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A partnership of late dinners

It was getting dark. Exhausted and stinking of menhaden, I fingered a reel, feeding more line into the dwindling tidal current. I had fished since morning and caught at least three or four rockfish mere inches short of the 35-inch minimum, so calling it quits without a keeper was difficult.
    Earlier in the day, I had warned my wife I was intending to fish well into the afternoon.
    “That means you’ll be out there until after nine or so, right?”
    “No. I hope to be home at seven, certainly by eight.”
    At half past eight, I was still fishing and at least an hour from home. Deb, I knew, would not be upset or even surprised, even if I was a good deal later.
    My spouse understands this sort of thing. She is a sculptor. When we first met, I feared the extreme behavior of an artist would fatally complicate our relationship. Instead, it seems to have inured us to each other’s excesses.
    Back in those days, Deborah might be incommunicable for days, pulling endless all-nighters to get ready for a show, despite the slight chance of financial reward.
    She didn’t find it maddening that I spent all my vacation time, and not a little money, flying with our two German shorthairs clear across the country to chase chukar partridge, valley quail or some equally obscure game bird along ridges and mountainsides so steep and remote that many questioned my sanity.
    In our different pursuits, we were almost identically compulsive. We both intrinsically understood the irrationality of our efforts but accepted them in each other.
    Later, as she found success and became even busier, devoting countless hours in her studio, I had expanded mine to pursuing bonefish in the Bahamas, Mexico and eventually down into the Caribbean.
    To further complicate, in the middle of all this we had three sons. That put limits on our scope of adventure. Though much more home-bound, we still followed our passions. I mostly limited mine to hunting and fishing around the Chesapeake. Deb began to teach, restricting her shows to one or two a year, while we raised the boys.
    Our sons are now adults, two in businesses in Florida and the third a sculptor living and working in Baltimore. Outside teaching hours, Deborah has created a loyal following of collectors who occupy her with their constant demand for her work. I’m still a fervent, outdoor enthusiast.
    Which brings me back to the dwindling light as the last of the sun outlined ripples in the current. On a similar night just a few years ago I enjoyed an insanely intense bite of stripers at near midnight not too far from this spot.
    Then I picked up one of the four rods trailing aft. Cranking in line, I unhooked the chunk of menhaden bait and tossed it into the current. Securing the hook and racking the rod, I did the same to the other three outfits. I was packing it in and going home.
    Sitting down to a late dinner and conversation with my wife seemed like a reasonable alternative to spending another few hours trying to seduce a big rockfish. The idea, however, was a little startling. Was I getting old? Or finally growing up?

Why today’s forbidden fish are legal tomorrow

The rockfish bite had been steady. We’d already caught and released a number of undersized fish when a big one hit Moe’s bait hard. The drag hummed as the fish ran, then turned to the side and — before I could clear the other rigs streaming aft — fouled two of the other lines. Dragging the accompanying baits and sinkers, the powerful fish continued to resist. Eventually Moe battled it to the boat and I netted it.
    That fish would have made a great morning if only it had bit after May 16, the start of the second spring season. We were just a few days shy, so the 31-inch fish went back over the side to go about its business while we sorted out the snarled mess left in its wake. All day we would not get a fish over the 35-inch minimum.
    To avoid harvesting fish carrying eggs, Maryland’s trophy rockfish season is timed by Department of Natural Resources to follow the bulk of the rockfish spawn. This year opening day (always the third Saturday in April) appears to be quite correct, for the vast majority of big females harvested this season have been empty of roe.
    Monday, May 16 begins the second phase of the spring season, when the minimum size drops from 35 to 20 inches and the possession limit increases from one fish to two, only one of which may be greater than 28 inches.
    This second phase of the spring season takes into account a couple of things. Migratory females leave the Bay for the ocean soon after spawning. Males, both resident and migratory, generally remain in the headwaters until the females stop arriving.
    That means that we’ll start seeing large (and smaller) males descending the rivers and the Bay in the next few weeks. Migratory males aren’t as big as the females, but there will still be some substantial fish in the mix. The regulatory provision for one fish over 28 inches allows anglers to bag a big striper without wearing too hard on the overall population of the fish.
    Phase two also targets our resident fish (minimum 20 inches). Rockfish born in the Chesapeake remain here for several years before becoming migratory; they are now also descending the tributaries to feed and school up in the main stem of the Bay. Their numbers are considerable and will constitute the bulk of the fish harvested by recreational and commercial anglers throughout the rest of the year.
    The last part of the rockfish season, the summer/fall season, starts June 1, when all of the tributaries are finally opened for rockfish. Creeks, streams and rivers stay off limits until June to protect both resident fish that continue to spawn through May and migratory fish that show up late (there are always a few). Rockfish season in the Chesapeake will then remain open this year through December 20.
    We caught no trophy-sized fish that May morning, but we had many encounters with lively stripers. Using large cut baits (to target big fish and avoid hooking smaller fish), we had lots of runs that resulted only in excitement. Rockfish, however, have large mouths as well as large appetites, and more than a few of the undersized fish managed to get hooked. We promptly released them, hoping at least some would grow up to be trophies.

How to control these and other web-builders

Those white webs expanding in the crotches of cherry, crabapple and Juneberry trees are made by eastern tent caterpillars. Last summer and early fall, the adults laid their eggs in these favorite trees. As the larvae emerge, they spin a web around the nest, giving it protection from the weather. In the evening, the larvae crawl out from under the web to feed on nearby tender young leaves. Just about the time the sun rises, they return to the web for protection. As the population of larvae increases and the larvae increase in size, so does the webbing of the nest.
    As long as the larvae remain under the protection of the web, they are protected from birds and the elements as well as from insecticidal sprays. You will never see birds feasting on these webs. If you poke your finger into one, you will see why birds do not bother them.
    “The defoliation usually does little damage to trees, and rarely do trees die from an infestation,” says Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder.
    The lack of damage is due to timing. Because the caterpillars hatch as soon as the young leaves unfurl in the spring, the tree has put little energy into the leaves and typically re-foliates in June, seemingly no worse for wear.
    Do not try to control the eastern tent caterpillar by torching the nests. Torching with a flaming kerosene-soaked rag tied to the end of a pole is not only dangerous but also causes permanent damage to the tree.
    The best method of control is to spray the foliage nearest the web with an organic pesticide such as Thurcide or Dipel. These pesticides contain the BT bacteria that kill the feeding larvae from the inside out. They are approved for use by organic gardeners. To obtain maximum effectiveness, apply in the evening to the foliage in the feeding area. A single application will provide protection for three to four days; it will take a few days before you see evidence of the treatment. The smaller the larvae, the better the control. As the larvae grow larger, they become more difficult to kill with BT.
    Use a fresh supply of these organic pesticides, not an unused portion from last year. Once the bottle is open, the effectiveness decreases with time. Unless you are going to be using them to control other pests in your garden, such as cabbage loopers, bagworms or corn-ear worms, purchase the smallest container possible.
    In mid to late summer, you’ll see similar webs on a wide variety of woody plants. These are created by the fall webworm. The same treatments can be used to control these pests. In July, you may also see webs on two-needle pines such as Virginia pine and mugo pine. To control the pine sawfly creating them, you’d need the hard pesticide Sevin.


Is My Compost Safe to Use?

Q I shredded some sunflowers in my composter this past fall. I forgot that they are like walnut trees and put out a mild toxin that can negatively affect other plants. Can I use this ­compost? Or should I just throw it out?

–Mike Morgan, Bowie

A The composting process destroys the enzymes that cause the allelopathic effect, so you can use your compost.


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

Plants are survivors

The spring of 2016 will be remembered as a short spring and a very short summer followed by a short fall — all within four weeks between March and April. Those 70-degree days in mid March stimulated the vegetative buds in many woody ornamentals to swell, causing the winter bud scales to drop to the ground. This left the buds susceptible to damage by freezing temperatures.
    Some Bay Weekly readers have reported buds on their hydrangeas turning brown and drooping, which has never happened before. Others have reported that the new growth on their Euonymus shrubs is turning white and wilting. Others have reported that that frosty nights have caused their American hollies to develop yellow leaves that drop to the ground. They seem to forget that hollies lose their leaves in spring as they start to grow new leaves. The difference is that this year, the transition from old to new is occurring earlier than ­normal.  
    The peach crop will most likely be sparse this year because most of the trees were in full bloom when the frost hit. Once flower petals begin to unfurl, they lose their cold-hardiness. Late-blooming varieties will produce peaches because their flower buds were still closed at the time of the last frost.
    Early asparagus spears wilted to the ground in the section of the garden where I had tilled the soil to control weeds. Where the garden was not freshly tilled and the soil was firm, the early spears were not affected. The difference is due to the heat loss from the soil, which provides frost protection. Where the surface soil was loose, there was not sufficient heat retention to provide frost protection close to the ground. I have seen similar results in gardens where the asparagus beds are mulched. The mulch prevents heat loss from the ground, resulting in the early-rising spears vulnerable to frost.
    But plants are survivors. By the first of June, everything will just about look the same, regardless of late-frost damage.

Planting Schedule
    If you are anxious to get dirt under your fingernails, this is the time for planting potatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, radishes, kohlrabi, cauliflower, spinach and bak-choi.
    Delay planting tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash and cucumbers until the second week in May. If you are using stakes or cages to grow your tomatoes, remember to spray them thoroughly with a 10 percent bleach solution before installing them. There is evidence that spores of blight on last year’s tomato plants can over-winter on the stakes and cages.


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

Whence such a name?

What happened across the Bay at Kent Island to give Bloody Point and the Bloody Point Lighthouse that chilling name?
    Nobody knows — for certain.
    How’s that?
    “Many of the names of locations have been lost over time due to the fact that ownership changes hands,” explains Maya Davis of the Maryland State Archives. “Often time new owners change the name of the property.”
    Nonetheless, there are stories. Christopher Haley, research director for the ­History of Slavery in Maryland for the Maryland State Archives, outlines the top contenders.
    Story 1: In the early days of the colonies, the land that would become known as Kent Island was inadvertently given to two people who represented two colonies — one from Maryland and the other from Virginia. The mistake, unnoticed until one had established a town, led to a bloody scrimmage.
    Story 2: Native Americans were massacred at the point. Supposedly, the Native Americans were invited to an interview with the colonists who killed them without warning.
    Story 3: A pirate convicted of stealing a small boat and killing the three crewmembers was executed and his body hung at Bloody Point to warn others against such crimes.
    Story 4: The point was a place where slave ships threw ailing captives overboard. This heinous practice has been documented in other places, so it could have occurred in the Bay.
    All the stories are bloody, but what’s the truth?


Chesapeake Curiosities investigates regional oddities and landmarks to increase understanding of our unique local culture and history. Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Happy Mothers Day to Linne’s two-toed sloth Ivy

Does Hallmark make cards for sloth mothers? Not likely, so let’s send a special Happy Mother’s Day wish to Ivy at the National Aquarium. Ivy, a Linne’s two-toed sloth, gave birth to a baby girl, named Fern, two weeks ago.
    The baby sloth is the newest ­addition to the Upland Tropical Rain Forest and the sixth sloth born at the National Aquarium.
    “We’re thrilled to welcome Fern,” says Ken Howell, curator of the Rain Forest exhibits.
    Mother and daughter are doing so well that they’re back home in the exhibit. But you’ll have to look sharp to spot them. Sloths are well camouflaged.
    Ivy came to the exhibit in 2007 from a captive breeder. She gave birth to Felize in 2015, Scout in 2013, Camden in 2012 and now Fern.
    Baby sloths tend to be a bit on the clingy side. They start eating solid foods within a couple of weeks after birth but remain with their mother for nearly a year. Fully grown, Linne’s two-toed sloths will reach the size of a small dog, about 12 to 20 pounds. When she’s ready, baby Fern will be fed a diet of green beans, sweet potatoes, grapes and other fruits. It can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single meal. Now you understand where the term sloth got its meaning.
    In the wild, this species is common in South America’s rain forests, where they spend their lives among the treetops, mostly hanging from their four-inch claws. With two claws on their front feet and three on the back, these nocturnal creatures are ideally designed for life in the canopy. They can sleep up to 20 hours a day. Sloths even mate and give birth while hanging upside-down.
    Linne’s two-toed sloths are not endangered like their cousins, the maned three-toed sloth and pygmy three-toed sloth. All sloths are however threatened by continued habitat loss and fragmentation of forests, which forces them to come to the ground to travel to additional trees. On the ground, they become easy prey and face injury and death trying to cross roadways.

Crowded bulbs are smaller bulbs and produce smaller flowers

As the trumpets of daffodil petals herald spring, we see clumps growing in roadside banks as well as in gardens. Pretty as they are, the flowers in those large clumps are not as large as those of single plants or smaller clumps. Crowded bulbs are smaller bulbs and thus produce smaller flowers due to a lower reserve of food.
    Professional gardeners dig up and thin out clumps of daffodils every five or six years. This practice allows them to not only maintain flower size but to also expand plantings.
    If you would like to lift and thin your bulbs, now is the time to take the first step. First, use a large plant label or planting stake with a weatherproof tag to mark the location of each clump to be dug, and identify its flower color.    After the foliage dies down to the ground, give the blubs a couple of more weeks to mature. Foliage will die more slowly in clumps growing under partial shade than those growing in full sun.
    To minimize damage to the bulbs, use a fork spade for digging and lifting out the bulbs. Start digging at least three or four inches away from the ring of dead foliage. Lift the bulbs and spread them on the ground to dry in the full sun for an hour or so. After the soil on the bulbs has dried, remove it by rubbing gently with your hands. Avoid damaging the tunic, the thin papery covering on the bulbs. Do not attempt to separate the bulbs from each other at this time.
    After harvesting, spread the bulbs on a flat surface in a well-ventilated room under cover to finish drying for a few weeks. Then place them in mesh bags or screen storage trays, and store them in a cool, dry place protected from rodents.
    In September, plant the bulbs where you want them to bloom next spring.


Is salt damage reversable?

Q Is there any way to compensate for winter salt damage to trees and ­bushes? Also affected is the grass strip ­paralleling the road.

–Farley Peters, Fairhaven

A Most of the damage caused by salt is due to salinity, which kills plant roots. If the sodium level in the soil is equal to or higher than that of potassium, then the damage is more likely related to nutrition. Have the soil tested to see if there is sufficient potassium.


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

Whenever the weather lets you

When the reel spool began turning under my thumb, I knew it was no ordinary rockfish on the end of my line. Counting to seven, I threw the Abu reel into gear, and when the line came tight, set the hook. Then my rod bent over to the corks and a stiffly set drag howled as the fish really hit the gas. This one had to be trophy sized — if only I could get it to the boat.
    We were anchored up south of the Hackett’s can at the mouth of the Severn River in 35 feet of water on a morning that was glassy calm despite a small-craft warning from NOAA the day before. Not deterred, my fishing companion Ed Robinson checked another forecase, www.intellicast.com, which predicted light winds until almost noon.
    We agreed that if the winds were calm we would head out and fish until the weather turned. Launching my 17-foot skiff, we were on station by 8am. A half-hour later, our four rods were rigged and baited with large chunks of fresh menhaden.
 A chum bag over the stern was spewing small bits of ground fish into the falling tidal current as we guessed that we had only about three hours of ebb left before slack water.

    Then Ed had a run and landed a fat and healthy 23-incher, a good sign there were fish around.
    A few minutes later, my bruiser hit.

How to Fish Trophy Season
    Chumming during Trophy Rockfish Season is a long-odds affair. Because the big fish are spawning and moving alone or in small packs, it is impossible to determine patterns. They don’t stay in one place for very long, so catching reports are mostly useless. Locating legal fish is pretty much a matter of luck.
    With this year’s larger 35-inch minimum size, we guessed it would be even more difficult to find keepers by fishing bait.
    Trolling is the most productive technique during trophy season as you’re covering far more water and using big lures. But if you want to use light tackle you’ve got to fish bait.
    Our four outfits were medium-heavy, six-and-a-half-foot casting rods with Abu 5600 casting reels loaded with 150 yards of 20-pound fluoro-coated mono, with fish finder rigs, two-ounce sinkers and stout 9/0 hooks on 24-inch 30-pound fluoro leaders.

Reeling in a Runaway Train
    It was 20 minutes into the battle before I got a glimpse of the striper. It was definitely a good one. Calming myself and making sure not to force things, I eased it to the side of the boat. Ed got most of the fish into the net. It took both of us to lift it over the gunnel. The lunker’s big tail ran well past the deck-mounted 36-inch measuring tape, so we were sure it was legal. After a quick picture we eased the handsome giant into my fishbox and iced it down.
    Ed had pulled all of our rigs out of the water during the battle to avoid tangles, so it took another 20 minutes to get them cleared, baited and back in the water. After that we didn’t have long to wait.
    One of Ed’s rigs twitched, then the clicker on the reel started screaming as the fish picked up the bait and headed away at speed. It was another runaway train.
    The fight mirrored my own. Almost a twin of the first one, this burly rascal also hung half out of my net as we barely managed it up over the side. Two giants inside of half an hour.
    Done by 10am with two trophies in the box, their tails sticking out and the lid bulging open, we headed for the ramp grinning like fools. An hour later, a stiff north wind pushed up three-foot seas with shore-to-shore whitecaps.

All kinds of surprising things expire — car seats, makeup, fire extinguishers, bike helmets, bug spray. How about life jackets?
    Yes and no, depending on the type of life jacket and how much wear it has.
    Foam life jackets typically do not expire. You do need to be cautious about crushing them, however, so don’t use them for a kneepad, which can result in lower buoyancy. Also, ensure that they are not damaged as this could compromise their flotation or allow the floats to escape. If your life jacket has any rips, tears or the foam seems to be degraded, it’s time for a new one.
    If your life jacket is inflatable, you need to check the manufacturers recommendation about how frequently the CO2 cartridge needs to be changed. It varies from jacket to jacket, from every year to every few years. You also want to inspect inflatable components every few months for corrosion or dirt.
    As you return to the water, remember that a well-maintained and properly used life jacket can save your life. Almost 90 percent of people who drowned following a boating accident were not wearing life jackets.
    Take time to check out your life jackets prior to your maiden voyage this season to ensure you and your boating companions have dependable safety equipment.


Chesapeake Curiosities investigates regional oddities and landmarks to increase understanding of our unique local culture and history.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

With this issue, we enter Chesapeake Country’s favorite season

How lucky are we?    
    Having lived the first half of my life landlocked in America’s great Midwest, I look at the Chesapeake each day with gratitude and awe.
    Now comes the time when fair days invite all of us children of the Chesapeake to do more than look.
    Of course some of us are heartier than others. The Chesapeake and its many rivers are always there. Beachcombers and dog walkers go out in all seasons, even when nor’easters blow their hair southwest and throw sand in their eyes. If you paddle your own kayak or canoe, you’ll find good boating weather all winter long.
    Anglers will abide most any weather, as Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle reminds us. With the opening of rockfish season April 16, the lure of trophy giants has fishermen and women biting just as they hope the fish will.
    From now through November, Chesapeake waters will be the best place to feel what life in this region is all about.
    So in this issue we take you there in ways we know best, words and pictures. Each of this week’s features takes us back to the water. A couple illuminate the lore and lure of sailing: Tom Hall’s story about high school sailing teams and the Annapolis Junior Keelboat Regatta; and Mike Rusinski’s first-person account of his midlife switch from power boating to sailing — Trading Our Combustion Engine for the Power of Wind is Rusinski’s Bay Weekly debut.
    Another, Nostalgia by Diane Knaus, recalls the thrill of driving your own boat — as well as the pitfalls.
    For safety’s sake on the water, our inquiring Chesapeake Curiosities columnist Christina Gardner reminds you to examine your life jacket.
    Two more stories invite you to our rivers this Saturday, April 30: The Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering on the Patuxent at Jefferson-Patterson Park and the inaugural Pigs and Pearls event on the West River at Pirates Cove in Galesville.
    As getting you to the water is our goal, this issue also shines the spotlight on five Bay Weekly partners offering special opportunities on that element: the Wild Goose Chase bike tour at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and Boaters Expo at Herrington Harbour North, both two weekends hence; plus the town of North Beach, Flag Harbor Marina and SUP2U Kayak Rental.
    See you on the water, the element of the season.

Hale and Farewell: Lee Boynton
    I cannot end My Back to the Water letter without paying tribute to Lee Boynton, the Annapolitan and American impressionist painter who died April 24 at the age of 62, taken by colon cancer. For I am one of hundreds taught by Lee to see the water as well as aspire to painting it.
    In the beginning, there was light. Those are the first of Lee’s words recorded in my journals of the half dozen watercolor classes where I was his student. The life is in the light; the life is in the paint.
    Lee radiated the light of life as he spoke those words. A religious man, he believed in the divinity of the light God had created.
    Light reflects as well as illuminates, Lee explained as he sought to teach us to paint lowlights as well as highlights, gradations, reflections and shadows. We caught some of the reflection of his light. He made us understand, believe and see with his life-inspired eyes.
    So I see the water now in the color it takes from light, sky and atmosphere. I search my vocabulary for the words for those colors and my palette for their pigments. With opened eyes, I see the atomic vitality of the dance of life. I am one scintilla of the legacy left by Lee Boynton on this earth.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com