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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 28, 2015

Ice Breaking In Vineyard Sound and Giant Catfish In the River Po

by Jerry Vovcsko

Quicks Hole down at the western end of the Elizabeth Islands has long been a hot-spot for anglers pursuing jumbo striped bass. Over the years I've made dozens of trips to Quicks and taken my share of keeper bass. Most of those trips were made aboard boats in the 18-21 foot size range which requires the skipper to keep a sharp eye out for hazards that could end a trip abruptly and unpleasantly. Hull-eating rock ledges, swirling five-knot currents, heavy swells rolling in from the open Atlantic…that's just to name a few of the things that can put a small boat in jeopardy at Quicks.

But in all the years I've navigated Vineyard Sound I never ran into anything like the conditions that stopped cold the 69-foot commercial fishing vessel Misty Blue in the middle of Quicks Passage last week. It was mid-morning last Friday when the Coast Guard got a call saying a boat was trapped in ice and needed assistance. A Coast Guard aids-to-navigation team from Woods Hole launched a 49-foot Stern Loading Buoy Boat to break the vessel and its three-person crew free. By noon they had broken the Misty Blue out of the ice and escorted them out to Buzzards Bay where they continued their voyage.

The Coast Guard says its domestic icebreaking operations are intended to facilitate navigation within reasonable demands of commerce and minimize waterways closures during the winter, while enabling commercial vessels to transit through ice-covered critical channels. But I wonder if the gents aboard the Misty Blue considered chopping a hole in the ice while they were waiting for the ice breaker and dropping a baited line down below. After all, Quicks has been known to surrender good sized tautog and you never know…

On the other side of the Atlantic, Italian fisherman Dino Ferrari hooked up with something that definitely wasn't making it easy for him to land. After a bruising forty-minute fight, Ferrari landed a 280-pound, 8-foot-9-inch catfish last Thursday on Italy's Po which is believed to be one of the largest ever caught with a rod and reel. After Ferrari outlasted the monster fish, he took a few photos and released it back into the river. Looking at those photos tells me that few if any anglers would want to take a shot at one these giant catfish via the southern method known as "noodling". That's where an angler (likely one who has fortified his nerves with an ample supply of home-brew) reaches into holes and caves in the banks of river or creek and jams his hand and arm into the maw of resident catfish and drags the fish out and onto dry land.

Nossir, that's not an acceptable approach with any fish that's taller and heavier than I am. As far as that goes, it's probably a good idea to keep cats, dogs and small children away from places where these giant fish may reside. Takes a lot of calories to damp down hunger pangs of creatures like this.

The Boston area has broken the hundred-inch ceiling already this winter and would-be anglers have had to contend with such obstacles as a non-functioning MBTA public transit system, barely passable roads, twelve foot snow drifts at dome of the best fishing destinations, arctic-like wind chill numbers…and all that's before there's even a chance to get a hole chopped in the ice and a baited line in the water. But even so, a few local hardies have managed to take some nice rainbow trout from such places as Sheeps Pond in Brewster and Peter's Pond over Sandwich way. (Speaking of Sandwich, wait until visiting surf casters get a look at those north-facing beaches on Cape Cod Bay…winter storms devastated that whole area and the topography has definitely been modified.)

Anyhow, it won't be long before the Environmental folks put their trucks on the road and start stocking Cape Cod ponds with trout, salmon and tiger muskies. Around that time we'll begin looking toward the kickoff of the 2015 season for the National Pastime with the perennial mantra issuing forth from some leather-lunged umpire: Play Ball! Watch out for the Red Sox this year, sports fans. That's a strong pitching staff they've put together, starters and bullpen. And their pattern of last to first to last tells us that another "first" is not out of the question. A Super Bowl win by the Patriots, along with a World Series triumph by the Sox…all we'd need then would be another Celtics championship banner to make a lovely New England Trifecta. Stranger things have happened.

February 21, 2015

High Times in the Alternate Universe

by Jerry Vovcsko

Sometimes all it takes is seeing a need and filling it – and, voila!, an idea becomes a useful product. That's pretty much the way it happened for Adam Gibbs and Nick Bongi who both live in Westborough, Massachusetts and the idea was born out of their shared passion for fishing. The two 18-year-old friends have taken an annual trip to the Gibbs family's vacation home on Sanibel Island in Florida since they were kids and fishing was always a part of the trip.

They were down there one night on a dock and noticed that everyone was fumbling around with flashlights, or using their iPhone's light. Flashlights fell into the water from time to time and everyone struggled to tie knots, unhook fish, and grab gear in the darkness.

So Gibbs and Bongi decided to put a light into the tacklebox itself, and – well the idea just seemed to grow from there, said Gibbs, who is a business student at Northeastern University. The experience has turned into a two-year venture for the boys which has led to the FISHinc. ProGlo+ tacklebox, equipped with a detachable, waterproof, tubular LED light that can also charge a smartphone. The boys are exploring marketing possibilities these days and it looks like they and their lighted tackle box are looking at bright futures indeed.

Scientists may not be aware of it, but there is an alternate universe where the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl and that universe exists in any number of countries. (usually in Africa) In that universe around 100,000 T-shirts and hats, which normally would fetch more than $2 million in sales, get turned into aid packages. This year, the NFL partnered with an organization called Good360 to distribute those "back-to-back champs" T-shirts — the ones Seahawks fans were aching to wear — to communities in need.

The organization reported that they received around 120,000 items after last year's Super Bowl. Approximately 75 percent were T-shirts, 15 percent were baseball caps, and 10 percent were hoodies. While a small percentage of the merchandise came from the NFL itself, the rest came from licensed retailers. The items went to El Salvador, Lesotho, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia. And all because an undrafted New England Patriots corner back named Malcolm Butler from a Division 2 Florida college stepped in front of a Seahawks receiver and broke the hearts of Seattle fans with his Super Bowl winning interception.

And also in the news last week was the Coast Guard's rescue of two Australian men who probably won't receive invitations to the MENSA organization anytime soon. After searching for a sailboat to buy for nearly two years, and spending the last six weeks in Rhode Island repairing the one they blindly purchased on eBay, the father and son team set sail on what they thought would be a journey of a lifetime.

But that 8,600-nautical-mile adventure back to Australia quickly turned into a life-threatening nightmare when their 43-foot-yacht, the Sedona, had a series of unexpected mechanical problems and left them stranded off the coast of Nantucket, where they were later rescued from 43-degree waters by a team of Coast Guardsmen.

Why the two thought that buying a sailboat on eBay and sailing it 8600 miles to Australia for a shakedown cruise was a good idea is anybody's guess. Especially since neither man had any real experience sailing. And starting that voyage with a full scale blizzard moving up the coast toward them doesn't in hindsight seem like the smartest strategy.

The result of those decisions, not too surprisingly, turned out to be a disabled boat floundering around in 30-foot waves with 65mph windgusts some 140 miles offshore in the midst of a full scale blizzard. Using a satellite phone, the pair made contact with people in Australia, who alerted the local Coast Guard on Cape Cod.

For four hours, they hung tight on the powerless boat until the Coast Guard crew arrived at 8:48 a.m. with a MH-60 helicopter. The Coast Guard put a rescue swimmer in the water, then quickly lowered the rescue basket and the two would-be sailors were safely pulled aboard and flown to the base where they were evaluated and spent the night. The boat, however, could not be rescued, and as far as anyone knows, is still floating around somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Guess they just do things differently in the Land Down Under.

As to what's-happening-locally-with-fishing, the reports all say: Not much. Between the massive snow drifts covering ice surfaces, sub-zero temperatures the past few days and roofs collapsing all over New England from the snow loads, not too many die-hard anglers are out there doing any fishing. But daylight savings time is less than a month away, spring will most certainly find us and sooner or later we'll put winter in the rearview mirror and turn our attention to rumors of cod in the surf, the arrival of the first migrating striped bass and Opening Day for the Red Sox. As Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione would say: "Can you believe it?"

February 15, 2015

Fishing With John

by Jerry Vovcsko

The eighty-some inches of snow we've got laying on the ground here in southeastern Massachusetts doesn't make for easy access to Cape Cod ponds, lakes or even shopping malls. But as Governor Charley Baker put it in one of his recent press conferences in Boston, "Mother Nature makes the rules." And where ice fishermen are concerned, high on Mother Nature's list of rules is most definitely: Bring a shovel!

Anglers need not be too concerned about finding ponds with enough weight-bearing ice cover – this weekend's thirty mile an hour winds produced wind chill temperatures down to minus-fifteen…and that'll put a few more inches of surface ice in place and forecasts for the upcoming week will keep those temperatures hovering around zero so we won't be lacking for ice. No…the trick right now is locating pond or lake where it's possible to move enough snow to get down to the surface.

I thought about wrapping myself in a dozen layers of Polartec and dragging my gear down to nearby Robbins Pond to have a go at some largemouth bass. But as I poured myself another cup of coffee and gazed out the kitchen window, the combination of howling wind and four-foot-long icicles hanging from the eaves changed my mind for me and instead I headed for the front room with my coffee and a favorite DVD: "Fishing with John".

If you're not familiar with the film, it features John Lurie as the laconic host who knows nothing whatsoever about fishing but accompanies such blithe spirits as Tom Waits, Dennis Hopper, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe and other entertainment luminaries on fishing expeditions to such diverse locations as the South China Sea, a river in Costa Rica and a frozen lake deep in the woods of northern Maine.

The Lurie/Dafoe segment is a cult classic with the two hapless anglers out on a lake in the middle of nowhere deciding to build a shelter to protect themselves from wind and cold. Naturally, with no tools or building materials this construction project appears somewhat daunting. Dafoe solves the dilemma by instructing Lurie to set out into the miles and miles of pine and hemlock wilderness to find a Home Depot and buy sheets of plywood and nails to erect a cabin.

If you liked the Jim Jarmusch classic film "Coffee and Cigarettes" which featured the likes of Iggy Pop, Bill Murray, RZA, CZA, Method Man of the Wu Tang Clan and others, you'll love Fishing with John. If not, well, give it a shot anyway – it beats huddling in the wind and cold trying to dig down far enough to locate the surface of the ice, chop a hole through and – with a little luck – maybe catch a couple of yellow perch and a bullhead.

For those seriously optimistic types who see nothing strange about trekking out in zero-degree temperatures to do a spot of fishing, well this might be the time to try Wequaquet Lake in Barnstable. What the hell, there are northern pike and tiger muskies in there and if you're going to fish in sub-arctic conditions in the first place, may as well go where the potential rewards are commensurate. Me, I'm planning on another cup of coffee – maybe two – and a couple more logs in the fireplace while I revisit John Lurie and Dennis Hopper on their river excursion in quest of peacock bass and some quality herbal refreshment. Doesn't get too much better than that.

I read that a bait and tackle shop employee reporting on another web site said he'd heard rumors of "cod holding on some of the high spots past Noman's Island" and that fishermen leaving from the Cape have been getting into codfish. Well, I don't know about that but when I tuned to the NOAA weather station this AM, they were talking about wind gusts at Nantucket hitting sixty miles per hour and waves offshore building to twenty feet and more.

So I don't care if swordfish and giant Bluefin tuna are leaping from the water into anglers' boats. Cro-Magnon man will stroll out from the woods at the National Seashore and lead the Fourth of July parade down Commercial Street in Provincetown before you'll catch me taking a boat down around Nomans Island in the kind of weather we've been seeing this winter. In fact, just the thought makes me shiver…I better add a dollop of rum to my coffee and pull the chair a little closer to the fire while I watch to see if Dennis and John toke up before venturing out onto the river.

February 07, 2015

The Butler Did It!

by Jerry Vovcsko

I would feel remiss if I didn't say a word or two about the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory. After all the brouhaha about deflated footballs and assorted accusations that "they cheated", the Pats accomplished what very few have managed to achieve in this modern era: they won their fourth Super Bowl under the Belichick/Brady regime. And unlike some recent championship contests – the Seattle Seahawks' blowout of the Denver Broncos the previous year for instance – this year's edition of the Super Bowl was a doozy.

After being down ten points in the second half, Tom Brady gathered the troops, called for a "championship drive" that culminated with a pass to Julian Edelman in the end zone, and the Pats were on top by four with two minutes to go in the game. But shades of previous Super Bowl contests against the Giants, the Seahawks roared back and when Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse on a twisting, falling, juggling, miracle completion at the Pats' five yard line it felt like the ghost of David Tyree had dropped in to once again hex the Patriots in their own backyard.

A handoff to Marshawn Lynch running in "beast mode" took the Hawks to the one yard line and things looked very, very bleak indeed for the home team. And that was when an undrafted rookie from a Division 2 college in the Florida backwoods pulled off the play that will forever guarantee that Malcolm Butler need never have to pay for a beer in Boston during his lifetime. Because when Russell Wilson launched a pass toward Ricardo Lockette running a slant route, young Mr. Butler intruded himself into the play and snatched the ball out of the receiver's grasp for a game-saving interception. Yessir, folks, it was a clear cut case of "The Butler Did It" and it will live forever in New England sports' lore and Super Bowl history - definitely one for the ages!

The 49th edition of the Super Bowl certainly exceeded expectations but the weather in New England has put a real damper on fishing activity and this weekend looks like more of the same. The three day forecast calls for snow, snow and more snow…up to perhaps another couple feet of the white stuff. So along with tip-ups, ice augers and bait, anglers will need to bring along snow shovels just to get at the surface of the ice.

The good news, however, is that we're only a week or so away from the time when the big 18-wheeler pulls out from Fenway Park with the Red Sox baseball equipment heading for Florida and the start of spring training. Yep - baseball season is almost upon us. Pretty soon we'll hear the heart-lifting cry of "Play Ball" and that means the arrival of the 2015 striped bass season won't be far behind.

So bring on the snow! I don't care…it's almost time to break out the rods and reels and get the gear in shape for another year of pursuing the mighty stripers that will soon be streaming in from the Hudson River and points south. I tell you truly, it's Morning in New England and it looks like a mighty fine day ahead.

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