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Jerry Vovcsko

First dunked a worm in Otsego Lake (upstate NY) some 68 years ago and began pursuing striped bass in Cape Cod waters 40 years ago. Pretty soon I should be able to get it right...maybe.

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October 17, 2015

Reach Out and Touch Someone, Mr. Shark

by Jerry Vovcsko

It's a bit of a paradox that in the midst of a weekend coldsnap – which will likely bring the first frost of the season- we should be hearing about additional signs of global warming. And that those signs happen to be originating in Alaska. Biologists say unusual fish are appearing near Alaska's shores, likely because of warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Nino and the patch of warm water known as "The Blob."

State fishery biologists based in Homer are amassing photos from people with bizarre sightings. Those include a 900-pound ocean sunfish near Juneau and warm-water thresher sharks around the coast of Yakutat, reported a local TV station. Other strange sightings include Pacific bonito near Ketchikan, albacore tuna around Prince of Wales Island and yellow tail near Sitka – all warmer clime species.
The peak of this year's particularly strong El Nino is coming up, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's one of the strongest El Nino events on record. And NOAA says The Blob has also raised temperatures in the North Pacific to record highs.

Sunfish tend to prefer warmer waters than those usually found in Alaska, but there have been many sightings of the species this summer, according to state fisheries biologists who said two of them swam into researchers' gear while they conducted juvenile salmon surveys in the southeast this summer. The sunfish have probably been drawn to Alaska not only by warm currents but also a huge mass of jellyfish that has filled waters around Cordova.

The strange-ish sightings are interesting but might be a cause of serious concern because it's not at all clear how big-money fish like salmon will be affected if ocean temperatures rise. State records show that fewer pink salmon than expected were caught this year. If the salmon runs are affected adversely, it could have a serious economic impact on the state.

Commercial fishing is rated in the top five by insurance companies when compiling lists of the most dangerous occupations, which is one of the reasons that eighteen fishermen from around New England took to the seas of Hyannis Inner Harbor this past Friday for free training put on by a nonprofit group called Fishing Partnership Support Services.

The fishermen donned inflatable immersion suits, put out fires, plugged leaks, and lit flares, supervised and coached by Coast Guard-certified instructors from various companies and organizations involved in fishing safety and equipment.

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Massachusetts State Police also volunteered at the training. The Coast Guard brought a trailer, specifically designed for damage control training, which sprung leaks as the fishermen in teams of two took turns using various materials to stop the leaks. An occasional sharp change in pressure sent spurts up in the air, soaking the crowd of onlookers.

In the harbor, fishermen wearing inflatable immersion suits took turns stepping into the water and floating, as they practiced maneuvering in the suits and climbing into a life raft. Two state police divers hovered in the water nearby, which serves as both training for them and a comfort to the fishermen, who are not always experienced swimmers despite making a career out of being on the water.

Later in the daylong training came a life raft workshop and a firefighting lesson. The fishermen donned inflatable immersion suits, put out fires, plugged leaks, and lit flares, supervised and coached by Coast Guard-certified instructors from various companies and organizations involved in fishing safety and equipment.

The nonprofit started doing trainings in 2005 and now offers about 10 a year across New England. It has trained 2,700 fishermen in that time, said Vice President Andra Athos. In addition to the trainings, the group's other main effort is providing health insurance to commercial fishermen, only 10 percent of whom are insured, through the Affordable Care Act.

"A lot of these guys have lost friends or family members in accidents, and they're very committed to teaching this stuff and avoiding those kinds of tragedies," said one volunteer.

So how's the fishing these days?

Lively action was the order of the day at the Cape Cod Canal last week and some Large stripers were pulled from the water near the ice skating arena as well as around the "hundred steps" on the mainland side. Morning hours supplied plenty of top water action with school size bass and the jig&plastic crowd scored down deep with a couple of thirty pound "cows" taken later in the day.

Bluefish continue to linger in Nantucket Sound waters and the action picked up again around the Waquoit Jetty and along the beaches at Popponesset and South Cape. Further east, around the mouth of Bass River albies could still be seen chasing baitfish but these mini-tunas are pretty dodgy about hitting artificials and will soon be departing our waters.

This time of year I like to work the jetties along the south side of the Cape. Falmouth in particular has great access to the Sound from Menahaunt Beach all the way westward to Nobska Point. Along toward evening the odds of hooking up with a keeper size bass start to climb and ebbing tides at those jetties that bracket an outflow stream can occasionally scare up something seriously Large by drifting chunk or whole baits out with the current which, by the way, is a pretty effective sharking technique.

Back in the day, Falmouth locals would smack an eel against the rocks to stun it, then float it out on an outgoing tide aboard a shingle or small plank around dusk or dark. When it achieved sufficient distance, a quick jerk of the line would yank the eel off its sea-going platform into the water, reviving it and sometimes attracting sharks.

A few of the jokey-boys from town liked to load a dead five or six foot shark into the bed of a pickup truck and deliver it to a nearby phone booth. When the taverns emptied in the late night hours inebriated folks looking to call for a cab would find their phone booth occupied by strange denizen, indeed. Those were the days, eh?

And the New England Patriots Scorched Earth Tour pulls into Indianapolis this Sunday. There are those who feel Indy provided the impetus for the "Deflategate" hoo-hah that cost the Patriots a million bucks in fines plus the loss of draft choices – including a first rounder. So Pats fans hope the Colts get stomped into the turf as did Jerry Jones's Cowboys last week in Dallas. Payback, as they say, is a bitch and Jim Irsay's crew may be next in line for heaping helpings of Patriot served schadenfreude.

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