view counter

Features (All)

Recreational anglers deserve their fair share of the catch

Our white perch have long waited for Maryland Department of Natural Resources to give them a formal management program. A plan proposed in 1990 stalled over opposition from commercial fishermen. A 2005 effort failed again.
    Finally, an updated management program is under way and a draft released for comment. In reading the 2015 Review of the Maryland White Perch Fishery Management Plan, I was pleased and only a little disappointed.
    The good news is that DNR officials thought enough of the species for another attempt at implementing a management plan. Disappointing, however, are text and the tone, which indicate that all is well so nothing needs to be done: “Restrictive measures on either the commercial or recreational fishery does not appear necessary at this time.”
    One of the management plan’s goals is to “Provide for fair allocation of allowable harvest, consistent with traditional uses, among components of the fishery.” Yet no specific allocations have ever been established for either commercial or recreational fishing. Essentially, the white perch fishery remains a free for all.
    I fish for white perch a great deal, and over recent years the number of 10-inchers I catch has fallen significantly. My experience is confirmed in conversations with fellow anglers. There seem to be a lot fewer nice perch in the western mid-Bay.
    In updating white perch management, I wish DNR would note the imbalance between approximately 500,000 saltwater recreational anglers in Maryland and fewer than 500 commercial watermen fishing for white perch. Yet the commercials take is two to three times the recreational harvest.
    Springtime white perch is one of the most popular of the early-season recreational fisheries on the Bay. Yet as soon as commercial white perch nets go up each spring, the majority of the tributary sportfishing dies for good-sized white perch.
    Once commercial operators have removed their desired take (estimated at 1.5 million to 2 million pounds annually), the remaining white perch may very well not be worth the effort of fishing for them.
    Since Maryland’s recreational fishery generates about 10 times the income to the state (per NOAA studies) as the commercial fishery, and the dollars generated from the sale of recreational fishing licenses make up the majority of DNR’s operating ­budget, should not a priority be placed on more equitable scheduling aimed at providing a better quality experience for the sporting angler?
    Also problematic is by-catch, including the by-catch of perch during the rockfish gill netting season and the by-catch of rockfish, spot, croaker and young menhaden via perch netting. The waste of valuable marine life is lamentable and avoidable with proper planning, scheduling and the proper gear.
    The 2015 White Perch Management Plan has every potential for affecting all of these issues. I wish the plan all possible success.

Big Eye keeps the birds away

For years I have covered my blueberry plants with bird netting just before the berries start turning blue. The netting was suspended from wires stretched on top of eight-foot-tall piles.  After harvest, the netting had to be removed and returned to storage. This was a demanding job that required most of a day. Despite my best efforts, mocking birds and robins always managed to eat the berries. They entered the cage on their own, but once in they were stuck until I freed them. Occasionally, a black snake would become tangled in the bird netting, and I had to spend time cutting it loose without being bitten.
    The bird netting could survive only four or five growing seasons, so purchasing replacement netting was a regular expense. Then I’d have to hand-sew several sheets together to match the measurements of my blueberry patch. Sewing bird netting is quite tedious because it is always catching on something and the material is very flimsy. The job wasn’t over yet because to make certain that the netting was properly positioned each season, I sewed a three-quarter-inch-thick rope at one end. I used the rope to roll the netting for storage and tagged it at one end with the word south to indicate the direction of placement.
    Never again.
    Last year a friend gave me five bright yellow and one black inflatable polyethylene balloons, each measuring 18 inches in diameter when inflated. Each balloon has five large painted eyes, each with bright aluminum centers. Dangling below each balloon is an aluminized plastic strip a foot long and an inch wide. Tied loosely to wires above plants, the balloons move with the wind.  
    Since these balloons have been hanging above the blueberry plants, I have not seen one bird come within 50 feet of them. I only wish the Japanese beetles, which are feeding on my nearby raspberry plants, were as afraid of those balloons as the birds are.

Share the Bounty
    Remember to contribute your surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries to avoid waste and allow others to benefit from your gardening skills.

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

Net a Crab

Our beautiful swimmers are starting to run

Dennis Doyle’s cautious Sporting Life report that crabbing finally “may be improving” is seconded by commercial crabbers, who are notorious pessimists. Better still, we’ve seen chicken-neckers pulling in crabs at local piers.
    Chicken-necking for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs requires you spend a quiet morning or afternoon alongside the Bay or one of its rivers. It gives you the fun of catching wily crustaceans. Then you get to eat them.
    You don’t need any fancy equipment or permits. Maryland allows catching up to two dozen crabs per angler per day without a license, and a dozen crabs is a generous meal for just about anyone.
    What you do need is a ball of cotton twine for your hand lines, a package of chicken necks (easily acquired at most grocery or bait stores), an inexpensive, wire crabbing net, a ruler to measure your crabs and a basket to hold your catch. A pair of tongs or some thick gloves are also helpful for handling your feisty catch; their claws can pinch hard.
    For each of your hand lines, strip off about 15 feet of string and tie a chicken neck securely to one end. Tie the other end to the pier or on some shoreline structure. Throw the neck into the water. You can use any number of baited lines.
    When a crab happens upon your chicken neck, it will immediately attempt to swim off with it, and your line will straighten out. Gently take the string in your fingers and slowly pull it back. If you’re careful, the crab will hold on until it nears the surface of the water. You or a companion must be ready with the net at that point.
    Position the net in the water a foot or two down below where you believe the crab will appear. Note that a crab will always flee downward. Pull the crab up until you can see it. Then scoop from below as quickly as you can.
    If you’ve been successful, measure the crab before you put it in your basket to be sure he’s legal size, at least 51⁄4 inches from tip to tip. All females, distinguished by their triangle-shaped apron on the underside, must be returned to the water.
    In Anne Arundel County, Sandy Point State Park has a nice crabbing pier, as does Carr’s Wharf in Mayo, the latter with no fee. There is also good free crabbing at Jonas Green Park at the Severn River Bridge. In Calvert, chicken neck free from piers at Solomons and at Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown.
    Find information on where to crab, regulations on sizes and seasons at Maryland Department of Natural Resources website:

My guests were not who I expected

At Ivy Neck Farm in Cumberstone on the shores of Rhode River, we have a dock and a very nice boat with a swim platform. We also have a considerable number of river otters who catch fish and oysters and seem to enjoy the swim platform on the boat as a convenient place to eat dinner. They leave an awful mess.
    To see who came to dinner, I set up my game camera on the dock. My bait was an old rockfish carcass nailed to the pier to keep the river otters from carrying it off.
    The next morning, the fish was gone and the camera had fired a number of photos. What they showed was no river otter but a pair of magnificent eagles. They look to me like one of the well-established pair of eagles I often see on Rhode River and in our farm fields where they hunt for small mammals.
    What amazed me was how polite they were to each other in sharing the food. I think that the very large eagle is the male, and that the smaller eagle is his mate.  
    So much for trying to get pictures of river otters.

A waterspout may get you if you don’t watch out

I focused on drifting the edges of a Bay Bridge pier, where I was hoping a big rockfish would inhale the chunk of soft crab I was presenting below. Conditions ­couldn’t have been much better, with overcast skies and a slack tide. Then my cell phone buzzed.
    I cleared my line and fumbled with my shirt pocket. Finally, freeing the phone, I heard a familiar voice, my neighbor Capt. Frank Tuma, who was fishing a party just to the north of me.
    “Did you see the big waterspout behind you, just south of the bridge?” he queried. “It’s gone now, but for a few minutes I was afraid it was going to get you.”
    I turned and eyeballed the large, dark and menacing cumulus clouds poised low and close to my position.
    “I wasn’t looking in that direction.” I replied. “Maybe I should have been. Those clouds look like they could make bad things happen.”
    It turned out that some nine waterspouts had been sighted in the middle-Bay that morning. Though I had no close calls with a waterborne whirlwind, Candy Thomson, spokeswoman for Maryland Natural Resources Police, had been caught up in that nearby spout while on board a patrol boat.
    It is fortunate that nothing more serious than some brief, brisk winds and a short burst of intense rain descended on the police crew. That is sometimes not the case with these mini-tornados.

Their Rise; Your Retreat
    Waterspouts — dark, whirling funnel clouds descending from stormy skies — form in the Florida Keys more than any place in the world. But the spouts are fairly common from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up Chesapeake Bay.
    Fair-weather waterspouts, such as we experienced that day, are spawned by dark, flat-bottomed storm clouds traveling at low altitude. Typically these waterspouts dissipate before causing damage or injury. Tornadic waterspouts borne of severe weather conditions can be more violent.
    During the hot days of summer, fierce late-afternoon and evening squalls often erupt across the Bay. These small, violent storms are capable of producing more intense waterspouts. Winds have been clocked above 150 mph in ocean-borne tornadic versions, often accompanied by heavy seas, torrential rain, hail and intense lightning. They have sunk or damaged watercraft of all sizes. Violent water spouts are suspected to be the source of some of the mysterious accidents in the Devil’s Triangle off the Keys.
    The primary defense while on Bay waters is keeping an active weather channel open on your marine radio. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard broadcast alert warnings whenever and wherever waterspouts are sighted.
    Avoid a spout by heading at a 90-degree angle away from the direction of the funnel. Evasion might not be possible in poor visibility or if a water spout descends from overhead, as apparently happened to the Natural Resources Police crew. So it is wise to steer clear of any area where the mini-tornados are reported.

Highway medians become home to the birds, bees, butterflies

The tiniest employees of the Maryland State Highway Administration are hard at work while we sit in traffic. Glance out the window to see them buzzing about their daily routines. In exchange for their work, MSHA provides room and board — in the medians of state highways.
    Important work is happening in these often overlooked parcels of land: over 100 acres along Maryland highways are now wildlife habitat for pollinators.
    Medians along interstates and rural roads — places historically mowed and manicured — are now meadows of wildflowers, native grasses and perennials.
    “If we go back 20 years ago, we looked like golf courses,” says Highway spokesman Charlie Gischlar. Now, the medians provide beauty and habitat while fulfilling their original purpose of creating restful driving conditions and screening out oncoming headlight glare at night.
    In 2008, with the economy tanking and state agencies looking to tighten their budgets, highway planners asked biologists and landscapers for ideas. The Statewide Native Plants Establishment Program was born.
    “This program is a win-win situation between the built and the natural environment,” Gischlar says.
    “We realized we could stop mowing and save money.”
    The number of acres mowed went from 110,684 in 2005 to 51,751 in 2013, saving the cost of rising fuel.
    The second benefit is habitat for birds, bees, butterflies.
    Pollinators help the reproduction of 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants. And, according to the Xerces Society, nuts and seeds feed “25 percent of all birds and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.”
    Habitat loss is one of the top threats to our nation’s pollinators. The loss of bees and butterflies has a direct and dire impact on agriculture.
    “It’s actually pretty scary what’s happening to our honeybee population,” Gischlar says. “Colony collapse is a very serious issue.”
    While scientists study this mysterious disorder, bee populations continue to decline. Without a good mix of native plants, bees miss out on the proper nutrition from a variety of pollens. Restoring meadows with plants like butterfly weed, sunflowers, asters, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans is a vital component to giving honeybee colonies a chance to recover.
    Highway plantings make conditions favorable for these insects by reducing roadside mowing, using insects for vegetation control and creating meadows of nectar and pollen-producing native species.
    Invasive plants edging out the wildflowers that pollinators need are attacked along highways with a careful strategy of mowing and herbicide application. Two of those invasives, Canada thistle and Tree of Heaven, are notorious for choking out the natives.
    Elmer Dengler of Bowie has been following the plight of the monarch butterfly since he was 12 years old.
    “We need more Joe Pye weed and native goldenrods for these butterflies to survive,” Dengler says. “We need to encourage private landowners to work along with the highway departments to promote these native plants.”
    When monarchs find plants, egg-laying remains a risky business, Dengler says, due to a lot of unnecessary mowing.
    Along highways, however, some mowing is necessary “First and foremost,” Gischlar says, we have to maintain sight distance in critical areas, to protect drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.”
    Are efforts to bring back pollinators working?
    The outlook still looks grim, according to Chip Taylor, founder and director of MonarchWatch and an insect ecology professor at the University of Kansas.
    “Unfortunately,” he writes, “as of late July, it appears that the fall migration and the overwintering numbers will be similar to those seen last year. A substantial increase in the number of migrants and the area of the forests in Mexico occupied by overwintering monarchs is highly unlikely. I was expecting much better.”

When water replaces air in the soil, plants die

If plants are wilting in your gardens despite all of the rain we have been having, it is due to a lack of oxygen in the soil. This is a bigger problem in heavy-loam soils than in sandy loam or loamy sands. Heavy soils become saturated with water faster than sandy soils because the pores are smaller and thus exclude all the air.
    The roots of plants need oxygen to function. We have received so much rain that air in the soil has been replaced by water. If the problem persists for more than a couple of weeks, there is a good possibility that root rot will kill plants. Under these conditions, it is not uncommon to harvest carrots with rotted taproots. Or to see tomato plants developing roots near the base of stems to replace the dying roots killed by excess water in the soil.
    The problem is worse in gardens that have been plowed and/or rototilled at the same depth year after year. Working the soil to the same depth once or twice each year causes a plow pan to form below the tilled or plowed layer. Plow pans are a compacted layer of soil that prevents the downward movement of both water and roots.
    Plow pan can occur in both sandy and heavy loam soil but happens more rapidly in heavy soils. To determine if your soil has plow pan, try pushing a half-inch-diameter piece of pipe or dowel into the soil. If you have plow-pan, you will most likely be able to force the pipe only six inches deep. In many instances, I have uncovered plow pans so dense that I was not able to penetrate them with my stainless steel auger.
    The problem can be solved by sub-soiling with a special tractor-mounted attachment, by double digging or by varying the depth of plowing or rototilling season to season.
    Sub-soilers are plow-like attachments that penetrate the soil to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, forcing the soil upward and fracturing the pan layer. Sub-soiling should be done when the soil is as dry as possible to maximize fracturing of the pan layer.
    If you spade the garden by hand, double digging means that when you first press your spade in the ground, you remove a spade full of soil and place it to one side, followed by removing another spade full of soil from the same hole. In other words, you are digging into the sub-soil, thus removing the pan layer, then blending it with the surface layer of soil.
    You can delay the formation of the plow pan by varying the depth that you plow or rototill. One year you plow or rototill at a depth of three inches, the next four inches, the next five inches and the next six inches before returning to a depth of three inches.

Share the Bounty

    Let others benefit from your gardening skills by contributing surplus fresh produce to local food banks or pantries. The Bay Gardener donates his surplus vegetables to SCAN Food Bank at St. James Episcopal Church on Rt. 2, which is open for those in need on Thursday and Saturday from 8am until noon.

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

Rockfish crave spot, but in a pinch white perch will satisfy

I strained to keep my severely arced rod from touching the gunnel as I plunged the tip deep into the water. A large and powerful fish about 20 feet down was intent on crossing under my skiff. Had the line, humming from the tension, contacted the hull it would likely have snapped. On the other hand, if the stressed graphite rod banged the gunnel, it could shatter. I was doing my best to avoid either catastrophe.
    My partner in the bow was handling his own critical situation. He had also hung a big fish that was running deep, equally out of control. Things would soon get worse.

Our Shared Affliction
    Mike Fiore and I often planned to fish together, but either the weather or our work schedules had cancelled out each attempt. This time we hoped it would be different. It was, and in more ways than we had imagined.
    Mike and I work together at Angler’s and often exchange information on where the rockfish are hottest, the best new baits and the hangouts for white perch. I knew the 18-year-old was a skilled angler for his age and that he fished the same kind of gear I did, bait-casting tackle, an affliction not shared widely in the Chesapeake. We wanted to compare techniques.
    Finally we were both free on the same day. Meeting in the early morning, we acquired ice and a bag of bloodworms. We’d agreed that we wanted to live-line for stripers, a technique special to the tackle we both favored.
    The problem with our plan was the scarcity of small Norfolk spot, the number-one bait to live-line for stripers. Once on the water we ­couldn’t find spot the right size anywhere. But we did find some smaller white perch.
    We reasoned that if the rockfish had as much trouble as we did finding spot, the spikey white perch just might work. A sharp-spined, thick-scaled perch is a distant second choice, compared to spot, for predatory striped bass. But if they were hungry enough they should eat them.

Bait in the Water
    With barely enough whities for bait, we headed for the Eastern Shore around the area of the Sewer Pipe. Running well out into the Bay a few hundred yards north of the Bay Bridge,  the pipe is the outflow from a sewage processing plant on Kent Island. Protected by steeply piled rock for the entirety of its length, it creates underwater structure that is a magnet for marine life. That marine life often includes big rockfish.
    A small, tight school of fish below produced marks on my fish-finder that strongly indicated striped bass below. Dropping down a couple of wriggling perch, we lightly thumbed our spools, feeding out line and feeling the actions of the baitfish as they strained for the bottom.
    Within seconds, we’d had that double hookup. We kept the big rock separated as long as we could, but as we drew them close the inevitable happened: Our lines crossed. Mike was fishing braid and I mono, so the situation was dire. Under tension, the ultra-thin braid will slice through mono like soft butter.
    Luckily for us the fish were played out and docile. Though we had a line tangle to undo, both stripers (twins at 34 inches) were quickly netted and in the cooler. Over the next hour we then enjoyed another double header (both released as too big) and then two 26-inch singles to manage our last two keepers. (The daily individual limit for rockfish is two fish over 20 inches, only one of which can exceed 28 inches.)
    That day, white perch were on the rockfish menu and rockfish were on our own.

The capacity of herons

The discovery that a heron was plundering my catch solved the mystery but did not end my ­curiosity. There was more to be learned.
    Apparently, herons are quite intelligent and know an easy meal when they see it. Almost immediately, a pattern became evident. If I was on the dock to use the boat or to check the crab traps, heron was nowhere in sight. As soon as I picked up my fishing rod, the bird would appear from nowhere and wait about 10 feet down the dock for my catch. At first I fiercely protected my perch. But heron was persistent and cute, and I gave into temptation, tossing an occasional fish. Eventually the bird was getting my first fish. Neighbors kidded me about having a pet heron, and when I gave him a name — Harry the Heron — I knew they were right.
    Having heard stories about adopting wild animals, I checked on potential dangers.
    My wife agreed. She thought I should see a shrink.
    But it was the bird I worried about. Dave Brinker, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bird expert, told me blue herons cause the biggest trouble for the state’s goldfish and koi farmers, who must protect their fish from these predators. The stately birds are not picky eaters.  “If they can catch it and subdue it, they will eat it,” Brinker said. “While we usually think of them eating fish, they will eat frogs and voles and even small muskrat.”
    I was amazed they could eat perch up to eight inches, but their bodies are designed to stretch. Perch are a favorite food because the fish’s shape is conducive to swallowing. Herons are smart enough to know what they can handle, and a bird choking on a meal is very rare.
    Brinker confirmed it was not a good idea to keep feeding Harry, but not for the reason I thought. Once a bird learns to fend for itself, it never forgets and can always go back to self-sufficiency. There are, however, other good reasons to avoid the practice. First, these are smart birds. Once they find an easy meal, they will stick around. This can be problematic at migration time. If Harry decided to stay for the winter, and it was a bad one, it could be hard for either of us to find him food, even if I’m willing to brave sub-zero temperatures to fish for a bird. The second is one’s neighbors. While mine think it’s cool to have a resident heron, not all would agree. Especially fish pond owners.
    I have to sever relations with Harry, and I will in a few weeks. We’ll both go cold turkey. I will stop fishing from my dock; he will have to catch his own dinner. I’m not sure which of us will suffer more.

To see the video of the solved the mystery, go to YouTube and enter Bay Weekly Newspaper Missing Fish Mystery Solved in the search box.

Okra, for beauty and taste

Okra likes it hot.  Soon the cool-loving cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi will have been harvested, leaving a large empty space in the garden. Lots of nutrients still in the garden can be used for growing a crop of okra.
    To get a jump, start young okra plants in three-inch pots.  After filling the pots with potting soil, place two okra seeds in each. I prefer Clemson Spineless, but there are many varieties available. The seeds will germinate in five to eight days, especially if the pots are outdoors in full sun. Keep them well watered. After the seedlings are about three inches tall, take a sharp knife or nail clippers and cut out the smallest.
    As soon as the area in the garden is cleared, transplant the young okra two feet apart in rows at least three feet apart. Or plant them in your flower bed. Purple varieties produce very attractive foliage. As they can grow to a height of four feet, they are best used as a background plant. But make certain they are accessible for harvesting the pods.
    Okra is a member of the hibiscus family. The plants will start producing beautiful pale yellow hibiscus flowers with purple or red centers within three to four weeks after transplant­ing. Within two to three days after the flowers have wilted, some of the pods will be ready to harvest.
    To assure quality and tenderness, okra pods should be harvested three to four times weekly, especially during hot muggy days when the plants are flowering daily and growing rapidly. Pods longer than five inches will be woody and not palatable. But with some imagination, they can be dried and used in floral arrangements or Christmas tree decorations. Pods can grow to eight to 10 inches long.
    Okra plants will continue to produce pods into mid to late September. However, the later pods tend to become warty looking and are generally not tender.
    Okra can be breaded and fried, brushed with olive oil and baked for about 15 to 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven and sprinkled with salt, used in making gumbo, pickled or added to a tomato, hamburger and onion sauce. When using okra in sauces, always add the cut okra just before serving to avoid the slimy texture that results from over-cooking.
    I have grown okra in my garden in Deale for the past 24 years without failure. I could never grow it when I gardened in New Hampshire because the summers were too short and cool.

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