Herring, Stripers and Politics.
by Jerry Vovcsko
Back in the day, one of the surest ways to hook up with a big striper was to dip net a couple of nice, fat herring and live-line them in the Canal or maybe over at Billingsgate or around the reef at the Middleground – the destination being less important than having that tasty herring on a 5/0 hook at the end of your line. But those stocks became seriously depleted over time and the state eventually shut down the herring fishery to recreational anglers. Now the Federal fishing regulators are considering a slight cut to the catch limit for Atlantic herring, a fish that is important both to the fishing industry and the ocean's food web. Atlantic herring are small fish that gather in schools that can number in the millions. They are a critical food source for bigger fish, seals and whales, and are important to humans as food and bait.
The National Marines Fisheries Service might reduce the catch limit by about 3 percent to about 105,000 metric tons. The proposal's up for public comment until July 21. The herring fishery takes place in New England and the mid-Atlantic, but is principally based in Maine and Massachusetts. It was worth a little less than $30 million in 2014, when fishermen caught 92,000 metric tons.
Now that the weather has returned to normal, catch reports are coming in from the Cape Cod Canal and other places that were seeing limited activity the past few days. At the Canal, the prevailing size of striper taken seems to be 27-inches, which may leave hopeful anglers without fresh bass for the Fourth of July grill. Herring chunks, live mackerel (where available) and jig ‘n plastic baits have proven effective. Surface plugs and poppers have also taken some fish during early morning feeding activity.
With the water warming along the southern coast on the Cape, the striper activity appears to have diminished a tad. Instead of easy pickings, even schoolies are requiring hard prospecting if an angler is to be successful these days. But a few spots continue to deliver. For those boaters willing to get in tight around the rock ledges at Nobska the payoff has included some big fish. Live scup drifted through that area have recently produced fish up to twenty pounds. Of course, scup as live bait has long been one of those not-so-secret secrets of local charter skippers. When menhaden became unavailable to local anglers, those who turned to scup, along with small cunners taken on tiny hooks along the jetties, do very, very well.
This time of year, with the stripers not exactly jumping into an angler's boat, a tube and worm setup can be absolute dynamite. Surgical tubes about 18" long and trailing a 5/0 hook with a nice, juicy seaworm trailing behind become lethal enticements to bass of all sizes. The trick is to work as slowly as possible, as close in among the rocks as possible. If the shoreline is clear of weeds this technique is as close to a sure thing as there is in fishing. For an added attraction, try hanging the worm on a large willow leaf spinner, like the salt water version of a June Bug rig. In the old days, savvy local fishermen made hay with spinner and worm rigs on both sides of the Cape. It still works.
I've become more and more interested in a method that I began trying this year. That is, trolling a two-ounce popper such as an Atom or Striper Swiper in much the same way and in the same places as where I employ the tube and worm. It seems to be among the few things that work when the water is clear and the current isn't doing much. Again, it's important so throttle down as much as possible and work in tight to sure. Of course, in places such as along the Elizabeth Islands it's always a good idea to have an eye peeled forward for those nasty boulders that lie barely submerged along the shore. They're the main reason so many fish hang out there but they're always ready to eat your hull for lunch should your attention wander.
Another point. When you hook a striper in among the rocks, it's important to quickly swing the tiller (or wheel) out away from the shore. You want to entice the bass out into deeper water before they can take you down into the rocks and part your line on a handy barnacle. I don't use wire leaders – I just think they scare off the fish – but a 50 or 60 pound test mono leader is a good idea, especially if you're using braid. You want a little give somewhere along your line to absorb the shock of a hit from a big bass and help prevent the hook from tearing out. And it also helps keep your line intact should it make contact with a barnacle or sharp rock edge.
Great Point out on Nantucket has been a gathering place for blues lately. Not anything spectacular in terms of size, but lots of them and, as always, they are hungry. Lambert's Cove on the Vineyard has seen similar activity lately and the Middleground has been a bit spotty. Some fluke are hanging out there but the striper action has been sparse. This reef is another good place to liveline scup, and don't worry about using too big a bait: Fluke and striper both have wide maws and can easily handle most anything you drop down there. Anyhow, July is here, the weather should be improving and it's a good time to get in some fishing before the real August doldrums arrive. And hey, don't forget one other oft-forgotten technique that can really deliver the goods: drifting a seaworm. More about that in an upcoming blog.
East end of the Canal's been pretty active lately, with stripers going after mackerel whenever those little guys show up. Along the Islands, Quicks Hole, Robinsons Hole and the Buzzards Bay shores of Cuttyhunk have been delivering keeper size stripers on the morning tides to anglers tossing topwater plugs.
I mentioned the herring fishery at the start of this blog so I figure it's only right that I say a little bit about herring's long history in Massachusetts waters. After all, it was the profits from the combined mackeral and herring fisheries that in 1670 supported and maintained the first free public schools in Plymouth colony. And in 1774, just two years before the colonists signed off on the Declaration of Independence, the town of Sandwich coughed up some eighty pounds sterling from herring profits to help fund its militia.
And then there were the good folks of Falmouth who in the late 1700s actually established political parties based on one's support-for or opposition-to the notion of allowing herring to swim up the Coonamessett River in order to spawn. Feelings about the matter grew more and more intense until the Anti-herrings decided their cause could use a little boost and decided that a public demonstration might do the trick. So they dragged a cannon onto the Falmouth Common, pounded in a generous amount of black powder and topped that off with a bushel of herring.
Unfortunately, the gunner was a tad fervent in tamping down the powder. When he applied match to fuse, the gun exploded, scattering pieces of itself, the herring and the gunner across the village green. This untimely setback to the Anti-herring cause didn't dampen the party's political will, however. They remained as stubbornly opposed as ever and a few years later a proposal to divide the town failed primarily because the warring factions couldn't agree on who would get what share of the herring assets. And after watching the circus that the current Presidential campaign has devolved into, I think it's safe to say that politics hasn't changed very much after all these years.