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First, catch some small spot

As I flipped my live perch over the side, my son did the same. Hoping that we would not have to wait too long for action, I let the small baitfish swim down and away from the boat. The lines streamed aft and out to port as a light wind pushed our skiff over the calm water.
    Within a few seconds, my line was feeding out unusually fast. I glanced around for orientation to gauge just how fast the tide was moving. My son called, “Dad, your line is crossing over mine,” but when I tried to check its flow, I discovered it wasn’t the current that was pulling out my baitfish. It was something far stronger.
    “I’m getting a run already; something took my bait.” I said, “You’ll have to bring your line in.”
    “I can’t. I have a fish on,” he answered. His rod was bent to the corks, and line was pouring off of his spool.
    Throwing my reel in gear, I came tight to my fish to the same effect, my rod bent down and a strong rockfish headed out and away. I did my best to keep my line from crossing my son’s. For long moments it was a delightfully difficult situation.
    Laughing and dodging around each other as we finally got separation, I had to warn John to push his rod tip deep underwater to keep his line clear of our motor’s lower unit. His fish had turned and managed to angle his line under the hull. I thought about raising the motor in assistance, then decided my hands were full. It was every man for himself.
    The response had turned us optimistic. When we arrived, I had been alarmed to see more than 50 fishing craft clustered in the area. Fortunately, most of the others were trolling or anchored and fishing bait. Neither would interfere with our live-lining tactics.

Tips for Live-lining Success
    A number of details can make big differences in your rate of success. The bait must swim as naturally as possible; ideally no weight should be added to the line. Place the hook no deeper than one-quarter inch just in front of the dorsal.
    To maximize the bait’s freedom of movement, we use loop knots to secure a 6/0 live bait hook to the leader. Using at least 18 inches of no more than a 20-pound fluoro leader helps in the stealth department.
    When fishing open water, make your presentations to marked fish in drift mode to give you a definite advantage. Search until you have found good marks, move up current, then drift down over their location with your motor off. Your electronics will tell you how deep your quarry is and approximately when your bait will drift through them.
    Maintain constant but delicate contact with the baitfish through line tension. Knowing just how the bait is swimming — and lending pressure when it is to your advantage — will trigger strikes. When you feel the baitfish making evasive movements, snubbing it up briefly will make it move more frantically. The stripers are alerted to the bait’s distress and often respond with immediate attacks.
    A long pause, free of all line pressure, is almost always necessary after a rockfish grabs the bait. Unless you’ve got very small perch or spot, it’s difficult to get a hook set until the rockfish has really engulfed the bait. A long five count is the minimum.
    Strike with a firm, measured pull, not a hard strike. Particularly with bigger fish, if it has swallowed the bait, a forceful strike can rip the bait and the hook out of the soft tissue of the fish’s throat. During the fight, keep the pressure moderate for the same reason.
    Do not attempt to horse a fish in the last few feet nor snub a last-minute dash for the bottom. Be patient, set your drag on the light side, let them run and you’ll land ’em all — as we did that day.

Is the Bay full of sharks?

The teeth you find at beaches in Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties aren’t from sharks now living in the Bay. The teeth fall from the eroding cliffs around the Bay, where sharks lived during the Miocene Epoch, around 17 million years ago.
    At that time, Southern Maryland looked very different. We were a shallow, salty sea with a climate like North Carolina’s. Over millions of years, the sea receded and through erosion the land that was once the bottom of the ocean rose as Bayside cliffs. The fossils are remains of animals that once lived in the sea, from scallops to sharks.
    Shark teeth top off at seven inches, which means the Great White Shark that grew them was as big as a boxcar. But even an ancient tooth as tiny as a rose thorn can be a thrilling discovery. Learn about these treasures from Calvert Marine Museum, which has a fine collection and offers Fossil Field Experiences (the next is July 16), help in identification and the guidebook Fossils of Calvert Cliffs.
    In addition to shark teeth, a trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park, Flag Ponds or Chesapeake Beach Bayfront Park can yield finds of fossilized shells, whale bones and small sea creatures. The Maryland Geological Survey has a number of handy guides available on its website ( identifying the fossils you can find in the area.
    If you go fossil hunting, know that collecting fossils directly from the cliffs is prohibited. The regulation protects the cliffs and you: The cliffs are unstable, and a collapse can ruin your day. The best time to go searching for fossils is at low tide or just after a storm.

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When spot are missing, will they bite on white perch?

It was sunny and flat calm on the Bay, and I had made record time to get on site. But the area I had chosen was empty of boats. With such great weather, I assumed that at least a few sports would be working the flat. The schools of good-sized rockfish that had been teeming there were certainly no secret.
    On my fish finder, the water looked as vacant underneath as on top. With a sinking heart, I cruised slowly an irregular pattern in the general direction of previous good fortune. The bottom appeared featureless and empty; my scan of its 20-foot depth ran steady flat.
    I searched for a half-hour before my screen lit up. Netting a small but lively perch out of my bait bucket, I fitted a 6/0 hook just under the skin in front of its dorsal. I wanted that hook to break free with just a bit of a tug so it could easily find purchase in the rockfish’s mouth.
    One of the most frequent causes of losing big fish when live-lining is placing the hook too deep in the baitfish. Deep hooking obscures much of the hook gap, and it makes it more likely that, when the striper takes the fish down, the hook will turn back into the bait’s body and not into the rockfish.
    Motoring up current, well past the marks, I flipped the small perch out away from my skiff and felt it shoot down toward the bottom. I settled my nerves and waited out the drift with my thumb lightly on the reel spool. It was almost mid-day, and though the sun was high, its heat was not oppressive. The day couldn’t have been more pleasant.

What to Feed a Rockfish
    My trip had started out that morning, as it often does, with an unwelcome surprise. The perch I had planned to catch for bait were no longer where I had been finding them. Just a few days past, the area had been choked with schools of the little white devils, many just the right size, no more than five inches. This morning the bottom looked like a desert on my finder; no life anywhere.
    Moving about with my eyes glued to the sonar produced nothing but eyestrain. I gave up and headed for a sizeable creek where I had occasionally caught a few small perch. It appeared, at first, to be just as empty, but by moving about and trying every piece of structure, I finally found a small school of whities.
    It took another hour to get about 10 decent sized scrappers in my aerated bucket. The morning was wearing late when I finally fired up the Yamaha and headed for rockfish water.
    Would my perch baitfish work?
    The last few years, it has been virtually impossible to get rockfish to eat a white perch. If a live-liner didn’t have a supply of small Norfolk spot, it was unlikely a striper would be tempted to bite. Last year, the number of small spot in the Chesapeake dropped. This year, spot of any size seem to be missing. Since rockfish have to eat, I reasoned, perhaps it was finally time for white perch as bait.
    As I drifted over the area where I’d had likely marks, I felt my baitfish making a number of sudden dashes. Then it stopped. My line started up under my thumb in long, erratic bursts. I fed into the action, guarding against a spool overrun while trying to minimize resistance on the line. Giving the situation a long 10-count, I came tight again.
    When I felt solid resistance I struck, and the fight was on. The hiss of a smooth drag is lovely music to an old angler’s ear. It says big fish and means you’d better be extra careful. There are lots of ways to lose a big guy, as I well knew, but only one sure method to land it: patience combined with constant pressure and focus.
    Eventually that fat, healthy 32-inch fish came to the net and into the boat. As I buried it in ice, I marveled at how well things had turned out. My white perch had carried the day and I had more than enough to get another striper to fill my limit. But another fish didn’t really matter. Everything was already fantastic.


Gene splicing is latest form of ­systematic plant breeding

What do I think about genetically modified plants? Here’s my answer to that question I so often hear.
    We have been genetically modifying plants for many centuries. We can blame the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel for initiating the science of plant breeding, which has resulted in improved quality and yields of vegetables, grains, fruit, flowers and ornamentals. It all started after Mendel crossed smooth peas with wrinkled peas and yellow peas with green peas. From these crosses, he concluded that there are dominant genes and recessive genes and introduced the possibility of hybrid vigor.
    The science he founded, genetics, has enabled farmers to produce ­higher-yielding crops, better-tasting fruit and vegetables, disease-resistant and disease-immune plants, plants resistant to insect damage.
    The next time you look at a seed catalog, look for the word hybrid in such terms as F1 hybrid and double-cross hybrid. All those hybrids are the result of systematic plant breeding.
    I saw hybridizing for myself in a course in Cytogenetics in which we used an old dental X-ray machine to irradiate germinating corn seeds. The exposure to different levels of radiation and periods of exposures resulted in numerous physical changes in appearances of seedlings that survived. The changes were due to genetic alteration. The previous semester class had performed the same experiment, then grown the corn to maturity. We grew seedlings from their corn and compared differences between our seedlings and the parents. Only a few of the seedlings resembled the parent. The majority expressed tremendous variations in appearance. Some changes were beneficial, while many were not. These experiments had been performed for many years, with a large collection of photographs for comparison.
    The science of genetics has made tremendous strides since Mendel. The helical structure of chromosomes was first reported in 1961. Since then scientist have identified the number of chromosomes in many organisms and the location of specific genes on those chromosomes. Using genetic engineering techniques, it is now possible to select specific genes and transplant them into desirable locations on specific chromosomes. This new method of cross-breeding has significantly reduced the time to generate improved varieties.
    Genetic modification in corn and soybeans has made those crops immune to damage from the application of glyphosate. This GMO significantly reduces the need to apply weed killers, which is beneficial. But only time will tell if GMOs will have any effect on quality and safety of these crops.
    There have been environmental problems with GMO cotton and other such crops. But with regards to vegetable crops, there is now a GMO sweet corn that can be grown without insecticides to control corn ear worm. There are raspberries that can be grown free of crown gall. These are just a few of many crop improvements that are the result of genetic engineering and the development of GMO crops.
    The Florida citrus industry is fading rapidly. Viruses are mutating at a faster rate each year, killing citrus trees. If the citrus industry is to survive, it will most likely depend on the development of plants genetically modified for immunity to these viruses. Once the gene that makes some plants immune to viruses can be located, there is a good possibility it can be transferred to citrus trees, thus making them immune.

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Learn the trick — and the science

Hardy mums planted for color last fall most likely survived the winter and are now rising in clumps in your garden. Here’s how to get them ready to bloom again this fall.
    To move mums to new spots: For lots of smaller plants, dig the clumps and divide them into smaller clumps of one, three or five stems each, with roots firmly attached. Transplant them 12 to 18 inches apart. After they have started to grow, prune the stems, leaving only three or four leaves near the bottom of the stem, for two to three branches per plant.
    To manage them in place: Get out the hedge shears and prune the tops away, leaving only a few leaves at the bottom of the stems. These undisturbed clumps will quickly generate multiple stems. Allow the new stems to grow about six inches before shearing away the upper half of the new growth. Continue shearing away the tops of the plants until July 23. Shear with a slight curve to make them naturally round like a large beach ball. This method will give you bushel-basket sized plants that will flower starting, depending on the variety, in early September until frost.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, meaning that they initiate flower buds when daylight hours are fewer than 10 to 12. Thus you stop shearing them on July 23 so the plants will have time to send up new growth before flower bud initiation begins at the end of each stem. Some varieties require 24 hours of total darkness, while other varieties require only 22 hours of total darkness for flower bud initiation. Exposing the plants to a flash of light from a flood lamp, street lighting or light from vehicles during the daily dark cycle may prevent the plants from flowering. Once the round flower buds become visible at the ends of the stems, total darkness during the dark cycle is no longer necessary.
    Chrysanthemums are similar to poinsettia with regards to short-day requirements. Other common short-day plants are garlic and Vidalia onions. Vidalia onions — planted in Vidalia County, Georgia, in the fall for spring harvesting — require short days to produce bulbs. Just as the Champagne region of France is the unique producer of champagne, Vidalia County is the unique producer of Vidalia onions. The soils in that region are low in sulfur, resulting in mild onions.
    Because of our harsh winters, Maryland is best for long-day (and intermediate) onions. Planted in the spring, these onions produce bulbs because they are growing during long daylight hours.

Pruning Photinia

Q A row of redtip Photinia between my property and my neighbor is over 20 years old and has been pruned repeatedly. They are now taller than the garage but sparse at the bottom. If I cut them down to about five feet, will they fill out? Or are the base branches too thick? I have attended your pruning seminars and I know you can cut back a lot of shrubs and they bounce back. But I want to make sure I won’t do any damage before I proceed.
    I thoroughly enjoy your column and often clip it to keep in my garden notebook.

– Bonnie Smith, Lusby

A Photinia is nearly impossible to kill by pruning, though you should have pruned them before they resumed growth earlier this spring.  When you cold-cut these plants down to the ground, they return like gangbusters.  If you cut them back hard now, they will sprout only at the uppermost branches. If you wait and prune them back early next spring, they will grow new sprouts at the bottom.

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Chesapeake Curiosities

Founding father John Adams wanted to celebrate Independence Day July second rather than the fourth, but he was the visionary in celebrating with fireworks. The Adams family hosted huge Independence Day celebrations for generations.
    In a letter to his wife, Abagail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will … be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.
    Fourth of July fireworks displays became the standard in the 1880s.
    The first fireworks are believed to have been made in China around 2,000 years ago, when gunpowder stuffed into bamboo was detonated. Ever since, people have been fascinated by their magic. Fireworks were especially popular in Renaissance Europe, when royalty set them off to punctuate celebrations.
    In 1608 Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display on Chesapeake Bay to impress Native Americans.
    Today’s fireworks are complicated affairs with each color created by a mix of chemicals. Copper burns blue. Strontium salts and lithium salts burn red. Sodium burns yellow. Calcium burns orange. Barium burns green. Charcoal and lampblack burn gold. Magnesium, aluminum and titanium burn white or silver.
    Setup for large fireworks displays like the ones in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach or Solomons can take days. Each display is carefully choreographed and timed. It takes years to master the skills to pull off a dazzling show. Fireworks can also be extremely dangerous, so leave it to the pros to handle the light show this year.
    See page 12 for a listing of this year’s local fireworks, with some falling before July 4, which would please John Adams.

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Mastering your electronics will increase your catch

I’ve had a great past two weeks fishing the Chesapeake. Nice rockfish to 34 inches were in multiple small mobs, hanging in 20 to 30 feet of water. When I located one on the finder, they promptly attacked any jigs or baits we dropped on them. A number of friends had the same experience.
    Yet later this week, I heard from anglers who had cruised the same waters and hadn’t been able to catch anything. What’s more, they told me, they generally had trouble catching rockfish, despite serious effort.
    Digging deeper I ferreted out a common denominator. All had electronic fish finders on their craft but weren’t up to speed on using them. Depth was about all they understood.
    It’s a dictum of fishing the salt that 90 percent of the task is locating the fish. The single most effective tool in finding fish on large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake, is the electronic fish finder.
    Locating fish with the finder does not guarantee that you will catch them. But it is impossible to catch fish that aren’t there, no matter how hard you try.
    Today’s fish finders are able instruments with multiple options to tailor them to your unique marine environment and detect just about anything underwater you’d care to find. Based to a certain extent on anti-submarine technology, these babies are so technically sophisticated that they remain illegal for export to foreign countries.
    But a few days ago I was reminded of just how daunting dealing with these instruments can be. My unit hiccupped during booting and failed to load. When I turned it off and back on again to reboot, I saw that most of my settings had been lost and the unit’s displays were unrecognizable.
    It had been years since I set the machine up and fine-tuned it, so I had no memory of how I did it. With multiple screen menus each with many options, I had to go back to the manual and start over.
    Turning on my unit with my boat on its trailer beside my house, I had no distractions. With the manual in my lap, I went through the setup again. A basic menu option on any recently manufactured unit is a reset to original manufacturer defaults. That’s where I started.
    If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with electronics, I recommend you begin there as well. There is little intuitive about setting up a fish finder, but most manuals are fairly helpful.
    If the original manual for your machine cannot be located, most manufacturers offer them on their websites. As a last resort, you can call the manufacturer and order a copy.
    Do not attempt to set up or review your settings while fishing; There are just too many distractions.
    Once you’ve entered your initial settings, take a short cruise (with the manual and without your tackle) to fine-tune them.
    Repeat, trying different options and watching your screen to observe the effects. If your choices end in confusion, reset to the default settings and start over.
    A well-tuned instrument will become a customized tool that meets your requirements, eye and angling techniques. The reward will come in terms of more fish in the boat and more confidence in your approach.

Chesapeake Curiosities

At the corner of routes 468 and 255 in Galesville, a lovely, tree-filled cemetery reminds us that one of the first Quaker communities was in Chesapeake Country. George Fox, the father of the Religious Society of Friends — the proper name for the Quakers — opened the meeting house in Galesville in 1672, uniting various Quaker groups in Maryland into the first organized West River Yearly Meeting of Friends.
    Fox advocated nonviolence, equality, obedience to God, simplicity and conviction of the Divine Presence within every individual. He promoted his cause in his native England, throughout Europe, then in the colonies.
    “Quakers first arrived in Maryland in the 1650s after being expelled from Virginia,” wrote Quaker historian Peter Rabenold in History of Quakers in Southern Maryland.
    Maryland was more tolerant of religions than other colonies. For nearly a century, the Quaker community thrived, with hundreds of Quaker families establishing themselves throughout the area. Galesville gets its name from the Gales, a prominent Quaker family, according to the Galesville Historical Society.
    The religion declined in the mid to late 1700s. Some families moved when residents were asked to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore as Quakers don’t swear oaths. Additional decline was due to the Maryland chapter of the religion outlawing slavery in 1777.
    “Friends who did not wish to give up their slaves became Episcopalians. Those who gave up their slaves moved out of the area, since they could not grow tobacco economically without slaves,” Rabenold wrote.
    By the 1800s the meeting house in Galesville had largely been abandoned. Today, a historical marker is the only evidence that the meeting house existed.
    The cemetery is distinctive because Quakers mostly do not mark their graves with headstones, following the Quaker principle that all people are equal and headstones differentiate and elevate one over another. Thus Quaker graves at the Galesville burial ground are unmarked.

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The concept couldn’t be simpler or the results better

My life as a sportsman has undergone any number of wild, unorganized, swings of interest. Angling-wise, I have immersed myself for long periods of dedication to salt-water fly-fishing, freshwater bass and bluegill fishing, a few years of an offshore blue-water crusade and plenty of surf and inshore wade fishing. Only in the last three years have I become absorbed by bait fishing in the Chesapeake.
    Perhaps it is because I don’t quite have the excess energy so advantageous to wielding the long rod, plugging the shallows with a casting rod or thrashing the oceanside high surf with a big stick and heavy metal. Plus, rising well before dawn to get the jump on big fish in skinny water or staying up past midnight to work an opportune tide no longer have the old attraction.
    Bait fishing, I’ve found, is a more relaxed pastime. The open-water bite, particularly in the Bay, is just as good during the day as the night, so there is no reason to wreck sleep patterns or strain domestic relationships to enjoy a dance with our game fish.
    Its basic concept couldn’t be simpler: decide on a species; determine what they usually eat and present it to them where they are most apt to be found.
    On the Chesapeake, species selection is fairly straightforward. It’s rockfish and white perch for most of the year and croaker and spot during the hotter months. I’ve excluded bluefish, drum and Spanish mackerel because of their mostly tentative presence in the mid- and upper Bay over the last decade.
    Rockfish — striped bass — are the most sought-after species by area anglers and rightly so. A particularly handsome, silvery striped fish with excellent table qualities, rockfish is just selective enough in its eating habits to be a challenge to catch.
    It is also sufficiently numerous to provide fairly frequent limits of two fish to all but the most casual anglers. The fact that it can be encountered in the Bay in sizes from barely two pounds for a legal possession to in excess of 50 pounds adds drama to the pursuit.
    Presenting the freshest cut menhaden, crab or a big lively bloodworm as bait will result, as likely as not, in the relatively prompt attention of any nearby rockfish. Attention to your rod tip is mandatory, as on many days stripers will sip the bait off your hook with nary a twitch to betray it.
    Time your strike properly. Sometimes a quick pull on the rod is necessary, particularly with small, soft baits. Other times, and especially with larger baits, if you don’t give the fish time to get it well into its mouth, your strike will result in nothing but a water haul.
    Another challenging baiting technique is live-lining. Presenting a frisky baitfish such as a four- or five-inch white perch or Norfolk spot near structure where rockfish like to hang out can result in some electrifying moments. A 30-inch striper on a medium-weight spin or casting rod will make any outing memorable.
    White perch are often, and quite mistakenly, overlooked or regarded as undemanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The smaller sizes of perch are so eager to bite that they can amount to a nuisance, while the larger, those 10 inches and over, can be challenging and should be regarded as a premium catch, especially for the table. They like bloodworms, grass shrimp, crab.
    Norfolk spot and croaker can also be taken on the same baits as perch and are often found in the same areas. They are also frequently in such numbers that it is an ideal fishery for youngsters just starting out.
    The saying All good things come to those who bait is often spoken as angler’s jest. But in my time on the water, I have found it has a solid ring of truth.

Pros and cons of straw, paper, ­plastic and reflective mulches

It is a big mistake to mulch your tomato plants when you plant them. When organic mulches such as straw are applied at planting time on cool soil, the cool will linger. This will retard growth, flowering and fruiting. Wait to mulch vegetable gardens until soil temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees.
    Straw, the most common organic mulch, is generally weed-free and relatively inexpensive. Never use hay if you wish to avoid major weed problems in the future. Hay is often harvested after the seed heads are well developed, and some bales of hay may contain other plants.
    Newspapers are another common mulch, but some people fear that inks may contain heavy metals and glossy paper might contain chemicals. Nearly all black inks used are made of soy. I wish printers were still using zinc-based inks because many of our soils are deficient in zinc, an essential plant nutrient. The colored inks are also organic in nature. The gloss on some papers is the result of the paper being treated with special clay that is harmless.
    It takes 12 to 14 sheets of newsprint to provide adequate depth for weed control. To keep it from being lifted by wind, soak the paper with water immediately after laying it on the ground. Laying sticks across the papers or sprinkling on soil before wetting is also helpful.
    The best paper mulch is made of shredded paper. A five- to eight-inch-thick layer of shredded paper will quickly mat down to a one-quarter-inch layer that will easily stay in place after being saturated with water. By fall, the paper will have disintegrated, leaving little to no residue.
    Mulching-grade black plastic not only controls weeds but also conserves moisture. It is best applied soon after tilling the soil and before trans­planting. When transplanting, simply cut an X with a sharp knife for plants. Where seeds are to be planted, the black plastic mulch must be applied after the seedlings have emerged. Anchor the edges of the plastic with soil immediately after it is laid.
    Reflective mulches do a three-fold job: preventing weeds, reducing water loss by evaporation and repelling insects. Aluminized paper or plastic mulches are used primarily in growing squash, cucumbers and melons to repel the stripped cucumber beetle. The light reflected by the aluminum is polarized, confusing the insects as many navigate using light waves of different length. Reflective light also increases the amount of chlorophyll on the underside of leaves it reflects on. An early study with reflective mulches on tomato plants reported a one-third increase in chlorophyll in leaves, with most of the increase on the under side nearest the reflective light source. Several gardening catalogs advertise red mulch for under tomato plants.

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