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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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May 24, 2014

Bluefish and Humpback Whales In the Bay

by Jerry Vovcsko

I've always been an admirer of unique angling methods and innovative approaches to catching fish. One of my favorites is an Old School technique designed to improve an anglers chances of catching sharks while working from a beach or jetty. It requires a good sized eel and a wood shingle. Whack the eel against a rock to stun the creature, then attach to line with a single circle hook through the jaw and nose. Lay the stunned eel on the shingle and float it on an outgoing tide. When it's out a sufficient distance, give the line a jerk dunking the eel in the water which will soon revive it and have it swimming around much further out than if you tried to cast it…with any luck a shark in the vicinity will swim over to investigate its struggles and there you go. Innovative.

But that method pales in comparison to what any reasonably competent group of humpback whales can come up with when they're foraging for one of their favored meal treats, the lowly sand lance. This 6 to 10-inch oily fish, also known as a sand eel, is a favorite of the whales, who gobble them up by the ton. Their unique approach to food gathering consists of several whales rounding up schools of sand lance by creating walls of bubbles using their breathing apparatus to do so. When they have the wee, small fish gathered in a tight ball, they swim through the school openmouthed and devour immense amounts of fishy treats with each pass. How cool is that?

This past week a lot of lucky folks who booked passage on a whale-watching boat taking off from the New England Aquarium in Boston, bound for Stellwagen Bank, one of the world's most active marine sanctuaries, were treated to a rare abundance of humpback whales, getting to see a dozen or more whales culminating with one whale-watch boat spotting a remarkable forty whales in one three hour tour.

Last year sand lance were among the missing at Stellwagen, but this spring they have returned in force. No one is quite sure why, but their numbers have spurred a feeding frenzy of whales, seals, and basking sharks. It appears the humpbacks, about the size of a school bus and weighing up to forty tons, have been more than pleased to have the little fellas back in town.

Anybody interested in catching bluefish these days might want to employ the following technique: Take an old, beat up plug and attach it to your line. Cast it pretty much anywhere in Buzzards Bay or Nantucket Sound. Retrieve…unhook bluefish, repeat. The blues are – in technical terms – all over the damn place! It's a good idea to either crimp down the barbs or replace the trebles with single hooks, thereby making life a lot easier when it comes time to unhook the feisty critters.

There's nothing quite like finding one's self with a treble hook attached to a flopping-around ten pound bluefish as well as hooked into some exposed part of the angler's anatomy. I recall having exactly that happen to me when a thrashing blue snagged me an inch or so above the eye with a flying treble on a blackback, sinking, five-inch Rebel. The fish managed to dislodge it almost immediately by ripping it through flesh and skin as it gyrated about. My fishing partner at the time noted the blood running down my face, treated the wound with a quick squirt of WD-40 and said "C'mon, quit whining about a little scratch…the blues are hitting."

Stripers are plentiful as well. From the south and west shores of Martha's Vineyard to the full length of the Elizabeth Islands, around the Monomoy Flats and as far north as Race Point and Herring Cove up at Provincetown, the stripers are here and they are hitting plugs, baits, metal slabs and plastic combos. Not too many keepers reported caught just yet but we are in the midst of one of the absolute best times to fish for striped bass in our waters. (The only comparable time might be in the fall as the migrating fish take on calories for their return trip to more southerly waters.)

Those folks seeking fluke might do well to head on over to the Middleground and drift the reef with a strip of squid or fluke belly to tempt the big doormats. Best thing about fishing the Middleground is even when the fluke are playing coy and ignoring baits and lures, there are striped bass in residence along with bluefish and even the occasional Pollock which makes this location a go-to spot for folks looking to fill the freezer or provide an assortment of seafood for the weekend grillmeister.

This is the time of year when it's probably least important to worry about what specific bait or lure to employ…right now, they're hungry and will hit just about anything that remotely resembles protein content of a size that can be swallowed. And where the bluefish are concerned, when you find them there's little need to wonder what to throw their way. In fact, if you get into a good sized school, there's plenty of entertainment available in casting a lure and trying to get it back WITHOUT hooking a blue.

I can recall a few years back, drifting just off Poponnesset Beach with blues all around us, sweeping a 7-inch needle plug in twenty-foot skips across the surface and still having a blue grab it as it hit the water. My forearm was so sore from landing one six-pound blue after another I had to call it quits and rest poor aching flipper while the others continued to fish. It doesn't get a whole lot better than this out there on the water, so now's the time to jump on the chance and enjoy it while it lasts. Won't be too long before the summer doldrums bring the action to a plodding halt and we find ourselves grumping about the lack of available action. Feast or famine, as the man says…seems it always one or the other and right now it's most definitely feast time, so have at it. I know I will.

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