by Jerry Vovcsko
Thanksgiving, except for turkey leftovers, is in the rearview mirror now as Christmas looms on the horizon. But before all thoughts of Thanksgiving fade into dim memories, it's worth a quick look at the guest of honor at some of those Thanksgiving dinner festivities, namely, Meleagris gallopavo, the American wild turkey.
A century ago, with a population of only 30,000, these birds were on the road to extinction. Today, they number 5.4 million. Habitat destruction and overhunting by early European colonists had put the wild turkey—North America's largest ground-nesting bird—on the road to extinction. Before the colonists arrived, millions of turkeys roamed across what are now 38 states, Mexico, and Canada. As the colonists worked to clear land for their homes, farms, and pastures, the most easily available food other than deer was wild turkey.
By the time the forests were cleared and wetlands drained to make room for rice, cotton, and other crops, wild turkeys had no habitat to call their own and no place in which to hide from their predators, including their number one predator: people. By 1851 wild turkeys were extinct in Massachusetts; by 1907 they had disappeared completely in Iowa. This pattern repeated itself over and over as the colonists settled across the country, killing turkeys and deer for sustenance while they cleared forests, planted their fields and started new lives.
By the 1930s, the only the places where wild turkeys remained were pockets of habitat inaccessible to people, such as the mountainous landscape of Pennsylvania's Poconos and the swamps of Alabama. A turnaround in Massachusetts began in 1972 when 15 birds were trapped in upstate New York and transplanted to Massachusetts. Now there are some 15 thousand inhabiting the state and New England hunters pursue the wily creatures in hopes of making one the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.
This week's fishing activity can be pretty much summed up with two words: windy and cold. How windy, you ask? Well, the ferry run from Cape Cod to Nantucket got cancelled a couple of times as wind gusts to 50mph made things too hazardous for travel. Besides, few folks feel like fishing when bare skin freezes to metal objects such as reels and beards raise a fine crop of ice crystals thanks to the Arctic breezes filtering down from the Canadian plains.
Still, a few adventurous types braver than I did manage to take a crack at the freshwater ponds over Sandwich way and were rewarded with trout, yellow perch and smallmouth bass. Peters Pond delivered up the trout, rainbows mostly, and Pimlico Pond, a small, seldom fished body of water, produced a brace of plump smallmouths for one enterprising Falmouth angler.
This weekend continues the pattern with temperatures trending from chilly to downright cold but the fish will continue to bite for those folks who persevere. One advantage to fishing the estuaries and creeks on the Cape is the prospect of hooking up with a random striper hanging around looking for something to dine on. Plastic and jig combos are ideal baits to coax bites from both fresh and saltwater species. Big time freshwater opportunities exist at some of the larger ponds such as in Brewster where Sheeps, Long and Cliff ponds offer a shot at salmon that have been stocked there over the years. The environmental folks didn't stock any salmon this year but plenty of these big fish remain, growing fatter and feistier on a robust diet of minnows and insects.
For those who simply must get their saltwater fix, the best bet for that might be at the east end of the Canal where occasional schools of mackerel have been showing up out behind Joe's Fish Market and around the mouth of the harbor itself. Their presence has been real iffy but for those lucky enough to be on hand when they cruise by, the action is hot while it lasts and these little critters make for a tasty dish, especially when they're stuffed with some of that leftover Thanksgiving stuffing and baked. For those not fond of mackerel on the dinner table, they can be frozen and stored in anticipation of striper season, 2014.
I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about my New England Patriots and their game-of-the-decade against the Denver Broncos. Down 24-0 at the half but never a notion of quitting, the Pats roared back to win it 34-31 on a muffed punt by the Broncos. Yessir, this could be another Super Bowl year and it just might be the greatest coaching effort of Bill Belichick's career. So all I can say is: Go Pats!