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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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September 21, 2016

Big Papi Cruises In

by Jerry Vovcsko

There's great fishing all around the Cape lately. Plenty fish around to keep an ambitious angler hopping from Woods Hole to Orleans and all the way up to Race Point in Provincetown. Yessir, plenty of fish in local waters. Only trouble is, they happen to include goodly numbers of sea robins, skates, toadfish, and maybe the occasional flounder that wandered by as though in some sort of time-trip from the nineteen-eighties. Not very popular species, it's true, but, what the hey, it was only a mere three hundred and fifty years ago that the early settlers wanted nothing to do with lobsters, believing those creatures to be incarnations of evil put there by the devil, and look how that turned out. The week before Labor Day cooked lobster meat was going for a tidy forty-two dollars a pound at the local fish market.

Used to be that cod and haddock were so plentiful around here that vessels came back loaded to the scuppers with fish, and those boys weren't using sonar, GPS's or computers to put their boats on fish. Grizzled old captains fished their vessels based on decades of experience pursuing what seemed like an inexhaustible resource, an endless supply of fish that would forever provide a living for generations of fishermen. These days, with all that technology available to locate the fish, it turns out that most of the catch has been swept from these waters and the commercial boats have to settle for the few hundred pounds of cod allocated to them in an ever-shrinking season.

One of the few bright spots on the horizon, of course, is the turnaround that took place during the last couple of decades which rebuilt striped bass stocks that appeared to be in deep trouble as recently as the mid-nineties. The coastal states placed fishing restrictions and size limits that allowed depleted spawning populations to recover and now it seems the striped bass has made an impressive comeback. The two most important regulatory actions, to my mind, having been the increase from the sixteen-inch minimum of the nineteen seventies along with the restrictions placed on the Carolina seine boats that had decimated the fish stocks over the years while targeting the spawners coming up the Atlantic coast.

Remember when the cod stocks began to collapse and those affordable filets were no longer to be seen in the local fish markets? What species replaced them for a while? Yep, that's right: Pollock. And where have they gone lately? I can recall catching small Pollock on light gear from the rip rap along the Cape Cod Canal back in the mid-seventies. Then they just seemed to vanish. And how about the huge schools of mackerel that used to put in an annual appearance in Cape Cod Bay, bringing hungry tuna in after them? Haven't seen much of either this past season. The Canal boys deemed two thousand and fifteen one of the poorest mackerel years in memory. Hope that's not a harbinger of things to come.

I don't know what others have in mind but I'm going to do what I did as a kid; I'm going to head for the Green Pond Bridge with my rod, reel and a bucket of clam necks. I'll stand around with the other old geezers and swap lies about how the fishing used to be great and how we all used to fill our pails with enough flounder to see us through the winter, and how we could follow that up with all the mackerel we could eat just by wetting a line up there in the Bay and hauling them in three or four at a time, no problem. Yep, us old-timers will stand around and gam about the good-old-days and wonder what our grandchildren will be able to fish for in ensuing years.

We were lucky, I guess, to have experienced over the last four decades some of the best fishing the Cape had to offer. I just hope we haven't managed to do permanent damage to some of those species along the way. I'd like to think my grandsons will know the thrill of dropping bait and hook from the bridge and finding a fat, tasty flounder on the end of their line. And if the flatfish aren't biting that day, why, we'll settle for sea robin, skate or even one of those ugly old toadfish, won't we?

Bonito have swarmed into the waters around Martha's Vineyard recently and false albacore can be found throughout Nantucket Sound, albeit in fewer numbers than previous years. And the estuaries along the Cape's south side harbor plenty of sub-keeper bass along with the occasional snapper bluefish. The jumbo blues can be found in the rips south of Nantucket and around Wasque. The rips around Monomoy are pretty good places to look for stripers these days, as is the Middleground. The Elizabeths will produce striper catches until later in the season when the last of the migrating bass pull out. Tube and worm method works well at Billingsgate and plugs along the edge of the Brewster Flats is another productive approach. Football-size Bluefin tuna can be had from Stellwagen down to Chatham without going too far offshore.

Scientists tagged a fifteen-foot great white shark last week…and named it Big Papi in honor of the Red Sox great designated hitter whose numbers at the end of final season will almost surely guarantees his eventual entrance to the Hall of Fame. Nice to think the great white will continue to drop in year to year for a quick meal of Monomoy seal and a visit to local waters. And perhaps when the shark version of Big Papi returns next year, the real Big Papi will have led the Red Sox to another World Series championship…it's only fitting, don't you think?

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