Weathering Snow and Winter
Taking the season in stride despite predictions of doom
Snow, slowly and endlessly falling in giant flakes coupled with eager network weather predictions of calamitous storms inspired my wife and me to take the dog for a long stroll down to the local beach. It turned out to be a fine decision.
Halfway along our route, the local crows were out cruising as well. A small group, scratching for a last-minute snack beside a fallen trashcan, only retreated to the trees when we were a few feet away.
Protesting, they settled into the lower branches, their black feathers glistening in contrast with the soft shadows cast by the ambient light.
Many sharp eyes gave us the once-over as we passed, but I’m sure the crows were fully aware of our harmlessness. The most intelligent of all resident Maryland birds, they are secure in their niche as the neighborhood guardians against hawks, owls and other unwanted (to them) interlopers.
Arriving at the beach, we were alone in a quiet becoming rare in the increasingly busy neighborhood where we live. It was a secluded paradise, carpeted in soft ivory.
Sophie, our German shorthair pointer, sprinted up the shoreline, pausing occasionally to point a suspicious tuft of grass peeking from the deepening snow or to eyeball a long string of ducks paddling along just off the shore.
They were bluebills, blackheads in the Tidewater vernacular. A particularly handsome medium-sized duck, they generally don’t come around until there’s been some good, hard weather.
The drakes are the most identifiable, marked by a dark breast and a proudly held, dark green-black head, a middle section with bright, light gray feathers and a dark, low rump.
The hen is a uniform brown with a light buff collar around the base of the bill. Both sexes sport the blue bill, the source of their more common name, though officially they are known as scaup.
These ducks seemed to have had a particularly cheerful attitude as they frolicked at the edge of a growing slush of snow and ice. Perhaps they were celebrating the close of the gunning season, but more likely this is still temperate weather to them and they were just enjoying themselves.
A few made quick dives, searching for the tiny clams and mussels they are fond of. The shallow water off our shores is hardly challenging, as bluebills can easily dive 20 to 30 feet to feed, but I do know of a nice crop of young clams coming along in the sandy bottom off our shore.
Canada geese resting in a nearby backwater spoke to others approaching invisibly out of the snowy evening sky. Their honks were soft and muted.
Heading for home in the deepening flakes, it was relaxing to know our feathered acquaintances were taking the weather in stride.
I knew we’d weather this unexpected snowfall, despite the doom predicted by the local networks.
Taking Care of Business
With the final throes of winter, it’s a great time to prepare fishing tackle for the coming season.
Reels are the most maintenance-intensive fishing gear we have. No matter what type, they require and deserve the most attention. If we fail them, they will fail us.
Spraying the exterior thoroughly with WD-40 or a light oil and scrubbing with an old toothbrush will usually remove most of the nasty stuff. Hand buffing them with a soft cloth will then remove excess oil residue and ensure that you’ve done a thorough job.
Level-wind mechanisms ought to get special attention with a cleaning from a can of forced air. Light machine oil should be used to lubricate here, never grease.
Spinning-reel spools should be removed from the reel shaft before cleaning. Just unscrew the drag knob and gently lift the spool off, but be sure you check the underside of the spool for drag washers and other adhering parts that could get lost in the cleaning.
Examine the inside of the rotor body and the spool for sand and dirt, which are deadly to a fine mechanism and will quickly cause wear. A good spraying with a light lubricant and attention with the toothbrush should take care of any dirty deposits. Check all screws and nuts for tightness. Always wipe off excess oil; it only attracts more dirt.
Fish Are Biting
Yellow Perch and pickerel are biting where the ice is out. The rest of our fish are awaiting warmer weather. Bay water is currently 35 degrees. It will have to be 45 degrees before rock and perch begin to take bait, 50 degrees before they take a lure.