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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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July 15, 2016

Hey, Dad, I think I've Got a Big One!

by Jerry Vovcsko

Judging from the media coverage you might think Cape Cod waters are infested with great white sharks ever ready to gobble up any tourist bold enough stick a toe in the briny shallows. The reality is a bit less fearsome. The area most likely to receive visits from these apex predators is the stretch of beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean between, say, Wellfleet and Chatham. And to date local inhabitants and summer visitors alike possess enough digits to count the numbers of great whites dropping by for a visit.

That does raise the question, though, of just how many of these fearsome beasties can be found cruising nearby swimmers, surfers and paddle board aficionados on any given day. Well stand by to give a shout to those shark experts and local authorities who have taken another step towards better educating the public about the pelagic great whites. This week marks the debut of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Sharktivity app. The app is a joint collaboration between the conservancy, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the Cape Cod National Seashore and local officials.

A press release from the Division of Marine Fisheries tells us that users will be able to view confirmed shark sightings via the app's mapping technology. Shark sightings by researchers on the water or beach managers and lifeguards on the shore, will trigger notification beach alerts via the app. App users are encouraged to act as citizen scientists and submit their own sightings (subject to official verification). The app will also include detection data from receivers in the water from Chatham to Provincetown that ping when a tagged shark passes. Although only tagged sharks are detected by the receivers, the information help researchers develop a better understanding of the habits of white sharks in the area.

Since the receivers were deployed at the end of May and researchers hit the water on June 16, shark activity has been strong. Scratchy, a 13-foot male white shark was the first shark to ping a receiver off Chatham on June 11. On June 27, the state's head shark expert Dr. Greg Skomal tagged his second shark of the season, an 11-foot white shark off Monomoy. He tagged the first one, a 12-foot male, on June 24 off Nauset Beach and named him Luke. Luke was first identified during the first year of the MA Division of Marine Fisheries's 5-year population study in 2014.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is clear to point out that the app is not an early detection system. It cannot foresee shark activity or determine which beaches are safest. The Sharktivity app is yet another educational tool put in place this summer by researchers and local officials. Earlier this season, the Town of Orleans debuted "Be Shark Smart" full-color posters at Nauset Beach. A menacing white shark glides across the posters, which contain safety tips about where and when to swim.

Nauset also flies the purple dangerous marine life flag, seen at many beaches, but theirs bears a white shark to further alert swimmers to the potential danger in the water. The ocean side towns that see the greatest shark activity including Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, as well as the Cape Cod National Seashore, all disseminate shark safety tips for swimmers. The app is currently only available for iPhone users at the iTunes Store. Although Android users will have to wait for their version, the data available through the iPhone app is also available on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy website.

Those great whites may be fearsome critters in their watery domain but, by golly, we human beings have got digital technology on our side as we try to improve the odds of survival when we head out to spend a hot summer day at the beach. The sharks might have razor sharp teeth but we've got iPhones!

Six-year-old Blake White, who was fishing with his family off Rock Harbor in Cape Cod Bay over the weekend didn't have an iPhone but he had to ask his dad for some help reeling in what they figured would be a jumbo striped bass, but after an hour of being towed around the bay Blake's dad, Lars White, realized he was going to need-a-bigger-boat than his 22-foot center console. Because what appeared on the surface was no striper but a twelve-foot great white. Lars told his boys to go to the center of the boat and sit down.

The shark hadn't swallowed the bait, it swam into the hook and spent an hour and a half trying to free itself, according to White. When the shark finally surfaced, Lars' wife, Nicole, took some photographs of their only catch of the day and then they cut their line and the shark swam away. Blake had hooked into the shark, which his father estimated was 10-12 feet long, at about 1:15 p.m. about a mile from Rock Harbor on the Eastham side, Lars White said.

White sent photos of the shark to the Atlantic Great White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit that researches the sharks off Cape Cod. State shark scientist Gregory Skomal confirmed in an email that he was aware of the report and that the shark in the photograph provided by White was a great white. But there have been no reports of somebody hooking into a great white so deep into Cape Cod Bay. Blake says he wants to go fishing again next weekend, but told his father "maybe we can catch something a little bit smaller."

Aside from catching great whites, what's happening these days on the salt water scene? Well, striper action in the Cape Cod Canal appears to be picking up a bit. Impending full moon tides may have something to do with that. Catches in the mid-thirties have been reported at local bait shops.

Some jumbo bluefish have been showing up in the rips south of Nantucket as well as off the south side of Martha's Vineyard. The Middlegound has offered up a nice mix of fluke and stripers depending on what the current's doing and Lucas Shoal remains a promising groundfish location. Striper fishing between Race Point and Herring Cove continues to produce – best times are dusk into the night hours.

Live eels worked around Cuttyhunk and Pasque Island have delivered bass up to forty pounds and the Buzzards Bay side of the Elizabeths is flush with sub-keeper size bass. Casting plugs into the rocks back there will provide plenty of catch-and-release action.

Not a lot of Bluefin tuna catches recently but yellowfin results have been strong south of the Vineyard as well as up around Stellwagen Bank. Anglers trying the flats around Monomoy Island have found stripers to be a bit skittish lately but considering the numbers of seals and great whites in the area, it's no wonder. Billingsgate has been productive for folks working tube-and-worm offerings and bluefish have been showing up around Sandy Neck Beach late in the afternoons.

The American League prevailed in the All-Star Game so home field advantage goes to whichever team wins the pennant. Could be the Red Sox…if the pitching holds up.

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