Saturday, July 30, 2011

No, "The Kids" Are Not Ruining It - A Day with the Vans Warped Tour

There is a historic school campus in Baltimore that lies a few hundred feet uphill from the Jones Falls, a historic trout stream devastated by 200 years of human interference.  This school and its parking lot cover over two acres of land, fully paved, and have runoff piped directly underground and to the Jones Falls.  In warm weather storms, this water is superheated and undoubtedly kills everything it comes in contact with.  In cold weather storms, it's just trash and pollution.  Not good.
The City of Baltimore knows about this site, and hundreds of others like it, and has failed to take action to reduce the pollution - hard to worry about water pollution when 200 murders occur annually on your watch. 

Neighborhood residents know about it, and have not really been interested in making a fuss over it over the last 100 years that the site has looked this way.  The local watershed group, Blue Water Baltimore, learned about it 4 years ago, and worked with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to secure funding for an ambitious effort to turn back the clock on this huge paved lot and its huge impact on water quality downstream.  Checks were cut, permits were signed, contractors were hired, and volunteers..........

Well, you might be surprised who showed up to help make this happen, and not in a "yay, let's plant a ceremonial tree" kind of way.  Hold on to your Orvis catalogs and Sierra Club backpacks.

A lot of people would cross the street to avoid people who look like this.  If your neighbor's kids dressed like this, you might think that either they are on drugs, or they should start taking drugs - one or the other.  The truth is that they are all young people who showed up from the Vans Warped Tour on their day off to help a community out - in a city they know nothing about.

Some of them are in bands.  Others are budding professional skaters and BMX riders, and others still were the thankless support crew for the nationwide tour, which aims to bring positive underground music and alternative sports to kids across America. 

All of them gave up a "free day" on the summer-long tour to break up a 100-year old, 1 acre marble chip parking lot in 100 degree, 80% humidity weather in our city.  And while the grilled lunch provided by the Tour definitely included vegetarian quesadillas and vegan burgers, they also had hot dogs, hamburgers, and BBQ chips.  These kids look different, sound different, and maybe act different.  But they are American kids.

I was out there swinging away with a maddock too, as hardcore music blasted from one of the tour vans.  200 of these kids worked harder than any volunteers I have ever seen -  carting wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of asphalt and marble chips away, with the knowledge that this will be a good, positive, natural space for local children to enjoy (coincidentally, just across the street from the skatepark).  But also with the knowledge that they'll never even see the results of their hard, unpaid work.

Within our inexplicably still isolated and quickly aging conservation community in the United States, there has got to be a better effort to engage the next generation in volunteer leadership.  As 65 year old men bicker back and forth in Washington DC over problems that should have been solved a generation ago, the real solutions to our nation's problems lays idle in front of the TV, wondering if anybody will ever ask them to do something real.  Some meaningful hard work. 

So ask them.  And at the next meeting of your favorite nonprofit group, ask somebody why more people under age 40 aren't there. And ask somebody what can be done to bring them in the door.
After all, where will your group be in 20 years without them?

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Waterbug

A variety of studies have been published recently that indicate a problem exists with traditional childrens playgrounds - their sterility and predictability actually hamper the development of toddlers' imaginations and problem solving skills. One study says that "today's playgrounds have little value in terms of play" and that playgrounds "do not foster the emotional and cognitive development of children." Yikes.  Take a look at these pictures and tell me if you think there's a difference between children outdoors and children on the playground!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Anorexic Okra?

Texas Hill Country (top) and Clemson Spineless #80 (bottom)
I don't know what's going on with my okra.  Both varieties are growing a little short but are cranking out fruit.  Last summer, in the same garden, I had to aggressively pick the Clemson okra because in a few days it would grow from 3" to 6" and become tough and inedible.  You all have dirty minds.

I've picked about a half dozen of both varieties this summer under that same aggressive picking philosophy, and haven't yet gotten an edible okra.  Look at what's inside........nothing but seeds and seed case - no meat at all!

Am I picking too early? Garden too dry? Nutrients wrong? What the heck is going on with my anorexic okra?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Becomes My Problem

Elderberry juice for the stinkbugs means less elderberry juice
for the berries
If you live in Maryland, New York, or Pennsylvania, you've heard about the great stinkbug invasion.  Chances are, your house itself has been invaded on warm fall or spring days, as hibernating stinkbugs wake up....eventually they fly off somewhere else, probably to my house.
And if you're in the conservation or agriculture industries, you've heard all of this doom-and-gloom stuff about how this invasive bug will destroy fruit, vegetable, bean, and grain crops.  Sounds bad, but I had no frame of reference personally.  Now I do. They are here.  All year long, for the first time.

Our yard is full of mostly native shrubs that I've planted for wildlife over the last seven years.  Some of them have neat stories behind them, like the black elderberry above, which was rescued from a construction site, and others have actual history behind them, like the Redbud a few pictures below, which was given to me by my wife's grandfather just before he passed away in 2005.  So while I don't douse my shrubs in chemicals, I treat them well.  I like them. 

I noticed a bunch of terminal bud damage and leaf burn last week...lo and behold, this spring's stinkbugs decided to stick around.  In July, most shrubs are pushing energy and plant juices UP from the roots to the tips of the plants for fruit production and the production of next spring's flowers in some cases.  This is a perfect feeding opportunity for the stinkbug, which eats plant juices.  Like many "bad" insects, the stinkbugs are difficult to find because when they sense a predator's presence, they immediately go to the underside of the leaf they were feeding on.

I also wanted to show you what early stinkbug damage looks like.  This redbud has lost turgor, or cell pressure, in the outer margins of this leaf. That's because Ol' Stinky has sucked the plant juices out, resulting in "leaf roll." Check it out:

As the feeding continues, something happens physiologically to the leaves and nearby buds (or immature fruit) - it just dies.  Here's what advanced leaf damage from stinkbug feeding looks like on a lilac bush:

So........I sprayed for the first time this year.  I'm sure it's bad for the bees and so many other beneficial insects, but I just can't stand the thought of losing multiple plants to this invasive bug.  I don't yet know what the best insecticide is for them, so I won't hazard a guess.  But if you've read this far - look at the photos again - at least you can  know if the stinkbugs have decided to take up residence in your yard, forest, orchard, or garden.  Good luck!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trout Fishing? Je Refuse!

This guy catches all of the trout.
None left for me.  Must be the hat. 
It's not that I'm against trout, or against trout fishermen.  I just don't go trout fishing.  I've certainly caught some great ones over the years - my first big brown (about 15" but I didn't measure it) in the Linville Gorge Wilderness (1997), a 21" rainbow on the Youghiogheny in far southwestern Maryland (2005), and my first trout on fly, Winklers Creek Put and Take area, Boone NC, 1997 (a stocked rainbow, about 11").  But overall, if you stacked up any other group of gamefish I've caught vs. the number of trout I've caught, trout are dragging up the rear......despite the fact that I lived in the southern Appalachians for nearly 7 years.
I'll admit - part of it is that I'm not attracted to the difficulty of chasing 6" long genetically superior fish, when a slightly warmer river holds gullible 3lb smallmouth.  Another part of it is that my worst days trout fishing have been some of my worst days outdoors of all time. 

Trout love claw excavators!
 In an unrelated story, I recently found myself wrapping up a morning construction meeting at a stream restoration site on the Gunpowder River.  One of the goals of the project is to physically and genetically reconnect the wild brown trout populations upstream and downstream of a 200-year old mill dam.  That's all well and good - after all - managing habitat construction projects and funding is what I do. 

The contractor asked, "Do you have a rod in the truck?"  Of course I did (I had four rods in the truck, actually). He said, "We need a trout for a PR photo of the finished part of the project.  Go down to that restored pool and see if you can catch one."

Fish one (2 minutes into fishing): an 8" fallfish.

Fish two (4 minutes into fishing): a 5" wild brown trout.
Still waiting for my DNR buddy to send the actual photo - this is from

It was my first trout in at least 3 years, and it was beautiful.  I handled him gently and we took pictures of him with rocks and rootwads in the background before sliding him back into the cool, tan water.  We got back into our meeting and discussed itemized budgets, stop work orders, etc - the non-sexy side of habitat restoration work.  We wrapped up around 12:30pm and I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since a very light breakfast at home. 

The air temperature was approaching 95 and as I headed up the road to a lunch spot, I started thinking about how and why I've ignored trout over the last several years.  Deep in thought, I missed my turn and had to go another few miles before I came to a service road.  I pulled in, and right as I jammed it into reverse, I saw a sign that read, "River Access Ahead .25 miles."  Hmm.

So I skipped lunch that day and went trout fishing instead - for the second time in one day.  That story is next.

One of many nice fallfish I landed! 100% humidity and nearly 100 degrees! My buddy Jim sent me this picture he took, instead of the one with me holding an actual brown trout I caught.  No worries, though!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pond to Bog Conversion: Complete

12 hours after a 1.4" per hour rainstorm - no puddling!

For those of you who missed Parts I and II over the past 10 months or so, I dug a pond in our yard six years ago.  It was about 6' x 6' x 2.5' deep, and it functioned pretty well as a fish pond and a stormwater collector of sorts.  And occasionally, as poor old Roan's summer hang-out spot.  However, when Hank started walking in August, 2010, I could quickly tell that the pond's days were numbered based on safety alone.  I talked to a wetland designer buddy ("E") of mine who suggested that I convert it to a bog or "bog garden" that would provide many of the same stormwater and habitat functions, but without the standing water (my apologies to the fish).

I drained the pond, filled it with peat moss and sand as "E" prescribed, and concocted this wonderful planting plan:

After allowing the material to settle to final elevations, I ordered the plant stock and installed it.  Unfortunately, I missed a key part of any planting plan - understanding the land use.   What do I mean, "land use"? What could possibly interfere with a native planting at our house?

Keep jumping on it until it's dead! much for "disturbance sensitive" plants.  Here's what the "as built" planting plan actually looks like:

Yeah, I had no idea that a bouncy peat bog with ferns taller than Hank would be in any way attractive to him. He's almost two......he should be over that destructive stuff, right?  (joking).  Hank busted up the few bloodroots that emerged - I think the peat stayed too wet for the trilliums.  The best things about the project are that it is keeping our runoff on our property, and it has become an attractive landscape feature in our back yard. Oh, and the neighbor's cats hunt chipmunks here, if you consider that to be a good thing.  I could go either way on that one.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome to My Chicago Readers!

A big thanks to Ken at Waterdog Journal for listing monday's heat wave fishing post as a worthwhile lunchtime read.  My google statistics do show that y'all tend to visit when you are at work during the week, tsk tsk.  Anyway, glad to have you.   Please leave a comment or two.  If you'd like to read my hunting posts, click here.  Fishing, click here.  Habitat conservation and restoration (cue: cricket sounds), click here.

For my regular readers, please check out Waterdog Journal.  I frequently come across the syndicated link for Ken's blog and don't have a "chicagonow" ID to post comments.  The link above takes you directly to Ken's primary domain. 

One of his posts I enjoyed recently was Battling Big Bass, which pokes at the "fat kid" known as "competitive bass fishing."  Such an easy target!  Another recent fun one was Fox River Hawg Huntin'.  Be sure to check them out!

Thanks Ken!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Garden Charges Along

Not easy to photograph a garden in July!

Late July is certainly the "time of truth" for gardens in the Mid-Atlantic.  Temperatures and humidity are consistently high, rain is unpredictable, and every garden pest ever conceived is hard at work destroying what someone has planted.  By the same token, if fruit and vegetable plants aren't well-rooted, substantial, and pretty happy overall, they're not going to be.......this year.

My peppers aren't doing fantastic, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I planted them inbetween lettuce plants this spring, which turned the peppers into slug food.  Other than that, the usual summer crops are doing either moderately or very well - cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and okra particularly.  I also have a pretty extraordinary collection of native mint species planted as bee and butterfly attractant, most notably my first bloom on the bizarre looking lemon bee balm (Monarda citriodora):

I collected and stored these seeds from one successful plant in 2010, and while I love the plant, I'm really trying to urge on a few Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata) plants that I grew from seed this spring.   Spotted bee balm is the most finicky mint plant I've ever come across, so we'll see if it actually blooms.  Here's the prize:

Speaking of prizes, and speaking of garden performance, all of the City Farm gardens will be judged again this week, in the annual "City Farm blah blah blah Awards."  Last year, I was totally thrilled to win "Most Beautiful Garden" on my particular City Farm, and to come in second or third throughout the city (out of about a thousand garden plots) in that same category.   However, the award I would have loved even more would have been "Best Garden Design."   Alas, I don't think I'll be in the running for that one in 2011, either.

There are so many factors involved in gardening, that it's hard to tell if my garden is on track with last year's epic performance (click here for a sample of that).   I mean, my garden (photo at top of this post) looks fuller than late June, 2010........

But I am definitely nowhere near July 25, 2010's impressive stature:

I'm not sure whether the 2011 garden is experiencing some under-performance due to lack of fertilization this spring, different weather conditions, or even whether this is a year-long damper on production or just a delay in production.  Time will tell!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Traditions - Of Bait Hunks and Bottom Rigs

Anybody know what this is? Yeah, I thought you might.  When this writing prompt popped up on the Outdoor Bloggers Network, I was honestly stumped.  I've had God's gift of 37 years living very different lifestyles in different places across the Mid-Atlantic.   Many things that were summer traditions of my youth, like catching crabs, or buying live crabs, or serious saltwater fishing, are just not part of our summer anymore because we don't live on saltwater (sorry, central Marylanders, just because it's salty 90 days a year does not make it saltwater) and because we don't have the disposal income to go spend time there, which hurts almost as much as living away from the coast.  So let's run down the list of memories.

Fishing with bottom rigs
Sometimes, you just want to catch fish.  No lures.  Certainly, no flies.  I'm talking 2 size 1 hooks, 2 hunks of critter, and a 3oz weight. KERPLUNK.  Who knows what'll come up next? Flounder? Sea trout? Sea robin (yikes)? A shark on each hook?  Or Croaker Fest 2011?  It's all possible using this extremely low rent method of fishing.  As a kid it was in Black Point Canal in Chincoteague, residential canals in the Outer Banks, and occasionally at home in the Poquoson and York Rivers.   Can you fish with bottom rigs in the winter? Sure, but we didn't. Pops was never a "stand out in the freezing cold for hours on end" kind of guy.

When I was in college and grad school, bottom rigs were my one way to (attempt to) guarantee that our party would have fresh, wild seafood to eat, regardless of the ridiculousness of our beach camping accomodations.  Sure, occasionally I lethally guthooked a flounder that was not "of legal size," whatever that means, and out of responsibility, I had to keep them and be willing to bear the possible ticket.  Whatever.

One of my first saltwater solo days was a morning on the outside of South Carolina's St. Helena Sound.  On the surface, it looks like the ocean, which really begins two miles to the east.  But the bottom is covered in sand and big hunks of shell. In a short amount of time, I caught some of the biggest flounder of my life, three species of sharks, and a gigantic catfish.  The landowner didn't believe the catfish, even when he saw it. What a day that was - I was finishing up a job and getting ready to start grad school in a few weeks.  Perfect therapy.

I can also remember a special day -  just about 13 months later - with my best man Adam and I believe my brother T (maybe brother A too??) in Virginia Beach, where we were fishing Rainy Gut on a strong incoming tide.  Bottom rigs? Check. Fresh shrimp from the grocery store? Check.  What followed was about 3 hours of mayhem, checking dozens of undersized sea trout and flounder, de-hooking sea robins and oyster toads, and enjoying some tasty beers on state property (where I used to be a park ranger - take that!!).  We had all been surfing that morning, which I'm sure made for some hilarious, exhausted banter.

I hardly ever bait fish anymore.  I work way harder than that for fish that on some days would not be considered worthy of a bottom rig.   After all, I'm a sportsman. If I lived on real saltwater, I'm sure I'd fish it quite a bit.....and for big fish.  But I'd be lying to you if I said that there wouldn't be a ziploc baggie full of steel bottom rigs somewhere in my spiffy 24' xtra-wide skiff. 

And after you strike out on your saltwater flies, giant plugs, and stinky plastics, you can borrow one of my bottom rigs.  How many croaker do you wanna catch?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heat Wave Fishing - Pressing My Luck!

Let's play Paper-Rock-Scissors-Bear!
As the sun goes down on a place with no lights, no people.....there is a flash of prehistoric anxiety that will hit you at the moment when your eyes can no longer process everything in front of you.

That a stump is a bear is a boulder.  

Your eyes can still see shapes, but cannot relay enough data to your brain quickly enough for you to make a good decision about what you see - and what you should do as a result.

While I am often in the woods or marsh at that moment, I rarely acknowledge that feeling because I'm either pre-occupied with my task at hand, or - quite often - I'm frustrated with something that's going wrong because it's getting dark and I can't see, and I haven't made the time to fish my headlamp out of my blind bag, tackle bag, or wherever. 

Tonight was different - I was having a relaxing hike back up a fire road and then this moment hit.  It was intense, but quickly remedied by my headlamp (note to self: change batteries).

 This night's fishing adventure was epically unplanned.  A kayak fishing trip to a hot quasi-public spot was cancelled by my fishing buddy, and then my wife and I debated taking Hank down to the Gunpowder River for the second time that day and letting me practice my flycasting at the ridiculous number of 6" bluegills there.   That plan was foiled when Hank, tired from his first trip to the river that day, let his nap drag on until 5pm.  Finally I got the OK to "just go," and so I did.  With a blaring sun and 95 degree air temps at 5pm, I knew I had to get north and upslope.
The sun wasn't bright at all (as retinas burn behind $120 polarized sunglasses)

I chose Prettyboy Reservoir, a water supply impoundment of the Gunpowder River near the Maryland-Penna border.  I have a few spots I like to fish at Prettyboy, but my last trip there revealed that people are/were fishing one of them with canned corn (cue: wonk wonnnnnnnnk).   So I quickly gauged the distance of the hard road from the waterfront throughout the watershed and made a mental map.  I pulled over at a fire road I had never even seen before and thought, "OK, let's try this."  It was 6pm already, but my travels 500 feet upslope and 30 miles north had bought me about 10 degree cooler air temperatures.

I chose to work a snag-filled cove with a spring running into it.  There was a small area of bass beds, and tons of baitfish hugging the shoreline - usually a great sign that something bigger lurks immediately offshore.  I started by throwing a variety of small plastics in chartreuse and had some epic hookups with impressively sized sunfish:

My lone bass of the evening came on a floating balsa minnow and was a monster strike.  The fish ran out the drag, got airborne twice, and tried to run under every piece of cover between us.  I released him tired but healthy.  Great adrenalin rush! Ironically, I made this trip to catch smallmouth, but this fish was a largemouth in every way.

In my haste to pick a spot to fish, I ended up in a situation where working out of the cove either meant staring right into the setting sun.  It was brutal!   Both points at the head of the cove had amazing rock structure but despite my best efforts, I did not see a smallmouth over 8" long.  There was no one fishing this entire section of the reservoir, and despite that fact, I saw very few large fish surface feeding at dusk.

Even in the middle of the summer, if you start fishing at 615pm, eventually you will have to deal with the sunset and the darkness (hopefully not the band The Darkness, because that would be even worse).  Dusk eventually came on, but only made me more focused on fishing rock dropoffs for smallmouth.  I had absolutely no luck.  I am still learning the zen of evening fishing for big fish - that the time is just not right until suddenly it is - and then you'd better be ready!   Right as the sun hit the treetops, I hung several lures in trees and on stumps, birdsnested my baitcaster, and a bunch of other errors one after the other. 

And suddenly, the sun went fully behind the trees on the opposite shoreline, and it was like someone had turned on the night.  It was then obvious that the owls and tree frogs and bats and forest birds had also been waiting for the sun to relent, and couldn't hold back their enthusiasm now that it was gone.  While I had missed a potential opportunity to get some big smallmouth right at sunset, I had hammered over a dozen good, strong fish in a little over two hours, and on a lot of hot summer days in past years, I would have paid for luck like that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This Heat is for Real

Awesome Baltimore Area Forecast
For the first time this summer, I am faced with unbeatable heat.  I don't have the time to go far enough north or west to escape it.  No waves.  No fishing.  No relief.

I notice this time every year when night temperatures consistently fail to dip below 70 degrees.  It just doesn't get cool.  The fish move into seasonal patterns where they are deep and hard to find, and when they are shallow, they need very little to eat.  Even worse, water temperatures will now creep up into the upper 70s.

Yes, I have actually done this. And fallen asleep.
Surfing's no better.  There's no weather to generate waves.  The only wind around is the wave-flattening offshore breeze from the southwest that shows up every day as the ground warms in the morning sun.  And forget kayaking in this nonsense.  How much do I really want to sweat?

I think it's time for a few days off from the outdoors.  Time to organize the tackle, respool some reels, and hang out with little Hank.  Maybe we'll all get back out there when the temperatures get "back down into the upper 80s with 100% humidity!"  That sounds wonderful.

And for my brothers, who are enjoying a lovely week fishing the New River and Monongahela National Forest out in the central/southern Appalachians, I'll remind you how awesome it is back at your home, right now:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Morning at Minebank Run

Are you telling me that not ALL 21-month olds won't sit
on rocks in cold, rushing water up to their chest,
giggling hilariously?
Recently we've started taking Hank pretty frequently to play at Minebank Run, a partially restored stream in northern Baltimore County.  It's a nice spot because the access, a 1/4 mile walk along a mowed path in a tall grass field, is just tedious enough to keep really lazy people away.  We frequently encounter one or two anglers or another family taking their small kids down to the stream to play.  

Even in the summer months, the stream has a cold, shallow flow, wonderful habitat for dace, crayfish, and little boys and girls.   The bed material is almost all sand and cobble, which is perfect for any kid or adult who is sure-footed in the water.    

I moved into this area in 1998 and first fished the Gunpowder River near its confluence with Minebank Run in 2001.  I knew that the County bought most of the land - forming Cromwell Valley Park - in the mid-1990s and some of my habitat restoration competitors were busy in the early 2000s restoring Minebank Run itself.  Still, I really know nothing about the stream, the valley, or its history, so I decided to look it up on the interwebs.

Taking some license with history, apparently the area was originally timbered and farmed by some English folks in the 1700s, I dunno, with some forgettable names like "Cromwell" and "Towson." In the late 1700s, broken pieces of locally mined marble, limestone and chalk were processed at lime kilns along Minebank Run.  These sites were heavily used (and the stream heavily polluted) until the 1800s, when, according to the Falmanac blog, railroads became more locally prevalent, the implication being (I guess) that it was more efficient to bring in rock and ship out lime via rail than it was to do it via horse, as it was done in the early 19th century.   I assume that the rail line they're referring to is the local Northern Central Rail line (now NCR Trail) which was built just a few miles to the west, with newer lime kilns staggered along the rail line. 

Cromwell/Minebank Lime Kilns. Source: Falmanac

Every time a minnow swam by, Hank would say, "Wooooah!"

Ultimately, the lime kilns along the NCR line were abandoned too, and the farms along Minebank Run, less than 15 miles from downtown Baltimore, became "gentlemen farms" in the 1930s.  Around that time, development throughout the little stream's drainage increased quite a bit, which caused heavy storm flows and began the process of stream erosion.  In the 1960s, engineers tried to lessen the soil loss by......paving the stream.    Surprisingly (?!) that didn't work out, and the stream kept eating itself away and throwing tons of sediment and nutrients into the lower Gunpowder River.  Finally, 10 years ago, the stream was restored to mimic natural historic conditions. You can find great photos of that project (before and after) right here.

For us, it's a good place to be, close to home.  An amazing fishing hole it ain't, but even when Hank is big enough to hold a rod, I'll bring him to this place and let him think it's the Amazon, that those little bluegills are peacock bass, and that the river crayfish are rock lobsters.
I'll take my juice and my motorcycle, please.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beaver Swamp Fishing on the Little Patuxent

The American beaver swamp is either a magical or a horrifying place, depending on who you are and under what pretense you find yourself there.  As you move from the woody uplands, down the slope of tombstone stumps, and toward open water, your legs are the first to tell you that you may not be welcome. 

In the Appalachians it is the grueling tear of the blackberry against dry skin, on the piedmont, the impossible snare of the wild rose in clothing and soft flesh.  Further down on the coastal plain, where I found myself on this day, it's the deep, quick slice of the greenbriar - a plant who happily takes my blood and in most cases, allows me to pass.

I predicted the insects would be thick...
they did not disappoint.
I am proud of myself on this day.  I have been beset by many problems recently, and in some cases, have handled them deftly.  More often, I have opted to stay at arm's length, and have been able to watch those problems collapse under their own weight - a result which always makes a manager look smarter than they are, particularly in the case of someone like myself who is not known for their hands-off approach or their patience.  Relief.  I felt the relief as I stepped on swollen, rotten logs left dry in the recent drought.  However, the relief did not stop the gnats.

I have known of this beaver swamp along the Little Patuxent River for many years.  I'm not aware of how long it has been public, but I have been scouting it this year, and finally fished it after work one evening.  In a beaver swamp, especially in summer, it's sometimes amazing that things - anything - survive.  The dark, tannic water is stained deep brown with pine oil from beaver-felled trees. The water has little oxygen.  But life thrives here.

I felt a calm that I haven't felt for a long time as I reeled in my line, stained darker brown with every cast.   My goal for the evening was to work heavy cover and try to entice big mid-summer bass.   Just a few.  Just for photos. My lone bass strike was a crusher, who immediately ran my size 8 white in-line spinner under a stump.  No fish. No lure.  The remainder of my tackle fared better.

Very quickly, some large green sunfish, many 6-10" long, started demolishing small, unweighted and weedless-rigged plastics in chartreuse and pumpkin.  The BPS goby and Yo-Zuri gold shiner goby both scored impressive fights from awfully small fish.  The fish themselves are stained from a life in that acid brown water, but I cannot understand what made their heads so gigantic compared to their little bodies.  I was a little surprised to not land a bass in my 90 minutes there, but it was 94 degrees outside at 7pm, so I'm not sure why I expected such an outcome.  I do know that fishing earlier in the evening would have been totally fruitless.
Ugly photo of an ugly fish...look at the size of that head!

After about the 30th green sunfish, and with the sun no longer blasting rays into the swamp, I sized up on lures to increase my odds of finding a giant bass.  A 2" pumpkin craw, 2" chartreuse tube, and 2" white/black BPS popper all produced results that really transcended "frustrating" and seeped into "humiliating."  I was done for the night.

I watched the moon rise as the chorus of wood frogs, carpenter frogs, and green frogs grew into the darkening night.  Unsettled osprey, geese, and herons periodically shattered the frog symphony with their own notes - acquiesing to the end of another day.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...