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The catching is still good if you can stick with the search

We were almost back home when the fish hit.
    Gulls wheeling about and feeding are the single best indicator of rockfish surface action. Having seen not a single bird — much less any stripers — for more than three hours, we were packing this trip in.
    Fishing farther south or north was out of the question, for the wind was kicking up high, wet whitecaps in both directions.
    In a last desperate stop before the marina, we trolled small white bucktails while hugging a lee shoreline. The trip seemed all but over until the rod right next to my head went down with a strike.
    I grabbed it and set the hook. From the force of its fight, I guessed that it was not a giant, perhaps not even a keeper.
    I lifted and cranked the fish slowly and steadily toward the boat with the short spinning outfit that we had put into play as a trolling rod. Assuming we had a schoolie on the line, I was a bit casual about rod handling — until the fish broke water behind the boat.
    The bright black-lined sides of a striped bass were the sight I expected. So I was stunned when a broad, deep olive flank flashed in the light of our overcast sky. It was a white perch and a big one. Spotting the fish at the same time, my two companions yelled in surprise.
    Frank Tuma, a good friend and the captain of Down Time, the 29 foot C Hawk charter boat we were prospecting from, readied a net. But by that time the fish was alongside, and I could see that it was well hooked.
    That big little devil caused more excitement than a 30-inch rockfish. We laid it out and measured it at 13.25 inches, over citation size. Since big perch have become scarce around the mid-Bay the last two years, it was quite a satisfying catch.
    Circling back, we fixed our attention on the finder and saw a tight school of impressive marks about where the big one had hit. Breaking out some light rods, we rigged them with small jigs. We came up with nothing. The school had apparently moved as we had readied our tackle. Try as we might we couldn’t locate it again.

Back for More
    Rotten weather and busy schedules kept us off the water for almost a full week. When Frank and I finally did more prospecting for that school of perch, our effort paid off.
    Our first pass over the lucky area resulted in four big black-backs, all over 11 inches. Subsequent passes netted more brutes. A four-gallon bucket was filling with those mouth-watering white perch.
    When the bite dropped off after an hour or so, our bucket was over half full. Satisfied, we headed toward the Bay Bridge in search of birds and breaking rockfish.
    Gulls were screaming and circling low around a middle bridge support. We tossed jigs and top-water lures into the melee. These stripers were numerous but just undersized.
    But on the fish finder, Frank noticed suspicious marks deep beneath the breakers. Drifting with our perch outfits, we again scored on black-backs. Ten-inch white perch came up and over the side one after the other, and within half an hour we had filled our bucket.
    Cleaning them back at the marina, we had to admire our great luck. We had located not one but two nice schools of the best-eating fish that swims the Chesapeake. What’s more, we had caught enough for a number of wintertime fish fries.
    Colder weather has signaled an end to the Chesapeake’s more comfortable days. But the catching is still good if you can stick with the search. And the fish, when you find them, are fatter and more delicious than at any other time of year.

Keep him in the lab and out of my kitchen!

Call him Drosophila melanogaster in the lab, where a century ago the fast-breeding creature helped scientists understand chromosomes and set out mapping genes.
    At home he’s the common fruit fly, aka the vinegar fly.
    Each autumn the tiny winged pests arrive in your kitchen. There they swarm, hovering intrusively over edibles you’d rather they had no part of. From the bowl of fruit to the compost container even to the fridge, they are with us. The tiny pests enter through open doors, windows, even screen mesh. Inside, they multiply.
    They’re here to stay until the frost, unless you take measures against them.
    Though they’re glad to drown in your glass of wine, the better trap is a paper funnel directing them into — but not out of — a bottle or jar baited with an ounce of wine or vinegar. If that doesn’t work, visit your hardware store for disposable fruit fly traps baited with nontoxic lures the flies like even better than your apples.

Time to repot for life indoors

Fall is the time to repot houseplants. During the short daylight hours of late fall, winter and early spring, most houseplants don’t produce much top growth. This rule is especially true of plants that live outdoors during the summer.
    For a plant to grow in a container, it needs room for new roots. Plants are root-bound when their roots fill the pot. Root-bound plants generally stop producing top growth, and they often start blooming profusely. If the roots are left undisturbed, the plants often develop mysterious symptoms. If you ignore the symptoms, the plants deteriorate.
    Repotting does not necessarily mean putting plants into larger containers. Most house plants can be repotted by simply removing the root ball from the container, shaking it to loosen the roots, cutting out some roots and cutting other roots in half to make room for more rooting medium. The freshened plant can be returned to the same container.
    What’s in that new medium makes a big difference in the health of the plant.
    Most commercial potting materials contain mostly peat moss, perlite or vermiculite and milled pine bark. These soilless rooting media should not be called potting soil. They are generally amended with commercial fertilizers sufficient to support plant growth for six to eight weeks. Unless you fertilize these plants after two months of growth, they often show nutrient-deficiency symptoms such as yellowing or dropping bottom leaves.
    Amending commercial medium by one-third volume of compost, such as LeafGro, improves them and reduces your need to fertilize.
    You can achieve better results by making your own potting soil or soilless rooting medium.
    For a good soilless mix, blend equal parts by volume of LeafGro, peat moss and perlite. For every gallon of peat moss, add two heaping tablespoons of dolomitic limestone. Peat moss is very dry; moisten it well during mixing. Store the unused rooting medium in a plastic bag so it will remain moist.
    To make potting soil, mix equal parts by volume garden soil, compost from your garden or commercial compost and perlite. Place the blend in a microwaveable container and microwave at full power for 15 minutes for each gallon of potting soil. Cool before using.
    If more than one-third of your potting soils comes from the garden, repot in porous clay pots rather than glazed or plastic one. Unless soil is very sandy, it holds water and can rot roots without good evaporation.
    Plants potted in mixes containing garden soil don’t need as much water or fertilizer as plants growning in soilless media.
    In porous clay pots, plants growing in soilless rooting media will dry out more rapidly, thus requiring more frequent watering. More frequent watering takes more frequent fertilizing.
    Your plants do better when you give them the pot that’s right for their rooting medium.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

The fish gods may just deliver

I was re-exploring some old territory higher up in one of our broader tributaries when the strike finally came. Working a quiet shoreline in the early morning, I cast out a half-ounce Saltwater Chug Bug near the broad entrance to a tidal pond.
    With just a soft twitch, the lure spit a bit of water, then sank from sight. I wasn’t sure it had been taken by a fish until my rod tip dipped and the line moved up current. Coming tight, I cinched the fish up, and the surface erupted, removing all doubt.
    Launching my skiff earlier that morning, I made a vague and silent promise of especially good personal behavior if the fish gods would only grant me a few rockfish. Later I realized I should have been a little more explicit.

Fickle Fall
    “It’s not all that difficult to catch a rockfish,” a friend of mine once opined. “What is difficult is catching them the way you want to catch them.” He was talking about top-water fishing in the shallows, and his words are ringing especially true this season.
    Surface fishing in the skinny water is a fall activity and generally best at high tides in early morning or evening. Rockfish don’t feel comfortable feeding around a shallow shoreline unless they have low light and a little extra water under their bellies.
    But my recent efforts had been complicated, and mostly thwarted, by wind, too much of it for comfort or consistently from the wrong direction. If the weather was fishable at all, the stiff autumn breezes tended to either hold up an incoming tide (leaving too little water), push it out too early (same effect) or thrash the area too much for working surface plugs.
    Additional complications were the wild temperature swings and the recent full moon. Those two forces seemed to scatter both the bait and the feeding game fish, making finding them difficult. All of these conditions combined for more or less the same results: very few fish, especially top-water types.

Answered Prayers
    This morning, luck seemed heading my direction. Playing the striper gently, I led it to the side of the boat, lifted it in and took its picture. It was my first landing in days, and I wanted solid proof.
    Throwing back out to the same place resulted in an immediate and enthusiastic reception, but I missed the hook set. Working back to the other side of the inlet, I let the area rest a few minutes before throwing another cast back into the sweet spot. It was rewarded by an instant attack and a fish much bigger than the first.
    This guy zigzagged all over the place, throwing water and raising a ruckus before I won. Then I gave the inlet a good 10 minutes to calm down. Suspecting a good gathering of fish, I didn’t want to flush them out with too much activity all at once.
    That proved wise, as after a decent interval I hooked another fat rockfish, then another. I spent a pleasant time on that one site, hooking a striper, fighting and landing it, then waiting until things calmed down before I resumed casting. Six fish landed and three lost seemed like an excellent return as well as one of the more productive outings I’ve had this fall.
    After the morning’s shallow-water bite died off, I kicked the boat up on plane and headed out to deeper water to find some channel edges to fish.
    In my early morning prayer, I had asked to catch rockfish, and indeed I did. The fish measured only 12 inches, the smallest five.

Dry fall following wet summer makes a good show

This year will bring spectacular fall foliage coloration — provided it stays dry.
    That’s what I told the Bay Weekly reader asking for my prediction.
    More rain means that more of the leaves will remain green for a longer period of time, thus reducing the intensity of the red, orange and yellow. If we have a dry fall, a higher percentage of the leaves will turn color at the same time. But because of drier conditions, the foliage will not last long.
    This prediction is made based on our abundance of rain that kept the foliage lush all summer long. Thus, the leaves of deciduous trees have generated an abundance of carotene and anthocyanins, the pigments that generate the red, yellow and orange colors in leaves. Those compounds are present in each leaf but masked by chlorophyll. That chlorophyll deteriorates as days cool and daylight hours shorten, and nitrogen — a major component of chlorophyll — migrates from the leaf tissues down the petiole to accumulate around the vegetative bud at the base of each leaf. 
    In years with a dry growing season, foliage is less lush, and deciduous trees have less foliage. If a dry growing season is followed by a dry fall, the foliage will be bright but of very short duration. If the growing season is dry and we have a wet fall, the foliage will be muted but slow dropping from the branches.
    Not all tree species generate the same colors. Maple trees are known for their bright red and orange colors, while the ash tree is easily recognized by its yellow fall color. A hill in New Hampshire is called Red Hill because most of the trees growing there are sugar and red maples. That hill is highly visible; many make a yearly pilgrimage to see it.
    In southern Maryland, we are lucky because we have an abundance of dogwoods that often begin showing their red colors in late summer. Near wetlands, we have sweet gum and black gum, which contribute red to purple-red colors and are most plentiful. Red maples provide a splash of red to orange-red in both wetlands and on hillsides.
    If we have a dry fall, the scarlet oaks should be spectacular with their deep red leaves. Most of the other oak species provide only a limited amount of yellowing before dropping their leaves. 
    Enjoy.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

The fishing is great; the ­dangers of hypothermia grave

Finally I had to face it; with morning temperatures in the low 50s, socks are a necessity. With regret, I moved my fishing shorts and warm-weather shirts into winter storage last week. Hauling my insulated long-sleeved undershirts and heavyweight long pants from the back of the closet broke the final link with summer. It’s going to be pretty much a cold-weather game from here on out.
    The good news is that the fishing is getting more exciting. With rockfish and bluefish gathering and feeding up for the winter, breaking schools are going to become more and more common. Tossing lures into a cauldron of feeding game fish always provides exciting memories to hold us over until next spring.
    However, there is a serious downside to the colder weather, especially on the water. Hypothermia is a medical term that describes the condition that occurs when your body begins losing heat faster than it can produce it. It’s a dangerous condition. About 1,000 people in the U.S. die from hypothermia every year.
    We are warm-blooded mammals, and our bodies operate under an optimal temperature of approximately 98.6 degrees. Our internal organs — particularly the heart, liver and blood vessels — generate and regulate heat. But if our core body temperature drops more than three degrees, we experience physical and mental dysfunction. From lethargy and confusion, eventual unconsciousness and even death can follow.
    The very old and the very young are at particular risk of hypothermia, the elderly because their bodies have lost some ability to regenerate and regulate heat, the very young because their small body mass can lose temperature rapidly. Extra care must be taken when they are on the water during cold weather.
    During summer months the spray blowing onto us from a moving boat is a refreshing way to cool off, but in the winter that experience invites trouble. The body loses heat much faster when it becomes wet, 25 times faster when immersed.
    A sudden rainsquall in October is no longer just inconvenient and uncomfortable. It now becomes dangerous. Worse is falling overboard. Immersion in 45-degree water can result in loss of dexterity and onset of confusion within five minutes, unconsciousness within 30 minutes and death within an hour — if the victim has not drowned first.
    Waterproof, windproof and heat-retentive clothing are our primary defenses against hypothermia. Foul-weather coats and pants are not only proof against rain and sleet; they are also protection from the wind and help retain body warmth. Fleece, synthetic insulators and wool are ideal heat retainers. Down should be avoided because once it becomes wet, it loses its insulating qualities.
    Don’t ignore gloves and footwear. Although our extremities are not critical to our inner core temperature, getting cold hands or feet is extremely uncomfortable. Both neoprene and wool are excellent materials in harsh marine environments. Always wear a warm hat. It is a myth that the body loses 90 percent of its heat through the head — but not if that’s your only unclothed part.
    Warm beverages give our inner core an extra shot of warmth. Hot cocoa, coffee, tea or plain hot water are effective antidotes to the onset of chill. Avoid or minimize alcohol intake. Alcohol actually promotes body cooling by dilating blood vessels, while giving the illusion of warmth.
    Bring extra clothing on board. When a person gets wet, get them immediately into warm, dry clothes. A Mylar or space blanket is an inexpensive, compact and effective item in your cold weather emergency kit. The blanket is waterproof and significantly reduces heat loss.
    Once ashore, the quickest way to restore the body’s core temperature is a warm (not hot) bath or shower. Avoid exposure to any form of extreme heat. The skin becomes very insensitive during episodes of hypothermia, and burn injuries are much more easily incurred than they would be otherwise.
    Cold-weather fishing on the Chesapeake is often fantastic, even better than in more temperate periods. Go prepared for good experiences and great stories. Ignore the accompanying danger at your own peril.

Find Lothian-grown pumpkins from around the world at Riva Farmers Market

Your search for the perfect pumpkin may end at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market, where Ray and Sonja Wood of Lothian, with grandson Brandon Myers, offer a bumper crop of heritage pumpkins from around the world.
    Some are huge: not pumpkin-catapulting huge, but pumpkin-carving-contest-worthy. As Jack-o’-lanterns or on uncarved display, they’re great.
    Decoration was the couple’s original pumpkin plan.
    Ray, who grew up on a dairy farm, took up pumpkin-growing about 15 years ago to ease into retirement after a career as an electronics engineer. “It keeps us active, but it doesn’t pay much,” he says from the tailgate of one of the two pickup trucks he uses to haul the pumpkins to market usually starting in late September.
    But customers wanted pumpkins they could eat, too. Specific pumpkins. One wanted a Long Island Cheese pumpkin. Others followed with requests for pumpkins they’d grown up with. That launched the Woods into growing heritage pumpkins from all over the world, including France, Thailand, Italy and Australia.
    The Woods also grow gourds, which are purely decorative.
    Every year, they harvest about three acres of winter squash and pumpkins, including the green and orange Fairy Tale, Blue Hubbard, long and appropriately named Pink Banana, and one of Sonja Wood’s favorites, Galeaux d’Eysines, a warty French pumpkin that’s good in pies, soups and pumpkin bread.
    All pumpkins are, technically, squashes, but there are differences. Winter squashes tend to have a stronger taste and hold their shape better, Sonja says. Pumpkins, which tend to be milder, don’t retain their shape as well. Some, like Pink Banana, offer both ­qualities.
    The tough skins of winter squash and pumpkins help to preserve them through winter. Their mild flavor means they can be used in a variety of ways: soups, stews, breads and pies, or cubed and baked with a little butter, maple syrup and balsamic for a side dish.
    Food historian and heritage grower William Woys Weaver says that the darker orange flesh around the seeds is the tastiest part of the pumpkin.
    “There’s nothing here I don’t eat,” Ray Wood says. “My wife finds some easier to prepare than others.”
    Washed, dried and kept in an unlighted, cool (50-degree) area, pumpkins and winter squash will last for months. Cooked pumpkin, roasted or steamed, can be peeled, cooled and frozen for later use.
    Seeds are also edible. Roast washed, seasoned seeds for a snack. Or save the seeds and try to grow your own. Cucurbits cross readily, so you might be surprised by what develops; allow plenty of space for these vining plants.
    Find your perfect pumpkin at the market through October 25.

Scientists succeed in gene sequencing the nasty pests

The first one broke in on August 29. Throughout September, every warm, sunny day brought more. Wiggling though cracks a fraction of their size, smearing windows, crawling up walls, hibernating in curtains, under cushions, behind pictures and among magazines. As humans and dogs basked outdoors on the last Saturday in September, a persistent hailstorm of invasive brown marmorated stink bugs pinged house, windows and doors.
    Nothing stops them but the suction of a vacuum cleaner or Bugzooka. So armed, we’ll catch hundreds. But many more will live among us until they swarm again to leave in spring.
    “Few treatments deter Halyomorpha halys, the damage it causes or its ability to spread,” say investigators at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
    “Growers consider the invasive stink bug to be the single most important pest in the mid-Atlantic region, and they have tried desperate measures, including the increasing use of broad-spectrum pesticides to control the problem.”
    They’re so pesky that Dr. Francis Gouin, the Bay Gardener, cut down his peach orchard rather than war with stink bugs over the fruit.
    Those bugs are pretty smart, but humans ought to be smarter.
    So University of Maryland geneticists and entomologists have devised a new strategy to quickly sequence the bugs’ genes. Their findings, they say, “could lead to new ways to control this abundant and costly pest.”
    The Maryland scientists developed a way to skip the time-consuming first step of breeding genetically identical individual animals in the laboratory. Instead, they managed to sequence and analyze all of the genetic variants that arose in their population of stink bugs, and to do so at all points in the insects’ life cycles, from the egg stage through late adulthood.
    “This is the first step in our ongoing work to develop a pest control strategy that employs molecular genetic techniques to manage the stink bug invasion without affecting other, potentially beneficial insects,”
says Prof. Leslie Pick, chair of the University of Maryland Entomology Department, who guided the research.

You’ll need them to get rid of ­creeping Charley and clover

Fall is the best time to eradicate clover and creeping Charley from your lawn and garden. Both of these broadleaf weeds can be controlled by spraying with Weed-B-Gone, Trimec or Speedzone. Apply at the rate of two tablespoons per gallon of water as a light spray on the foliage. Apply only enough spray to wet the foliage. 
    Take care to avoid dripping on the soil. These sprays are phenoxy compounds that can be absorbed through the roots of desirable plants, such as trees and shrubs, causing twisting and curling of leaves next spring. 
    Apply these sprays only on actively growing plants. They are not effective on plants stressed by drought. In drought, thoroughly irrigate the area at least 48 hours before treating with the herbicides. Apply in the early morning hours when the cells of the plants are turgid.
    Foliage absorbs the chemicals in a couple of hours. Keep pets and children away from the treated area for at least 24 hours. Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and use low pressure to avoid drift. Do not apply spray when the wind is blowing. 
    In areas of heavy infestation, a second application may be necessary. The problem area is most likely infested with seeds of these broadleaf weeds, so anticipate the growth of young seedlings next spring. Eradication cannot be done in one year due to the weeds seeds accumulated on the ground.
    To prevent spring seedlings from becoming well established, set the cutting height of your lawnmower as high as possible so that the grass shades out the young weeds.
    Both clover and creeping Charley are difficult weeds to control. It generally takes three years of persistent fall treatment to eradicate them. 
    Where the clover dies, you may notice that emerging grass blades are greener than in other areas of your lawn. This is because clover fixes atmospheric nitrogen that is released into the soil after the plants die and decompose. Not creeping Charley; it’s just a nuisance.


Mulching With Leaves

Q    After a good rain, I raked leaves off my flower garden. The layer underneath was totally dry in many places, and when the rake passed over the ground, it gave off a sound as if it were hollow underneath. The dry old mulch appeared to have lots of graying in it. What should I do?

–Vicki Marsh, Deale

A    Dry leaves are hydrophobic, meaning difficult to wet. Add about two tablespoons of dish detergent to a watering can and sprinkle the solution over the dry leaves and gray layer beneath. After they seem wet, sprinkle additional water over them and incorporate all into the soil by spading or tilling. The gray matter is most likely actenomyces that will decompose the leaf residue once wet and active.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

It takes a full palette to size up circumstances correctly

When surface-plugging for rockfish, I like to have at least two rods ready and rigged with contrasting colored lures so I can switch back and forth without interruption. This way I can immediately cast back to the spot of a missed strike with a different color, giving the fish two different looks.
    Over the years, my box of poppers has expanded to hold about 25 lures of at least a dozen different colors. Over many seasons, each lure has at one time or another been a special producer.
    As a general rule when fishing shallow (less than six feet) top water, almost any color floating lure can induce a fish to strike — when fish are there. Once you’ve established the presence of stripers willing to strike, you will also notice a color preference.
    You see this truth clearly when fishing with a partner offering a different color than yours. One of you will catch more than the other. If the low man switches to the more successful color, that difference will be greatly reduced.
    About four seasons ago, we rarely took a fish over 23 inches that wasn’t caught by one particular lure. That year’s favorite sported an iridescent green-and-black back, flashing gold sides and a bright orange belly. That one was the giant killer. Other lures may have taken more fish overall, but all the big ones fell to Mr. Orange Belly.
    Another year, all-black was the top dog for catching big aggressive rockfish. I always switch to black under poor light and heavy overcasts. That season, black was the best color by far under every condition. Last year, white was the most productive. This year has yet to be determined.
    You can guess forever about why the preferences change year to year or even day to day. It’s one of the mysteries of angling.

Color Is a Changing Phenomenon
    A menhaden doesn’t display the same colors dead or even freshly out of the water as it does when it is cruising with its brethren along a rocky shoreline. Often young ones flash silver, while older, bigger bunker will have a golden hue. A live eel free swimming shows different shades of lavender, not the black we expect eels to be.
    White perch are generally light or silver colored, especially when swimming around lightly colored bottoms. They can also take on a much darker, virtually black, appearance when they are over a dark bottom or ensconced among weed beds or downed trees.
    Those aren’t the only baitfish a successful fisher has to emulate. If the stripers are keying on silversides, they will be looking for a different color than when they’ve been munching on bay anchovies. Yearling mud shad will sport a much different look and shade than a peanut bunker. Yellow perch are much more colorful than white perch. I have caught rockfish stuffed fat with jet black mad toms (baby catfish).
    Rockfish also love blue crabs, soft ones when they can find them though they’ll eat small hard crabs as well.
    All of these prey species are different colors, and these colors alone can trigger strikes under the right conditions.
    Your lure doesn’t have to emulate the exact item the rockfish are eating. If the color is close to the one the fish are expecting to see, they will attack.

Testing the Waters
    Faced with a full color palette, I went right to basics starting with an all-black Smack-It Jr. on one rig and a plain all-white variation on my second outfit.
    My partner had tied on a silver plug with black details that suggested a more realistic baitfish.
    As we moved along the calm shoreline, his lure drew an uncertain swirl behind it. As he threw back into the same area, I shamelessly dropped my all-black popper just a dozen feet upcurrent of his.
    Apparently my offering was closer to what the fish wanted. I was soon fast to a fat and explosive striped bass that turned the water to froth.