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Their clock is set to the dogwoods

My first cast met with instant success and, as my slim rod bent down, a flashing, silver missile erupted vertically in the middle of the stream, arced over, splashed down and then grayhounded across the roiling current. Hickory shad had returned.
    I knew it was time earlier that morning when I saw the first signs of dogwood blooms in my front yard. With their emergence the hickories had to be on their way.
    Collecting some shad darts in bright colors and some small three-way swivels as well as a couple of bobbers, I chose my two favorite five-foot spin rods and a pair of warm neoprene boots and set off for the upper Choptank on the Eastern Shore.
    Hickory shad arrive each spring to spawn throughout the Bay’s tributaries, with some returning multiple times in their 10-year lifespan. The harvest of all shad and river herring (a close cousin) has been prohibited in Maryland since 1981, as their population has declined due to unwise agricultural practices, urban development and damming. Catch and release, however, is allowed, as cool water temperatures keep the mortality rates low.
    About an hour later I was rewarded by another good fish, and soon another. As the sun warmed the waters, the bite improved. By mid-afternoon I had notched a rewarding number. The best one, an estimated 20-incher, gave me six nice jumps before it came unbuttoned. Hickory shad is one of the more sporting fish that visits the Chesapeake.

Catching Them
    My technique of fishing a pair of shad darts linked by a three-way swivel 18 inches below my bobber is a site-specific rig, chosen to keep the darts just off of the rocky, shallow river bottom and to hold the lures free from snags. Generally it is best to fish the darts — two always seem to draw strikes much better than one — bobber free so you’re able to explore the deeper waters where these fish also lurk. The hook wire on the shad darts is pliable enough to bend back to the proper shape, so be sure you do, otherwise you’ll not be able to keep a fish on your line for more than a second or so.
    I prefer one-sixteenth- to one-eighth-ounce black-tipped orange or chartreuse shad darts, dressed with yellow or white calf tail. But a one-eighth-ounce curly tail jig in bright green is also popular on the Choptank.
    An 18-inch hickory shad is a big one. Four-pound test line is plenty, but six-pound allows the additional luxury of prying a rock-fouled dart off by pulling hard enough to bend the hook.
Spring Fishing Extra
    This time of year you may also encounter late-run white perch and early-run rockfish. The stripers must be released in all rivers, no matter what their size, until June 1. White perch, however, can be kept for the table and are absolutely delicious, with no minimum size or catch limit.

A successful harvest depends on the right bulbs for our hours of light

Onions are good for your health, and generally they are easy to grow. Let me give you some advice on growing them successfully.
    Plant onion sets and you’ll harvest only green onions. Most sets you buy are short-day onions, which produce bulbs only when grown during the winter months with 10 daylight hours or less. Planted in the spring, as daylight hours grow longer, they produce only onion tails, your green onions.
    To grow onion bulbs, you must buy either long-day or intermediate, aka day-neutral, onions. They are shipped in bundles of 75 or more seedlings. Unless you are familiar with a particular variety, I suggest planting two or more varieties. Harvesting will be easier if you keep each separate in the garden, as they’ll mature at different times.
    Onions perform best in high organic soils with a nearly neutral pH.
    The spacing between onion plants is based on the mature bulb size. The most desirable bulb size for kitchen use is one and a half to two and a half inches. For those sizes, use a four-by-four-inch spacing. Bermuda and Walla Walla-size onions need more space; plant them in six-by-six-inch spacing. Those spacings allow room for the bulbs to grow and for you to cultivate between the plants without damaging the bulbs.
    Fertilize two to three weeks after planting and monthly thereafter. Don’t let the soil dry out; onions have a very limited root system, and there is a high population of plants in a limited area.
    Neck rot of onions can be a serious storage problem. Avoid it by knocking the foliage to the ground just as the bulbs begin to mature in late July and August, depending on the variety. Do so as soon as the color of the foliage begins to fade and the tops of the onion tails start turning brown. I use the back of a garden rake.
    Leeks want four-by-four-inch spacing as they do not produce bulbs but do produce thick stems. They have the same growing requirements as onions.
    Garlic planted last fall is now in need of fertilizer. Like onions, garlic plants have a limited root system and respond well to fertilizer and water. Remove the flower buds as they begin to form, mid- to late June, depending on variety. If the garlic plants flower and produce seeds, both bulb and cloves will be smaller. For large cloves of elephant garlic, early removal of the flower stem is doubly important.


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

 

Many will bloom again in your garden, but some are destined for compost

If you received Easter plants, you’ll be able to plant some of them in the garden to enjoy again next year. Others are best recycled by composting them.
    Replant: Potted tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses can be planted in the flower garden. Don’t wait until the plants have died back to the ground. As soon as the flower petals have dropped, transplant them by digging a hole 10 to 12 inches deep, place a couple inches of compost in the bottom of the hole and mix with the existing soil. Carefully remove the root-ball from the container, loosen the layer of roots at the bottom of the root ball and place in the hole. The bottom of the root ball should be at least eight inches below the surface of the soil. Blend one-third by volume compost with the soil removed when digging the hole and carefully backfill around the stems. The bottom of the leaves of the plants should be just above the soil line.
    Many forced Easter lilies are not very cold-hardy. Since the frost seldom penetrates more than six inches in Southern Maryland, the bulbs’ lack of cold-hardiness can be solved by planting them 10 to 12 inches deep. Move the plants outdoors as soon as possible and keep them watered. For maximum effect, plant the bulbs in groups spaced 10 inches apart. If you only have one Easter lily, plant it as described above. If you have many (note that your church likely discards its lilies as soon as they have finished blooming), plant them in trenches. Dig a trench six inches wide and 12 inches deep and blend compost into the bottom soil. Carefully remove the plants from their pots and loosen the bottom roots. Space the plants in the trenches and backfill with soil amended with compost. Don’t worry about covering the bottom leaves with soil. What is important is that the bulbs be planted deep enough that the soil protects them from freezing. Your outdoors Easter lilies will flower next year but not in time for Easter.
    Compost: If you received potted hydrangeas, I highly recommend that you add them to the compost pile. The cultivar of hydrangea used in greenhouses does not have cold-hardy flower buds. If planted outdoors, it will produce attractive plants, but unless we have an extremely mild winter, it will not flower. Hydrangeas for outdoor landscaping are different cultivars.


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

The fish are willing — but is the caster able?

I hung the first rockfish almost an hour into my early-morning effort. The strike wasn’t violent; more a sudden stop followed by a long struggle. I had to put my electric motor into reverse to separate the fish from the structure and bring it onto the side of my boat.
    That fight established the pattern of all the fish I was to catch that day. Each insisted on remaining in one area as opposed to running for deep water. They stayed as close to the bottom as they could. I lost only one, but all the battles were perilous.
    My catch-and-release outing turned into an extended casting effort. The fish on this heavily overcast day were scattered singly among bridge supports, over submerged structures and along docks and jetties in water less than 10 feet deep. It took almost four hours to hang five nice fish.
    If I allowed my skiff to drift in too close, the stripers would either leave or shut off. If I didn’t hold the boat well away from the structure, my chances of drawing a strike were about zero. I had to drop the lure close to whatever structure I was fishing, and I had very few strikes in open water.

Fine-tuning the Caster
    I had rigged up a pair each of casting and spin rigs and armed them with variations of my basic lure, a Bass Assassin on half-ounce jigheads: five-inch Saltwater Shads in four colors, Opening Night, Albino Ghost, Ripper and basic white. Ripper had a strong edge in seducing the bites, though I had a hit or two on just about all the colors.
    I had lost accuracy with winter’s inactivity. Initially my casts tended off target: too short, too long, to one side or the other.
    My effectiveness varied with my equipment.
    With spinning equipment, once I released the throw the cast was done. I was either on or off target.
    With revolving-spool casting rigs, on the other hand, I could make in-flight adjustments by thumbing the spool and changing the trajectory of the bait accordingly, shortening the cast when desired and to a lesser degree moving the lure’s impact right or left. The ability to make those adjustments also depended on quickly shifting my focus from the target to the lure as it flew through its arc. Otherwise, I could never react quickly enough to make the necessary correction.
    About halfway through the morning, I realized that it was the casting I was enjoying. It was satisfying to eventually place the baits just where I wanted them, at long distance and often inches from a concrete pier or just off of a large bolder — particularly with the casting outfits.
    The whirr of the spools was mesmerizing, while comparing casting to spinning made for a more interesting trip. The spin outfits excelled at quick casts to medium distances where pinpoint accuracy was not particularly necessary. The casting outfits were perfect for the more demanding presentations.

Right now it’s catch and release; Trophy season opens April 16

Once again, I heard a story I couldn’t pass up: a concentration of rockfish up to 33 inches. It was my dream setup and perhaps a chance to catch (and release) my first rockfish of the season.
    I was sure of only one thing. I had not dressed warmly enough for the morning. My teeth were chattering and fingers shaking from the chill as well as the anticipation when I threaded the soft plastic tail onto a half-ounce jig head.
    Selecting a five-inch saltwater Bass Assassin that had been productive at the end of last year, I tied it on my fluoro leader and began to explore, fan casting, drifting and hard-twitching the lure just over the bottom.
    A half dozen casts was all it took.
    I was tight to a good fish taking drag and shaking its head while it ran all around my skiff. I had squashed the hook barb flat — per DNR requirements for this time of year — so had to be extra careful not to allow the least bit of slack lest the fish throw my hook. After an extended struggle I finally eased the brawny rascal to the side of my skiff and into the net. Sweet victory.
    Leaving the still-struggling 25-inch striper entrapped in the mesh, I hurried to ready my camera and get a quick picture. Catch and release this time of year rarely causes mortality or even injury to the fish. Still, as soon as I could I slipped it over the side and back into the cold, clear water of the Bay. The fish jetted away, leaving a small cloud of milt in its wake.
    I couldn’t believe my luck. Then four or five casts later I was hooked up again, then again and a few minutes later yet again. Though the bite slacked off within the hour, I managed to scratch out a total of seven excellent fish by 11am, altogether a fantastic day for my maiden rockfish trip.
    On the way back to the ramp I reminded myself that the best fish of the day (the 25-incher) was still 10 inches under the minimum for the coming trophy season. Today, that ­didn’t matter a whit to me. The scrappers that were feeding that morning allegedly had some bigger cousins nearby. If they continue to hold and feed in that general area, I may have an excellent chance to score a trophy rock come opening day on April 16.

In spring, feed your soil — not your grass

Warm-season grasses, including Zoysia and Bermuda grass, should be banned from Chesapeake lawns. They cause nothing but problems. Lawns planted with these grasses have to be fed monthly May through August with high-nitrogen fertilizers. They must be sprayed yearly with restricted-use pesticides to control billbugs and other insects. They must be mowed close to the ground, so they often become infested with weeds, which requires the frequent use of herbicides. The clippings must be collected and the lawn dethatched.
    Warm-season grasses are green during the summer months and yellowish-brown in fall and winter. Some homeowners go so far as to spray them with Greenzite in late fall to make them more attractive.
    For the best Chesapeake country lawns, plant bluegrass and fescue.
    Bay soil is better suited for growing cranberries and blueberries than for grass. If you want a lush weed-free lawn next year, late April and early May is when to take action.
    If you haven’t had your soil tested in the past five years, it is likely that you will have to lime your soil. Soil in the Bay area tends to be very acidic. When you apply lawn fertilizers on acid soils, the chances are great that much of the nutrients from the fertilizers will either be washed into the Bay or into the groundwater. If you want your lawn to be dark green and dense, this is the time to apply limestone — not fertilizer.
    Lawn grasses grow best on soils that are only moderately acid. It is not uncommon to find soils in the Bay area having a pH of 4.2 to 4.5. Since a pH of 7 is neutral, this means that such soils are very acid and would be ideal for growing cranberries and blueberries — if we had the proper climatic conditions.
    By applying limestone now, you’ll neutralize your soil, bringing it closer to the ideal pH for growing lawns, between 6.0 and 6.5. In this pH range, all of the nutrients essential for good plant growth are available to the roots of the grasses. In turn, fertilizers you may apply in fall — which is the best time to fertilize bluegrass and fescue lawns — will be effectively utilized by the grasses.
    Soil testing is the only sure way to determine the amount and kind of limestone to apply. If you don’t want to take the time to have your soil tested, then apply between 50 and 80 pounds of dolomitic limestone per 1,000 square feet. Do not use hydrated or high-calcium limestone, since most of our soils are deficient in magnesium, and dolomitic limestone contains magnesium.
    If you live near the Bay, you should not be using weed killers. Matter of fact, weed killers for lawns should be outlawed. Not only are they unnecessary and expensive, they contribute to the pollution of the Bay.
    Working with herbicides almost continuously since 1958, I have respect for them and their responsible use. But the application of weed-and-feed fertilizers is an irresponsible use of both herbicides and fertilizers.
    The time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control crabgrass, dandelions and other broadleaf weeds is within two to three weeks following petal drop of forsythia: no later than early May in the Bay area. Applying weed-and-feed fertilizer earlier means that by the time the crabgrass starts to germinate, the pre-emergent herbicide will have become ineffective.
    Applying fertilizer to a bluegrass or fescue lawn late in the spring means that you will be promoting soft, succulent growth that will be susceptible to disease. Then you will have to purchase a fungicide to control the diseases you caused by applying the fertilizer too late in the spring.
    If only a few weeds are growing in your lawn, why apply a weed-and-feed fertilizer over the entire lawn? I have yet to see a decent lawn that needs a weed-and-feed fertilizer treatment.
    If the lawn is nothing but weeds, it is time to start over in August or September. No amount of weed-and-feed fertilizer can reclaim a neglected lawn.

To Test Your Soil
    Send soil samples for testing to Waypoint Analytical (formerly A&L) in Richmond. Full instructions for testing are online: www.soilandplantlaboratory.com/services/soilsampling.aspx.
    If your soil is a sandy loam or loamy sand, have it tested for all trace elements, especially boron (B). However, if your soil is a loam, silt or clay loam, the general soil test will suffice.
    If you have been growing multiple crops each year, you most likely will need to apply limestone. If you want me to make recommendations, don’t specify a crop (a savings of $3 to $5) and include my email so I’ll get your results: dr.frgouin@gmail.com.


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

Some days, it isn’t the fish that count

Sometimes nothing goes right, and it just doesn’t seem to matter. The original plan was to start out at tide fall. According to the charts, that meant about 11am at the mouth of the Magothy. But of course it was closer to one o’clock when Mike, Dale and I finally launched my skiff.
    The high tide, we noticed, was stalled, but perhaps ready to fall as we stowed our gear and motored out into the river channel. Intending to methodically work every area where we had ever found fish on the Magothy, we started right there. Marking small schools holding on the bottom, we presented minnows and bloodworms for almost an hour. No takers.
    This was the first trip of the season for Dale, though Mike and I had been out. We all knew that the likelihood of finding fish was questionable. It was a bit late for yellow perch and early for the whites.
    Soldiering on, we fished up the river in familiar-looking locales. At first we blamed our lack of success on the absence of tidal current, then the lack of grass shrimp (we only had bloodworms, minnows and butter worms), followed by the fickleness of spawning perch and the time of day (mid-day is the least productive period).
    Since denigrating each other is an alternative sport when things aren’t going right, we eventually speculated on the presence of a Jonah. Named after the Biblical Jonah, swallowed by the whale, and ever since identified with bad luck on the water.
    Moving upriver, we fished all the way to Beachwood Park, where it was obvious from the many listless anglers along the shoreline that no one was catching fish. Our luck remained stalled — as did, incidentally, the tidal current.
    Dale and I were about to bestow the Jonah on Mike when he hooked up with a fat and feisty yellow perch, which he battled to the side of the boat. Consumed by envy, Dale and I were relieved when the ned spit the hook as Mike tried to derrick it into the boat.
    He explained that he had purposely freed the perch out of concern for our self-esteem. We loudly protested that preposterous claim. Then Mike went on to hook a small sunfish, then a pickerel — at which point his luck and his boasting grew unbearable.
    Dale and I were conferring aloud on the best way to heave him overboard when I happened to glance at my watch. Already it was 5pm, and Mike had promised his wife that he would meet her for dinner at that hour.
    We persuaded all of our spouses, who had been patiently waiting for our return, to join us at a waterfront restaurant halfway down the Magothy River on Mill Creek. It would take them, we hoped, as long to get there as it would our skiff.
    Dinner was delicious and the adult beverages especially welcome and warming after the chill of the late-afternoon run. Mike, Dale and I entertained our dinner companions by trying to convince them just how one lost yellow perch, a tiny sunfish and a barely legal pickerel constituted a fantastic fishing trip. They believed us. It was obvious we’d had a great day on the water.

Great for tight spaces or poor soil

A couple of years ago, I initiated a demonstration on growing vegetables in bales of straw using organic fertilizer and chemical. My test consisted of preparing the bales in two ways. On one, I applied three pounds of 4-3-4 Holy Tone Organic. On another, 2.5 cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer. I kept both bales wet until their internal temperatures were equal to those of ambient air.
    Temperatures in the bales treated with 4-3-4 organic fertilizer reached 120 degrees within days. Temperatures in the bales treated with 10-10-10 fertilizer required at least a week before reaching 110 degrees. All of the bales appeared to show signs of decay, with and inky cap and shaggy mushrooms growing on all.
    After the temperatures within the bales dropped to ambient air temperatures, I seeded the bales with kale, as I conducted my test in autumn. All of the bales produced an abundance of kale; there did not appear to be any differences with regards to yield. However, the kale growing in the bales of straw were not as vigorous as those growing in the nearby garden.
    Soon after minimum temperatures dropped to below 28 degrees. All of the plants growing in straw died. Those growing in the garden continued to produce eddible leaves of kale, which we continued to harvest most of the winter. Come spring of 2015, the kale in the garden resumed growth while the kale grown in the bales of straw was dead.
    Last June, I amended the straw bales treated with Holytone organic 4-3-4 with another pound and a half. I amended each straw bale, initially treated with 10-10-10, with another 1.75 cups. After watering the fertilizers thoroughly, I transplanted one Roma tomato and one Accent Sweet pepper into each bale. The plants were irrigated daily until they appeared to be well established as evident by the rapid growth. From that point on the plants were irrigated twice weekly in the absence of rain.
    The tomato plants quickly outgrew the pepper plants, resulting in only one pepper plant surviving. It did not produce any peppers. The Roma tomato plants produced an abundance of tomatoes in all straw bales regardless of the fertilizer treatment. The editor of Bay Weekly will verify the results because she was invited to harvest the tomatoes for canning.
    By September, all of the bales had shrunk to only a few inches thick with many of the roots of the tomato plants penetrating the landscape fabric placed beneath them at the beginning of the demonstration. The remaining residues of straw went to the compost pile.
    Yes, you can grow tomatoes and peppers as well as kale in bales of straw — providing you plant only one species per bale and not try to grow a variety of plants in such a confined space. The most vigorous species will dominate and crowd out the less vigorous species. Each bale will give you two crops.


Grass and Clover

Q    I have a raised vegetable garden I made last year. Over the winter some grass and clover blew in and is growing pretty good. Would it be better to spade or plow the weeds in the soil, or should I pull them out completely before I plant this summer’s crop?

–Dean Castle, via email

A    Pull out the clover and spade under the grass.

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

Hardy ornamental plants will survive, so shape them as you want them

Be ruthless. It’s time to chop ornamental grasses and butterfly bushes. Cut them down to the ground.
    Also remove the old flower stems and old foliage of sedum to make room for new growth.
    In addition, it’s time for serious pruning of lilacs that are over-grown or infested with stems borers. Trim azaleas, rhododendrons, cherry laurels and hollies that make it impossible to look out of the bedroom or living room windows. Some of the branches that you cut can be brought in and forced to flower.
    Late winter and early spring are the best times for hard pruning. The roots of all ornamentals growing in your landscape are packed with sugars, carbohydrates and nutrients just waiting to move upward into the stems to produce new branches and leaves. Hardy ornamental plants survive and flourish no matter how drastically you prune them. So you don’t need to fear killing the plant if you remove too much.
    Cut those clumps of ornamental grasses as close to the ground as possible. To eliminate the need to carry away the old dry stems, cut them into pieces six inches or smaller and allow them to become mulch. While you are at it, cut those stems of butterfly bushes as close to the ground as possible. I use a chainsaw to prune my butterfly close to the ground, forcing new branches to emerge from the roots. If the forsythia and weigela shrubs are over-grown or not flowering well, cut those branches close to the ground as well. This is how you force the new branches to originate from the roots and not from branch stubs.
    Overgrown azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies, yews and cherry laurels should have their branches pruned to 12 to 18 inches lower than the desired height. You will avoid having to prune them again in a few years, and regrowth will have a more desirable appearance.
    You don’t have to be a certified professional horticulturist to know how to prune hardy ornamental plants. These plants are survivors and dormant vegetative buds up and down the branches are waiting to burst into active growth. That plant will recover and appear normal in a relatively short time. Trust me.


Plow Pan Is Your Problem

Q    We have been growing perennials, a few annuals and various vegetables and herbs on the same large garden plot for about 13 years. I’ve noticed that the plants aren’t as healthy as they once were, despite the fact that we’ve added soil and fertilizer over the years. What do you recommend to improve the soil for the garden overall and in particular where the perennials are located?
      –Amanda Gibson, Lothian

A    If you have been gardening in the same area for 13 years, and have been tilling or plowing each year, most likely you have developed a plow pan about six inches below the surface of the soil, and it is now affecting drainage and root penetration. The only solution is double digging or sub-soiling. To test my theory, sharpen a broom handle (or use a piece of half-inch pipe) and see how deep you can push it into the ground. Test several areas in your garden. If you can’t penetrate deeper than six inches you have plow pan and need to dig below. If you have a tractor, I have a sub-soiler you can borrow.

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

Paddlers approach fish and wildlife closely and unobtrusively

Lifting the slender red hull with one hand, I put the single-person kayak in the back of my pickup truck, securing it with a bungee cord and tucking in the double-bladed oar. Within an hour, I was floating over the placid waters of my favorite lake, casting my fly rod to any number of bluegills, pickerel, bass and perch.
    Later that week, I would launch the same craft along a major Chesapeake tributary to pursue white perch and schoolie rockfish with a light spin outfit.
    One of the best things about living in Maryland is our public recreational areas. I’m not talking about places such as Quiet Waters Park, Truxton or even Sandy Point State Park, though they are all great areas to enjoy the outdoors. The public space I’m talking about is the Bay itself and its almost countless tributaries, as well as Maryland’s many freshwater lakes and streams.
    Under federal law, people have access to all navigable waters subject to the ebb and flow of tide, and to all inland (non-tidal) waters capable of being boated. That means that if you’re floating in a watercraft almost anywhere in Maryland, you are in public space.
    That amounts to thousands of square miles of public recreational water including the 2,500 square miles of the Chesapeake, the 3,190 miles of shoreline (up to the high water mark), 40 rivers and innumerable lakes, streams and creeks.
    But you can’t enjoy this vast playground unless you have a boat, which may be easier than you think.
    The kayak boom has accelerated access to Maryland’s waters. This small craft was created by Inuit hunters of the far north some 4,000 years ago. It is a very stable craft due to its low center of gravity, light and easy to propel. In its modern incarnation, it is inexpensive and virtually maintenance-free.
    There are versions available for big water (sea kayaks), special designs for fishing, others for whitewater or saltwater surfing models. There are models designed for up to four people, though solo and two-person kayaks are the norm. All are seaworthy, so you can expect to be safe and secure on any day pleasant enough to make you want to be out on the water.
    Many versions weigh about 40 pounds and can be transported on the top of virtually any vehicle. I’ve even seen them towed on special trailers built to be pulled by a bicycle.
    The general touring or recreational versions will do for most applications. Coupled with a comfortable life jacket and a light two-bladed paddle, it is a marine package almost anyone can afford and enjoy.
    This very unobtrusive craft allows the paddler to approach closely to fish and wildlife, a particular advantage to an angler, wildlife photographer or nature lover.
    Canoes also afford wide access to our calmer waters. Canoes were developed some 10,000 years ago in Scandinavia and are generally considered the first form of watercraft. Of yore, they were crafted from a single log or by covering a light framework with tree bark.
    Commonly used by Native Americans and later by European immigrants, the canoe proved to be the primary source of transportation on the lakes, rivers and streams of North America until the late 1800s. Their light weight allowed them to be easily portaged between navigable waters, and they were built in sizes that could accommodate as many as eight passen­gers and their gear.
    Today’s canoes are constructed of molded synthetic materials that are both light and robust, requiring little maintenance. Many are as inexpensive as kayaks though not quite as stable because you sit higher in the hull. On the other hand, the canoe provides more room and storage. Many models can accommodate up to three or four people.
    No matter which of these light craft you choose, it will give you immediate access to one of the largest aquatic recreational areas in America, and all that access is free.