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Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.
     Watching the numbers increase as the bottom fell away, I tensed as it descended through 14 then 15 feet, the depth that had proved the sweet spot.      Then the screen’s bottom image showed a long bright blob marking a tight school of perch. Seconds later, as my baited rig passed through those marks, my rod tip surged down and I felt the heavy weight of a good fish. It arced deeper as another fish jumped on. Double-header!
     Years ago, during a particularly good panfish bite, I experimented with a number of variations of two-hook bottom-fishing setups, termed hi-lo or top-and-bottom rigs, to see which were the most effective. The best setup — quite a surprise — has remained the top producer for bottom fishing throughout the years, despite any troubling instincts to the contrary. 
     I knew that twisted wire or heavy mono two-hook (maximum permitted in Maryland) setups would scare off every fish with any sense. So I started from scratch designing my own barest fluorocarbon-rigged setups for stealth and effectiveness.
     My creations of light fluorocarbon leaders, fine wire hooks and minimum construction worked well and caught lots of fish, just as I anticipated. But for due diligence, I also tried more popular rigs and hook setups. 
     What I discovered was amazing. The outlandish and all-too-obvious twisted wire top and bottom (or hi-lo) constructions out-fished everything I had so laboriously created. Far from scaring the fish off, the clumsy contraptions seem to attract the attack of panfish of all sizes.
     This was also true of the snelled hooks that I bent on the wire top-and-bottom rigs. The simple small black hook snelled with light monofilament caught fish. But the more obvious bright red No. 4 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a silver or fluorescent spinner blade, caught more panfish of every type, including the bigger, older fish that should have known better.
     Over time, I have also developed a strong preference for baiting with bloodworms. Though soft crab, grass shrimp and razor clams can sometimes provoke more bites, the bloodworms remain on the hook longer, are far more difficult for a panfish to filch and, as a result, reduce the need to rebait empty hooks. More time for your rig in the panfish zone means more hook-ups.
     My day on the water this past week with that bait and those big, obvious setups once again proved the efficacy of the terminal tackle and bait system. Perch as big as 12 inches — with the smallest just under 10 inches — made up the dozen fat keepers that accompanied me home that day. There were of course many throwbacks, but the constant action kept the day exciting.
     If you’ve a yen for some productive fall fishing, this commonly available gear will maximize your chances of a good catch. 
 
Fish Finder
     The middle Bay is plagued with barely keeper sized rockfish. Trolling has been the top producer, simply because it is superior in covering a lot of water. Bigger fish are falling to vertical jigging, but in this endeavor relentlessness is key. Bluefish are roaming the Bay, providing some lively action but ruining the bite for live-liners using spot.
     White perch are schooling in the tributaries, particularly in 14 to 16 feet of water. They’ll be leaving soon for their main Bay wintering grounds, so if you intend on putting any in the ­freezer, now is the time. 
     Spanish mackerel have shown here and there. Clark Spoons, red hoses and Captain John’s spoons all trolled at about five knots are the key to hooking up with these swift migrators.
 
Hunting Seasons
  • Ducks: thru Nov. 21
  • Snow geese: thru Nov. 24
  • Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Bow season Oct. 22-Nov. 24; Muzzleloader thru Nov. 21
  • Black bear: Oct. 23-26
  • Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

The crabs were fat, plentiful and willing to be caught

I had violated my sacred rule never to promise blue crabs before they were caught. To further increase the danger of a dinner failure when an ever-growing number of people was expecting to be fed, I had not run a trotline in more than a year. Now, at well past dawn, we were only laying out the baited line at the mouth of a neighborhood creek.
    Friends from New Jersey were staying with us, and, while I had been intending to celebrate my 75th birthday with them as quietly and inconspicuously as possible, other influences were at work. I foolishly had not factored in my children, some of their friends and, not the least, my long-neglected and forgotten Facebook account, which had automatically spewed a birthday announcement far and wide.
    My wife had asked the night before, as Vincent Ransom from New Jersey and I were baiting my 600-foot line with chicken necks and sipping adult beverages, “what happens if you don’t catch enough crabs?”
    I answered that pizza would just have to do. She gave me the old arched eyebrow and stalked off. I was beginning to get a little tense and could only hope that my premature promise of enough jimmies for dinner would not jinx the crabbing.
    Adding to my growing terror, I had no actual idea where in local waters the crabs were. Luckily my charter captain friend Frank Tuma had given me a good idea of a nearby site to lay our line.
    The results of our first run of the baited line dispelled a great deal of my trepidation. With Vince manning a trotline net for his first time ever, we managed an even dozen fat jimmies that didn’t even need to be measured. After that, crabs kept flying out of his net and into our basket.
    Within an hour and a half, we were over the three-quarter bushel mark and lauding each other for our skill and luck. Of course at that same point the tidal current died, as did the crab movement. It took more than two hours to finish, but we were back at the ramp by noon with a bulging bushel of the blue beauties.
    Back at the house, Vince and I accepted our spouses’ surprised congratulations, settled our gear and cleaned up. I took a birthday nap, leaving the interim preparations in the hands of my sainted wife, Deb, and Tarin, the other half of the couple from New Jersey.
    Eventually, growing crowd noise and a constantly ringing phone woke me from my decadent mid-day slumber, and I was forced to rejoin the world below who were slowly accumulating to remind me how ancient I had become.
    My youngest son, Robert, who had flown up from his place in Florida, had taken on the task of assembling the propane tank and gas burner, tongs, cardboard platters and adding in just the right mixture of beer, vinegar and water to the crab cooker to steam the tasty devils just the right amount. Just as the feast was almost ready, our middle boy, Harrison, and his partner, Jerica, arrived from Baltimore, having finally extricated themselves from the weekend traffic.
    The pile of hot, fat crabs, heavily dosed with that familiar, steaming spice mixture, was soon heaped on the newspaper-covered dining room table, a sight as beautiful and fragrant as anything ever beheld.
    Somehow we all got seated, a platter of steamed corn and salad miraculously appeared, cold beverages distributed, a bottle of birthday champagne popped and the meal commenced. As I glanced around the room at what had transpired in my home, I wished that living on Chesapeake Bay would forever be just like this for all my family and friends.

Turn on the blooms with Bloom

To keep plants in hanging baskets growing and flowering for two months or more, dump one-half cup of Bloom in a single lump on an eight-inch diameter hanging basket, or one cup for a 10-inch basket. At each irrigation, pour water onto the mound of Bloom. As the water flows through the Bloom, it absorbs nutrients and makes them available to the roots of the plants.


Trying to Make a Better Rain Garden

www.bayweekly.com/RainGarden-072017

Q    I just read your July 20 column Make a Better Rain Garden and have a couple of questions.
    I built a pond, near my house in rural Prince Frederick about 20 years ago. It is 100-by-60 feet and has a heavy-duty, one-piece, rubber liner under a foot or two of sand (and now, an additional 20 years of organic muck). The depth varies from one foot (a ledge along the edges) to six feet in the middle. It has two pumps, and I planted it out with native plants — arrowhead, pickerelweed, spatterdock, native water lilies — and added fish.
    I have been renting the house for eight years. The renter (with my blessing) has ignored the pond. It still holds water but is a slimy mess, has shrubs and small trees crowding around the edges and is basically going back to nature.
    I will be moving back soon. I am older now and have no interest in the maintenance required to keep the pond healthy. I have been thinking about my options: from doing nothing to filling it in and planting grass on top. Then I read your article … maybe a rain garden?
    I also don’t have the energy or budget to do it right (as you describe in the article). Is there a quick and dirty option? One that will require minimal work and still provide some of the benefits?
    For example: what if I cleared the jungle from the edges, drained the pond, let the muck dry out, drilled some holes through the liner, filled the hole with decent soil and planted native plants?
    If I go the rain garden route, do you have a list (or website) of native plants that might work in a Maryland rain garden? And maybe where to buy them?
    I always enjoy your articles.

–Steve Farrell, Broomes Island

A    My suggestion is to drain the pond, use a power auger to drill holes through the membrane and below and fill the holes with pine bark mulch. Based on your submitted pictures, I would plant bald cypress, available from the state forest nursery, deciduous holly, alder and cattails.


Grass Isn’t Always the Answer

Q    I need your expert advice. I have a street strip of grass nine feet wide and 18 feet long, separate from other parts of my yard that have pretty grass.
    I have been very frustrated watering that strip. A little silver dollar-size sprayer attached to a hose sprays a circle in one spot and takes forever to water areas like this.
    I looked at hoses with holes in it that I could use in the center of the area.
    What would you suggest?

–Ruth Gross, Bowie

A    Why don’t you forget about growing a lawn between the sidewalk and the curb and plant ground cover — junipers or Saint John's Wort, vinca major or vinca minor — something that will not need to be irrigated or mowed. Ground cover juniper is extremely drought-resistant, likes full sun and is nearly maintenance free. If you plant through landscape fabric, you will not even have to weed.


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

Though not Bay natives, channel catfish are worth an angler’s time

Despite a firm New Year’s resolution to rise earlier during the hot summer months to take advantage of the cooler dawn hours when the rockfish are on the hunt, I once again failed to get out of bed and on the water until 8am. The day by then was already heating up and the striper bite a memory.
    Unwilling to brave the heat and the daytime crowds chumming, I decided to focus on white perch with ultra-light tackle since the tides would remain favorable until at least noon. I was only a little sorry I wouldn’t be tussling with some heavier adversaries. But surprises were in store for me that morning.
    I was casting along a rocky shoreline to the remnants of an old lengthy bulkhead that had succumbed to storm erosion and age. Submerged rotting wood attracts grass shrimp and small minnows to feed on the decaying timbers, and that attracts and holds white perch.
    Having already put two or three bulky white perch on ice and released another half-dozen lesser-sized scrappers, I was settling into a relaxed rhythm of casting to clearly visible areas near the more substantial bulkhead remains and enjoying the action. Then my spinner bait stopped dead from a heavy strike.
    Lifting my rod smartly and expecting another spirited tussle, I was met with a strong and determined run against my firmly set drag. For the first few seconds I dreamed of a state-record white perch. When the run continued into the distance, I began thinking of a hefty rockfish. The power and determination of a striper’s run was there, but not the speed, so eventually I had to cross a keeper rock off my list of possibilities.
    When the fish finally paused, I recovered some line. Almost immediately, it took off again. Trying to slow its progress stretched my six-pound mono dangerously close to failure. Eventually the fish paused, only to continue resisting with intermittent rushes in random directions.
    I took my time. When the fish made a rush anywhere near my direction, I applied as much pressure as I could to lead it closer. Then the beast started crossing, again and again, under my hull, using my own boat against me.
    I could do little to stop that tactic. It was only chance that kept my line away from my outboard. I was on borrowed time. At last, stressing my light five-foot spin rod till its cork creaked, I netted a fat and healthy 25-inch channel catfish.
    It was the first of three I would put in my cooler that morning, losing a fourth to my outboard.
    The most numerous catfish in North America, the channel cat’s wide popularity as a sport and table fish has made it the official state fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee. Channel cats have whiskers, deeply forked tails and golden brown flanks with small dark spots. It’s a species introduced to Maryland via the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers but becoming an increasingly appreciated addition to the Chesapeake’s seafood cornucopia.
    The Maryland record of 29 pounds 10 ounces is held by Kevin Kern at Mattawoman Creek, but the whiskered rowdies can reach up to 60 pounds. Channel cats are generally caught in the three-to-five-pound size on the Chesapeake, but their average size is likely to increase as they become more numerous.
    The Chester is the most highly regarded river for chasing catfish in this area, but cats are found with increasing frequency in all of the Chesapeake’s tributaries, particularly around laydowns (fallen trees) and derelict docks and pilings. They also show up in mainstem chum slicks — much to the surprise of those targeting rockfish.
    Cleaning these catfish for the table requires a different technique than most of our sport-fish, as all catfish need to be skinned rather than scaled. These fish produce thick, succulent and boneless fillets with little effort.

Here’s what you need to have fun

Afish caught on the fly is easily twice as much fun as one caught any other way. Right now is an ideal time to fish the long rod for rockfish and white perch.

The first rule is to leave your conventional tackle at home. If you’ve decided to use the fly rod, it’s best to be fully committed.

A nine-foot, eight-weight rod is a good allaround stick. It can handle just about any sized striper you’re apt to encounter and will still allow a decentsized perch to show its stuff. Choose a floating line as it is relatively easy to cast and can handle such weighted flies as the Clouser minnow or surface poppers as the Blados Crease Fly.

You’ll be targeting areas no more than five feet deep to rocky  shorelines, jetties, bulkheads, piers and docks where stripers and perch hold. As you may lose a few flies to these structures (or else you’re not casting close enough), be sure you have an adequate supply.

The Clouser minnow in sizes No. 1 and larger, in chartreuse over white, is the most popular pattern and color on the Chesapeake for striped bass. However, any fly, both floating and sinking, can produce a strike, especially anything two to four inches long that resembles a minnow or a grass shrimp.

When fishing after dark or on overcast days, nothing beats a black weighted Lefty’s Deceiver crept across the bottom.

For rockfish, leaders can be on the heavy side. Rockfish aren’t typically leader shy, and you will be plying waters strewn with rocks, boulders, timbers or the remnants of steel or concrete structures. Heavier tippets can withstand lots of abrasion both from the fish and the environment. I recommend a short (four- to five-foot) monofilament leader plus 18 inches of at least 15-pound tippet.

You may also make your own leaders by blood-knotting together a threefoot butt section of 30-pound mono to two feet of 20-pound and ending this with a loop knot, which is then easily joined, loop to loop, with a 12- to 18-inch section of your 15- to 20-pound tippet.

If you are targeting white perch specifically, use a lighter leader, constructed similarly to the above but in a 25-15-8 pound mono combination. Flies for perch should also be on the smaller side, with those tied on a No. 2 hook the largest. Shorter fly rods from six feet up can also increase the sport with perch. But lines less than five-weight may cause casting difficulties with heavier, bulkier flies.

A chartreuse-over-white Clouser minnow in sizes No. 2 to No. 6 is an excellent choice for perch. Other great picks are a bead head, Crystal Wooly Bugger or a Crystal Shrimp in pearl, tan, rootbeer or chartreuse. A traditional fly rod lure such as the Hidebrandt Flicker Spin is especially deadly in shallow water. Don’t hesitate to add a small split shot in front of your fly or lure to get it close to the bottom.

If you can pick your days, overcast skies with a solid high tide in the morning and low wind predictions are just about perfect for both rockfish and perch. Both species like the upper phases of the tide when they visit the shallows. Using an electric engine, poling or — at the least — practicing extreme noise discipline will result in larger fish of both species as the older, smarter fish are very shy of noise when they are in the skinny water.

Vertical Mulching and Tree Roots

Q    I enjoy your articles. Recently you’ve written about trees & Bloom.
    I have two chestnut oaks that now have slime flux. Do you think your method would help these trees? I have called forestry schools, and they tell me I can’t do anything. Commercial tree companies want to sell me a fertilizing service for $1,000 with no guarantee.
    Would drilling at three feet cut through and damage the roots? I have about 20 of these oaks and all have shown some stress the last few years. I wouldn’t want to hurt their roots.
    Do they sell Bloom in the Annapolis area? Or is there some substitute?

–Dave Bastian

A Making the tree healthy is the best treatment for curing slime flux. Vertical mulching with Bloom ASAP will stimulate those chestnut oaks to generate new growth, which will result in compartmentalizing the region in the trunks that is generating the slime flux.
    I vertical mulched using compost on my own cherry bark oak tree here in Deale 25 years ago when we moved here, and within two years the slime flux stopped. I drilled six-inch diameter holes. Don’t worry about damaging roots. If you hit the roots with the auger, the tree will generate new roots from the damaged area. When a tree is dug, balled and burlapped, the tree loses 80 percent of its roots, and it recovers.
    I have vertically mulched my 200-year-old cherry bark oak five times, and it is healthier than ever.
    Bloom is sold at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville.


Girdling Ivy Kills Trees

Q    I enjoyed your vertical mulching article in Bay Weekly. I have two large silver maples and another mature tree. Vines have almost completely covered them, and I wanted to know if this is harmful and should I remove it. I imagine it would damage the bark to just rip the vines off after they’ve gotten so attached. And the deep vines up in the trees do provide habitat for birds and squirrels. But if it’s killing the tree, then I guess I need to take action.

–Rich Kavanagh, Deale

A The silver maple is a short-lived tree. Yes, I have seen over the years where English ivy has killed trees. This will occur if the vines completely circle the trunk and you can see the bark of the tree growing over the vine. It kills the tree by girdling.  If the vines are mostly growing straight up the tree, like many do, it is not a problem. From the looks of the top growth visible in the picture you sent, it appears that the new growth is sparse, which means that the vines appear to be girdling the trunk.


Replacing a Silver Maple

Q    We have sadly watched a large silver maple die over the past few years. It was probably about 50 years old and the source of a plague of box elder bugs. We are having it removed soon and need to know a good replacement. Also, will we have to wait to see if there is any disease or bugs in the soil that could infest a new tree?
    Do you have any suggestions for a quick-growing shade tree? We are thinking honey locust or dogwood. Our home is in Upper Marlboro.
    We really enjoy your column. Thank you for your advice.

–Leda Kress, Upper Marlboro

A Most fast-growing trees such as silver maple have short lives. However, the Shade Master honey locust is a fast-growing cultivar that has a relatively long lifespan.
    The box elder bug only feeds on female box elder maple trees. We have lots of box elder maples growing in this region. I doubt very much if the bug caused the death of your tree. Silver maple trees are prone to fusarium wilt, which may have been the problem. Since it has had a slow death, I strongly suspect that your tree was infected and you need not worry that it will affect the Shade Master locust.


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

When the days are too hot, try the hours before midnight

The temperature in the low 70s seemed cool after the scorching sun, just a few hours ago, had sent the mercury into the high 90s. The multitudes of motorized craft churning the waters had long ago headed for home. I had the spot to myself, a rather surreal feeling in the silence and darkness.
    I motored slowly into position and lowered my Power Pole anchor firmly into the bottom on the spot I had marked on my GPS. As my skiff swung stern to on the freshening tidal current, I relaxed, reached for my casting rod and fingered the swimming plug rigged earlier that evening. Carefully, I made my way to the bow.
    At 10pm, the waning quarter moon threw little light. But I had fished here often and knew exactly where I was located. I was anchored in four feet of water over the remnants of a jetty reduced by years of relentless storms and currents that swept by the prominent point.
    Surrounding depths reached five to six feet in most places, but I had chosen a shallow-running lure because I intended to target another inundated jetty well down current. It rose up to about three feet under the surface, creating a nice rip occasionally but barely visible in the meager light.
    I knew from experience that rockfish would stage just below that jetty to pick off baitfish swept along and disoriented by the swirling waters cresting the rocks below. The questions that night were two: Would they show up after the disruptions of the daytime boat traffic? If so, just what sections of the long jetty would they prefer?
    I had only an hour and a half to complete my quest, since possession of a striped bass on the water is illegal after midnight, and I needed at least a half-hour to get back to the ramp.
    Casting my plug out about 30 degrees crosscurrent, I let the lure swing, the tidal pull giving it all the action it needed. As my line straightened below me, I pulsed the lure one time, then cranked it back in a slow, steady retrieve.
    Working the rip methodically, I targeted first one area, then another. If the fish were there, would they show up in time? The clock was ticking. If I was to secure a dinner for the next evening, it would have to be soon.
    On the fourth or fifth cast, I can’t really remember, I felt my line stop, then surge out, pulling my rod tip down almost to the gunnel. Lifting smartly, I set the hook and felt a good fish begin its run. Lifting my rod high to keep the line clear of the sunken jetty’s rocks, I was alarmed to feel the grating vibrations of contact.
    Thankfully I was using braided line, which is much more forgiving than mono. Still, one sharp edge and I could kiss the fish and my expensive lure adios.
    The fish continued to take out line against my lightly set drag. I relaxed as its distance from the jetty increased and my line’s contact with the rocks ceased.
    It ran off well to one side as I applied extra pressure with my thumb, lifting, reeling and working the fish gradually to the side of the boat. In poor light I could glimpse a solid swirl from time to time as it neared me. I groped for the net.
    Eventually I led the fat rascal in and brought it over the side. I didn’t have to measure it to determine if it was a keeper. It was a heavy one. Pulling out my small flashlight rigged with a red lens so that my night vision wouldn’t be compromised, I removed the plug from its jaw.
    Burying the handsome fish in the ice, I double-checked my rig for any tangles or line fouling and prepared to cast again.
    A few casts later to the same spot brought a virtual twin of the first.
    As I judged that I had tempted the fates enough that evening, I headed back in with plenty of time to make curfew. At the ramp I was still totally alone. That’s a real rarity in the summer, unless you play in the dark.

Early-rising yellow-bellied sapsuckers

The rings of evenly spaced holes you see in the trunks of smooth-bark trees are the work of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The birds drill into apple, beech, birch, cherry, linden, peach, plum, red maple and southern magnolia as well as pine and cedar trees. I have received several reports from readers wondering what is causing the holes because they have not seen any woodpeckers on their trees.
    To see yellow-bellied sapsuckers in action you will need to rise early. They do most of their feeding starting about an hour before sunrise, when the sap is at its highest concentration of sugars.
    Most woodpeckers make holes in trees in search of insects. Yellow bellied sapsuckers puncture the bark for the purpose of lapping the sweet sap that lies just inside.
    In most instances, the damage done by yellow-bellied sapsuckers is not sufficient to cause permanent damage to healthy trees. However, I have seen rather severe die-back of southern magnolias at the top of the tree where the stem was about six inches in diameter. In this instance, the holes made by the sapsuckers were about a half-inch apart in a band about four inches wide. I had never seen such a concentration of holes in such a narrow band.
    Sapsucker damage on cherry, peach and plum trees can result in increased borer infestation in the trunk.
    Both flat-head borers and peach-tree borers are always in search of easy entry into the bark of these species. If you see a gummy red resin exuding from a hole started by a sapsucker, you can assume that a borer found its way into the wood and is well established.
    It is not unusual to see some trees heavily damaged while a nearby tree of the same species does not exhibit any damage. One can only assume that the sap of one tree is more appealing than that of the other.
    Yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be repelled by tying foot-long, one-inch-wide strips of aluminum flashing to branches near the stem of the tree. Giving the strips a few twists so as to form them into a spiral will allow for more movement by the wind. To allow for maximum movement of the strips, attach them to the branch with cotton string two to three inches long. Use cotton string that will rot in a year so as not to girdle the branch.


   Harlequin Beetle Alert   

    Harlequin beetles are already feeding on the leaves of plants. As their population can multiply rapidly, start checking the foliage of your plants now; they are not fussy as to what they feed on. Look for them in the morning before temperatures rise. As the day warms, they will migrate into the more shaded areas. Early on, you can control them manually by either squishing them with your fingers or drowning them in water containing dish detergent or vinegar.


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

10 tips to keep you catching

Chumming is one of the simplest ways to catch your limit of nice rockfish on light tackle. It involves a minimum of fuel, since you’re fishing anchored, and that helps cover the cost for the chum and bait. It is also an excellent way for anyone of any experience to tangle with the Bay’s premier gamefish.
    Hang the chum bag over the stern and cast out a few rods with chunks of menhaden on your hooks, weighted down by two-ounce sinkers. Then wait for the bite. It’s a simple formula and a recipe for some great action. That is ... until it isn’t.
    By mid-summer our rockfish will become somewhat accustomed to the presence of the chumming fleets, often as large as 30 to 40 vessels, all streaming ground-up menhaden into Bay waters and fishing with pieces of menhaden. Many of the smarter (and usually larger) fish will have become wise to the anglers on the other end of the line.
    Simple variations on customary chumming techniques can often give you an edge when the fish are getting finicky.
    1.    Use the very freshest bait. If you can get menhaden (alewife or bunker, same fish) netted the night before, you will out-catch anyone using older or frozen bait. Grinding your own fresh menhaden over the side will also attract more and better fish.
    2.    Chunking fresh menhaden (cutting whole fish into small pieces) and adding them into your chum slick can also increase your setup’s effectiveness. Stripers are school fish. If one fish starts to feed actively on the chunks drifting back, others will eat as well, eventually finding the pieces with your hooks in them.
    3.    Use lighter test, less visible lines and leaders. I like going to 15-pound mono with no more than a 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. Replace your leaders often, as worn leaders are far more noticeable to the fish. It’s one of the little things that can make a big difference.
    4.    Fish lines both close to and far from your boat. Some days the big guys will hang way back in the chum slick, while other days they may be right under you. That can change with the strength of the tidal current.
    5.    Change your sinker weights. The rule is to use as little weight as possible and keep your baits where you want on the bottom. But sometimes we get lazy. Switching out to one-ounce or less when the tides are slow, then gradually increasing the weight as the current increases, can make a real difference.
    6.    If you’re marking fish suspended off the bottom under the boat, they’re probably suspended out behind the boat as well. Though these fish are often not feeding, try dropping a lightly weighted bait a little ways back. Don’t try this with multiple rigs (unless it really starts working) because of the possibility of tangles. Just one rod can often let you know if this is the trick of the day — or not.
    7.    When cutting bait, don’t throw the menhaden heads over the side until the end of your trip. Sooner or later during the season some of the smarter (and bigger) fish will figure out that the heads are always hook free and concentrate on them. Fish a menhaden head as a bait from time to time down deep, and you’ll often be surprised at the size of the fish that eats it.
    8.    Vary your bait sizes and cuts. Try a saddle (the top fillet just behind the head), a side strip or a belly strip as well as the traditional steak or half-steak cut. The linesides can get just as particular (or difficult) as any diner on the Bay.
    9.    Don’t neglect the gut gob in the body cavity of the first cut just behind the head of the menhaden. In the middle of the gob you will find a tough piece of innards (the heart). Pierce the heart with your hook to hold the gob together. You can fish it alone (if it’s cast carefully) or add it onto a piece of menhaden. Either way it will often tempt the most reluctant rockfish to eat.
    10.    Change your baits every 20 minutes, and don’t throw the old whole pieces over the side. Cut them up into smaller portions, then gradually add them to your slick.
    Finally, it doesn’t hurt to flip a shiny penny or two over the stern as an offering to Lady Luck. That trick sometimes works for me.


Support Female Crab Protections

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources has announced the female blue crab season will likely close November 20. This is great news for firmly establishing crabs by ensuring enough females to keep the overall population healthy for the long term.
    However, that date can change. This year’s Winter Dredge Survey ranked the population of juvenile crabs down almost 50 percent from last year. As the number of mature crabs declines with the advancing season, commercial crabbers could lobby to open up the female harvest to protect their incomes.

Composting and PFRP make them safe for your garden

Readers continue to write with concerns about composted biosolids and Bloom. To calm your concerns, I’ll lead you through the processes that make fully treated biosolids safe to use in your food garden.
    Since the early 1980s, thousands of tons of composted biosolids have been sold and used in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area and surrounding states. All made according to EPA and USDA specifications, Compro (biosolids treated at D.C.’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant); Orgro (made at Baltimore Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant); and Earthlife, (made at City of Philadelphia Wastewater Treatment) have been used effectively by home gardeners, landscapers and growers of nursery and greenhouse crops.
    I have been involved in conducting research growing numerous crops using composted biosolids from all three major producers in this region. In addition to ornamentals, I have grown and eaten fruits and vegetables from compost-amended soils. I have reviewed numerous research manuscripts that support the use of biosolids compost in horticulture. Even agronomists who have studied the effects of biosolids and composted biosolids in the production of cattle feed and grain crops have reported no adverse effects when biosolids are used properly.
    To be cleared for composting, biosolids must reach Class A standards. At Class A, all nutrients and heavy metals are below EPA allowable levels. Wastewater facilities submit samples for testing monthly to keep this certification.
    During composting, PFRP (Processed Further to Reduce Pathogens) standards must be achieved, meaning the composting materials are maintained at 150 degrees for 10 consecutive days. Achieving these temperatures is not difficult because at the middle stage of composting temperatures often reach 180 degrees. EPA also requires that equipment used for loading the composting system be independent of the equipment used for moving the finished compost.
    The microorganisms at work in composting are bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes, which destroy organic and even inorganic compounds. Scientists at the Biological Waste Management Laboratory have used composting to destroy PCBs in contaminated soil. I have used composting to destroy dioxins in bleach-contaminated paper-mill sludge.
    The metals of greatest concern are lead and cadmium. Unless the biosolids come from Flint, Michigan, the lead levels in Class A biosolids are far below EPA standards in Compro, Orgro and Earthlife. The same is true for cadmium.
    The system used for making Bloom is even more aggressive. First the biosolids are steam sterilized under pressure; then they are digested by anaerobic organisms, which are more aggressive in destroying compounds than aerobic organisms.
    The roots of plants are selective in what they absorb. Plant roots can only absorb minerals; they do not absorb compounds and chemicals. In soils containing more than three percent organic matter, heavy metals such as lead and cadmium become fixed, thus making them unavailable for absorption. Much of this research was published by Dr. Rufus Chaney, a research scientist of worldwide reputation, at USDA Beltsville. He did most of his lead studies in lead-contaminated soils in Baltimore. I had the honor of working with Dr. Chaney while associated with the Biological Waste Management Laboratory.
    Skeptics who have forwarded warnings against biosolids, please note the distinction between raw biosolids, whose use I do not advocate, and composted and processed further biosolids.

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