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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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January 30, 2016

Mass Division of Marine Fisheries Report on 2016 Rec Fishing Regs For Fluke, Scup and Black Sea Bass

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries just posted an extensive report on its expectations for 2016 recreational fluke, scup and black sea bass management. It is as follows:

The recreational management of fluke (summer flounder), scup, and black sea bass is subject to a joint federal/interstate process that relies on annual harvest estimates to establish the following year's regulations. For example, the coastwide recreational harvest estimate for 2015 is compared to the 2016 coastwide harvest limit—as established through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council—to determine if any increase or decrease in harvest is warranted for 2016; the states then develop and implement regulations to achieve the increase or decrease in harvest, subject to Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approval. Because full-year recreational harvest estimates from the federal recreational fishing survey are not available until mid-February of the following year, the states are unable to model possession limit, season, and size limit regulations for these three species until that time. Implementing any regulatory revisions is then subject to each state's rule-making process; in Massachusetts, this may take three or more months.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MarineFisheries) recognizes that this delayed management process can impact business and travel plans being made by for-hire fishing businesses and private anglers. The Division's goal is to finalize the regulations as far in advance of the seasons' opening as possible. In the meantime, this Advisory is intended to provide a forecast for recreational fluke, scup and black sea bass management for 2016. Note that these expectations are based on preliminary and projected data and are thus subject to change. Additional notices will be issued for updates.

The coastwide recreational harvest limit (RHL) for fluke has been set at 5.42 million pounds for 2016. While this represents a 27% decrease from 2015, we do not expect to have to reduce harvest in 2016. This is because coastwide recreational harvest in 2015 is projected to be below the 2016 RHL. Next week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will establish the management regions under which the states will determine regulations. Under all options, Massachusetts is expected to remain its own region and be allowed to maintain its current fluke measures: 5-fish daily limit, 16-inch minimum size, and May 22–September 23 open season.

The coastwide recreational harvest limit (RHL) for scup has been set at 6.09 million pounds for 2016. While this represents a 10% decrease from 2015, we do not expect to have to reduce harvest in 2016. This is because coastwide recreational harvest in 2015 is projected to be below the 2016 RHL. Next week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is expected to approve the states' 2016 recreational scup regulations. The northern region states (MA-NY) have not proposed any revisions to their 2015 regulations. Consequently, Massachusetts' scup regulations are expected to be: 30-fish daily limit, 10-inch minimum size, and May 1–December 31 open season, except that the possession limit aboard for-hire fishing vessels during May 1–June 30 is 45 fish.

The coastwide recreational harvest limit (RHL) for black sea bass has been set at 2.82 million pounds for 2016. While this represents a 21% increase from 2015, we do expect to have to reduce harvest in 2016. This is because coastwide recreational harvest in 2015 is projected to be above the 2016 RHL. Currently, the mandatory reduction in harvest stands at 23% (based on landings through October 2015). Next week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will determine whether the fishery will be managed under coastwide measures or regional measures. Assuming a continuation of regional management, the states of Massachusetts through New Jersey will comprise a region that must adopt state-specific regulations that collectively achieve the mandatory reduction.

Following next week's Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting and the release of November/December 2015 harvest estimates, MarineFisheries will be able to develop specific regulatory options to achieve the required harvest reduction for black sea bass. These options will be released in a mid-February Advisory, and will include potential changes to the opening date, closing date, and possession limit. MarineFisheries will accept written comment and hold a public meeting on the options. This public scoping process will be concluded in advance of the March 10, 2016 Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission Meeting, where the Director of MarineFisheries will make his recommendation. Important details, including the date and location of this public meeting, will be available in the mid-February Advisory.

(When the mid-February black sea bass Advisory is released, I'll post it in that week's blog…JV)

January 25, 2016

Thin Ice, Noreasters and Good Times on Snake Island

by Jerry Vovcsko

Old Man Winter gets us in his icy clutch and fishing activity takes a sharp decline. Sure, there's ice fishing – tip ups and rustic shacks built on sled runners – but for the most part there's just fewer folks out there in pursuit of our finned denizen.

However, that doesn't mean that nothing's going on in our local water & woods environment. Nossir. Take, for instance, the afternoon ice fishing trip to Harold Parker State Forest in Andover that nearly turned tragic Saturday for three men from Lowell who fell through thin ice into frigid Field Pond. One pulled himself out of the water, while the other two were rescued by Andover firefighters about 150 yards from shore. Andover police and fire departments received several calls at about 1:15 p.m. from people reporting the incident, said Deputy Fire Chief Albert Deldotto.

The two men were "in obvious distress," Deldotto said. Two firefighters, outfitted with cold water rescue gear, pulled the men from the water. "They saved a couple lives."

Deldotto estimated the water temperature was in the high 30s. The men, ages 26, 29, and 32, were taken to Lawrence General Hospital and Holy Family Hospital in Methuen and treated for hypothermia, he said. Field Pond is a popular spot for ice fishing and dog-walking. The men had put a hut up on the ice and had walked several hundred feet away, before falling through the ice.

"It hasn't been cold enough to get the ice thickness needed to make it safe [for walking]," said Deldotto. "It looks safe, but where they walked, it obviously wasn't thick enough."

A scary experience, for sure but this time it had a good outcome.

The town of Dennis got some good news last week. They were one of five towns to get a share of a $50,000 state grant intended to improve facilities for saltwater fishermen. The town was awarded $15,000 to replace a gangway and two tie-up floats at Uncle Freeman's Landing, a state boat ramp on Bass River off Uncle Freeman's Road.

The money was awarded through the state Department of Fish and Game's Division of Marine Fisheries for saltwater fishing projects. The division's Public Access Small Grant Program uses revenue from the sale of recreational saltwater fishing permits. Gloucester, Marshfield, Plymouth and Rockport also received awards during this grant round.

And then there's the state's plan to revive a native endangered species on a remote island located in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. The state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, where the plan was hatched , has in mind to breed and raise 150 venomous timber rattlesnakes until they're good and strong, then turn them loose on protected land in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir.

What could go wrong, you ask?

For one thing, snakes can swim. And although they may start out confined to the small island in the middle of the reservoir, there's nothing that guarantees they'll stay there. And if a few itinerant rattlers make their way to shore and end up around the neighboring hiking trails and homes, the go-wrong potential quickly spikes into serious uh-oh levels where hikers, homeowners and pets are concerned.

The lads and ladies at Fish and Game's headquarters offer assurances that the small island full of rattlesnakes will pose no threat. Any that escape the island will die during the following winter, unable to make it back to their nest, says Tom French, assistant director of the department. And in reality, rattlesnakes are shy creatures who bite people only when threatened, he added.

Not all local residents are reassured. In an interview with the Boston Globe, J.R. Greene, a local historian and author, and the chairman of Friends of the Quabbin, said some local residents fear the rattlesnake island plan could lead to the closure of the popular recreation area around the reservoir — "another example of Boston lording it over this part of the state."

Timber rattlesnakes once populated the forests and feasted on mice and chipmunks all over Massachusetts. But deforestation over the last two centuries left little habitat that allowed for deep underground nests in winter. Today, only a few isolated populations remain in the Blue Hills, the Connecticut River valley, and Berkshire County. Of course I seem to recall that one of those Blue Hills timber rattlers slithered down off the mountain and showed up outside Town Hall in Braintree last fall…a four footer if I remember correctly. Probably looking for an absentee ballot or some such. The Animal Control Officer scooped it up and took it back home to Blue Hills state park.

Since the two species' earliest encounters, it seems humans have done their best to eradicate rattlesnakes and continue to do so at every opportunity. Environmental officials say the whole point of putting them on an island is to protect the snakes from people, not the other way around. Rattlesnake bites are exceedingly rare in Massachusetts, and haven't been fatal since Colonial times. Venomous snake bites these days almost always involve someone doing something exceptionally foolish: attacking or trying to grab a snake, or keeping one as a pet. Environmental officials recall that the only bite that occurred in the wild in recent times was suffered by a researcher who was trying to photograph one rattlesnake and accidentally backed into another.

It's illegal in Massachusetts to keep a venomous snake as a pet, but people do it: there was the time officials got a phone call from a police officer who was trying to find out how much trouble he'd get into if he kept a pair of rattlesnakes. A year or so later, one bit him, and as the officer was driving to the hospital he crashed into a telephone pole. He survived. Someone on Cape Cod was bitten by his pet cobra. He lived, too.

I remember reading about the Cape Cod snake keeper. He housed his pet cobra in a glass terrarium in the basement and when it began to shed its skin he decided that he ought to reach in and help it wriggle out of the skin. Next thing he knew, he was on a helicopter headed for a New York City hospital where cobra anti-venom was on hand. He survived, thereby putting another crimp in Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest theory.

The weekend's nor'easter dropped a foot and a half of wet, heavy snow in the Falmouth area; six to ten inches around Sandwich and varying amounts heading eastward with Provincetown escaping with an inch or so. Air temperatures are due to hit the mid-forties later this week so it's unlikely there will be appreciable ice build-up on Cape ponds. That snowfall will make pond access difficult, though, so finding reachable open water won't be easy. Best bet for those who find accessible water would probably be a matter of letting shiners swim around and hope for the best.

As sports fans know by now, the New England Patriots season came to a close out there in Denver last Sunday. The Broncos put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and the Pats came up two points short at the end. Disappointing, for sure, but we'll be back next season and in the hunt once again. The Patriots gave us a year's worth of excitement, lots of highs and lows and I have no complaints. We savored the good times…we'll handle the tough times. Go Pats.

January 16, 2016

A Fish Named Wanda or A Turtle Named Newfie

by Jerry Vovcsko

Why is it we as a culture seem compelled to anthropomorphize the creatures that we encounter along the way? I'm not talking about the Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and my own personal favorite, Senator Foghorn Leghorn. No, I mean the real life critters that turn up during our regular day-to-day activities. Take, for instance, the great white shark now known as "Jameson" who first turned up in the news last summer when he stranded on a Cape Cod beach and an impromptu team of volunteers managed to drag him back into deeper waters.

Given all that Jameson had been through, experts were skeptical at first that he would survive. But researchers from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy say that the great white shark that washed up on a Chatham beach during the summer, and was tagged and named "Jameson," may have pulled through after his harrowing ordeal.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, Cynthia Wigren, president of the conservancy, a non-profit group that conducts shark research on the Bay State waters with state biologists, said data downloaded last week from a special buoy off Plymouth picked up a ping from the tag that researchers had attached to the shark's fin in July. The ping was detected from Jameson in October. The buoys can track any tagged sharks swimming within a 200-yard radius, and record the date, time, and the shark's tag number.

Wigren said the general rule of thumb for scientists is not to count single pings like the one picked up on Jameson, but the conservancy is hopeful that the data collected by the buoy wasn't just a fluke.

In a video captured by a bystander in July of Jameson washed up on Chatham's South Beach, the shark can be see flopping back and forth, struggling to breathe. Several people poured buckets of water on the young shark's body to keep him alive until help arrived. When experts pulled up to the scene, they immediately went to work, and towed the shark back into the water, about a mile out. They tagged him and set him free, but were unconvinced the shark would make it.

Experts had previously picked up pings from Jameson's acoustic tag from buoys set up in Orleans and Provincetown, in July and August, respectively. But then nothing. The latest data from his detection off Plymouth, while still murky, was yet another hopeful sign of Jameson's long-term survival.

And then you have the saga of Veda, a 2-year-old giant Newfoundland, who found a stranded loggerhead turtle while taking a walk with her owners on the beach near Ellisville Harbor State Park in Plymouth Monday morning. The beach, littered with seaweed and other ocean debris from a weekend storm, made the cold-stunned turtle tough to see, but Veda noticed it. She trotted ahead of her owners and lay down next to the 40-pound turtle.

Veda's owners contacted the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. A volunteer soon arrived to retrieve the turtle and transport it to the aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy. Due to the low temperature and intense wind chill, the loggerhead would have only survived a few more hours if not found, according to New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LeCasse. After four days of slow re-warming at the Animal Care Center, the sea turtle is "bright and alert," the aquarium said.

Naturally, the turtle has been named Newfie, after Veda's breed. Should a humpback whale show up blowing and spouting in Cape Cod Bay, odds are somebody will pin a name on it…and what else but, Trump?

With a planned trip up to Portland, Maine for a couple of days last week, I figured I could check out the ice fishing action up north and report back. Left Massachusetts with the thermometer reading 34 degrees…arrived in Maine and it was a balmy 46 degrees. Zero ice fishing to be seen. Here in Nantucket Sound it's 43.5 degrees at the NOAA buoy; last year this time it was already in the thirties. I checked back in my logbook and last year we got hit with the first genuine blizzard on January 28th so I suppose we shouldn't get too sanguine about eluding Jack Frost's wintry claws just yet.

We seem to be locked into a weather pattern of sunny days, temperatures in the low-thirties to mid-forties and overnight temps a few degrees below the freezing mark. Which is just fine with me. It's trending down toward where it will eventually be cold enough to form ice thick enough to make hard-water fishing reasonably safe but not the bone chilling cold that makes it a challenge to spend time out on the local ponds while feet and fingers turn to popsicles.

There's nothing but open water from one end of the Cape to the other just now, keeping fishing available for those who prefer to move around and do a little casting rather than man the tip-up rigs. One good feature of this kind of weather at this time of year is that around mid-afternoon the sun has warmed shallow water areas enough to bring out those holdover striper populations. Places like Scorton Creek, parts of Bass River, Coonamesset and Pamet Rivers warm up considerably, especially in the shallow, muddy places.

And by three or so in the afternoon Popponesset and South Cape beaches may see visits from anglers who normally fish the beaches in spring and early summer. And a few of those locals will manage to hook up now and then, much to the dismay of traditionalists who are certain that all Cape stripers migrated south by late November. Those lads happily catching stripers along the beach are generally using some combination of jig and plastic and the most successful folks have modulated down to freshwater-sized rigs. Two to four inch tails on a 1/0 or smaller hook is prevalent…and those who have any sort of access to worms often trail one behind and do very well.
Another spot that draws the occasional fish prospector is the good old Cape Cod Canal.

The main thing about the Canal is that fish are constantly in movement through there, even off-season. And there's no telling what may turn up if one happens to be standing there rod in hand when a finned visitor swims through. That can be anything from a giant bluefin tuna to a wandering codfish, or from a stray ocean sunfish to a humpback whale.

At any given time tautog are in residence, along with mackerel, dogfish, skate and even a bait-hungry lobster or two. When I first moved to the Cape in the early seventies I hauled in a two-pound lobster that had greedily consumed my clam belly bait (and 2/0 hook). Not familiar at the time with marine regulations I cooked and ate my prize – later I was informed that I should have tossed the crawly bug back in. Sorry about that.

The hobbling MASH unit known as the New England Patriots takes to the field at Gillette Stadium later today and what began the year as The Patriots Scorched Earth Tour has devolved into a "Let's Just Try and Survive " operation. But we fans remain optimistic and, much to Roger Goodell's chagrin, may yet hoist another Lombardi Trophy skyward come Super Bowl Sunday in February.

January 05, 2016

Break Out the Irish Coffee, Edna, It's Getting a Mite Chilly

by Jerry Vovcsko

Happy 2016 to everyone…hope this turns out to be the best year yet, although it hasn't been too comforting to the sea turtle population in Cape Cod waters. More than 500 stranded, cold-stunned sea turtles have been rescued from Cape Cod beaches since November, the second-most stranded per year on record, the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary said.

Though the season for rescuing turtles usually ends by Christmas, according to a statement from the sanctuary, as many as 21 turtles have already been rescued in 2016. Only four of them were alive. Around 1,200 turtles were stranded last season, the highest on record. Since November, 520 have been stranded.

Turtles feed in Cape Cod Bay during the summer. They become stunned by the cold when winter arrives and they are prevented by the curve of the Cape from traveling south to warmer waters. According to the sanctuary, many become hypothermic and wash ashore.

You can't say enough about fishing. Though the sport of kings it's also what the deadbeat ordered.
-Tom McGuane-

After a lifetime of reading the work of one outdoor writer or another, I think Tom McGuane may just be my favorite, although Frank Woolner and Phil Schwind (both no longer with us) rate pretty high on my favorites' list. It's just that McGuane often leaves a reader laughing aloud after coming out of deep left field with some totally unexpected comment on fishing and fishermen. But then, what could we expect from a gent who numbered both Jimmy Buffet and Hunter S. Thompson among his friends?

We'll soon be entering the time where we're waiting for solid ice to form on our lakes and ponds. No doubt there'll be news stories capturing some of the weird behavior that sportsman seem impelled to display this time of year. Like the West Barnstable duck hunter who had to be rescued a while back after he became stuck in waist-deep, ice-encrusted water. The man was in the water at the end of Navigation Road in West Barnstable and was exhausted from trying to wade through the waist-deep, muddy water and ice. After the rescue the hunter was taken to Cape Cod Hospital for treatment of minor injuries. Good thing he didn't stumble into one of those deep holes that the tides scour out along the bottom of tidal streams around there. Immersion in thirty-nine degree water rapidly shifts from a humorous mishap to life-threatening misjudgment. Something to keep in mind when we strap on our crampons and head out onto the hard water.

Massachusetts anglers can renew their sporting licenses online these days and one of the few things I found advantageous about turning seventy a few years ago was that instead of a forty-five dollar hit on my wallet I was apparently considered an official Old Fart and eligible to get my license for free.

That was welcome news after more than a half-century shelling out for license fees that seemed somehow to disappear into the avaricious maw of something called "the General Fund". So I went online to renew and noticed that the Department of Wildlife folks had slapped a three dollar service fee on the online renewal process and I had to dig out my debit card after all. I don't really mind as it's still a pretty good deal for us Old Timers, but I sure hope that money ends up doing something useful for the fishery instead of getting diverted into the pockets of some local legislator who has decided to retire at thirty-five.

Pretty slim pickings on the salt water scene these days. Water temperatures have been spiraling down into the low forties and the current air temps sit placidly in the teens so that downward trend is certain to continue. There are still schools of mackerel circulating in the Cape Cod Canal and tautog linger in the usual spots. Flounder can be had but finding keeper-size fish is another matter entirely. When I first moved to the Cape in the early seventies you could easily fill a gunny sack full of decent size flatties in a morning's fishing, but those days are long gone.

In the fresh water ponds bass – both large and smallmouth- remain on the bite but have moved to deeper water now. Shiners will produce and jig & plastic combos can also be effective if worked slowly and carefully around good structure. Those trout that were stocked last fall in local ponds are still around although those that made it to now may be a little more wily than when they were first dropped from the trucks.

I'm heading up toward Portland, Maine for a couple of days this week so I'll keep an eye out for any ice activity up that way and report back in the next column. The Patriots are dinged up right now and Tom Brady's limping around after getting suplexed by 300 pound Miami nose tackle, Ndamakong Suh. But they've got a first round bye, some of the walking wounded are coming back and they'll be ready to go when the time comes. Super Bowl, here we come.

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