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For good sport and good eating, white perch deserve respect

The day was a success from the beginning. Son Harrison and I were on a perch outing, and the very first structure we targeted was rich with sizeable whities. Both of us were fishing six-foot light-action spin rods spooled with six-pound line and baited with one of the most productive lures in our box, spinner baits. Our tackle was constantly being strained to its limits.
    That’s not to say that a big white perch can pop six-pound test line. But fragile mouth structure makes it easy for the bigger fish to tear off if they’re reined in too tight. Plus after an hour or so of working the kind of rocky structures this bantam rooster of the bass family prefers, the thin mono usually accumulates nicks and stress fractures.
    We hadn’t fished together for some time as Harrison’s art career in Baltimore has taken much of his time for the last few years. Today, a Father’s Day promise was being made good — and making an occasion both of us will remember.
    Don’t dismiss white perch as a distant second-best after rockfish. When properly pursued, the species is both sporting and rewarding.
    The most numerous fish in the Bay, white perch are ample from the headwaters at the Susquehanna Flats almost to the ocean. The fish can reach 19 inches long, but in our waters 10 inches is usually tops, making an 11-incher a lunker, a 12 a-once-a-year occasion even for a devotee, and a fish 13 inches or over a Maryland citation and cause for extreme celebration.
    Despite its size, the white perch is also a sportfish in the best sense of the term. Its unguarded willingness to attack virtually any variation of lure and a wide variety of live baits makes it available to even the most inexperienced angler. When hooked, it gives an outsized performance in its bid for freedom. There is no minimum size or possession limit on white perch.
    The scarcity of fish over 10 inches makes the pursuit of the big guys a challenge, and the methods to target them are many. The primary strategy is a lot of throwbacks.
    Like-sized perch tend to school together, but concentrations most always include at least one big lurker. Employing larger-sized Super Rooster Tails or similar spinner baits in one-sixth, one-quarter and even the one-half-ounce sizes (or No. 12 Tony Accetta spoons) gives you a better chance at the bigger ones. Throwing Rat-L-Traps in the one-quarter-ounce sizes (with one of the treble hook shafts clipped off) can eliminate most midgets, giving your bait a better chance of finding a thick black back.
    Fishing areas that are out of the way or difficult to navigate is also a strategy for lunkers. Small creeks and tidal ponds with very shallow access and deeper backwaters discourage both commercial netters and sport anglers with lesser determination. So these can harbor some really big fish.
    In the deeper channels of more open waters, bouncing a small jighead trailing a three-inch or longer strip-bait cut from the belly of a perch or spot can be effective. Only the bigger fish can inhale the whole bait and get the hook, and the belly strips are tough and can withstand multiple strikes before they have to be replaced.
    At the end of the day, however, no matter what size fish you’ve caught, rolled in Panko flakes and fried in an inch or so of hot peanut oil, a crispy white perch fillet is the finest treat on the Bay.

Vertical mulch with Bloom

A mature tree not only increases the value of your home but also offers shade during these hot days of summer, thus reducing the cost of air-conditioning. Trees also provide branches for hanging swings and places for birds to nest and perch.
    However, your surrounding lawn does not provide the best conditions for keeping mature shade trees healthy. Soil compaction is often a problem, as foot traffic, riding mowers and often other vehicles compact the soil surrounding the roots.
    Fertilizing the lawn does not feed trees. Turf grasses are heavy feeders on nutrients, leaving little to nothing for the deeper roots of trees. Apply an excess of fertilizer under shade trees, and you are likely making the turf susceptible to diseases.  
    Fertilizer tree spikes don’t help much, either, as research shows they fertilize primarily the surrounding grasses. Deep-root feeder probes often go too deep as they’re designed to prevent the fertilizer solution from bubbling to the surface.
    There is a better way.
    In the early 1980s, the University of Maryland installed a water feature in the center of the campus mall. During its construction, heavy equipment compacted the soil beneath the canopy of willow oaks lining the mall. Within one year, the trees went into severe decline, with large branches dying.
    To save the trees, I augered hundreds of four-inch diameter holes 10 inches to a foot deep at two-inch intervals. We packed the holes tightly with LeafGro. Next spring, the trees were producing lush new growth on many of the dying branches. By mid summer, we could see that the treatment had made a difference.
    The University repeated my treatment every seven to eight years. Thirty years later, the trees are still thriving.
    The treatment was so successful that I was invited to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where the construction of a new library had damaged mature southern red oaks. Since the red oaks were widely scattered, I varied the system by using a trencher and dug four-inch-wide and 12-inch-deep trenches in a wagon wheel fashion around each tree. The trenches started 10 feet from each trunk and extended beyond the drip line of the branches. Mixed in equal proportions with composted yard debris, soil from each trench was used to fill them to grade. All of the treated trees resumed normal growth within two years.
    Just prior to presenting my research finding at the National Arborist Association, I named the process “vertical mulching.” Many arborists from across the country have since used it successfully.  
    Within a year after moving to Deale, I vertically mulched two large cherry bark oak trees that were declining in vigor. Using a six-inch power auger, I drilled holes 10 to 12 inches deep at three-foot intervals, then filled them with LeafGro. I have repeated the treatment every seven to eight years.
    This year I vertically mulched using Bloom with fantastic results.  My 150- to 200-year-old cherry bark oak trees are not only covered with dark green leaves but also with longer new growth than ever before. The lawn beneath the canopy of branches is better than ever, though I have not applied a drop of fertilizer in more than 10 years. Because it is cut tall and let fall, the grass clippings surrounding each hole filled with Bloom have fertilized the soil between the holes. The lawn in the shade of the trees is a uniform green and growing just as fast as the grasses near the augered holes.
    I continue to be awed by the plant-growth responses I am observing from different uses of Bloom — the superior soil conditioner produced at Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Facility from Class A biosolids.


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

But when half of all crabs are ­harvested each year, we’ve got to work to keep the population steady

After almost three decades of effort, Maryland’s treasured Chesapeake Bay crustacean, the blue crab, has achieved a major scientific benchmark. The number of spawning females has at last reached the minimum target level for optimum species viability: 215 million sooks.
    The 2017 Winter Dredge Survey put the female population at well over the minimum, 254 million, an impressive 31 percent increase from the prior year. This is an important moment, as just four years ago (and five years prior to that), the female crab population had been ­driven to dangerous, even population-collapse, levels.
    Only relatively recently has the female blue crab population been recognized as key to maintaining sustainable levels of our beautiful (and delicious) swimmers. Females were once assumed (by regulators and scientists) to spawn only once in their lives. Hence, when mature, they could be harvested without consequence. That assumption proved false.
    The one hiccup in this year’s accomplishment was the accompanying news that juvenile crabs had inexplicably nosedived by 54 percent. The blue crab is known for fluctuating numbers and varying spawning successes, so this is not a necessarily alarming happenstance. However, these early low numbers will have a definite impact on commercial crabbers later this year, and most certainly the next, when these crabs reach ­harvest size.
    To protect overall numbers, the Maryland, Virginia and Potomac River Fisheries Commission has proposed shortening the crabbing season and imposing stricter bushel limits on female crabs. No changes to male crab limits were proposed.
    Both Maryland and Virginia will have to decide this month on actions and restrictions to protect and stabilize the general crab population. The very real danger is the possibility that Maryland may once again expand the currently limited female harvest to cover the shortfall of males for commercial watermen. (Recreational harvest of females has been outlawed.)
    The legal season for harvesting blue crabs can run into December, but Maryland Department of Natural Resources has ended the season early upon reaching its targeted harvest levels. Last year’s season ended Nov. 30. The year before, Nov. 19. Each year almost 50 percent of all blue crabs in the Bay are harvested.
    This is the first year since record keeping began that we have reached the minimum female target level for species viability. As blue crabs spawn from May through October, this will also be the first of record with an adequate female population providing for growth.
    The commercial sector has been lobbying hard for changes that would increase their incomes, most notably keeping the legal size for jimmies at five inches instead of five and one-fourth inches. Will females be the next target?
    The excessive harvest of female crabs is the odds-on suspect in the many crab population crises that have occurred cyclically throughout the history of crab management.
    The blue crab deserves to be regulated for overall population health.

Don’t over-handle your onions

Onions are bulbing. Disturbing the plants now will reduce the storage life of the bulbs. Keeping your onion patch free of weeds is important, but from now until harvest you’ll want to weed by hand. An onion hoe may damage bulbs.
    The keeping quality of onions depends on strong and healthy plants. So you should irrigate your onions in drought. Since onions are generally shallow rooted, they should receive a minimum of one inch of water each week. I irrigate my onions twice weekly if we don’t get adequate rain. Use a rain gauge near your garden rather than depending on weather reports to measure precipitation.
    As soon as the majority of the onion tails turn yellow-brown-green, use the back of a steel rake to knock the tops down horizontal to the ground. Allow the tops to soften and start turning yellow-brown before harvesting.
    For maximum storage life, never remove onion skins from the bulbs. The outer layer reduces the transpiration rate of the bulbs, extending their storage life.
    I braid most of my onions, allowing the bulbs to remain attached to the tops. For storage, I hang them in an open garage, in the shade. The onions with the smallest necks are the best keepers and should be saved for later use. The first onions you should eat are those with fat necks, for they have a shorter shelf life.
    The bulbs of braided onions should be separated by gently pulling without disturbing the outer skin of the other onions.
    I store unbraided onions in small baskets hung from the ceiling of the garage. This allows air to circulate through the onions, minimizing rot problems. Check the baskets of onions every two to three weeks and remove any onions that are softening.


More about Bloom

Q    I really like the results I am seeing using Bloom after reading your article. Should I be concerned about heavy metals coming thru to be absorbed in my vegetable garden produce?

–Jan Fergus, via email

A  Bloom is a class A biosolid. Class A biosolids do not contain heavy metals. Today 85 percent of all biosolids generated in the U.S. are class A. The only heavy metals we are concerned with are lead and cadmium. Metals such as iron, copper, zinc, ­nickel, chromium and manganese are essential plant nutrients or needed by soil organisms.

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

Our battle against heavy winds, stalled tide and slack current paid off

Small-craft advisories and a forecast of 15- to 20-knot winds made canceling our planned outing a no-brainer. For those who chose to disregard the warnings, however, that day proved to be a placid beauty with five-knot winds, a slight overcast and a red-hot rockfish bite almost all day long off Hackett’s Bar.
    Re-assembling the next day, this time for promises of a five-knot westerly breeze and a strong falling tide, we motored out of Sandy Point and headed south. I had shoo-shooed my buddy Moe into leaving his foul weather gear in his truck (“no rain possible,” said I), only to have him inform me, a bit after we came up on plane, that he was getting drenched from bow spray.
    That westerly breeze had turned into a wind. I had to stop and give him my stowed waterproof, perhaps about 10 minutes too late. Remaining in the lee of the nearby Western Shore for the journey south, we were going to be in for a rough day.
    Throttling down and cruising out past the green can at Hackett’s and into the chumming fleet anchored there, we marked no fish. Continuing on our southerly heading, within a half mile we encountered a few promising marks on the finder. They were scattered fish, probably stripers, though I was unsure of their size.
    Setting our anchor in 35 feet of water, we swung with the wind, pointing our stern at the Eastern Shore. The full-moon high tide was to have peaked at 6am that morning. Since we launched about two hours later, I was sure we would have a firm, outgoing current.
    Dropping the chum bag over the stern proved me wrong, as the chum sank straight down. We baited and cast our rigs only to watch as the lines listlessly drifted back to the boat.
    Rockfish are generally loath to bite on a slack tide. We were stalled at full flood with no discernible current, the wind sending an occasional wave slapping chop over our stern. The over-sized bilge pump, intended for just such a situation, kept us safe and dry. But the hull buck and the side-to-side rock made it hard to keep an eye on our rods.
    The situation was not good. It was too early to quit and go home, but the wind gave no sign of laying down. Our only hope was to wait for the tide to fall, which might get the fish feeding. An hour later, we were still waiting.
    Then I noticed a rod tip bouncing a bit more enthusiastically than the others. Picking up the rig, I felt some life at the other end. Since the conditions were so abominable, I glanced back at my finder screen to see what possibly could be down there. Holy moly!
    The screen was lit up like the Fourth of July. What that school of rockfish was doing there I have no idea. They might have wandered right under the boat and encountered the falling chum. Or we had somehow blundered upon their favorite lair. In any case, below us was a crowd with marks of all sizes. We were into one fish after ­another for the better part of an hour.
    A goodly number were schoolies that proceeded to delight in seizing a bait from under the boat and screaming off to filch it at a distance or to suddenly drop it out of perfidy. There were, however, a few in the 24- to 29-inch range that encountered the sharp, 5/0 hooks and were eventually wrestled on board.
    Then, mysteriously, that wretched wind died, the seas calmed and the crazy bite was over. With a lovely limit of fat stripers on ice we pulled the anchor and headed home over now-gentle waters.

Even with compost you can overdo it

Recently a Bay Weekly reader complained she could not grow cauliflower or broccoli. The plants grew big and lush but never produced edible heads — all this despite the large amount of compost she added to her garden soil each year.
    My response was too much of a good thing. Compost is a good source of not only long-lasting fiber but also slow-release nutrients. For every percent of organic matter in soil, an acre of soil generates 10 pounds of nitrogen each year. If your soil contains five percent organic matter, that translates to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year.
    Growing a good crop generally requires between 100 to 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. If your soil contains 12 percent organic matter, you should not have to apply any nitrogen fertilizer to achieve optimum plant growth — providing all other nutrients are present at optimum levels. If your garden soil contains 15 percent organic matter or more, plants are likely to produce super-lush growth. Leafy plants such as lettuce, cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard, celery and fennel should produce bumper crops. Cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and okra will likely produce large vigorous plants but limited fruit.
    This same problem occurs when you apply too much nitrogen fertilizer. Several years ago a Bay Weekly reader complained that his tomato plants grew like trees but hardly produced any tomatoes. As I was not able to diagnose the problem, based on our discussion over the telephone, I invited him to Upakrik Farm and requested he bring the bags of fertilizer he used. He brought a bag of 10-10-10 and a bag of urea. He said he used urea and not calcium nitrate as I had recommended in one of my Bay Gardener articles because the store manager said calcium nitrate was not available but urea would substitute. Urea contains 45.5 percent nitrogen while calcium nitrate only contains 15.5 percent nitrogen. In other words, the excessive amount of nitrogen from the urea caused the tomato plants to remain vegetative rather than producing fruit.
    Monitoring organic matter content in your soil is another good reason for having periodic soil tests, which also measure pH and nutrient levels.


Are Strawberries Perennial?

Q If you want to get several years of picking strawberries from the same plants, would you leave them alone after picking or would you mow the top leaves off? I know that the commercial guys plow them under each year and replant for the next year, but I had a decent crop this year and hate to till them in.

–Frederic Ames, Shady Side

A    The traditional method of growing strawberries is to rototill under the mother plants, leaving the daughter plants to produce next year’s crop. By doing so, the same bed can produce berries for three to four consecutive years. However, crown mites, often called cyclamin mites, cause crop failure on the fourth year.


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

Biosolids are safe for food ­production; here’s why

Since I became involved in composting biosolids in the early 1970s, technology for processing wastewater has undergone major changes. Back then, most wastewater treatment facilities had only primary or secondary treatment technology. At the same time, industries were dumping all kinds of waste into sewer systems.
    The Clean Water Act promoted by president Lyndon Johnson led to major changes that now enable us to convert solid waste into usable products while returning more carbon to the earth. The act stopped wastewater dumping into our streams, lakes, Bay and oceans. It established a Biological Waste Management Laboratory managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. Studying the science of composting, this laboratory has developed efficient composting systems.
    The Clean Water Act also mandated that wastewater be returned clean to our waterways. Wastewater processing facilities were upgraded to secondary and tertiary systems. Tertiary systems not only return crystal clear water but also generate biosolids that are classified Class A, meaning they can be used to produce agricultural crops.
    The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., is the largest plant using the world’s most advanced water treatment technology. Blue Plains processes 300 million gallons of wastewater each day and generates 450 wet tons of biosolids.
    The biosolids are heat-treated to 350 degrees under 87 pounds pressure per square inch. Then they’re infused with active anaerobic microorganisms, and the material moves into the digester. Anaerobic microorganisms are more aggressive in digesting organic carbon compounds than the aerobic microorganisms active in composting. The biosolids remain in the digester for 18 days before filter presses remove excess water.
    The end product is Bloom, a superior soil conditioner.
    Already self-feeding, its production is moving to energy neutral. The digester generates methane gas, used to cook the biosolids. Blue Plains is also installing solar panels over the sludge activators to reduce operating costs.
    Within three years, similar systems will be operating across the country.
    Advanced wastewater treatment and biosolid digestion are only part of the reason you can now safely use processed biosolids in producing food crops. Hard pesticides such as DDT and Chlordane have long been eliminated from use. Pesticides in home use have limited shelf life and are biodegradable. Along with pharmaceuticals, they are destroyed by microbial systems and by the heat.
    Because iron sulfate is added to precipitate the phosphorus from the water, Bloom is not 100 percent organic under current guidelines.
    Bloom is now sold at Homestead Gardens.


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

While not a beautiful swimmer, the channel catfish provides the sweetest flesh a seafood fanatic can hope for

Pulling on my weather gear, I headed out in the morning gloom to hook up the skiff. The forecast was poor, but I had cabin fever and had to get out on the water.
    The white perch were up the trib shallows, I felt sure, and there is no better cure for poor weather than the promise of a good perch fry that evening. Now all I needed was the fish.
    Taking my lightest rods and an ample supply of Rooster Tails and Captain Bert’s spinner baits, I splashed my boat at the local ramp, double-checked my gear and headed out. I was the lone boat to launch that morning. Either I knew something that no one else did, or vice versa. It kinda turned out versa vice, but in the end it worked out.
    It took almost an hour to get the first fish. They weren’t hanging on the shoreline, as I had assumed, but were almost 25 yards out, scattered across the flats. A nine-incher started the game off, and I slipped it back over the side as too small. I soon regretted that move.
    The next fish was about five inches, the next six, and for about a half hour they stayed in that range. Then I lost a good one, at least it had felt like a good one. By then the sky was hanging heavy and the forecast for a day in the 70s looked like so much meteorological wishful thinking. I was getting uncomfortable, and the wind was freshening.
    Perch anywhere near frying size insisted on not showing up. But I persisted. With no Plan B, I did not have much choice. Throwing in the towel and heading in for a hot shower and a hotter cup of tea was crowding my options more than I cared to admit.
    Then my luck changed. At the end of a long cast, I got a firm take, a very firm take. The sound of a singing drag and a rod bent over to the corks, even on a light rod, can give a guy an instant lift, which is exactly what happened.
    You can’t really have a slam-bang battle with six-pound mono and a five-foot spin rod. But the fight can be as tense as any struggle with a trophy rockfish when dinner and the success of the day are at stake. As the fish surged one way then another, a notion took hold.
    If it was a big perch, then it was a really big one. The fish had not come closer in over five minutes of give and take. Plus, I doubted that a giant whitey would be lurking with all those throwbacks. If it was a striper it could mean trouble. It felt substantial, but I feared it would not be over the 20-inch minimum.
    On the other hand, even though it consistently took drag, it did not make a rockfish’s traditional long run in the three-foot depths of the flat. There was a lot of head shaking going on, and the fish stayed deep and fought in short, brutal rushes.
    Eventually the scrapper neared the boat, and I reached for the net. Through the dim, rain-stained waters I caught the first glimpse of my antagonist, a long golden flank flashed through the murk. I was overjoyed.
    The channel catfish is not a beautiful swimmer. It is, however, substantially constructed of firm flesh of the sweetest tooth a seafood fanatic can aspire to. Its tough, rubbery mouth, once punctured by a hook’s barb, does not often slip free. I was pretty sure this one was coming in the boat.
    As I deposited the fat, struggling 21-inch beauty in my fish box, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had my fish fry.
    To affirm that, within another 15 minutes the Chesapeake gave me a twin of the first fish, another fat golden channel cat. There would be enough for company.

Break the rules and root vegetables won’t grow

A Bay Weekly reader complained that most of the carrots, radishes, turnips and salsify he harvested from last year’s garden had branched roots. My immediate diagnosis was that he must have added a lot of compost to the soil before planting. When root crops are planted in soil rich in freshly applied compost, they tend to produce branched and fibrous roots.
    According to his description, he had applied only two wheelbarrows of compost to a garden approximately 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. Since most wheelbarrow tubs hold between two and three bushels, that amount of compost should not have caused the problem.
    I next asked what kind of compost. LeafGro, he said, incorporated into the soil with a rototiller. Had he had his soil tested? Yes, and I had made recommendations for him based on spring soil tests.
    Stumped so far, I asked how he planted his garden. As soon as he told me that he had sown all of the seedlings in trays and transplanted them in the garden, the problem was solved. Direct sowing is recommended on the seed packets, but he wanted all of his seedlings evenly spaced so that he would have perfect rows.
    Never, never, never transplant root crops. Seeds of carrots, parsnips, salsify, radish, beets, turnips, rutabaga, etc., should always be sown directly into the garden soil. Any disturbance to the roots once the seeds have germinated will cause branching.
    A couple of years ago, another Bay Weekly reader said he could no longer grow carrots and parsnips in his garden. Since he lived in Deale, I stopped by his home and walked into the garden. I sharpened a half-inch diameter piece of broom handle and tried to push the sharpened end into the soil. Four inches was as far as it would go.
    I asked what he used to till the soil. He showed me the Mantis tiller he had used to prepare this same garden bed for at least a dozen years. That was the problem. Repeated tilling had formed a plow-pan, a compacted layer of soil caused by the bottom pressure of the tines of the tiller. Farmers have the same problem from repeated use of plows.
    To solve his problem I recommended that he apply three to four cubic yards of LeafGro per 1,000 square feet and rent a hefty rototiller with six to eight horsepower. After spreading the compost evenly over the garden area, he was to set the tiller to dig as deeply as possible. Soil testing told him what else was needed to make plants grow better.


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

In May, it could be full of worms

The second rockfish season opened just days ago to mock my expectations of another great fishing year.
    Day one saw me headed to just below the Bay Bridge Western Shore rockpile, where the fishing had been gangbusters on the opener the last two years. Finding a dozen or so boats scattered there did not bother me. That early bite had been no secret, and I saw good marks on my finder throughout the area.
    Anchoring up, dropping my chum bag over the side and baiting up with some fresh menhaden chunks, I awaited certain action … and waited and waited. All around me for over two hours others were doing the same before leaving one by one.
    Finally, I too pulled anchor and searched south until arriving at Hackett’s green can, where another fleet of boats was holding steady. Despite good fish marking all around me, I found another slack bite there, too. My best effort was a 19-inch throwback. I saw no other fish caught.
    Day two, partnering with my regular sidekick, Moe, we tried again at Hackett’s. Moe’s uncanny luck held out as he landed a nice 25-inch fish within the first hour. I managed to score only a fat blue catfish, my first from the Bay. Then the action died. We held out until slack water but it did not resume.
    Day three I partnered with another long-time fishing buddy, Mike, who suggested a better spot, south of Hackett’s.
    This time we pulled out all of the stops. Anchoring in 35 feet of water, we put a chum bag at the surface behind the boat and another weighted bag about 20 feet down. Starting out with big chunks of menhaden on 5/0 hooks with two-ounce sinkers, we also presented medium-sized chunks, small chunks and gut balls, all down deep. Within the first half-hour, I had a good fish hooked up.
    The 27-incher was game the whole way to the boat, and I let the scrapper do its stuff. Patiently waiting for it to tire, I drew the reluctant fish toward the side until Mike finally slipped the net under it.
    After a picture to verify my official entry into the second season, I then iced it down in the skiff’s cooler, all the while imagining its filets, browned in butter with just a sprinkle of lemon juice and dill. Within the next half-hour Mike broke his season in with a fat 22-incher that gave a distinct impression of a much larger fish all the way to the net.
    Our intense effort included frequently changing baits and cutting the changed-out baits into smaller pieces to add the chum slick. Its third victim was a twin of my first. As Mike netted it and it lay thrashing on the deck, the solution to the recent days’ slow bite was revealed. The fish started spitting up May worms.
    May worm hatches are the curse of the rockfish bite this time of year. Resembling miniature bloodworms, the worms live in the oyster lumps and the shell-strewn bottom of the Chesapeake until they rise up en masse during May, and often into June, in their mating dance. All a rockfish has to do is open its mouth wide and swim through the thick underwater clouds of worms to easily swallow hundreds of the protein-rich little critters.
    With their appetites satisfied, most rockfish then continue to hold in loose schools and casually loiter, awaiting the next worm feast. Meanwhile, boatloads of eager anglers float about on the surface trying to get their attention.
    Mike hit our limit an hour before noon with the biggest of the day, a fat fish just a hair under 28 inches.