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Tie right to stop losing big fish

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

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

Your part is to vote

     “How many were wearing aluminum foil hats and Mickey Mouse ears?” my husband, a veteran ­political reporter, wondered.
    “Maybe only a couple,” I joked about the candidates at a forum that had lasted until nearly 11pm.
    Primary election campaigns like the one to be decided in Maryland on June 24 do indeed bring out all kinds. Barriers are low and stakes high. Fees are low; you can run for governor for only $100. You have to run as a Republican or a Democrat to get your name on a Primary ballot. But if you can swallow that, nobody is going to say you can’t. The gatekeepers are off duty. Paperwork is minimal unless you’re raising a lot of money. Outside the big high-office, televised debates, you’ll have your say with plenty of time, place and listeners. Best of all, somebody is sure to win. It might well be you. Stranger things have happened.
    Still, to run for office, you’ve got to have something driving — even obsessing — you. Campaigning is all about putting yourself out in front of people. All but the most reclusive candidates — and there are some — are out among us, knocking on doors, waving signs on busy roads, visiting churches, showing up at festivals, speaking at forums, answering questions, inviting detractors, enduring ridicule. It’s like making your life a YouTube feed.
    At the least, campaigning makes huge demands on a candidate’s time. Most likely it’s going to take money, too, and practicing the odd art of asking people to give you theirs. Certainly it requires inuring yourself to rejection, for many of the people you ask for their money and their vote are sure to say no, during the campaign or on election day.
    To open yourself to all that, you’ve got to want something very much. Or believe something very deeply.
    Richard Ben Cramer, a Chesapeake Bay author who died last year, wrote a political classic called What It Takes that examined motivations of a crop of White House hopefuls. Ego may be the driver, pushing you to believe you’re not just the right person for the job but the only person. Ambition is another driver. Election brings you power. Win and you’re part of a government telling us what we can and cannot do — which has the downside of backlash. But that’s a sting you’re unlikely to feel until it’s time to campaign all over again.
    Meanwhile, you get to enjoy perks. Once politicians get elected, they take themselves pretty seriously, building monumental work environments and giving themselves titles and privileges, often including fancy license plates and convenient parking places. And you can be pretty sure you won’t lose your job until the next election.
    Ego and ambition are very good drivers for candidates, at least in some measure, because campaigning is an act of faith in yourself. Governing requires other skills, including listening to people, knowing how government works, digesting vast quantities of information, remembering what you’ve learned, devoting hours to meetings, working with people, adjusting your balance on the scale of compromise and conviction and many others.
    Most of those forces are driving first-time candidate Matthew Pugh, a Bay Weekly contributor in years past.
    “Maryland is a great state,” he told me, “but sadly, its greatness has been diminished by the irresponsible policies of the current administration; they’ve crippled our economy with more than 40 new taxes, and their spending is out of control — and no one is being held accountable. I’m running for Central Committee because I’d like to help restore responsible Republican leadership in Maryland. I decided I could no longer sit on the sidelines.”
    Pugh is running for a starter office, Anne Arundel County Republican State Central Committeeman in District 33. Only Republicans will see his name on the ballot. The job is unsalaried. But eight candidates are running for three seats. No matter how good a job Pugh does campaigning, loss is a possibility. Driven by conviction, he’s putting himself on the line to make government work.
    Pugh and all the others whose names we find on our ballots — and in this week’s Bay Weekly pages — are citizen heroes. Win or lose, they’re trying to make government work. It would be a shame if we didn’t keep up our end of the bargain by going out to vote.

Actors may flirt with you and filch your food in this frothy romp back in time

With summer comes another season of Molière for moderns, adapted by Tim Mooney and performed by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern.
    The Schemings of Scapin, playing through July 29, is a frenzied farce in rhyming couplets about well-heeled 17th century fools and their gamesome servants. With a contrived plot about true love and arranged marriages, this play pits fathers against sons while elevating the lowly and poking fun at the idle rich and lawyers — revolutionary stuff for its time, but Louis XIV loved this fluff.
    To wit, Scapin (Charlie Retzlaff), a brilliant trickster and politician, is employed as valet and temporary guardian to narcissistic Leandre (Zachary Roberts) whose father, buffoonish Geronte (Gray West), is away on business. Likewise, Sylvestre (Ashlyn Thompson), an anxious nudge, is similarly employed with simpering Octave (Michael Windsor) while his sour old father, Argante (Joseph Palka), is away.
    Fortunately for the young men, their servants have not kept very close eyes on them. Unfortunately for the young men, each father returns home with a marriage contract for his son. Alas, Leandre is already in love with the seductive Gypsy Zerbinette (Lauren Turchin). Octave is secretly married to darling Hyacinthe (Jackie Madejski), a match arranged by her nurse, Nerine (Roberts in drag).
    What follows is an elaborate scheme to bilk the fathers, transferring money intended to benefit their sons to the support of relationships with the women who threaten to break family ties. But all’s well that ends well.
    Turchin’s Gypsy steals the show, but all of the performers are masterful at physical comedy, word play, improvisation and audience interaction. Don’t be surprised if they flirt with you and filch your food. With interludes of Baroque harpsichord music and costumes ranging from Blue Boy and Bo Peep to bangles, this is a frothy romp back in time.

Director: Sally Boyett. Costumer: Maggie Cason. Stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Running 1:40 with two intermissions.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wednesday) thru July 29 at 7:30pm at Reynolds Tavern Courtyard, Church Circle, Annapolis. $20 w/advance discounts; rsvp. Happy Hour prices until 7pm; dinner menu then available: 410-415-3513; www.AnnapolisShakespeare.org.

 

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

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

Sometimes it takes fish to catch fish

Chumming is one of the simplest and most effective methods of getting a limit of rockfish this time of year. The fish have just schooled up and are hungry from spring spawning. Here’s how it worked for me one recent June morning.
    I try to be careful when I get a bite when chumming, immediately easing the reel clicker off to eliminate any resistance on the line, thumbing the spool lightly as I remove the rod from its holder and letting the fish run off a bit before setting the hook.
    But this guy just grabbed my bait and ran, setting the reel to screaming and hooking himself before I could even touch the rod. By the time I got the rod under control, the powerful striper had the line over its shoulder and was headed for the horizon.
    As we arrived at Hackett’s Bar at the mouth of the Severn, 30 or so boats were scattered off the big green can marking the edge of the channel, waiting for the bite to begin.
    We had already investigated a number of alternate locations (Podickery, the Bay Bridge and Dolly’s Lump) after launching our skiff at Sandy Point State Park that morning. Having found no promising marks on our fish finder, Hackett’s was our best and last hope.
    I wanted to be off the water before 11am, when the mass of non-fishing recreational boaters shows up on weekends, turning the waters into a washing machine of conflicting wakes. It would turn out to be very close.
    Dropping anchor, we noted the charter boat Becky D sitting nearby. That was a good sign. Ed Darwin is an experienced skipper, and if he was in the area, we probably couldn’t have chosen any better.

Setting Up for the Chum Bite
    Setting up in 35 feet of water, I lowered our weighted chum bag — a gallon of frozen, ground menhaden — over the side and tied it off on a cleat at about the 15-foot level. Many anglers hang their bags over the stern near the surface, but I’ve found that having the chum source nearer the bottom can bring the fish in closer so that they can more easily find our baits, particularly when the current is running strong.
    Our rods are rigged with fish-finder rigs, sliding nylon sleeves on the main line with an integral snap for our two-ounce sinkers. The main line is tied to a swivel that acts as a slider stop, followed by three feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader tied to the hook.
    We used 7/0 Mustad super sharp live-bait hooks. That large size is necessary because we were using big pieces of bait. Our menhaden were cut in vertical pieces about two inches wide, from large, fresh fish. When a striper picks up the bait and moves off, the line will slide through the sleeve where the sinker is attached. The fish will not feel its weight.
    For a good, solid hook set, feed line into the run and give the fish a few seconds to get the meal well back in its mouth before striking. Striking too early will often pull the menhaden chunk out of the fish’s mouth, especially with the large baits we use to attract larger fish.
    Change baits every 20 minutes to keep the scent trails fresh and the baits attractive. Rather than discarding the old pieces of menhaden, we cut them into smaller chunks and distribute them widely into the current to further encourage the rockfish to feed aggressively.


•   •   •
    Our first fish that hit that morning turned out to be the largest of the trip, a fat male that weighed about 15 pounds. We limited out by 11:30am with three more fish in the 10-pound range.

Beckerman kicked his way from Crofton to Salt Lake to Brazil

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

I am my father’s daughter

My father didn’t come to all my games. I had none, and for the weekly ritual of horseback riding — first ring, then trail — my grandmother Florence, his mother, was my chauffeur and companion. If there had been victories, she and my mother would have been my cheering squad. They, too, were my comfortors and sometime confidants.
    About how to relate to a daughter, Gene Martin, was clueless.
    I was pretty clueless, too, when it came to relating to my father. I seemed to disappoint him every chance I got. He was a sportsman but no athlete. I was neither. He tried to teach me to catch a baseball, and I cringed at stubbed fingers. I told him — and the young pro in attendance — that golf was hot and too much walking. Certain life basics — from telephone books to addressing envelopes — were at least for a time beyond me. I was especially bad at figures, while Dad knew the odds. A gambler and card player, he could crunch and keep numbers in his brain. He must have thought — though never said — he’d sired an alien.
    Indeed, we did live in alien universes. His was the male world of gaming and sports, bars and cigars, business and reckoning, news and facts.
    I was the little girl of a hive of women, mother, grandmother and a swarm of surrogate aunts, the oddly daughterless waitresses at our family’s restaurant, where I did my growing up. Emotions and stories were the language they spoke and I learned.
    I knew men drawn to the hive by these beautiful, competent, hearts-on-their-sleeves women. I fell for those young men — often professional athletes, football players and golfers — with junior crushes they were kind enough to nourish. Romance I could understand, and that’s how the ice between my father and me was broken.
    Do things with her, my mother urged, a confession she made to me years later.
    For Dad, doing things meant going out on dates.
    I’d dress up the way women did, and we’d go see the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball or on his boat on the Mississippi River by day. By night, we’d go to nightclubs or the horseraces. Often, it would be a party of people, and I’d be the only kid in the bunch. I watched the grown-ups as if they were playing parts in a complex play I was learning to understudy.
    The surface lessons also sunk in: Overcoming my clumsiness, I learned to waterski. I learned how baseball was played and scored. I learned the excitement of horseracing and something of the game of numbers, breeding and performance. I read the Sporting News and learned how to interpret a racing form. I heard Nancy Wilson in the flesh and learned the rhythms of jazz.
    Our dates went so well that Dad took me on trips. In Lexington, Kentucky, for the Derby trials at Keeneland, I fell in love with bluegrass, horse farms and champions, memorized the roll of Kentucky Derby winners up till then and met the great Citation. In Chicago, I felt the pulse of the city and saw the landmarks of my father’s growing up.
    Dad was a great date. He dressed for the occasion, drove a Cadillac, booked good seats at exciting places, ordered well, knew everybody, told compelling stories, made you feel like you were somebody going someplace — and never left you by the wayside.
    Years of increasing independence layered new strata of experience over my dates with Dad. My life evolved along other lines, and the things we did together are not things I do now.
    Or are they?
    I still love baseball, and almost every year I pin my hopes on the Cardinals. The former St. Louis Browns, for years now the Orioles, are a hot second. I’m still mate on a motorboat. I still know the lyrics of jazz standards. I’m fascinated with near human history and where people come from. And, as I prepared a lead-up story to the Preakness, I learned I can still interpret a horse race. I also have very picky standards for cars, entertainment and restaurants, and I took a while to find a husband who was as good a date as my father.
    Gene Martin’s photographically sharp memory set the standard I’ve tried to live up to. From him I learned how to watch and listen and to craft a good story, though his art was telling and mine writing. I suspect I learned, by inference, that people like us — at least the four generations I know — do better with our own business than working for somebody else, as long as we have good partners. I learned that love is a willful creature that leads your heart and laughs at your head.
    I learned the truth my mother never doubted: I am my father’s daughter.
    Read on for more fathers, daughters, sons and lessons.

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


At 8am late May, here swims a honker out of a finger of my creek. Closely following is a silent one. Not far behind are one, two … 36 little ones, half-grown already. But they won’t enter the larger creek, instead milling around as the steadily honking Canada steadily leads his silent follower out to the river and disappears.
 
Back go the three dozen, now alone. But wait! Sitting still halfway out is another silent Canada, showing them that it’s okay to enter the larger space. Who is this?  The au pair? After half an hour, the goslings are still in the comfort of the smaller water but coming out to survey the greater expanse before retreating.
 
Just think, 36 new resident Canadas for the West and Rhode rivers.
    –Margaret Gwathmey, Harwood
Two days ago, I found a duck egg in my cockpit. I thought a friend was playing a prank. The next day, another. Today, another egg and the female duck. I read up on it. She should lay nine more eggs, and then sit on them for 28 days until they hatch. She didn’t get scared off when we got on and off the boat today, but if there isn’t another egg tomorrow, she probably won’t come back …
    –Zaid Mohammad, Herrington Harbour South
Last winter was hard on this easy-to-grow fruit tree — but not fatal
The winter of 2013-2014 was so severe that it killed fig trees back to the ground. Many plants also suffered severe rabbit damage at the base of the young stems with smooth bark. Rabbits eat the smooth brown bark at times when other food sources are scarce.
 
As we are located at the northern climatic range for growing figs, we need to anticipate winter damage at least once every 10 to 15 years. According to my records, the last time fig plants were killed back to the ground was during the winter of 1997-1998.
 
If the stems and branches are not exhibiting new growth by early June, the tops of the plants have been killed. However, if you look closely at the ground beneath you should see new shoots emerging from the roots.
 
Cut the dead stems as close to the ground as possible and use them next winter for starting the fire in your fireplace or wood stove. Fig wood ignites very quickly and makes good kindling. 
 
Allow the new shoots to grow two to three feet tall before thinning. To avoid crowding, allow at least 3 feet of space between new stems. Select only the more vigorous stems to develop and prune out the unwanted ones. Do not simply break them away but use clean, sharp pruners to remove stems close to the roots. If you break the unwanted stems, you are likely to see additional sprouting that you will have to remove later.
 
This year’s new growth will not produce figs. If you do see figs developing in the axils of the leaves, rub them away with your hands. Allowing the fruit to develop on the new growth will weaken and dwarf the stem.
 
Allow the new stems to grow five to six feet tall before pruning away the tip of each. Tip pruning will stimulate multiple branching, which will provide more fruit for the coming years and prevent the stems from getting too tall. Preventing the stems of figs from growing above six feet facilitates harvesting. 
 
I have never fertilized my figs in the 20 years that I have been growing them here in Deale. Fertilizing figs makes them difficult to manage. If the summer foliage has a good dark green color, it is best not to fertilize them. The plants will tolerate a wide range of soils and are not sensitive to different soil pH.  
 
Figs are a fruit crop that I recommend to home gardeners because they require little attention and never need to be sprayed. Pruning to facilitate harvesting is all the attention they need. 
 
If rabbits are a problem there are several preventions. Surrounding the area with two-foot-tall chicken wire is the simplest if you have an extensive planting. If you only have a few plants, there are white plastic wraps that expand as the trunk grows. You can also solve the problem by loosely wrapping the trunks with two layers of chicken wire.
 
There are several varieties of figs offered by mail order nurseries.  I grow Brown Turkey (pictured) and Golden Egyptian. I have not seen any differences in hardiness between these two varieties.  Both were killed to the ground this winter.
Mars still lights up the night
Thursday’s first-quarter moon appears high in the southwest at sunset and sets in the west around 1am. Each following night, darkness finds the waxing gibbous moon a dozen degrees farther east, providing almost an hour of additional moonlight. 
 
Friday, the moon is 15 degrees to the right of Mars, but come Saturday the two are practically on top of one another, separated by only two degrees. The red planet is just to the upper right of the moon as darkness falls, and they stay quite tight until setting around 2am. At -0.8 magnitude, Mars outshines any star — only Sirius is brighter, and the Dog Star is gone from view for the season. 
 
Two months ago Mars was even brighter, as the planet was at opposition from the sun with earth directly between the two. Imagine opposition as if you were seated at the movie theater, the light from the projector streaming from behind you to the screen. The screen itself isn’t illuminated, but instead it reflects the projected light back to your eyes. As you turn your gaze from straight ahead, or if you shifted the projector, the reflected image grows dimmer. That’s what’s happening now, as earth’s faster orbit hustles it away from Mars, diminishing the angle of reflected light.
 
To see a simulation of the intricate dance between earth and Mars as they travel around the sun, go to http://tinyurl.com/9dtvspa.

Sunday the moon has another partner, the first-magnitude star Spica. The brightest star in the constellation Virgo, Spica is just a couple degrees to the moon’s right. A dozen degrees to the west of the pair is Mars, while a dozen degrees to their east is Saturn.
 
Monday the moon shines 10 degrees to the right of Saturn, while Tuesday it is five degrees to the left of the ringed planet.
 
As the sun sets Wednesday, the moon appears low in the southeast. Just a few degrees below the nearly full moon is the first-magnitude red-giant Antares, the heart of Scorpius the scorpion. Antares means literally the opposite, or rival, of Mars, because of its own reddish hue. Compare the two for yourself.