bound plant are disturbed during repotting, the plant will stay root-bound despite having fresh rooting medium and a bigger container.
    If using a larger container is not feasible, apply the bonsai root-pruning practice, cutting out one-third of the root mat to allow new roots room to grow.

Step 2: Use active potting soil
    Repot into freshly blended potting medium. Try this recipe: Mix equal parts by volume garden soil (less for plastic or ceramic pots), compost and perlite. Place in a microwaveable container and microwave at full power for 15 minutes for each gallon of potting soil. Cool before using. Store the unused rooting medium in a plastic bag so that it will remain moist.
    Or improve commercial media by adding one-third by volume compost such as LeafGro. Peat moss-blended media shrink over time; avoid them.
    If you have old potting medium, whether homemade or purchased, make sure it is biologically active. Old potting soil that has been allowed to dry out and remain bone dry for months is biologically dead. To make old dried-out potting medium usable, moisten and blend it with either fresh compost or new potting medium.
    Add all the old rooting medium to your compost pile.
    Place some fresh potting medium in the bottom of the container. Replace the plant, adding and tapping down more medium as you go. Using your thumbs, press the rooting medium firmly into the center of the root ball and between the root ball and the walls of the container.
    Leave a half-inch free space between the top of the root ball and the top edge of the container for proper watering. Finally, bounce the bottom of the container sharply on a hard surface so that the loose potting medium fills in the voids.

Step 3: Water generously
    As soon as you finish potting, flood the surface with water several times until you see excess water flow from the bottom of the container. This washes the medium into cavities around the roots. After the water drains, fill with additional medium. Allow to drain thoroughly before bringing inside.
    A later column will explain indoor watering.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

You’ve got a treasure; take care of it

Back in the mid-1940s, the advent of the spinning reel made angling a popular America sport. Spin reels opened up light-tackle fishing to millions for the first time. The easy-to-use casting mechanism allowed anglers to throw their line, lure or bait a good distance without worry of tangles.
    Penn spin reels became the saltwater standard of the day. By the mid-1970s, their price approached $100. This was a considerable sum, but they were rugged quality reels made in America. You could count on a Penn. The reels were easily maintained with an occasional squirt of oil, and customer service was great.
    If you had problems with your Penn that you couldn’t handle yourself, it could be returned to the company and refurbished promptly in the neighborhood of $10, as I recall, and that included return postage. People treasured and passed down their Penn reels from generation to generation.
    However at the same time, manufacturing of fishing tackle began to shift to offshore anglers, which resulted in lower costs and increased product competition. Design and materials improvement accelerated as angling became even more popular in the U.S., then worldwide.
    As prices dropped, when a reel was damaged or began to malfunction, it became more convenient to replace it than to bear the cost and inconvenience of shipping and repair. Plus, constant technological advances and better engineering made most newer models superior.
    Today’s reels are nothing short of magnificent, and their costs have risen accordingly. Material and engineering development have matured to the point that these mechanisms are not going to get noticeably better in the foreseeable future. As a result, it’s starting to make sense once again to take care of the gear we have, keep it in good working order and maintain it for its full life expectancy.
    Manufacturers have also sensed this change in the dynamics of the market and improved their customer service. Looking online you’ll find all the better tackle companies offering on-line schematics, parts lists and detailed maintenance instructions. Plus, many websites discuss specific repairs and how to accomplish them on virtually every brand and model of spin reel now available.
    More and more anglers are, once again, providing their own intensive maintenance to their reels to ensure performance and longevity and — while they’re at it — even upgrading mechanisms to include friction-free ceramic bearings, carbon-fiber drag washers, newer high-tech low-friction lubricants and, in general, keeping the gear up to any angling task and in top condition for years to come.
    For anglers, the disposable-equipment culture may at last be over.