Floating Wetlands

Baltimore Harbor’s Floating Wetlands

If you have sailed or powered into Baltimore Harbor or been walking along the waterfront, you might have noticed small islands floating along the shore line. Some are in front of the World Trade Center and others next to the National Aquarium. More have been proposed and are awaiting approval.

The waterfront looks very different than it did two hundred years ago. Now it is all pilings and concrete and a very artificial man-made environment. Back then, there would have been tidal wetlands lining most of what is now the inner harbor, as well as the outer harbor which is now docks for freighters and other large ships. In fact now, it is almost impossible to tell that it is part of an ecosystem and part of a river. It looks more like a dirty Disneyland.

To try and replace some of the ecosystem effects of a tidal wetland, these floating platforms have been built. They are built with buoyant materials so the weight of the growing plants won’t sink them. They are planted with different wetland grasses including saltmeadow hay, saltmarsh cordgrass and marsh hibiscus.

A number of different companies make these floating islands. The one by the aquarium is made by Biohaven Floating Islands and is 200 square feet which sounds large but is only 10 x 20 feet. Others were designed by Biohabitats and students at the Living Classroom Foundation helped to build them.

Benefits

Despite their relatively small size considering the large quantity of tidal wetlands that have been lost due to development, they provide habitat enhancement and some improvements to water quality. A number of animals have been seen in, on and around the islands including otters, eels, blue and night herons as well as ducks. Insects and birds  perch on and hide in and generally use the plants for habitat.

Not only do grasses grow on the top but barnacles, mussels, and a variety of other plants and animals grow on the underwater portion. Also, the roots of the plants that stick down into the water and the island itself provide by shelter and shade for fish, crabs and other creatures. The general scientific term is nekton which is any marine organism which can move and includes everything from the microscopic to whales. (Obviously the islands are not going to attract whales.)

The barnacles and mussels are filter feeders and help clean the waters. The roots of the plants also absorb nutrients and remove them from the water. This includes heavy metals although due to the  size of the islands and the fact that is an open system it doesn’t have as much impact as if it was a closed system.

There are plans to add more of these islands but the best way to clean up the river is to control runoff at its source. Most of the trash and pollution in the river come from runoff. Despite the islands small ecological impact, they are very important as an educational tool. They are in very public places and help people realize that what they do on land has an impact on the water.

 

Maryland Bait

What natural baits are people using in Maryland? It depends on whether you are fishing in fresh or salt water and what species of fish you are going after.

Freshwater

Worms are a prime choice for almost all fish, both fresh and salt water. You can buy them at a bait shop or a tackle shop. Or, you can just go out in your back yard. You should find plenty in a few shovels of dirt. Especially for smaller worms, pierce the hook through the side of their body in several places so they make kind of an S shape on the hook. You need a different strategy for bait stealing fish like sunfish. Take the worm and run it up the hook like you pull a sock up over your foot and leg. That way the hook is completely covered and it makes it very tough for the fish to steal the bait.

Leeches make great bait for most types of fish. They have a sucker and that is what you should put the hook through.

Insects – Grasshoppers and crickets make great bait but you can use almost any kind of water or land insect. Vary the size of the hook you use based on the size of the insect.

Minnows – Another great bait. Keep them in a bucket in the shade with cool water. Don’t crowd them or them or they will die. They will use up the oxygen in the water too quickly. Or you could replace the water periodically although this doesn’t tend to work as well. There are a variety of ways to hook a minnow including through the tail, the back, behind the head or the lips. If you do the lips, put the hook through the bottom lip first.

Saltwater

Minnows – Same as above

Worms – Similar to above for freshwater except that people tend to use sea worms instead of earth worms. Primarily the polychaetes known as blood worms.

Shellfish – Mollusks – Clams and mussels are very good for rockfish, drum, sea trout and perch. Naturally, take all the shell of and thread them on the hook. Worms are good for the fish mentioned as well.

Shellfish – Crustaceans – Shrimp – Put the hook through the tail or either live or dead shrimp. Another choice is to cut them up and skewer the pieces on the hook. Peel the shell if you do this.

Crabs

Many people think chicken necks are the best bait for crabs. But for years the watermen have used salted eel on their trot lines. This was important because the eel was smooth and didn’t get tangled the way chicken necks would. But so many people have switched to crab traps or pots instead of trot lines that this doesn’t matter as much any more. Probably good for the eel who are being overfished.

Clean Clubhouse

Featured

We belong to a boat club in the Annapolis area. We just got a new cleaning company because of our new Vice Commodore. They are great, Annapolis Clean Carpet  (http://www.annapoliscleancarpet.com/). And this was just one of several things. Here is how it happened.

Our club is a fun place, and it is nice to hang around there and relax sometimes before or after going out on the boat. We recently got a new Vice Commodore who has been doing a bang up job. To a large extent it is the luck of the draw. All the board positions are volunteer. No one is paid. So we have had some bad ones who don’t do anything, but this time we lucked out and have a great one. Continue reading “Clean Clubhouse” »

Joys of Sailing

Yes, you would get there faster on a power boat. But there is something special about a sailboat. It is as if you are going back in time or communing with nature. It is hard to explain unless you have done it.

Having grown up sailing it is just part of you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do for a first time. I can remember taking some friends out when I was a lot younger. I had them try steering the boat. When I told them to have the boat move closer to the wind they just looked at me in such a puzzled way. “Where is the wind coming from?” I was stunned. Growing up sailing, you just know. It is such second nature it never even occurred to me that someone wouldn’t know where the wind is coming from.

So how do you know? You tell by the direction of the waves, the feel of the wind on your face, by what the sails are doing and probably other things I am not even aware of.

It is so magical when you get out and put up the sails and turn off the engine and it is just quiet except for hearing the wind in the sails and the slap of the waves at the side of the boat.

There is also the feel and the skill. Sailboats are designed to go through waves and they have a gentle rocking motion unlike the pounding you get with a power boat. Although there are times in rough weather where you can really pound into the waves in a sailboat and it isn’t much fun. But the motion is normally very relaxing. (This isn’t quite as true of racing because you are paying attention to every little detail trying to get the boat to go as fast as possible.)

Day sailing is great, but it is a whole other experience to go out for the weekend and anchor out and spend the night. Sometimes by yourself or sometimes with friends on their boats and you tie up (raft up) together and share hors d’oeuvres and drinks together.

You know all those grand mansions with the great water view with the long driveways? The ones you are curious about but can’t see from the road? Well, because they have water views, boats have great views of them. So whether you are staying in a creek or river with great views of magnificent homes, or a secluded creek  surrounded by corn fields or perhaps dense trees overhanging the water, it is so idyllic and peaceful.

Even if you go out for a sale for an evening in the middle of the week, it is so relaxing. You immediately leave the stress of work behind.

What is the Big Deal about Oysters?

Ok, so why does everyone make such a big deal about oysters and the Chesapeake Bay? Fine, so they are good to eat. But why do the environmentalists make such a fuss over them? How does their health affect us?

Currently, oysters are less than 1% percent of the population in the Bay when the first Europeans came here. For several hundred years after their arrival, there wasn’t much of a problem. But, in the 1800s and then the 1900s when things became more mechanized and people started dredging oysters from boats, the oysters started being decimated.

At one point in their lives oysters are free swimming but they very soon settle down and start forming shell which protects them and also fastens them to a surface so they can no longer move unlike a scallop. So if they get sediment on top of them, they are out of luck and die. As farming increased (and land development in general) and the amount of sediment runoff increased that stressed or killed oysters.

The Caribbean had coral reefs. Up until sometime in the 1800s, the Chesapeake had oyster reefs. At low tide you would even see the tops of them at times. They were very rich environments. Not only were the oysters there but they supported numerous small crustaceans, invertebrates and fish. Larger fish then were attracted as well.

But this environment was destroyed by over harvesting. The dredges, a kind of trawl dragged behind boats, would scrape along the reef and pick up oysters and disturb others. At one point, the reefs were so numerous that they were almost like extensions of the land and the rivers flowed along them. You needed to be careful that you didn’t run aground. Over time though they were knocked down and degraded by the dredging. This also destroyed the habitat for the all the other creatures mentioned, causing a decrease in them as well.

There was another impact. Oysters are filter feeders and it has been estimated that originally they would filter all the water in the Chesapeake Bay in a week. Now it is probably years. This means that the water is not as clear. That affects the sub aquatic vegetation, (seaweed) and causes die offs, especially in combination with the increased sedimentation. The seaweed patches are another important area where small creatures can hide and be less likely to be eaten.

More recently, two viruses have attacked the oysters. Probably in part because of their decrease numbers and increased sedimentation and pollution they were stressed and more susceptible to disease.

We have heard people talk about how clear the water in the Chesapeake was up until the early 1950s. Because the oysters filtered the water it apparently was like the water in the Caribbean. You could frequently look right to the bottom.

There was a great example of the effects of the filtering not too long ago. There is a small mussel that lives in the Bay and is normally not very plentiful. However, for some reason in 2004 the conditions were perfect for it and millions of them grew on every possible surface in the Magothy River. They were on pilings, boat hulls, you name it, they were there. That year the water was amazingly clear. The next year things went back to normal and they died off and the water got much more turbid / cloudy.

So, rather than complaining about restrictions in oyster harvest, we should be applauding. If some areas are restricted it is likely the overall harvest will go up. It will also have a major impact on the abundance of other animals including commercially important fish and crabs.

Sailors Love/Hate with Power Boats

The Hate Part

Power boats drive sailors crazy most of the time. They push huge wakes which can rock a sailboat dramatically even when they are sometimes half a mile away. The waves they make have nothing to do with the wind. Sailboats are made to go into the wind and the waves. They aren’t designed to have the wind coming one way and waves another. When the waves hit a sailboat sideways, it rocks violently. That is why you will see sailors suddenly veer as power boat waves get near them so they can have the bow cut through them instead of taking them broadside and getting rolled.

It is particularly frustrated when there isn’t a lot of wind. It knocks all the wind out of the sails and kills the speed of the boat. In heavy air, it is not a big deal. The way for a power boater to be the least annoying in light air would be to cross a boats stern instead of the bow. This way the sail boat is given a push instead of being stopped dead in its tracks.

Then there is the noise. Particulary from jet skis and also from the cigarette boats. Jet skis can just be annoying. The powerful, fast cigarette boats are a mixed blessing. They are so fast thay they aren’t around long. Also, because they plane on the surface of the water, they throw little to no wake.

Some power boaters, probably the less experienced ones, don’t seem to understand when a sailboat is going to tack (turn). They get very frustrated, thinking you are cutting in front of them just to be obnoxious, but if they understood more about sailing, they would understand why the sailboat tacked. Usually the boat has to because it is getting close to shallow water, but there are times when the sailor just doesn’t notice the power boat coming up behind. If they did, they would have waited to tack till the power boat passed unless they had to for safety reasons.

The Love Part

Sailboats generally draw more (how deep they are in the water) than power boats because sailboats have keels and power boats mostly have a flat or slightly angled bottom. Sometimes sailboats run aground, either because an area is poorly marked or the sailor isn’t paying adequate attention or someone less experienced is at the helm.

Frequently a sailor can back off, or use some other tricks to get unstuck. This includes putting everyone on the bow which tends to tilt the boat and raise the deepest part of the keel which is further aft. Or you combine this with rocking the boat from side to side. Or you can row the anchor out to the side and drop it and then try to pull yourself off. But, when all else fails, having a power boat around to throw you a line and pull you off is wonderful. At that point, all prior sins of power boaters is forgiven.

Crazy Winter

Man we had a brutal winter. It is amazing how quickly things changed and now we have warm weather and flowers and cutting the grass once a week.

Floating Light Houses

But remember, large sections of the Bay were frozen over. Icebreakers were having trouble keeping the channels clear. That brings back memories of stories from the 1800s of some severe winters. So severe that ice flows picked up a light house and carried it along with the ice for a distance.

This had to have been a spider light and not a caisson light. I can’t imagine any ice being able to move a light house like Baltimore Light or Sandy Point Light. Actually Bloody Point light was affected by a winter storm in the late 1800s. Not because of ice but because the wave action undercut the foundation on one side and caused the light house to tilt. They tried different things to fix it. The first couple tries didn’t work. They then tried an extreme solution. They dug out under the foundation on the side that didn’t have a problem. This caused the light house to straighten some. and then they put down a scour apron of large rocks to prevent any more erosion. That has worked to this day.

Boating Ban

The ice was so bad this year that on March 9th the Coast Guard said there could be no boats above the Bay Bridge without Coast Guard permission and this ban was in effect until April 15th. APRIL 15th!!! That is a lot of ice and that is late in the year. The ban upset some people because the striped bass season started 3 days later on the 18th.

 I would love to put up some pictures I found on line but they have copyright. Here is a link though. And here is one I took although it isn’t as impressive as the ones in the link.

Black Hole Creek and Magothy River

Black Hole Creek and Magothy River

Chesapeake Bay Fishing

You may be surprised to know that there are around 350 species of fish in the Chesapeake Bay.

Some only live in fresh water, some are estuarine fish which can live in brackish water and stand a range of salinity. Some are migratory and live both in the Bay and in the ocean.

Some live here year round, and others are only here for part of the year. Others only come back to spawn and sometimes to die as well. These fish are called anadromous. There are other fish who do the complete opposite and live in the Bay and leave and go to the ocean to spawn. These are called catadromous.

Some of the fish are of no interest to humans for food or sport but are important in different ecological niches or interesting because of quirks in their life style or cycle. Others are bait fish. Some are caught for food for animals or to be used as fertilizer or to make nutritional supplements from.

Some have been overfished and have catch quotas. The ones we like are the ones that are good eating or are sporting to catch.

Upper Bay

Right now American shad, white perch and striped bass can be found in the northern Bay around the Susquehanna flats up to Conowingo.

Middle Bay

There have been some huge striped bass, also known as rockfish, in the middle part of the Bay, especially around the deep channels at Bloody Point and Thomas Point. You might try trolling with parachutes and bucktails.

Lower Bay

In the lower part of the Bay, the steep sided channels have been productive as well. One person caught a 45 pound rockfish on the lower Potomac.

You can now find some largemouth bass in shallow creeks and coves. Snakeheads will hit some of the same lures that the bass go for. You can probably find some crappie as well.

Ocean City

Around Ocean City there have been large bluefish as well as some medium sized drum. Try metal, bucktails, or Got-cha lures. There are also some Tautog going after pieces of green crab and sand fleas. There are some flounder to be had and sea bass season is just opening up.

Good luck fishing.