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The underground story

Did you know that your bare garden soil is losing its nutrients to winter?
    That’s just what’s happening in your vegetable garden unless you planted a cover crop last fall. And in your flower garden, unless it’s planted with perennials or woody plants.
    Here’s the underground story.
    During the growing season, plants do not utilize all soil nutrients, whether applied as fertilizers or released from animal manures or compost. Nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and boron, to name a few, are quite soluble. Unless they are absorbed by roots of plants, they leach downwards into the water table, into streams and eventually into the Bay.
    A good garden soil is biologically active all year long except when soil temperatures drop below 34 degrees. At that temperature microbial activity stops, nutrients are not as soluble and most things stay in place. However, as you penetrate deeper in the soil, temperature rise and nutrients that have penetrated to that depth continue to leach downwards. Thus you want all soluble nutrients to be absorbed by roots before they seep too deep where roots do not penetrate.
    The physical movement of soil particles during periods of freezing and thawing causes soil particles to move about, creating crevices, thus facilitating the downward movement of soil particles as well as nutrients in solution. Established roots help to stabilize soil and prevent particles from either blowing away in drought or washing away through erosion. Both cover crops and perennials absorb available nutrients. When the cover crop is plowed or rototilled under in the spring, its roots, stems and leaves will decompose, and those nutrients, like compost, will be slowly released in the soil.
    While soil temperatures are above freezing, roots are absorbing nutrients. Roots of some species are capable of growing in soil temperatures as low as 36 degrees. Roots can grow all winter as long as the soil does not freeze. Unlike the top of plants, which stop growing when they begin to go dormant in late August and early September, roots continue to grow and absorb nutrients and water.
    I tested this concept in the mid 1970s by transplanting young dogwoods between the greenhouses at the University of Maryland in College Park. Half of the dogwoods were transplanted above a buried steam pipe. Snow there never lasted more than a few days, while between adjoining greenhouse the snow stayed in place. In the spring, I dug up the dogwoods in each area. The root system of the trees where the snow melted rapidly were two to tree times bigger and more fibrous than the roots of the dogwood trees from where the snow remained and were then five to six times larger.
    Never allow land to remain fallow without vegetation. Keeping the soil covered with growing plants not only protects the Bay but also maintains biologically productive soil for you to grow crops. Nutrients belong in the soil and not in the Bay.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Maryland Zoo seeking humans

See the Zoo like you’ve never seen it before — on the scene and behind the scenes.
    The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is seeking 200 new volunteers to help make successes of such events as ­BunnyBonanZOO, zooBOOO! and Brew at the Zoo.
    January 25 is your once-a-year opportunity to learn the aardvark to zebra of volunteering at the third oldest zoo in the United States, representing nearly 200 species in natural settings replicating their native habitats.
    The Zoo’s 1,000-plus volunteers work with humans, animals and plants. Working with animals is at the top of the training ladder. Long-timers may request to handle animals like chimpanzees and the Animal Ambassadors, including the Baltimore ravens Rise and Conquer.
    New volunteers typically bring special skills — like face painting or gardening — or start with visitor relations. Entry-level jobs range from leading crafts and games at special events to answering visitors’ questions to keeping animals and humans on their best behavior at the Goat Corral or Camel Rides.
    “Nine times out of 10, the number one question is where’s the bathroom,” says Jane Ballentine, Director of Public Relations.
    Volunteers as young as 14 are welcome in the Junior Zoo Crew. There’s no top age limit for volunteers. Perks include free admission to the zoo and field trips.
    “We try to set up at least two field trips a year to other zoos and aquariums to keep the camaraderie going,” says Ballentine.


The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Volunteer Open House: Sunday, January 25, 11am-2pm: Mansion House Porch: 443-552-5266; volunteers@marylandzoo.org.
 

Potted outdoor plants need cold-hardy roots to survive winter

Did you know that the roots of plants are not as cold-hardy as the stems and branches? What’s more, the roots of different plant species are killed at different temperatures. This is information you need to know when selecting plants for growing in above-ground containers that are to remain outdoors all year long.
    Below four feet, soil temperatures seldom drop below 28 degrees. If the ground is covered with mulch or snow, temperatures may be several degrees higher. If the soil is wet at the time it freezes, soil temperatures will also be higher. Dry soils freeze faster and achieve a lower temperature than moist or wet soils.
    In above-ground containers, temperatures will equilibrate to the ambient air within hours of a 10-degree change in temperature. The temperature change will occur faster if the rooting medium is dry. A dry rooting medium freezes faster than a wet rooting medium.
    If you intend to grow ornamental plants outdoors year-round in above-ground planters, select plants with cold-hardy roots. Choices are many, including Alberta spruce, Amur maple, azaleas, birch, chamaecyparis (or false cypress), mountain laurel, Pfitzer juniper, red cedar, rhododendrons and sumac.  The roots of these species can tolerate temperature down to zero and below. However, rooting media should be kept moist during the winter months as well as during the growing season.
    Avoid planting Atlantic cedar, boxwoods, camellia, Chinese hollies, Colorado spruce, dogwood, Japanese hollies, magnolia and viburnums in above-ground pots. Some of these species have roots that are killed at temperatures as high as 24 degrees. In many years, the roots of these species will be killed before the holidays.
    Information on low root-killing temperatures of perennial plants is important when selecting plants for containers and rooftop gardens. On rooftop gardens the problem is not as severe if the garden is installed over a heated building, because heat loss through the roof is generally adequate to prevent rooting media from freezing. However, if the garden is being installed over an unheated parking garage, selecting plants with cold-hardy roots is of utmost importance.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Solunar theory predicts fish and animal activity cycles

‘Fishing Charlie’ Ebersberger has spent as many days on the water as any angler in Maryland and arguably acquired more knowledge in his constant conversations with like-minded customers at his store, the Angler’s Sport Center.
    How was the Solunar watch working out? I asked as the instrument celebrated its first anniversary on his wrist. Seems that its predictions of fishing success based on peak times for fish activity are much better than either of us expected, according to the story he told.
    We were after marlin off of Ocean City and had not had any action for quite some time. Our electronic finder was indicating that we were over some good marks but nothing was eating.
    How many fish do you see now? one of the party called out.
    The question wasn’t directed to the finder screen but to my Solunar watch. Its display showed from one to four fish symbols depending on how active the bite was forecast at any particular time. Three to four fish mean a good bite.
    It’s beginning to show three, I said.
    Just then one of the starboard lines went down and fish on, fish on began ringing out from the stern. A few minutes later, my watch face moved into the four fish category. For the next three hours the action was hot and constant.

John Knight’s Solunar Theory
    The Solunar theory of the most productive fishing times was developed almost 90 years ago by an avid angler, John Alden Knight. After years of keeping logs of his frequent fishing efforts, he was perplexed at his inability to predict the best times to fish. He decided to apply scientific analysis to all the information he could gather.
    Starting with over 30 factors that seemed relevant, he eventually eliminated all but three as worthy of further examination. The prime factors, he eventually deduced, were sunrise, sunset and moon phase.
    Tidal phases and currents (caused by the moon moving in orbit around the earth) have long been thought the critical factors in saltwater fish feeding times. Knight discovered it was actually the relationship among the sun, earth and moon that was essential.
    Moonrise and moonset proved to coincide with intermediate or moderate phases of fish and animal activity. Most influential were the meridian periods when the transits of the moon crossed the earth’s line of latitude. High moon and low moon produced the most intense levels for the longest periods.
    Knight eventually worked out Solunar tables based on his theory to predict peak activities when fish (and game animals and birds) would most likely occur for any particular place and time.
    There are, however, mitigating factors that can negate or degrade the Solunar effect.
    A falling barometer generally precedes a period of poor fishing (as well as animal and bird movement) as do high winds, hard rain or snowfall and significant temperature fluctuations. These conditions, of course, are impossible to predict beyond the very near future. Still, they do have to be taken into account.
    Knight’s Solunar Tables have been in constant publication since their debut in 1936. Watches and time clocks have also been developed based on the Solunar formulas to make interpretation of the predictions ever easier.
    Using his Casio Pathfinder, Charlie has confirmed the accuracy of Solunar theory on the Chesapeake over the past season, not only by his own experiences but also with the help of many of his customers.
    “When they ask me what time of day is going to be best, I consult the watch. Whenever I could identify periods showing three to four fish, it was uncannily reliable that the time period predicted would result in up to three hours of great action.”
    If you’re looking to get an edge in the coming fishing season or need one now in hunting, Solunar predictions may be for you.

Robert Kyle gives a new meaning to frozen drinks

How do creatures of the wild quench their thirst when outdoor water freezes to ice?
    Robert Kyle replenishes bowls with water in its liquid state for “cats, birds and whoever else is thirsty” at his Huntingtown home.
    “I have several water bowls around our place,” Kyle writes. “When the water freezes overnight I add fresh water.”
    As a side effect of his Franciscan charity, Kyle has invented a new art form: Cat Bowl Ice Art.
    “Recycling the frozen water, I remove the bowl-shaped ice and balance them upon each other,” Kyle explains. “After assembly the sun comes up, causing the opaque ice to glow. My daughter in Los Angeles tells me the sculptures resemble Zen balancing stones.
    “To my knowledge, I’m the only person in the Bay area that makes these,” Kyle adds, “as most people have better things to do at 6:30am on a cold morning.”

Early-spawning crappie already on the move

The new fishing year is blossoming before us. Since the passing of the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) on Dec. 21, 2014, our daily dose of sunshine has grown. January 8 gives us eight hours and 11 minutes, a trend in the right direction. We might not notice the accumulation of extra sunlight every day, but the fish do. It is one of the prime drivers of their urge to spawn.
    Crappie (properly pronounced with a broad a) are generally the first fish in the Tidewater to feel that stirring and start to move to the shallows. They are also known as calico bass, speck, speckled perch and, because of delicate mouth structure, paper mouth. That’s a point of anatomy to be considered when making the decision whether to derrick a hooked fish up out of the water or land it with a net.
    One of Maryland’s most overlooked fish, crappie are also good eating. Therein lies part of the problem of finding good crappie water: Their fans are loath to share that information. However, I can offer a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
    Now is not too soon to start looking. Any day temperate enough to tempt you out will be a good day to try. Crappie tend to bite early and late in the day, so that’s the first thing to take into consideration. I recommend scouting sites starting in the early afternoon (when it’s warmer) and fishing early mornings only on locations that has proven productive.
    Light to medium-light spin tackle with six- to eight-pound monofilament will be sufficient. Specs will take minnows of all types, but smaller ones are usually best. Try to harvest the minnows yourself with a dip net or a baited minnow trap, particularly from areas close to where you’re fishing. Fish the baits under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Concentrate on water 10 feet or less in depth.
    Since crappie have a larger mouth than most pan fish, any hook size from a #6 to a #1 will work. Thinner diameter wire hooks are superior because they are easier on the smaller minnows and keep them lively longer. No leaders are necessary.
    Night crawlers and red wigglers are two more fine crappie baits. Fish them the same way you would the minnow, under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Crappie are schooling fish. When you hook up one, there should generally be others in the immediate vicinity.
    Concentrate along shorelines of the fresher areas of local tributaries, targeting downed trees, submerged brush or tangles of floating debris. Bridges, piers, docks and other constructed water structures are also prime holding areas. Target deeper water during low tides when fish tend to congregate in the river’s holes and pools. When the water warms up past 50 degrees, these fish will be more likely to take a lure. For now, live bait is best.
    Crappie are widely distributed in Maryland. On the Eastern Shore the Wye Mills impoundment — as well as the stream (and bridge) below the spillway — is a good place to look for big crappie. The Tuckahoe River is also a prime location, again both the impoundment and the waters below it.
    The Upper Choptank is a particularly good tributary for a hot bite in early springtime. Greensboro is a great place to try, especially if you have a small boat. Going upstream and targeting laydowns, tree stumps and submerged brush will generally get you some nice fish. Higher up the river at Red Bridges can also be excellent for shore-bound sports.
    The Pocomoke River near Snow Hill can be outstanding. One of the better fly and light tackle guides on the Chesapeake, Kevin Josenhans specializes in fishing that river just for crappie this time of year. Check out his blog at http://josenhansflyfishingblog.com/ for an early season report.
    On the Western Shore, the Patuxent is one of the better rivers. Starting at Wayson’s Corner and up to Queen Anne’s Bridge and Governor’s Bridge, you’ll find good spec territories somewhere along the way. Also try the Jug Bay Wetlands area for good fishing and scenery.
    Almost all of the upper reaches of the Western Shore tributaries can hold crappie, but these fish have a low tolerance for salinity so you will not find many farther downstream.
    There are also a multitude of freshwater impoundments in Maryland where crappie lurk, especially Urieville and Unicorn Lakes and spillways. Find a full listing of all the inland waters available plus listings of the species that frequent them at http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/hotspots/index.aspx.

The new fishing year is blossoming before us. Since the passing of the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) on Dec. 21, 2014, our daily dose of sunshine has grown. January 8 gives us eight hours and 11 minutes, a trend in the right direction. We might not notice the accumulation of extra sunlight every day, but the fish do. It is one of the prime drivers of their urge to spawn.
    Crappie (properly pronounced with a broad a) are generally the first fish in the Tidewater to feel that stirring and start to move to the shallows. They are also known as calico bass, speck, speckled perch and, because of delicate mouth structure, paper mouth. That’s a point of anatomy to be considered when making the decision whether to derrick a hooked fish up out of the water or land it with a net.
    One of Maryland’s most overlooked fish, crappie are also good eating. Therein lies part of the problem of finding good crappie water: Their fans are loath to share that information. However, I can offer a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
    Now is not too soon to start looking. Any day temperate enough to tempt you out will be a good day to try. Crappie tend to bite early and late in the day, so that’s the first thing to take into consideration. I recommend scouting sites starting in the early afternoon (when it’s warmer) and fishing early mornings only on locations that has proven productive.
    Light to medium-light spin tackle with six- to eight-pound monofilament will be sufficient. Specs will take minnows of all types, but smaller ones are usually best. Try to harvest the minnows yourself with a dip net or a baited minnow trap, particularly from areas close to where you’re fishing. Fish the baits under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Concentrate on water 10 feet or less in depth.
    Since crappie have a larger mouth than most pan fish, any hook size from a #6 to a #1 will work. Thinner diameter wire hooks are superior because they are easier on the smaller minnows and keep them lively longer. No leaders are necessary.
    Night crawlers and red wigglers are two more fine crappie baits. Fish them the same way you would the minnow, under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Crappie are schooling fish. When you hook up one, there should generally be others in the immediate vicinity.
    Concentrate along shorelines of the fresher areas of local tributaries, targeting downed trees, submerged brush or tangles of floating debris. Bridges, piers, docks and other constructed water structures are also prime holding areas. Target deeper water during low tides when fish tend to congregate in the river’s holes and pools. When the water warms up past 50 degrees, these fish will be more likely to take a lure. For now, live bait is best.
    Crappie are widely distributed in Maryland. On the Eastern Shore the Wye Mills impoundment — as well as the stream (and bridge) below the spillway — is a good place to look for big crappie. The Tuckahoe River is also a prime location, again both the impoundment and the waters below it.
    The Upper Choptank is a particularly good tributary for a hot bite in early springtime. Greensboro is a great place to try, especially if you have a small boat. Going upstream and targeting laydowns, tree stumps and submerged brush will generally get you some nice fish. Higher up the river at Red Bridges can also be excellent for shore-bound sports.
    The Pocomoke River near Snow Hill can be outstanding. One of the better fly and light tackle guides on the Chesapeake, Kevin Josenhans specializes in fishing that river just for crappie this time of year. Check out his blog at http://josenhansflyfishingblog.com/ for an early season report.
    On the Western Shore, the Patuxent is one of the better rivers. Starting at Wayson’s Corner and up to Queen Anne’s Bridge and Governor’s Bridge, you’ll find good spec territories somewhere along the way. Also try the Jug Bay Wetlands area for good fishing and scenery.
    Almost all of the upper reaches of the Western Shore tributaries can hold crappie, but these fish have a low tolerance for salinity so you will not find many farther downstream.
    There are also a multitude of freshwater impoundments in Maryland where crappie lurk, especially Urieville and Unicorn Lakes and spillways. Find a full listing of all the inland waters available plus listings of the species that frequent them at http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/hotspots/index.aspx.

Coast Guard’s sea turtle rescue brings them Internet fame

It’s all in a day’s work.    
    The day was August 12, when a boater reported an entangled sea turtle 30 miles off New Jersey’s southern coast.
    Using the boater’s GPS coordinates, the Cape May Coast Guardsmen and staff of Marine Mammal Rescue Center set out on a rescue mission. Finding a turtle in the Atlantic could have been as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. But the coordinates led straight to an ensnared leatherback.
    The team got close enough to grab the offending gear — a floating marker on a long pole ending in a rope. Then, the Coast Guard team “used their bare hands to control the struggling 800-pound creature.” Amid the grappling, the line was disentangled and the turtle swam free.
    Videotaping actions is also in a day’s work in the modern Coast Guard. Over the last two weeks, YouTube viewers chose the Coast Guard’s Video of the Year from 10 action-packed sea rescues and adventures. The leatherback rescue earned second place. So in sweet symbiosis, the sea turtle saved by the Coast Guard makes the rescuers stars.
    See the Coast Guard’s Top 10 of 2014 at www.youtube.com/user/USCGImagery.

Knowledge makes power

The horticultural green industries — nursery, landscaping and greenhouse crops — are the second largest agricultural industry, second to poultry in Maryland and third in the nation. With home gardening the number one hobby, it is no wonder that the demand for trained horticulturists is so high.  
    Gardening is therapeutic, and those who partake in it realize great satisfaction from watching plants grow as well as enjoying the flowers, fruits or vegetables they produce.
    Nowadays, gardening is no longer limited to backyard plots. More than 80 percent of plants are grown in containers on decks, patios, balconies and windowsills or under artificial lights. Plastics have made it possible to design and manufacture containers that resist freezing and provide good drainage while looking attractive. Soilless light-weight rooting media, packaged in convenient-sized bags or boxes, are weed-free and engineered to satisfy the growing needs of most plants. Some containers can even keep the rooting media moist for several weeks.
    Advances in fertilizers in both organic and inorganic forms make it possible to limit the need to apply fertilizer on a timely schedule. Slow-release fertilizers are balanced to supply the needs of each nutrient based on well-established research.
    Greenhouses for home use were once expensive to build and maintain because they were covered with glass that was frequently broken by accident or by hail. Today’s small home-type greenhouses can be built inexpensively and covered with double-layer polyethylene or composites that can be shaped using a box cutter. These greenhouses are easily heated. Some of the plastic coverings can be used for several years, while composites have been known to last 20 years or more. Greenhouses allow you to start your own transplants for the garden and can be used to grow winter crops such as short-day onions, spinach, lettuce, radishes and Swiss chard with minimum heat.
    Many home gardeners are now starting to use low tunnels, small hoops 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 inches wide, in their gardens or raised beds. The tunnels allow them to start growing plants at least one month earlier in the spring and extend the fall growing season by at least a month. Clear polyethylene covers the hoops and is anchored to the ground by soil.
    A new method called Aerogation Green Wall Systems even grows plants on walls. These plants are grown in containers mounted to the wall; air from the room is forced through the rooting media, cleaning the air of impurities while humidifying and oxygenating it.
    Horticulture continues to evolve. When I joined University of Maryland’s Department of Horticulture in 1962, 80 percent of all nursery plants were grown in the ground. Container plants were mostly grown in greenhouses in clay pots. The rooting media consisted mostly of sterilized soil and peat moss. Plants were fertilized mostly with dry fertilizers such as 10-10-10 or 10-6-4 or liquid 20-20-20 using a hose-on-nozzle. Greenhouses were covered with glass and heated mostly by steam or forced hot water.
    Horticultural technology has made many dramatic changes and created many opportunities. The demand for trained horticulturists is greater now than ever before. Anyone can dig a hole, but it takes a good understanding of plant science to grow plants efficiently, protect them from insects and diseases and use them properly.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Calvert Marine Museum’s new baby cephalopod

True names rise from a creature’s character. That’s the Native American way. Cats, too, have true names, but theirs are inscrutable to humans, according to poet T.S. Eliot in the poems that became Cats of musical fame.
    Octopi are as curious as cats, certainly as inscrutable and maybe as intelligent. These creatures of the deep can change both the color and the texture of their bodies to disappear into their environment. They use their eight tentacles to explore, and in captivity, where food may be presented in jars to test their skill, they’ll take lids off and pull out what’s inside.
    Calvert Marine Museum’s new River to Bay exhibit welcomes a pint-sized octopus from Virginia’s offshore waters. The pound-and-a half cephalopod is “very inquisitive,” according to keeper Linda Hanna.
    “It’s fascinating to work with an animal who can tell you’re there and wants to interact with you,” Hanna says. “Every time she’s fed, she has to get her food out of something. We’ve used jars, toys, even Mr. Potato Head. When you try to take something out of the tank, she’s like a two-year-old who wants it back and will grab onto it so you can’t take it out.”
    Such a creature can’t just be called the octopus.
    To find her true name, the museum invites you to enter its Name Our Octopus Contest.
    You’ll have to see her to discover what that name might be. Visit through January 30, pick a name and drop your suggestion in the ballot box in the museum store.
    The octopus herself will choose the winner on Tuesday, February 10. All names are also entered in a drawing to win a basket full of octopus-related goodies.

A different rockin’ new year

We are going to have a good year in 2015. That’s what I’m predicting, despite continuing reports of rockfish population problems.
    I must disclose, however, that when it comes to predicting what Tidewater anglers can expect in the year to come, the last few seasons I’ve built up close to a 100 percent accuracy rating — 100 percent wrong.
    My prediction for 2013 was for a disappointing year for rockfish. That season turned out to be the best in memory, with lots of big fish that stayed around all season. Catching was phenomenal.
    My prediction for 2014 was based on the falling rockfish population scenario, soon confirmed by an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission survey. I was sure a mediocre season would follow. But Bay fishing again proved excellent.
    Making a prediction for 2015 in light of these failures posed a real challenge. The Commission has officially confirmed falling rockfish numbers as well as anticipating a spawning female population crisis. Thus a 20.5 percent harvest cut for the Chesapeake has been mandated for 2015. How can Tidewater anglers have another great year in the face of that pronouncement?
    I was again tempted to go with the science-based opinions that we are bound for a disappointing year in 2015. Then I consulted an old friend, one of the more knowledgeable Bay watermen I’ve known.

Leo James’ Prediction
    Leo James has been fishing the waters of the Chesapeake almost daily for over 71 years.
    “The problem with government officials figuring the rockfish numbers is that the fish have fins. They can move miles from one day to the next,” he explained.
    “Early last April, setting my nets for white perch day after day, I caught so many six- and seven-inch rockfish that had to be released that I stopped setting. Now where did those little rock come from? They couldn’t have been spawned that year; they were too big. [A six-inch rockfish should be about six months old.] There were thousands and thousands of them.
    “All these government officials that say they know what’s going on out there are full of it. Especially about the Chesapeake. They really don’t know what’s happening; they’re just guessing and they can guess wrong. I can tell you from what I know and what I’ve seen, the Bay is going to have a good season in 2015. There’s plenty of fish out there.”

He’s Not Alone
    Some DNR officials may agree with James, at least about a portion of the rockfish problem. In arguing against the Commission’s 20.5 percent reduction for the Chesapeake rockfish harvest to protect the spawning female stocks, DNR argued in part that our Bay fishery is primarily for male stripers. Most of our females become migratory and leave for the Atlantic. Perhaps our Bay numbers are better than Marine Fisheries Commission data indicate.
    James offered one caveat: “I can tell you another thing from my 71 years of experience. There has never been two years in a row that have ever been the same. They are always different, and usually way different.”
    So my final prediction is that we’re going to have another good rockfish season in the coming year, but it won’t be anything like last year. So be ready to adjust your game.


Welcome Back to Fishing

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources wants to woo back Marylanders who have not bought an annual nontidal or tidal fishing license since 2011. If that’s you, buy before Jan. 31 and save 50 percent.