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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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June 20, 2013

Fishing the Back Side of the Elizabeth Islands

by Jerry Vovcsko

Back in the 70s and 80s my neighbor and I used to religiously fish the Elizabeth Island chain about five mornings a week. The fishing was good and a successful outing depended largely on our willingness to get in close to the rocks lining the shore and work plugs, plastics and live eels in the wash. Although we rarely had a "skunk" outing, once in a while every once in a while it seemed as though every striper along the island chain had gone on sabbatical and it didn't matter what lures we threw or what favorite spot we tried, there wasn't a striper to be found anywhere along the Nantucket Sound facing shores of the Elizabeth Islands. Which is how we ended up one morning idling through Canapitsit Channel into Cuttyhunk Harbor and trying our luck on the Buzzards Bay side.

The first stop was over near Penikese Island where Woods Hole resident and former U.S. Marine Corps officer George Cadwalader had established an Outward Bound-type program for adolescents who had gotten themselves into "Juvie" and would spent a few months on Penikese trying to get themselves sorted out and back into society. Penikese is surrounded by rocks, boulders and even a good sized ledge that stretched eastward back toward Naushon Island. We set up a drift there, commenced tossing black-back Rebels and Striper Swiper topwater plugs and managed to pick up a pair of keepers in the first fifteen minutes or so. From there we slowly worked our way up along Naushon Island past North Rock at Quicks Hole and later past Robinsons where the flood tide was ripping through the channel.

Stopping in random places to throw a few casts we worked our way back to Woods Hole and ended up taking close to a dozen bass along with a nice twelve pound bluefish for a good morning's work. And that's how I first came to learn about the Buzzards Bay side of the Elizabeth Islands. Over the years I would locate a few spots that were high-liner-productive as well as places that held other species…like the Weepecket Islands, a cluster of tiny bits of land surrounded by a rock-studded bottom that was home to what seemed an endless supply of tautog, those gap-toothed shellfish eaters that add their succulent flavor to a bouillabaisse. There are some big ‘tog in the waters around the Weepeckets and my personal best of nine and a half pounds is puny next to some that have been taken from there over the years.

Anyhow, the point is there's good fishing to be had along these shores. A few places to be sure to try would include North Rock at the northwest corner of Nashawena Island. A record 70- pound striper was taken there on a live eel back a few decades ago and there are some who fish exclusively with eels and show mighty impressive results. About a half mile out into Buzzards Bay sits Lone Rock and there's a buoy that marks its location. Once in a while I'll give it a try and generally end up taking a striper or two…it's a good idea to set your drift down-tide from the buoy else there's a real good chance a fish will wrap your line around the buoy chain if given half a chance.

Further north, the whole area around Robinsons Hole can be productive – the key to success there is finding and exploiting t hose small rips that make up when the tide runs. Stripers are very fond of moving water as it signals the baitfish buffet line is open and available and bass will lay in wait below the rip for food to show up. Criss-cross these rips with casts and good thsings are prone to happen. North of Robinsons is Kettle Cove, a cozy little spot that offers a bit of protection from northerly winds and holds plenty of stripers as well as the occasional bluefish. Here, too, rips form when the tide runs and that's where the stripers lurk. Between Robinsons Hole and Kettle Cove there are two points of land that jut unto the Bay. The southerly one is known locally as Ram's Head and the one further north goes nameless on the charts although I always referred to it as Kettle Point. (On the Nantucket Sound side one of my spots is The Stone Fence Across the Sheep's Meadow…local cartography, eh?)

As in freshwater bass fishing, those points of land are always worth a few casts. There will be stripers close by because currents are disrupted going around the point and that turbulence (rip) is a fish magnet so always drop a few casts around those points. Uncatena Island is the tiny one in the Elizabeth chain…plenty of rocks in there and, most days, plenty of fish as well. The elbow-shaped piece of land on the north side of the channel is Penzance Point and a little further north is the entrance to Quisset Harbor. Off to the side of the harbor is a strange table-shaped bit of land that juts out and up over the Bay. Locals call it The Knob and stripers and blues congregate around there to ambush baitfish pushed from the harbor by the tide. It's particularly attractive to fly fishermen as there's lots of room for back casts. This is another spot that can be very productive from dusk into the evening hours for folks fishing live eels. Last season a local from Falmouth took a thirty-five pound striper from that spot.

The good thing about Quisset Harbor is there's a small parking lot at the head of the harbor and if you get there early enough in the morning, or get lucky later on, it's one of the rare places with parking. I stopped by there one morning a few years back and saw a crowd of firemen, police and tow trucks gathered around trying to figure out how to extract a Toyota with New Hampshire plates from the harbor. The vehicle had jumped the concrete railing and plunged nose first into about eight feet of water the harbor. Tourists!

So here we are in the middle of some of the best fishing we'll see this year – this side of the fall migration – and to my mind the best place to do that fishing is anywhere along the Elizabeth Island chain. Even when there's nothing hitting and it's another skunk-day, it's such a beautiful place to be.

This is where Bartholomew Gosnold pulled his ship into Nantucket Sound back in 1602 and found the waters crammed full of fish…the Gosnold monument still stands on Cuttyhunk Island. And back in the days of pirates and brigands (the real ones, not the Wall Street types) it's said that the pirate Black Sam Bellamy hid his ship in the cove known as French Watering Place just below Tarpaulin Cove and then pounced on passing vessels in the Sound. Yessir, plenty of history clings to these islands and there's nothing quite like sunrise over the Elizabeth Islands where it looks just as remote it did four hundred years ago. And best of all? Stripers, lots of them…doesn't get much better than that.

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