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Tie right to stop losing big fish

In the decade-plus I have worked at a local sports store, I have swapped many yarns about losing big fish. The recurring theme is broken lines.
    Odd, I once thought. Of all the fish I’ve lost, and believe me that number is considerable, there have been very few that simply broke me off. Now I’m not counting the rascals that cornered the line across a concrete bridge pier or a barnacle-studded dock piling, threaded themselves through submerged rubble or wrapped off on my engine. I mean fish that broke the line by hard pulling.
    How long had the line been on their reels, I wondered. The short story is monofilament line in use over two seasons is not to be relied upon. The line might still seem stout enough, but knot strength is always the first thing to degrade and the main culprit in any break-off.
    If the line was fresh but the setup had been used a number of times, had landed a lot fish and had always held up, I had an easy answer: Your setup just wore itself out. You can’t expect those knots to last forever. Repeated stress will eventually weaken the line‘s structure. The knots have to be renewed, and the more frequently you stress your line, the more frequently the knots should be retied.
    If the angler had freshly made the setups, I would inquire if the end of the line where it failed had a little curlicue shape, like a pig’s tail. That curlicue is the sign of an improperly tied knot slipping free. If there was a piece of mono handy, I could even duplicate the event.
    If none of the above, I would ask the angler to tie the knot for me. Then I would put the hook in a vice and give the line a substantial pull. The connection would usually fail far below the breaking strength of the line. Or it would simply slip out.

Knot Up
    If your knots are in danger of failing, the solution is simplicity.
    Attempt to learn a dozen good knots at once and you’ll remember none.
    The better way to begin is by choosing just one knot, practice tying it several times and stick with it until you can do it without thinking.
    The knot I suggest for starters is the improved clinch knot, sometimes called the fisherman’s knot. It is the knot I most frequently use for tying my line to hooks and lures, and it is probably the most popular knot in use today.
    Only after mastering this knot should you progress to learning others. I suggest the Palomar next. It is one of the stronger and easier-to-tie connections, but its application is limited. The shortcoming will become obvious as you learn to tie it.
    The next in importance is the barrel knot for tying two sections of line together, a leader to the main line for instance.
    Others knots are useful in certain circumstances, but the point is to learn and master one at a time.
    One more thing: Always moisten the line with saliva (for lubrication) when pulling it tight. Otherwise heat from the friction of the knot tightening will weaken the line.
    Another thing: If you’re intent on landing the next big fish you hook, replace your line often and begin each outing by cutting off the hook or lure, discarding the first 15 feet of line (it gets the most wear), replacing your leader (if you use one) and retying your knots. Examine each bend closely upon completion. If they don’t look perfect, cut them off and tie them again. Your lost fish ratio due to break-offs will plummet. I guarantee it.

Find best friends for bargain prices at Anne Arundel County SPCA

With small sighs of relief, volunteers and workers celebrated a bit more room in the inn.
    Filled to the brim with more than 50 adoptable dogs and 150 adoptable cats, the Anne Arundel County SPCA held two adoption events to make room for more needy animals.
    The shelter houses, cares for and feeds up to 4,000 animals a year while seeking to find them homes.
    Four-year-old beagle mix John Wall, who’d been homeless since December, was one of 14 Lonely Hearts dogs adopted. Four, including John, have moved in with their new families. Ten more applications are in the approval queue.
    So far, 9 Lives for $9 has found homes for 16 adult cats. Here’s hoping the third time is a charm for Franco Magic, adopted again this week after eviction from two earlier homes. He’s been waiting since August.
    The shelter had “a big influx of foot traffic the whole weekend,” says Rita Melvin, development and programs manager. One guinea pig was also adopted.
    Many more animals are waiting.
    There’s still time to take advantage of the 9 Lives for $9 cat adoption special, which runs through Tuesday, June 22.
    “We have so many great cats waiting for homes,” Melvin says.
    All prospective adoptees are up to date on their vaccines, flea protected, spayed or neutered and microchipped. Cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Dogs are tested and protected for heartworms.
    To see the feline bargains and home-seeking animals of other species, visit the SPCA at 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis: 410-268-4388; www.aacspca.org.

Beckerman kicked his way from Crofton to Salt Lake to Brazil

The world’s sport takes the world’s stage next week when World Cup play begins in Brazil.
    Played every four years, the World Cup is the most-watched and admired sporting event on the planet. This year, Anne Arundel County has a favorite son in the play. Crofton-raised Kyle Beckerman, a 31-year-old defensive midfielder for the United States Men’s National Team and captain of Real Salt Lake, prepares to lace up his cleats and play for all the world to see.
    Bay Weekly checked in with ­Beckerman last November [www.bayweekly.com/node/19763], when he had just finished solid performances for the United States in the 2013 Gold Cup and the World Cup Qualification Tournament and was captaining a great Real Salt Lake Major League Soccer team. Since then, Beckerman’s Real Salt Lake reached the MLS Championship game in December. On May 22, Beckerman was named as a starter on coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s final 23-man roster to represent the United States in the World Cup.
    Crofton is swelling with pride for the Arundel High School alum.
    “Sure, Crofton may have Edward Snowden, but now we’ve got Kyle Beckerman to even it out. It’s so inspiring that he’s from my hometown,” says 18-year-old Patrick Russo, a life-long Crofton resident.
    “He is so awesome. I just ordered my little brother a Beckerman USA jersey as a graduation gift so he’ll be ‘repping Crofton all World Cup,” says Devin Garcia, local soccer fanatic.
    Despite hometown support, Beckerman and company will have a troublesome path to success, after being placed in what fans are calling the tournament’s Group of Death along with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Only two of the four teams will move on to the next “knockout” stage.
    Portugal, ranked fourth in the world, claims the world’s greatest player in the 29-year old phenom, ­Cristiano ­Ronaldo, recently voted this year’s FIFA Footballer of the Year.
    Second-ranked Germany, the 2010 World Cup runner up, is arguably the most well-rounded and feared team in the world.
    Ghana, while ranked just 37th in the world, could hold more bad news for the Yanks. In the previous two World Cups, the United States’ fate was dictated both times in dramatic, controversial losses to Ghana. Will history repeat itself? Or will the third time be the charm for the Red, White and Blue?
    Doubters include even the American coach. In an interview with The New York Times, Klinsmann said that the U.S. “cannot win this World Cup.”
    “He’s wrong,” contests Russo. “That’s what everyone said about the 1980 USA hockey team. Then the Miracle On Ice happened.”
    As sure as Patrick Russo is, America’s World Cup destiny won’t be known until the games begin on Thursday, June 12. Then Crofton, Anne Arundel County and all of America will watch as Kyle Beckerman and the United States National Team face off on the world’s greatest, most prestigious stage, the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

June 13’s full moon brings the living dinosaurs to a beach near you

The Atlantic Flyway bird migration route passes over Chesapeake Bay. In the months of May and June, the full moon brings bright light to the sandy shores of the Bay, enticing horseshoe crabs to come and lay their eggs. These eggs mean new generations in more ways than one. Some develop into new crabs; migrating shore birds drop into the café to devour many others.
    At dawn during May’s full moon, horseshoe crabs made shallow lumps in the surf at Sandy Point Park.
    These amazing creatures are living dinosaurs. Like sharks, these sea animals have evolved very little over the 250 million years of their existence. With their helmet-like shells, they move faster in the water than seems possible.
    This time of year, the females come to the surf’s edge. Males pile on top in hopes of fertilizing thousands of eggs laid in the sand.
    Then comes the red knot. This shore bird migrates over 9,300 miles from southern South America to the northern Arctic, making one of the longest migratory trips in the animal kingdom. Stopping along the shores of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, these birds depend on horseshoe crab eggs to continue their long journey.
    Red knot populations declined as horseshoe crab harvests increased. Now the relationship between the red knot and the horseshoe crab is carefully watched by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission. Harvest limits are set annually to restore red knot populations. Populations have stabilized, but the bird remains under review as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
    A red knot tagged B95 has been nicknamed Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of the distance to the moon and halfway back during his lifetime of over 20 years. B95 inspired Phillip Hoose’s book Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. This May 25, Moonbird was sighted on Reeds Beach, New Jersey by Patricia Gonzalez.

Life is determined and abundant. Keep your eyes open and you, too, may spot representatives of the latest generation of Chesapeake waterfowl, as these Chesapeake neighbors did.


At 8am late May, here swims a honker out of a finger of my creek. Closely following is a silent one. Not far behind are one, two … 36 little ones, half-grown already. But they won’t enter the larger creek, instead milling around as the steadily honking Canada steadily leads his silent follower out to the river and disappears.
 
Back go the three dozen, now alone. But wait! Sitting still halfway out is another silent Canada, showing them that it’s okay to enter the larger space. Who is this?  The au pair? After half an hour, the goslings are still in the comfort of the smaller water but coming out to survey the greater expanse before retreating.
 
Just think, 36 new resident Canadas for the West and Rhode rivers.
    –Margaret Gwathmey, Harwood
Two days ago, I found a duck egg in my cockpit. I thought a friend was playing a prank. The next day, another. Today, another egg and the female duck. I read up on it. She should lay nine more eggs, and then sit on them for 28 days until they hatch. She didn’t get scared off when we got on and off the boat today, but if there isn’t another egg tomorrow, she probably won’t come back …
    –Zaid Mohammad, Herrington Harbour South
In Their Own Words
I was a big athlete. I got recruited to play lacrosse at the Naval Academy. Then I flunked out of the Academy. I lost my leg. Now I can’t even drive anymore. But you have to accept those limitations. You have to continue to pursue whatever you are supposed to be doing. It’s often confusing as to what that is. Continue to figure out why you are here, you know? Helping people is important, too; that’s where you get your real satisfaction.

Does that sound wise? It takes a long time to get to the point where the crap that comes out of your mouth is wise. Hey, you’re a lucky man. You met maybe the only wise guy on Main Street.

But really, I’ve had a wonderful life, and it’s amazing to be able to say that. I’m 67. I’m in the fourth quarter, you know? Have you ever seen The Scent of a Woman? In that, Al Pacino says, “You’re lucky if four women love you in your life.” And four women have loved me, so I guess I really am lucky. I don’t think I will get a fifth. You know how hard it is to get a girlfriend with one leg? And I don’t even know if I’d want another.
Last winter was hard on this easy-to-grow fruit tree — but not fatal
The winter of 2013-2014 was so severe that it killed fig trees back to the ground. Many plants also suffered severe rabbit damage at the base of the young stems with smooth bark. Rabbits eat the smooth brown bark at times when other food sources are scarce.
 
As we are located at the northern climatic range for growing figs, we need to anticipate winter damage at least once every 10 to 15 years. According to my records, the last time fig plants were killed back to the ground was during the winter of 1997-1998.
 
If the stems and branches are not exhibiting new growth by early June, the tops of the plants have been killed. However, if you look closely at the ground beneath you should see new shoots emerging from the roots.
 
Cut the dead stems as close to the ground as possible and use them next winter for starting the fire in your fireplace or wood stove. Fig wood ignites very quickly and makes good kindling. 
 
Allow the new shoots to grow two to three feet tall before thinning. To avoid crowding, allow at least 3 feet of space between new stems. Select only the more vigorous stems to develop and prune out the unwanted ones. Do not simply break them away but use clean, sharp pruners to remove stems close to the roots. If you break the unwanted stems, you are likely to see additional sprouting that you will have to remove later.
 
This year’s new growth will not produce figs. If you do see figs developing in the axils of the leaves, rub them away with your hands. Allowing the fruit to develop on the new growth will weaken and dwarf the stem.
 
Allow the new stems to grow five to six feet tall before pruning away the tip of each. Tip pruning will stimulate multiple branching, which will provide more fruit for the coming years and prevent the stems from getting too tall. Preventing the stems of figs from growing above six feet facilitates harvesting. 
 
I have never fertilized my figs in the 20 years that I have been growing them here in Deale. Fertilizing figs makes them difficult to manage. If the summer foliage has a good dark green color, it is best not to fertilize them. The plants will tolerate a wide range of soils and are not sensitive to different soil pH.  
 
Figs are a fruit crop that I recommend to home gardeners because they require little attention and never need to be sprayed. Pruning to facilitate harvesting is all the attention they need. 
 
If rabbits are a problem there are several preventions. Surrounding the area with two-foot-tall chicken wire is the simplest if you have an extensive planting. If you only have a few plants, there are white plastic wraps that expand as the trunk grows. You can also solve the problem by loosely wrapping the trunks with two layers of chicken wire.
 
There are several varieties of figs offered by mail order nurseries.  I grow Brown Turkey (pictured) and Golden Egyptian. I have not seen any differences in hardiness between these two varieties.  Both were killed to the ground this winter.

When you get your fish, all’s right with the world

When you’ve gone through a long series of skunks — as anyone who has fished much has — you start questioning your skill. Where were you going wrong? What else could you do? Serious uncertainties also creep in: Was the past season’s long string of successes real?
    That’s about the way I was thinking the other day, anchored a bit south of Hackett’s with only one other boat near. The finder screen was lit up like a fireworks display, but once again my baits went untouched.
    After almost an hour, one of the rod tips began to twitch. It stopped. I lifted the rig and moved the bait just an inch or two but felt no resistance. My heart was heavy. It had been a long spring with virtually no success chasing rockfish. Either the weather or the bite — or both — had been consistently horrible.
    The morning had started badly. Having gone to bed with excellent weather and good tides forecast for dawn, I opened my eyes at the appointed hour to the sounds of an approaching jet. Then I realized that it wasn’t airplane noise at all, it was thunder, lots of it.
    Another fishing trip scratched, I feared. Would things never go my way? Then, as if in answer, rain drummed down on the roof as if being poured from a giant bucket.
    I got up, reluctantly, to call my partner to cancel. But by the time I had a cup of coffee and picked up the phone, the skies had cleared and the sun was bright. Could lady luck be smiling at last? Or was she toying with us?
    Once on the Bay, we looked out over calm waters and a nicely moving incoming tide. It was looking good, but I steeled myself for more disappointment, reminding myself that dry spells make the good bites that much more enjoyable. But it was getting to be a very difficult sell.
    Then a rod tipped down with a serious run, the reel chattered as line poured out and all of those dark thoughts vanished. Feeling the weight of a good fish heading off against the drag, I smiled.
    It was a lively fight for a few minutes before my partner slipped the net under the six-pounder — and just that quickly our day had changed.
    As I buried the thick fish in ice and gave my buddy, Moe, a fist bump to celebrate the end of our rotten luck, another rod slammed down hard in its holder, and a 10-pounder took off for the other side of the Bay.
    With a couple of throwbacks and a pulled hook or two, we collected our limits in short order. The summer had officially started, and that miserable series of fishless days receded into the dim and forgettable past.
 

Time your pruning for both desirable growth and flowers

While azaleas were blooming mid-month, I passed a home in the Deale area where the bushes were so large that it must have been impossible to look out through the lower part of the front windows. They must have been sheared at some point because the middle of the plants appeared very bushy.
    This is a common problem and one that is simple to correct — once you get out the pruners and get past fear. 
    Well-established azaleas are almost impossible to kill. Their only sure death is by over-mulching or repeated mulching with hardwood bark. The plants are very shallow-rooted; over-mulching them suffocates the roots. Repeated applications of hardwood bark lowers the acidity of the soil and releases high levels of manganese, which prevents iron from being absorbed by the roots.
    If azaleas are well established and growing too well, simply prune them back 12 to 18 inches below the windowsill now, as the flowers are wilting. The sooner you prune the better. Stems up to three-quarters-inch in diameter will sprout new branches by the hundreds. Do not prune all of the stems at the same height. Cut some stems back 12 inches, others 18 and others 24 to give the plant a more natural appearance.
    Within three weeks after pruning, you will see small green dots emerging from the bark. Each of those is a potential branch. If you allow all the green dots to develop, you will get too many branches, giving the plant a bottle brush appearance. To avoid this, in mid-June or early July, use your fingers to rub away half of the developing nubs. These newly emerging branches are soft, succulent and easily removed. In mid-August repeat the process, this time keeping the best-developed and strongest branches and removing the others.  
    Do not fertilize or mulch the plants with compost until after vigorous growth appears on the pruned stems. Keep them thoroughly irrigated during dry periods.
    Since azaleas initiate flower buds beginning in mid- to late September, avoid shearing the plants after the middle of August. Flower buds are initiated at the ends of newly developed branches. If you delay shearing until mid- to late September, you will be eliminating most of the new growth, and the plants will have no flowers next spring.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.