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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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February 27, 2014

Fishing For Photos and Fisher Cats Return to Cape Cod

by Jerry Vovcsko

About five years ago my wife and I took a trip out to Reno, Nevada to visit with her brother's family. He kept his 24 foot open console Grady White at a marina at Lake Tahoe and one afternoon we took a run out there to spend a day on the lake. Lake Tahoe happens to be some 1600 feet at the deepest part. That's like 5 football fields stacked up one on top of the other, plus thirty-yard field goal distance left over. It was probably an omen of things-to-come that when the marina folks brought out his boat, the battery was dead, so they charged it enough to get it started and said we'd probably charge it some more as we motored around, but they gave us a spare battery pack...just in case.

We spent the afternoon running end to end around the lake, seeing the sights, then stopped for a while to do some swimming and bask in the sun. By late afternoon we got ready to head back and, no surprise, the battery was dead. We hooked up the marina-provided battery pack and - surprise!- that one was dead also. Eventually we got a jump start from a kindly boater who had a spare battery on board and never stopped until we drove the boat right up onto the trailer and delivered it back to the marina along with a few choice words about their maintenance and equipment performances.

So that's why when I run across any mention of Lake Tahoe I tend to react negatively. I wasn't shocked, for instance, when I read about a Utah woman, Jana Livitre, who lost her camera when the neck strap broke and she got to watch it sink in some 200 feet of crystal clear lake water, carrying with it over a thousand irreplaceable photos of family and friends she had accumulated over time. What made the story unique, though, was what happened two years later when a gent named Stephen Garrett decided to do a little fishing on the lake and reeled in something he sure wasn't expecting, namely, a camera. Noticing that the camera card was still in place he took it home and a friend plugged it into her computer – sure enough, in this digital era of ours the photos were clear and unharmed.

So Garret's posted them on Facebook where a friend of Livitre's spotted them and before long the memory card was back with its happy owner. For a strange and slightly spooky ending to this particular fish tale, it turns out that the card had one extra photo that Jana Livitre hadn't taken. It was a clear picture of the bottom of the lake and makes you wonder who snapped that one: a passing fish; the water pressure on the way down; or perhaps some creature that inhabits the murky regions of this watery deep? After all, legends have come into being based on far less than.

Speaking of strange creatures, the re-emergence of fisher cats on the Cape has become more and more plain to see. Just last week one of these members of the Mustelid, family (shared by wolverines, badgers, otters and weasels) was hit and killed by a car in Sandwich. Fishers, valued by trappers for their luxurious fur, used to be plentiful around New England back in Henry Thoreau's day, but they got trapped and hunted into near extinction and their return appearance has been an unexpected development, albeit an environmentally positive one.

To be fair, though, not everyone is delighted to have these aggressive and highly skilled hunters back in the region. Pet owners for instance take a dim view of sharing the woods with predators quite willing to include, cats, dogs, rabbits and birds on their daily menu. They've been known to grow to four feet in length although locally, three footers are closer to the norm. Even birds aren't safe because the fisher cat is a tree climber extraordinaire but they also happily take on wild turkeys at ground level and their viciousness credentials are unchallenged as they've been known to kill bobcats, not exactly passive tabbycats themselves.

Anybody who still traps is undoubtedly delighted to see these creatures show up once again. To give some idea of their value, a hat made from fisher furs sells for between two and four hundred dollars and as full coat, well, that would set you back enough dough to keep you in Van Staal reels pretty much the rest of your life. All in all, it's nice to see these guys back and thriving in New England forests and fields and maybe, just maybe, we can figure out a way to share the Cape with these furry expatriates.

As far as fishing goes these days, the weather folk predict three more weeks of cold temperatures and at least one or two snow storms headed our way. So if we ever get a break, maybe we can get a little ice fishing in and at least catch ourselves a mess of perch to drop in a big, cast iron skillet with a dollop or two of bacon fat – calories be damned – for a celebratory end-of-winter fish feast. Pass the home fries, please, and yes, another mug of coffee to wash it all down…that's what I'm talkin' about!

Saw a list of the Red Sox starters in the sports pages the other day: Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Peavy and Doubront…and that's not even counting the kids coming up in Triple A. So eat your hearts out, Yankee fans…looks like it might just be another World Series year coming up for the Red Sox.

February 21, 2014

Can't Find the Ice For the Water

by Jerry Vovcsko

The March edition of Outdoor Life showed up in my mailbox yesterday and I thumbed through it looking to see if there was anything new and interesting. Turns out they were reviewing some freshwater fishing gear and the new version of the Mitchell 300 spinning reel caught my eye. The original Mitchell 300 first appeared on the scene back in 1948 and a couple of birthdays later it became my first spinning reel.

Up to then I'd been using mostly bait casters jury-rigged to whatever rod I was able to lay hands on as back then as money was short and we kids fished with whatever gear we were able to lay hands on. Before the Mitchell 300 showed up I'd been wielding a one-of-a-kind rig consisting of an old fencing epee that my father had soldered guides onto. The "rod" was square shaped metal tapering to a fairly flexible end and the epee grip actually custom fit the hand quite comfortably. A few wraps of electrician's tape was all it took to fasten an old Pfleuger baitcaster in place and I had pulled my share of perch, pickerel, rock bass and sunfish from the waters of Otsego Lake in Upstate New York. But that sword-rod went into retirement upon the arrival of the Mitchell 300 – it had served me well.

Back in the day the Mitchell was a real workhorse and reliable as it gets; hefting it in hand told the story right away: Here was one solid piece of equipment. So, yeah, I was interested in seeing what the "experts" thought of the latest iteration of the 300. They were reviewing the Mitchell 300 Pro model and the folks doing the testing called it a winner. The Pro version's spool held a mighty 210 yards of 35lb test braid and it spun smoothly on ten ball bearings with a 5.8.1 retrieve ration collecting 33 inches of line per revolution of the handle. For a more than reasonable seventy bucks it sure sounded pretty good to me and if I didn't already have seven vintage 300s (I'm a sucker for them when they turn up on EBay) I ‘d probably be tempted to slide into acquisition mode. Anyhow, they look like they just might be a winner.

Recent weather fluctuations have put the kibosh on ice fishing on Cape ponds and lakes. Right now many of those places have three or even four inches of ice, but so-what? Because that ice is sitting there under an inch or two of water collecting as a result of heavy rains and mild temperatures that have begun melting the ice cover. But some folks have gravitated northward, heading off-Cape in pursuit of fishing opportunities not available locals east of the Bridge.

Westward, around Worcester, Lake Quinsigamond has been delivering plenty of pike action and the bait shops have experienced runs on shiners as Central Massachusetts anglers heard about thirty inch-plus pike being pulled from Quinsig. North of us up around Arlington, Spy Pond has produced pike thirty inches and above including one 36 inch beauty taken through the ice last week. In addition, pickerel can be found in most any pond or lake that sports lush weedbeds and even those pocket-sized versions of mini-pike are exciting to hook up with.

Daylight savings is just a couple weeks away and that means spring is a-comin' round the bend. Largemouth bass offer plenty of action when spawning time looms on the horizon, but we oughtn't to overlook what smallmouths can bring our way. Way long ago, further back than I care to remember, an old timer gave me a tip for fishing rivers that held smallie populations that I've used over the decades with good results. He told me to check out wadable rapids sections of rivers where large boulders created pools with riffles as the current flowed past. His lure of choice was a Mepps or Panther Martin spinner which he cast diagonally across and beyond and then worked back through the riffle. He'd discovered that those v-shaped disturbances in the current were natural ambush points for smallmouths and the years have proved his theory time and again for me. A good pair of waders and a rod with the flex to cast some distance and enough backbone to handle a smallie in the current are must-haves…but this method produces, I tell you truly.

I took a look at the data buoy in Nantucket Sound the other day. Water temperature was thirty six degrees. It's been gradually rising from thirty three and change, which was the coldest I saw back in mid-January. So, yeah, pretty soon the ice will be gone and we'll be making plans and getting ready for reacquainting ourselves with the salt water species' that inhabit our waters through the spring, summer, fall seasons. The merry-month-of-May launches yet another striped bass season on the Cape and that's not all that far off now.

There will likely be some Big-Doings at Fenway Park this year when the Yankees bring the Derek Jeter Traveling Retirement Circus to town. But that's OK…Derek played the game right and he deserves to bask in the sun one more time around the American League. He was one of those rarities in baseball, a genuine Star, and he will have stomped-the-terra for the past 20 seasons when he retires. A lifelong Red Sox fan, I can still appreciate a great player, and Derek Jeter was one of the Greats.

February 15, 2014

The Winter Doldrums

by Jerry Vovcsko

As the first half of February recedes in the rear view mirror the Cape readies itself for yet another major storm due to bring blizzard conditions and another foot of snow our way between noon and midnight tonight. This is starting to get a little old, know what I mean? Fifty mile an hour winds eliminates any potential boating activity and a foot or more of new white-stuff precludes easy access to local ponds…so what's a poor, frustrated angler to do?

Some folks will use the down time to get their gear in shape for the upcoming season: fresh line; new hooks; reels oiled, cleaned and new drag washers in place. Yep. All good stuff. Also, there's plenty of reading material to catch up with…Jim Harrison's book "Brown Dog" is a window into fishing and hunting possibilities on Michigan's Upper Peninsula; the late Phil Schwind penned the definitive work about the early days of striper fishing in Cape Cod Bay with his "Cape Cod Fisherman". And then there's anything by the late Frank Woolner, that wonderful old gent who's likely standing near the Pearly Gates showing Saint Peter how to get a little more distance out of his surf-casting gear. If for one reason or another I can't fish, these Old Timers provide the next best thing with their no-frills, voices-of-experience literary efforts. What better time to read them than on a storm-tossed mid-February evening with a fire on the hearth and a mug of Irish coffee at hand?

In other parts of the world sharks are in the news again. A man was killed by a shark last week while spear fishing with friends off the south Australian coast. The 28-year-old was part of a group spear fishing off Yorke Peninsula, west of the South Australia state capital of Adelaide, when witnesses reported seeing a shark attack him at midday, police said. Rescuers searched the area near Goldsmith Beach with boats and helicopters, but found no trace of the man. Western Australia officials announced recently that they intend to hire shark hunters to kill as many sharks as necessary to "make the beaches safe for swimmers and surfers." That doesn't strike me as sound policy, either politically or environmentally, but I suppose governments feel they have to at least appear to be taking some sort of action when their citizens are endangered.

Elsewhere, scientists have discovered a cold water reef growing in the sea off Greenland. .A cold-water coral that thrives in deep, dark water has been found growing off the shore of Greenland as a reef for the first time. A Canadian research ship sampling water near southwest Greenland's Cape Desolation discovered the Greenland coral reef in 2012, when its equipment came back to the surface with pieces of coral attached.

"At first, the researchers were swearing and cursing at the smashed equipment, and were just about to throw the pieces of coral back into the sea, when luckily, they realized what they were holding," Helle Jørgensbye, a doctoral student at the Technical University of Denmark who is studying the reef, said in a statement.

Cold-water corals have been found off of Greenland's west coast before, but never the stone coral Lophelia pertusa, and never as a reef, according to a report by the researchers published in the journal ICES Insight. A common cold-water coral, Lophelia pertusa built the reef, which is about 3,000 feet (900 meters) below the sea surface, in strong currents, close to where the edge of Greenland's continental shelf drops precipitously to the deep ocean floor. Little is known about the relationship between the reefs and other species, such as fish, but scientists think the coral reefs may serve as spawning grounds and hunting territory for redfish, monkfish and cod, among other species.

These days any positive news about coral reefs is welcome news indeed, as the usual reports have typically focused on dead or dying coral reefs in topical waters where pollution and human development have destroyed them. Perhaps the Greenland corals, located 3000 feet deep, will get a chance to survive even if they have to remain well out of sight of human presence to do so.

A month from now we'll be starting to speculate about the date of striped bass returning to Cape waters. Some folks seem to think that April brings the first migrating bass into Buzzards Bay. Maybe so, but I don't look for them much before the first week of May. Still, it helps survive the bleak winter months knowing those fish are stirring in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay, getting ready to spawn and then set forth on their long swim north. It may be several weeks yet before there's any point in heading out to see what's what in the salt water scene, but having waited this long I can spare a little more patience on their behalf. Beside, today was the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers at the Red Sox facilities in Florida. Season opener is March 31st…that's just six weeks until the first umpire call of "Play-Ball" summons the Boys of Summer. I'm ready; how about you?

Hope everyone had a Happy Valentine's Day.

February 07, 2014

Shakespeare, Starfish and Flying Snakes

by Jerry Vovcsko

It may be slow going these days when it comes to fishing in Cape Cod waters, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening elsewhere around the globe. The folks who study marine conditions say that starfish have been mysteriously dying by the millions in recent months along the US west coast. That's especially worrisome to biologists who say the sea creatures are key to the marine ecosystem. Scientists first began noticing the mass deaths in June of 2013 and they say the two species affected most are Pisaster ochraceus (purple starfish) and Pycnopodia helianthoides (sunflower sea star)…the sunflower sea star is considered among the largest starfish and can span more than a meter in diameter.

The most commonly observed symptoms are white lesions on the arms of the sea star and those lesions spread rapidly, resulting in the loss of the arm. Within days, the infection consumes the creature's entire body, and it dies. Entire populations have been wiped out in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state, in the Salish Sea off Canada's British Columbia, and along the coast of California. Estimates of the mortality rate run around 95%.

Even those scientists who have spent decades studying the local ecosystem haven't yet been able to figure out what's causing the deaths but some believe it's likely that there is a pathogen, like a parasite or a virus or a bacteria, that is infecting the sea stars and that somehow compromises their immune system. The creatures become more susceptible to bacteria which may be causing a secondary infection that inflicts most of the damages resulting in the die-off of sea stars.

The 2013 phenomenon hasn't been limited to the West Coast; a smaller outbreak also killed East Coast sea stars last year. Previously the deaths were believed to be associated with warmer waters -- sea stars have sensitive skin and prefer cooler water -- but this was not the case in 2013. Sea stars are important, scientists say, because they play a key role in the West Coast ecosystem, eating mussels, barnacles, snails, mollusks and other smaller sea life, so their health is considered a barometer of marine life health in a given area.

But at least sea stars can be perceived as "cute" by your average beach goer. Such is most definitely not the case for anyone susceptible to a touch of ophidiophobia - fear of snakes, that is. Yes, it seems that researchers have determined that flying snakes have surprisingly good aerodynamic qualities. They've been studying the amazing gliding proficiency of an Asian species known as the paradise tree snake found that it does two things as it goes airborne. It splays its ribs in order to flatten its profile en into a more triangular form, and it undulates while airborne - sort of swimming through the air.

Experts in biomechanics at Virginia Tech, replicated in a plastic model the shape the snake assumes while airborne, and tested it to evaluate its aerodynamic qualities. The results contradicted expectations going in that the snakes would be poor "fliers" because they don't look like your typical, streamlined, airplane design.

Well, I don't know about anybody else, but I'd just as soon stay away from the notion of swarms of itinerant snakes flying around every which way looking for their next meal. Heck, I didn't even care for the movie version where a bunch of the venomous ones escaped from their crates and turned up in the first class section of a Boeing jet liner. Talk about your uninvited guests.

But it's not all bad news, it appears. A tiny fish characterized by a disproportionately large head and previously unknown to scientists has been found in mountain rivers of Idaho and Montana in what biologists are characterizing as a rare discovery. The new aquatic species is a type of freshwater sculpin, a class of fish that dwell at the bottom of cold, swiftly flowing streams throughout North America and are known for their oversized head and shoulder structure.

Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Montana first encountered the new species while conducting a genetic inventory of fish found in the upper Columbia River basin.

The fish has been named the cedar sculpin, after Western red cedars that line streams in the Idaho panhandle where it was first discovered. Sculpin are the preferred prey of prized sport fish like cutthroat trout and anglers have for decades used a fly-fishing pattern that imitates sculpin to catch trout. We may not have much to do with cedar sculpin over here on the east coast, but still, it's promising to hear about any new species discovery rather than the usual warnings that something else is about to fall into extinction. Shows that Mother Nature might have a trick or two up her sleeve if we'll just refrain from dousing the waters with all manner of toxic wastes.

Anglers who have been looking for suitable ice conditions to ply their trade have been pretty much out of luck on the Cape lately. Where the ice had previously formed to a reassuringly solid six inches a week ago, it's now likely to be breaking up and developing cracks and fissures that shout: Stay clear! And that's before we even get the slug of rain heading our way Sunday. Besides, that forecast originally threatened to dump a load of snow our way but now calls for rain and maybe a bit of sleet. All in all, not conditions conducive to spending time watching over tip-ups that stubbornly refuse to budge because the fish are somewhere down below laughing at those fools wandering around up above on the increasingly treacherous ice, getting soaked and freezing while they wait for a bite.

Best bet right now for those anglers jonesing for action would be to head north to lakes and ponds where the locals zip around on ATVs and snowmobiles secure in the knowledge they've got a nice, safe foot or more of ice underneath them. Quaboag Pond in East Brookfield might be one such destination worth the two and a half hour drive from the Cape. It's a 531-acre body of water with a maximum depth of 12 feet a population of northern pike along with bass, trout and perch to round out the chances of a successful day's fishing. Pike pushing the 20 pound mark have been taken from there over the years and it's far enough north to sustain sufficient ice cover to hold both angler and shack in relative comfort.

In Shakespeare's time there was a popular belief that the prey of the sea hawk surrendered voluntarily by turning belly-up, in recognition of the sea hawks' innate superiority. So, yeah, it would seem the Bard's bit of old-timey ornithology does a pretty good job of describing last Sunday's Super Bowl game. The 49ers rolled over and the Seahawks claimed their due…natural selection in action, with a vengeance. Let's hope next year the Patriots get their shot at Seattle…that is if the Seahawks make it past the 49ers again. And the trucks roll southward in about a week, carrying Red Sox equipment to spring training. Spring can't be far behind.
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