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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.

Just a little care will do it

This summer, I harvested my biggest crop of garlic ever, with my elephant garlic the size of a baseball. I attribute my success to incorporating an inch-thick layer of compost just before planting, mulching the garlic with Maine Lobster Compost just before the ground froze and giving the garlic plenty of room to grow. I planted elephant garlic in a six-by-six-inch spacing and the Italian garlic in a four-by-six-inch spacing. Come summer, I stopped hoeing the weeds as soon as the foliage was sufficiently dense to shade the ground.
    Plant your garlic before November here in southern Maryland. If you have not had your soil tested in the past three years, do. The pH of the soil must be between 6.0 and 6.5 with five percent organic matter and medium to optimum levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and boron. Even with five percent organic matter, spade a one-inch-thick layer of your homemade compost or LeafGro into the soil just prior to planting.
    I had problems purchasing garlic bulbs from seed catalogs. In recent years I purchase my garlic bulbs from large grocery stores where you can select firm and well-developed bulbs. Grasp the bulbs and squeeze them gently. If they feel spongy, keep selecting until you have bulbs that feel firm and solid.
    Separate the cloves, making certain that the basal plate is not damaged. Each elephant bulb should give you five or six firm cloves. Using a trowel or a dibble, plant elephant garlic cloves at least six inches below the surface of the ground and Italian or German garlic four inches deep. Rake the soil while filling the holes, and irrigate well. Until new leaves appear above ground, irrigate only once weekly. When the foliage is close to a foot tall, mulch with your homemade compost, Maine Lobster Compost or compost made from crab waste. Maine Lobster Compost used as a mulch is free of weeds as compared to homemade compost.
    Compost made from lobster or crab is high in nitrogen, which is slowly released. This is especially important come next spring when plants are growing. The slow-release nitrogen means that every time you water in the spring, the roots are being supplied with nutrients from the compost. If you mulch with your own homemade compost, I suggest that you apply either an organic or chemical fertilizer as soon as the plants resume growth.
    Next spring, take great care when weeding with an onion hoe. Avoid any contact between the steel of the hoe and the stems of the garlic. To control grasses, I apply Preen at about the time forsythia drops its flowers. Pigweed, lambs-quarters, oxalis and clover will have to removed by hand.


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

Their night flights bring us treats, not tricks

Winging its way through the eerie gloom, the bat is a potent symbol of Halloween. Far from its menacing reputation in seasonal lore, bats’ contributions to the natural world are many and essential.
    In tropical and desert ecosystems, bats serve as pollinators for plants such as bananas, mangoes and the agave plant used to make tequila.
    Bat pollination is strictly a fly-by-night operation. Come sundown, these furry creatures take to the air in search of the trademark scent of rotting fruit emitted by bat-pollinated flowers. As bats sip the nectar on tap at these flowers, they get a face full of pollen, which they carry on to other flowers of the same species.
    Another important role played by bats is disperser of seeds.
    “As they fly through the rainforest, bats spread seeds to create new plants. Papaya and cacao are two plants for which seed dispersal by bats is particularly important,” says Devin Dotson of the U.S. Botanic Garden.
    Bats are also protectors of plants. As they devour insects in their nightly forays, they reduce pest damage and lessen the amount of pesticide needed to grow crops such as coffee and cotton.
    Maryland’s 10 native bat species are all insect eaters. One little brown bat can devour up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour.
    Protecting bat habitat is a good way to ensure that bats continue to thrive.
    “Bat houses are a great idea, and we encourage communities to get involved,” says Micaela Jemison of Bat Conservation International.
    To see live bats and learn more about them, parents and kids join Bat Bonanza at the U.S. Botanic Garden on Saturday October 29 (10am-5pm; free, no registration needed). For added fun, come in costume as a bat or a plant pollinated by a bat: www.usbg.gov.

The Holocaust goes on trial in this courtroom drama

An  historian specializing in the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz: The Light Between Oceans) becomes obsessed with people who deny the reality of that genocide.
    Earning Lipstadt’s particular ire is historian David Irving (Timothy Spall: The Journey), a Hitler fan who claims the gas chambers of Auschwitz were made up. Irving is so offensive that Lipstadt decries his poor research and dubious motivations in her book on Holocaust deniers.
    Having made a career of courting racists through the guise of “uncovering the truth Jews attempted to hide,” Irving is outraged and sues her for libel in the British courts.
    The choice of court is important, for in British courts, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Thus to win, Lipstadt and her team of lawyers must prove that the Holocaust existed and that Irving perverted historic documents to claim it did not.
    It’s not a quick process.
    Experts pour over Irving’s writings and research for more than a year. While Lipstadt and her team are mired in facts, Irving takes to the airways, giving interviews and offering glib soundbites like “No holes, no Holocaust.”
    The Jewish community in Britain worries that Irving’s insane but printable rantings will foster a new generation of neo-Nazis. Fearing that even a victory will be overshadowed by Irving’s media circus, they ask Lipstadt to settle the case before more damage is done.
    Based on a true story, Denial is a fascinating legal drama about how far freedom of speech can be taken. Director Mick Jackson (Temple Grandin) frames the film as a legal battle, which can be interesting but has drawbacks. As the intricacies of British law are explained, we lose time with Lipstadt, who becomes a supporting player in her own story.
    In fact, the spotlight falls, rather ironically, on Irving. Portrayed as an odious little man who sees nothing wrong with misogyny and casual racism, he is a bit of a mystery. At times, he seems almost comically self-deluded, spinning every loss or setback as a secret victory. One is never quite sure if David Irving is an evil genius or an intellectual gnat with a large vocabulary and a talent for media management. Spall plays his cagey insanity beautifully.
    Weisz is excellent as the dogged Queens-born historian rankled that the British courts keep her from speaking, but sadly, she takes a backseat to this vile character.
    Denial is a film about events, not people. The trial is fascinating, but the movie feels a bit hollow. I wish Jackson had instead explored the characters and what drove them to the court. From Lipstadt’s fiery refusal to kowtow to a bigot to Irving’s tone-deaf belief that history is on his side, these actions want to be understood. If only director Jackson had allowed their motives come out.
    Still, in this election year, when outrageous statements are passed as truth, it is interesting to see a film that carefully proves that not all opinions are valid, no matter how loudly they’re shouted.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 110 mins.

This comic opera sparkles like sunshine on the sea with all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago

You may have never heard of Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, but you’ve certainly heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. The two had a run of comic opera hits in England whose popularity propelled them across the pond to America, where that popularity was magnified. Because Gilbert’s father was a naval surgeon, life on the seas and the politics of power were often themes of the librettist. That’s certainly the case with H.M.S. Pinafore, the light yet acerbic jab at patrician politics and love that 2nd Star Productions in Bowie has brought to seafaring life.
    Gilbert’s propensity for detail took him to the seaside of Portsmouth to measure and record every detail of a real ship so that his sets would be as realistic when the play opened in 1878. His could have been no more lifelike than 2nd Star’s. Director Jane Wingard has designed a nearly life-size two-level ship so real it makes us feel we’re bobbing along the waves with the crew. The detail is impressive, down to other ships far off in the background.
    The gorgeous set anchors (ha, see what I did th… oh never mind) a production that is brisk as a sea breeze. Josephine (Emily Mudd), the captain’s daughter, is in love with Ralph Rackstraw (James Huchla), a lowly deckhand. But she is expected to marry The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Paul Koch), First Lord of the Admiralty. Porter’s lack of actual seafaring experience is revealed in his admonitions that each order be accompanied by a friendly “If you please.” So does his insistence that class hierarchy has no place on a ship, as all are equal. Which of course leads Josephine and Ralph to believe it’s clear sailing ahead (uh-oh, I did it ag… never mind) for their love.
    As Josephine, Emily Mudd is as bright as the North Star. One second she is perfectly and hilariously melodramatic and camp; the next she is regaling us with the beautiful and haunting ‘Sorry the Lot Who Loves Too Well.’ It’s as professional a performance as you’ll see on any stage. Her vocal chemistry with Huchla’s soaring tenor is thrilling, especially when the two square off on ‘Refrain, Audacious Tar,’ as she pretends to play hard to get when he professes his love.
    Huchla in fact leads a male chorus whose harmonies brilliantly permeate the show’s group numbers but are especially in evidence on the a capella sailors’ boast ‘A British Tar.’ 
    As Porter, Koch is quite funny, and his musical explanation of how he rose to his position through sheer ineptitude, ‘When I Was a Lad,’ is a comic delight as well — if only we could hear all of it. In giving his refined fop a constricted manner, Koch, at least on opening night, allows that manner to impede the rat-a-tat of so many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s staccato lyrics, thus forcing the audience to strain to understand what’s being sung. I hope he can crank the volume a bit; his performance is too good to miss. 
    Brian Binney brings a pleasant baritone to the role of Captain Corcoran, and to the captain’s reluctant flirtation with Pam Shilling’s beautifully sung Little Buttercup, the dockside vendor who harbors (there I go …) a deep secret. As the humpbacked, twisted-legged, one-eyed Dick Deadeye, Nicholas Mudd is so in character that the deformed leg maintains its twistedness even during the dances.
    Music director Joe Biddle understands that lyrics are key in a comic opera, so he ensures that his very good orchestra plays a less-is-more supporting role. There’s even a nice glossary of nautical and other terms in the playbill to help us track the language of the day.
    2nd Star’s H.M.S. Pinafore sparkles like sunshine on the sea. It’s a funny and very well-sung comic opera that gives us all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago.


About two hours, including intermission. Choreographer: Christine Asero. Costumer: Hillary Glass, Lighting/sound designer: Garrett Hyde.

Thru Nov. 19: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Nov. 19, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Like coffee, Bay stewardship may be an acquired taste

Percolate is a big word in Chesapeake futures.
    Hereabouts, the same word once synonymous with how America made its coffee describes the best way for water from heaven, rainwater, and its gushing next stage, stormwater, to make its way back to our watershed. My mother’s percolator kept the brew cycling through the grinds, making coffee more watchable than drinkable as it spouted against the little glass top cap. In our watershed, drip coffee makes a better metaphor but not so particular a word.
    The comparison is that passing through the natural or constructed equivalent of grinds — rocks, roots and earth — water leaves its impurities behind, while if it rushed directly into sewers and waterways, stormwater would be a heady brew flavored with pollutants and sediment. Even apparently pure rainwater carries a load of exhaust pipe pollutants from vehicles and power plants.
    So neither drip nor percolate gets it quite right, for we want coffee water to pick up the flavor of its grinds while we mean for stormwater to leave its additives behind.
    Managing our stormwater so it percolates its deposits out is one of the top ways at work in cleaning up the Bay. Watch water running downhill during any torrent, and it seems like a pretty smart idea. But it’s a bumpy road between thought and action. After half a dozen years, Maryland’s stormwater management plan just can’t keep out of the news. Gov. Larry Hogan lives on Chesapeake Bay when he’s not in Government House, and there too he’s not far uphill from our defining natural resource. Yet just days ago he approved county stormwater management plans that substitute who-knows-what funding in place of the despised Rain Tax — which of course it really isn’t.
    Half of Maryland voters, according to a 2015 survey by the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition, incorrectly believe that people will be taxed when it rains. Many voters are not sure, leaving only 29 percent who know they will not be taxed when it rains.
    Tax is one of those words to which our collective allergy has worsened since Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s early 21st century bright idea that became the related Flush Tax. Year by year, we seem to have transferred much of the hatred Americans used to feel for communism, Nazism or fascism to our own government.
    That antagonism roiled a meeting I went to last month. It was a small gathering on Anne Arundel County’s plan to assess the Herring Bay watershed. Stormwater management money would be percolating way down to those little streams. The grumbling started when the presenters explained that this benefit was the drip down from President Barack Obama’s 2009 Executive Order putting the Bay on a pollution-reduction diet. Total Daily Maximum Loads of pollutants would set the Bay’s pollution calorie limits. Stormwater management plans help achieve one standard of reduction.
    Like storms, farms are another pollution-producer due for reduction. Money is percolating our way to help achieve those reductions, as well. Almost half a million dollars to accelerate conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is up for grants in November for Maryland farmers to better manage farm animal wastes.
    One local farm, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm in Prince George’s County, has become the first farm in the state to adopt best management practices for achieving farm Total Daily Maximum Load goals ahead of schedule. By achieving Agricultural Certainty certification, Clagett Farm gains a 10-year exemption from new environmental laws and regulations. That, I suppose, makes sense if it’s ahead of the law.
    This is how percolation works. It involves us all, touches us all, rewards us all in this great work of cleaning up the Bay.

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

A number-cruncher proves he can do more than balance the mob’s books

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck: Suicide Squad), a math genius with poor social skills and the ability to fire a .50-caliber round through a melon from a mile away,  becomes the underworld’s top accountant. He works with cartels, the mafia, gunrunners and terrorists — whoever will pay his price. He comes in, looks at the books, finds any missing money and leaves.
    It’s a good system until one client is unhappy with what Christian discovers. Now the target of a psychotic hitman (Jon Bernthal: Daredevil), Christian has to avoiding treasury agents while determining which of his clients is trying to kill him.
    The Accountant is a character-driven thriller harkening back to the action movies of the late 1980s. Director Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun) crafts interesting circumstances for Wolff. Coincidences and obvious twists are okay so long as they engage the main character. Creative cinematography in the action sequences helps.
    Key to it all is Christian Wolff. Affleck is in top form as a high-functioning man with autism who is part nerd, part action hero. Misunderstandings are played for humor, but Affleck and O’Connor make no jokes at Christian’s expense.
    Backing up Affleck, veteran character actors Bernthal and J.K. Simmons (The Late Bloomer) help gloss over the plot holes and improbabilities.
    If you’re a fan of character-driven action, The Accountant is well worth the ticket. An unbelievable plot is balanced by believable character work and unique cinematography to make a film that’s pure popcorn fare at its best.

Good Action Thriller • R • 128 mins.

It takes a lot of preying to make so big a bug

In summer’s abundance, praying mantises grow like corn.
    Emerging in spring warmth from their tan, papery egg masses, they are tiny, pale-green nymphs. By autumn, after several exoskeleton sheddings and many good meals, the tan, winged adults can be six or seven inches long.
    The habit of folding their long forearms gives the species the name praying mantis. They might better be called preying for they use those arms to grasp food, mostly other insects. Thus they’re good bugs for your garden. Their predation can include male mantises that, useless after mating, may be turned into food by the females making eggs for next year’s generation.
    Like corn, mantises mostly wait for their food to come to them, as they are ambush predators. With two protruding compound eyes and three small simple eyes, they see well. All the better as their flexible necks enable them to rotate their heads, almost 180 degrees in some species. Most of the members of the plentiful order are camouflage artists, with our praying mantises copying twigs. The unsuspecting bug that comes too close to this twig becomes dinner, held in those praying arms for devouring.
    Also like corn, mantises are ­annuals, productive for one season but doomed by cold weather.
    Corn has been harvested in most of our fields. But mantises are around a while longer.