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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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August 24, 2012

A Most Dangerous Game

by Jerry Vovcsko

In the ever-expanding category of "Stuff I didn't know", the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks commercial fishing as the deadliest job in the United States. And even though lots of people assume (thanks to reality TV's "Deadliest Catch" featuring Alaskan crab fishermen), the most dangerous fishery actually is in the northeast waters of the U.S. In fact, from 2000-2009, workers in the Northeast groundfish fishery (including fish such as cod and haddock) were 37 times more likely to die on the job as a police officer.

Nope, that's was news to me. I guess I, like many others, just assumed that Bering Sea crab fishery had to be the most dangerous fishery around. Having read Spike Walker's "Fishing On the Edge", an autobiographical look at his years trying to hook on with a crab boat and his personal encounters with danger and disaster while chasing after crab, I figured there couldn't be any worse conditions to extract a living from commercial fishing than in the Bering.

Turns out, I was wrong and as anybody who's read the book or watched the film, Sebastian Junger's "Perfect Storm" should have made clear just how lethal Mother Ocean can be when she sets her mind to it.

An OSHA report shows that 70 percent of the groundfish fishery deaths and those in the second-deadliest fishery, Atlantic scallops, followed vessel disasters such as fire, capsizing or sinking. Most of the rest were caused by onboard injuries or falling overboard, often by getting tangled in heavy overhead equipment. Worth noting was that not one of those who fell overboard and drowned was wearing a life jacket.

One of the contributing factors to the high totals of injury and death is that so many east coast fishermen are fatalistic about their life on the seas. A semi- apocryphal story is that New England fishermen used to buy steel-toed boots, believing if they fell into the frigid Atlantic, it was better to drown faster. Others cultivate the image of a rugged individualism and see themselves as the last cowboys on the ocean.

In Nantucket Sound the name of the game these days is bluefish-are-everywhere. From Monomoy to Buzzards Bay the Sound crawls with the toothy blues and everything from little snapper blues to big-choppered jumbos are available depending on location. One thing to count on is that whatever size blue an angler ties into, subsequent fish will likely be in the same general size range as the blues tend to travel in schools of like-size fish. Best bet for catching one is a metal slab tied direct to mono or braid with the barb crimped down for easier de-hooking. While some like to troll with a hootchy or Christmas tree rig, hooking up seems more exciting when it's a single lure and a single fish in the equation.

For those who haven't had a chance to battle one of the feisty buggers, know that they will slug and fight and an afternoon spent catching blues will leave a weekend angler's arm muscles feeling like having pitched nine innings against major league hitters. Taking along a few Tylenol tablets can make a real difference, especially for us old timers whose joints don't function as freely as in days of yore.

The Vineyard virtually crawls with blues right now and the weather going into the weekend looks promising so it might be worthwhile bringing along the cooler and stocking up with bluefish for the grill. If that's the plan, be sure to bleed and ice the fish as promptly as possible…bluefish is delicious when fresh caught but if left on deck in the blazing sun it quickly turns to mushy and inedible.

This time of year has typically been viewed as The Doldrums, but this year is weird and there's no telling if or when we'll hit that seasonal slow-down. As to when the fall migration begins, that's going to be a crapshoot from the looks of it and we may well have the fish around way later than usual. Besides the blues, the funny fish are in residence big-time and albies and bonnies both are at hand.

Best spot to look for those little speedsters is near The Hooter if you're aboard a boat, otherwise casting from Sound-facing shore is likely to be as good in one spot as another as the blues are cruising nowadays and if they're not available at first they're likely to show up after a few casts so don't give up too quickly.

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