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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 29, 2016

Cheating On the Count and New Sea Bass Regs

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is trying to come up with a plan to reduce the catch of black sea bass in the 2016 recreational fishery in order to meet a mandatory harvest reduction of twenty three percent from the 2015 harvest. Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, the Division has devised a plethora of options to achieve that reduction. To that end, the Department has issued the following notice:

There are multiple combinations of changes to the possession limit, size limit, and season that could achieve the required reduction. This Advisory aims to provide a range of possible options. The final regulations may differ from all presented options based on public input. Not all presented options have been approved for use by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is required before state implementation. DMF's goal is to announce the 2016 regulations by mid-March.

Public input can be provided by either attending a February 26 Scoping Meeting or submitting written comments by March 3 (Midnight). Details are below.

Scoping Meeting

February 26, 2016

1:00 PM

Hyannis Doubletree Hotel

287 Iyannough Road

Hyannis, MA



Written Comment (March 3 Deadline)
Address to: David Pierce, DMF Director

251 Causeway Street, 4th Floor

Boston, MA 02114

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (617) 626-1509

Enacting regulations that are projected to reduce harvest is relatively straightforward but accommodating all the various stakeholders is not. Black sea bass are not evenly distributed in time and space within Massachusetts, so amending the open season or possession limit can have uneven impacts on user groups. In addition, catch rates in recent years have been substantially higher in May and June than the later summer and fall months. Consequently, shortening the season from the front end is projected to achieve more reduction in harvest than cutting the same number of days from the tail end of the season.

Moreover, the desires of the various fishery participants are wide-ranging. Regulatory preferences are often based on fishing mode (shore, private vessel, charter and party boats) and geographic location. For example, testimony from past public hearings has revealed several trends, including:

- Many anglers that fish from shore or a private vessel favor a longer season at a lower bag limit to a shorter season at a higher bag limit.

- Certain charter and party vessel operators on the South Shore and Cape Cod place priority on having a spring fishery (opening mid-May) at the highest bag limit possible, at the expense of season length, in order to meet the demands of their clients. They indicate that an early season closure for black sea bass is acceptable because other fish are available and targeted in summer and fall.

- Some charter and party vessel operators (e.g., from Nantucket) would forgo a spring fishery in order to have a season throughout summer and early fall, because black sea bass don't tend to arrive locally until the summer months. The tourists that comprise their clientele show a similar seasonality and are satisfied with a low possession limit.

Options

With an understanding of the traditional views of the various user groups and angler types, DMF has devised the following array of options to reduce recreational black sea bass harvest in Massachusetts by the required rate in 2016. Note that proposals only include amendments to season and possession limit. An increase in the minimum size limit is not on the table due to concerns about effectiveness in reducing harvest and non-compliance. For reference, Massachusetts' 2015 regulations are listed first.

Fishing Mode

Open Season

Possession Limit

Minimum Size


2015 Regulations

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 23–August 27

(97 days)

8 fish

14"

SINGLE MODE, UNIFORM POSSESSION LIMIT

Options A–D apply a single set of regulations to all anglers, whether fishing from shore, private vessel, or hired vessel (charter or party boat). A uniform possession limit applies throughout the open season.

Fishing Mode

Open Season

Possession Limit

Minimum Size


Option A

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 21–July 1

(42 days)

8 fish

14"


This option provides the same opening date (third Saturday of May) and bag limit as 2015. Because of high angler effort and black sea bass catchability in May and June, this option requires closing the fishery 55 days earlier than in 2015.


Option B

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 28–July 29

(63 days)

8 fish

14"


This option demonstrates how, compared to Option A, delaying the opening date by one week adds 28 days to the end of the season, for a net gain of 21 days. A season beginning on May 28 includes the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend (May 28–30).


Option C

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 21–September 5

(108 days)

3 fish

14"


This option provides the same opening date (third Saturday of May) as 2015 at a reduced possession limit in order to extend the season through the Labor Day Holiday Weekend (September 3–5). If the opening date were May 28 instead, the season could extend through September 13.


Option D

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 28–August 20

(85 days)

5 fish

14"


This option takes two weeks off the season compared to 2015, one at the beginning and one at the end, which allows a possession limit of 5 fish.



SINGLE MODE, IN-SEASON DECREASE IN THE POSSESSION LIMIT

Options E–G apply a single set of regulations to all anglers, whether fishing from shore, private vessel, or hired vessel (charter or party boat). The possession limit is split into two sub-periods, starting at a higher limit when black sea bass are generally most available in Massachusetts, then decreasing to a lower limit in order to maintain a longer season. Because recreational fishing data are collected in two-month periods (January/February, March/April, etc.), the split occurs after June 30.



Fishing Mode

Open Season

Possession Limit

Minimum Size


Option E

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 21–June 30

6 fish

14"


July 1–July 24

2 fish


With the same opening date (third Saturday of May) as 2015, this option provides a 65-day season, with 41 days at 6-fish and then 24 days at 2-fish.


Option F

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 28–June 30

6 fish

14"


July 1–September 2

2 fish


This option provides 33 more days than Option E by delaying the opening date by one week. Total season length is 98 days (similar to 2015), with 34 days at 6-fish and 64 days at 2-fish. The last open day would be the Friday before the Labor Day Holiday Weekend (September 3–5).


Option G

All private anglers and for-hire patrons

May 28–June 30

5 fish

14"


July 1–September 6

2 fish


Compared to Option F, this option includes the Labor Day Holiday Weekend by setting the initial possession limit at 5 fish instead of 6 fish. Total season length is 102 days (34 days at 5-fish and 68 days at 2-fish).


Options H and I provide different regulations for private anglers and for-hire vessel patrons. Any of Options H1-H4 can be combined with any of Options I1-I4. These options were developed in response to various for-hire permit holders' requests to have separate regulations applicable to patrons aboard their vessels to accommodate consumer demand and business needs.



Fishing Mode

Open Season

Possession Limit

Minimum Size


Option H

(1)

Private anglers only

May 21–August 14

(86 days)

4 fish

14"


(2)

Private anglers only

May 21–September 3

(106 days)

3 fish

14"


(3)

Private anglers only

May 28–September 2

(98 days)

4 fish

14"


(4)

Private anglers only

May 28–September 10

(106 days)

3 fish

14"



These options for anglers fishing from shore or private vessel compare the possible seasons at 3-fish and 4-fish possession limits, beginning either the same day as 2015 (third Saturday of May) or a one-week delay.


Option I

(1)

For-hire patrons only

May 21–June 24

(35 days)

8 fish

14"


(2)

For-hire patrons only

May 21–June 30

4 fish

14"


July 1–September 4

2 fish


(3)

For-hire patrons only

May 28–June 30

4 fish

14"


July 1–October 10

2 fish


(4)

For-hire patrons only

May 28–June 30

6 fish

14"


July 1–September 8

2 fish

ww

These options for anglers fishing aboard for-hire vessels compare possible seasons at a single possession limit (8 fish, same as 2015) and several dual possession limits. At a 4-fish and then 2-fish possession limit, Options I2 and I3 demonstrate how delaying the opening date by one week affects season length (107 days vs. 136 days). Option I4 provides a higher starting bag limit than Options I2 and I3 and a total season length of 104 days, from the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend to just after the Labor Day Holiday Weekend.

The Division recognizes that all options require a sacrifice from one or more user groups. We join all stakeholders in hoping that the 2016 Benchmark Stock Assessment for black sea bass will reflect the true stock abundance of this species and result in a more realistic Recreational Harvest Limit for 2017, allowing for more liberal regulations at that time.
***************************************************************

Meanwhile, on the commercial side,in a Boston Globe story: federal agents detected some nefarious doings by one of the Northeast's biggest commercial fishing entrepreneurs. Carlos Rafael, 64, the owner of Carlos Seafood Inc., was arrested by federal agents last week, charged with falsifying federal documents. If the fish inspectors weren't watching when his boats came into the docks in New Bedford, according to authorities, fish mogul Carlos Rafael labeled every species of fish he caught as the cheaper, more common haddock — while secretly trading hundreds of pounds of more coveted species for bags of cash. He called all the fish haddock, even if they weren't: The dabs. The gray sole. The goal: evade the federal quota on the more lucrative fish.

"When the [inspector] disappears, that's when we got a chance to make the fish disappear," Rafael allegedly told an undercover federal agent, posing as a Russian gangster who wanted to buy his business.

Authorities said that Rafael, who owns more than 40 fishing vessels ported in New Bedford and Gloucester, developed a lucrative scheme to cheat the federal fishing quotas that were enacted — to the dismay of fishermen from New Bedford to Maine — to protect the sustainability of certain fish species.

Rafael allegedly told his boat captains to label fish they hauled in as a common species such as haddock that they were allowed to fish without violating the quota. In reality, his fishermen would be bringing in fish that would have been restricted by a quota, such as pollock. His company would then buy the fish at the lower price of haddock, but sell it at its higher market price to a New York buyer.

Apparently, sleaze is not limited to just the political scene. Here's hoping the courts will take a very dim view of Mr. Rafael's machinations and come down hard with fines and possibly jail time. Pretty clear there was nothing accidental about his illegal activities and it should garner more than a slap on the wrist.

Here we are at the end of February and it looks and feels more like April which could mean a very early spring here in New England. Water temperatures in Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay hover close to forty degrees and it looks like we'll be soon be meandering down to the beach to toss bait and lure in hopes of persuading wandering stripers to take a bite.

The first place to give it a try has traditionally been at such beaches as Succonesset, South Cape, Popponesset and the stretch of sandy seaside from there to Waquoit Bay. What makes it such a productive early season location is the gentle slope into shallow waters that heat up quickly on sunny days. The crowd that gathers along here favors anything from chunks of herring to sea clams and squid strips as well as soft plastic jig combos and shiny metal slabs. Sure, it's a little early just yet, but this has been a strange winter with air temperatures all over the place and who knows what impact it will have on striped bass populations.

The freshwater scene is lighting up day by day right now. As water temps creep up, fishy activity in local ponds increases and such species as trout, bass and pickerel become energized and hungry. PowerBait remains attractive to trout and Peters Pond in Sandwich sees increasing numbers of anglers on the weekends these days. A few folks specialize in slow-swimming crankbaits with good results. In fact, the mantra for early season should be: slow, slooow, slooooooower. Let the big hungry critters catch up without expending much energy in the chase. As always, if all else fails, dangle a shiner in the usual places and good things are liable to happen.





















February 24, 2016

Of Elvers, Pike and A Deep Bullpen

by Jerry Vovcsko

What can you say about a Saturday that features windchill temperatures down to -34 only to be followed by 55-above temps the following Tuesday? After extensive pondering, ruminating and consultation with the Ouija board, my considered analysis leads me to conclude: I have no idea what the hell's going on.

What I do know is it's dammed difficult to figure out whether to bring a bunch of tip-ups to the pond in hopes of finding solid ice thanks to those minus-temps, or haul the kayak and my freshwater spinning gear along with me trusting those fifty-degree days to provide enough open-water to take a shot at local trout, bass and pickerel populations. Schizophrenic weather conditions don't make it easy to plan.

They'll be stocking the ponds and lakes locally before long and the trucks will be rolling to such destinations as Peters Pond in Sandwich; Sheeps, Long and Cliff ponds in Brewster; Barnstable's Wequaquet Lake and a host of other locations in southeastern Massachusetts.

In the past, such species as trout, salmon…even tiger muskies were fed into the ponds but the Wildlife folk haven't been including salmon for a while now and angler have had to chase after the more wily critters that have survived in the wild for a few years. On the plus side, some of those fish have reached impressive size and make worthwhile trophies when coaxed to swallow bait or lure.

Of the more accessible Cape destinations, Peters Pond, Mashpee-Wakeby, Lake Wequaquet and some of the larger bodies of water are worth a look right now. For one thing, all hold pickerel populations and even when nothing else is biting those toothy guys can make for an exciting day on the water. Additionally, Wequaquet holds some mighty fine double-digit size pike. A strike from one of those is an experience not to be forgotten.

Speaking of pike, off-Cape Snipatuit Pond in Rochester offers major league pike grown fat over the years on a plentiful supply of panfish, frogs, small animals and the occasional Big Mac remnant tossed in by boaters unable - - or unwilling – to consume anymore fast food delight. And out toward Central Mass there's the Connecticut River below Northampton where some genuine lunker northerns cruise the river in search of prey. The section of the river known as The Oxbow used to be the destination of choice for pike anglers but the river meandered off in search of a different path leaving the Oxbow more lake-like and marshy. Still, the river is home to pike well upwards of twenty pounds and remains a good source of these toothy fish.

Meanwhile, it appears lawmakers in the state of Maine are looking to change the restrictions on the baby elver fishery to give fishermen a better chance to catch their entire quota. A legislative committee recently approved a plan to extend the season by a week and allow weekend fishing, as opposed to the current limitation to five days per week. The baby eels are sometimes worth more than $2,000 per pound at the dock but fishermen must abide by a strict quota system that limits the state fishery to 9,688 pounds per year, and they caught only 5,242 pounds of elvers last year.

Fishermen attributed the slow season to a cold spring, which state regulators said slowed the migration of elvers in the rivers and streams where they are caught. The baby eels, called elvers, are sold to Asian aquaculture companies who raise them to maturity for use as food, and they frequently end up in sushi and sashimi. Elver fishermen have spoken in favor of the changes, which they said will allow them to make the most of the brief elver season, which is scheduled to begin March 22 and end May 31. The proposed changes now go to the full legislature, which could vote on it by the end of the month. The proposal also provides more flexibility in the type of gear fishermen can use to catch elvers.

We're about two months out now on the arrival of striped bass in our waters to begin the 2016 striper season. Water temperatures sit down in the mid-thirties right now in Nantucket Sound and we won't begin to see any real action until those temperatures hit fifty degrees and higher. Meanwhile, as the sun lingers longer and air temps climb into the fifties and sixties on a regular basis we'll be able to target some of the holdover stripers that emerge in early spring in the shallow creeks, rivers and estuaries around the Cape.

Such places as Scorton Creek, Bass River, Waquoit River and others provide early season action and kayakers have a good chance to score on stripers just shaking off their winter lethargy. Look for shallow, mud bottomed, fast warming places and work baits or lures slow, slow, slooooowly in order to give the fish a chance to grab a meal without expending too many calories in the chase.

Baseball season is just around the corner. The Red Sox appear to have a deep pitching staff for a change and if lefty David Price is as good as they say he is, Red Sox Nation won't have to suffer through another last place finish. Play ball!






February 16, 2016

Ice Fishing With the Bard

by Jerry Vovcsko

"Fish not, with this melancholy bait,
For this fool-gudgeon, this opinion."
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

The bard apparently had strong opinions on how to bait a hook in pursuit of the elusive gamefish. But that was back in the day and right now a group of Cambridge thespians are in rehearsals for an American Repertory Theater production of the play, "Nice Fish". In "Nice Fish," three-time Tony winner Mark Rylance plays one of two ice fishermen at the center of the show, but that's not his only role with the piece. Directed by Claire van Kampen, his wife, "Nice Fish" is adapted by Rylance and the Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins from Jenkins's prose poems.

According to a Boston Globe article much of the task for Rylance as adapter has been figuring out how to link the poetry together to tell a story set on a Minnesota lake on the last day of ice-fishing season. It was 20-some degrees outside, but Rylance prefers cold to heat: a relic, maybe, of the childhood years he logged in suburban Milwaukee.

"I miss the strength of the seasons," he says "I miss the explosiveness of spring in Wisconsin and the depth and kind of mortal peril of the winter."

So this is the sort of person who finds himself on a frozen lake at 4 a.m., learning how to catch a fish. Rylance was in Minneapolis, starring in Robert Bly's adaptation of Ibsen's "Peer Gynt," the first time he went ice fishing, eight frigid Minnesota winters ago. He looked around, saw an unfamiliar culture — who brings a television and furniture and Christmas lights out onto the ice? — and got the seed of an idea for "Nice Fish."

"One of the things I hadn't brought into the play was the perspective of an old man," Rylance said.

And when the actor they'd cast in the old-man role dropped out, Rylance asked Jenkins to step in.

"He's the kind of man you'd find outdoors…he's got a wildness about him. He's got very beautiful eyes, and he has a kind of a — what's the word? — a soulfulness, a patina that he's acquired."

It's not quite Jenkins's first acting gig. He's been on "A Prairie Home Companion," where he took part in a sketch, and he has a role in an upcoming movie that the actors Rene Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin, friends of his, shot in Minnesota. But it is his first in the theater.

And in "Nice Fish," he plays a character whose lines are words he's written. At one point, the troupe went into the middle of the lake, set up a tent, and ice fished for about four hours. They rehearsed the scenes and the odd thing is, every time Mark or Jim said a poem, they caught a fish.

So maybe there's a lesson to be learned here. Perhaps those of us obsessed with acquiring all manner of gear, the latest lures and the trappings of angler-bling…just perhaps we might profit instead by standing tall and intoning poetic lines by Emerson, Whitman or Frost. Consider it the road not taken…

The Freshwater Sportfishing Award winners were announced this week and three of the top catch & keep fish were caught on Cape Cod. The folks at Massachusetts Wildlife week announced the 2015 Freshwater Sportfishing Award winners. Twenty-three gold pins were awarded in twenty-two catch and keep sportfishing categories (adult) for the largest fish caught. Twenty-three gold pins were awarded in twenty-two catch and keep sportfishing categories (youth) for the largest fish caught. Five of the winning fish were caught on Cape Cod. For the catch and release (adult and youth) category, twenty-two gold pins were awarded in twenty-two categories for largest fish. Only one fish in this category was caught on Cape Cod.

Adult and youth anglers are encouraged to submit their catches each year. As part of the catch and keep category, fish must meet a minimum weight (by species). Fish must be weighed on a certified scale and an affidavit and photo must be submitted to MassWildlife. All anglers who meet the criteria receive a bronze pin. The angler who catches the largest fish by species also receives a gold pin. In the catch and release category, fish must meet a minimum length (by species).

For 2015, the Adult Catch and Keep Angler of the Year Award went to Mark Mohan Jr. of Pembroke. Mohan caught 16 species. The Youth Catch and Keep Angler of the Year Award went to Tauri Adamczyk of Taunton, who caught 15 species. The Catch and Release Angler of the Year Award went to Michael Nee of Northborough, who caught 15 species.

Winning Cape Cod fish were caught in Brewster, Yarmouth, Sandwich, Eastham, Falmouth and Mashpee.

2015 Freshwater Sportfishing Adult Catch and Keep Gold Pin caught on Cape
•Michael Siemasko of North Grafton caught a 4 lb., 8 oz. brook trout (2 lb. minimum) in Cliff Pond in Brewster (tied with another angler)
•Todd Matera of Palmer caught a 6 lb., 5 oz. chain pickerel (4 lb., 8 oz. minimum) in Long Pond in Yarmouth
•David Souza of Berkley caught a 6 lb., 7 oz. white catfish (4 lb. minimum) in Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee

2015 Freshwater Sportfishing Youth Catch and Keep Gold Pin caught on Cape
•Riley Rabesa of Teaticket caught a 3 lb., 13 oz. brook trout (1 lb. minimum) in Peters Pond in Sandwich
•Jake Calogero of Middleboro caught a 2 lb., 2 oz. bullhead (1 lb. minimum) in Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee
•Stephen Kalinick of Brewster caught a 8 lb., 9 oz. largemouth bass (4 lb. minimum) in Great Pond in Eastham
•Nathan Ryan of Cotuit caught a 1 lb., 15 oz., yellow perch (1 lb. minimum) in Santuit Pond in Mashpee

2015 Freshwater Sportfishing Catch and Release Gold Pin caught on Cape
•Peter Brundrett of Walpole caught a 16.5" yellow perch (14" minimum) in Coonamessett Pond in Falmouth

Congratulations to all who received an award for meeting the category requirements. It's especially rewarding to see all those young folk participating. The next generation of anglers is at hand. Job well done, kids!

February 07, 2016

In thje Deep Freeze and More Snow On the Way

by Jerry Vovcsko

Just as it appeared we might see some breakout from ice on local ponds here comes another cold snap with temperatures shoved even further into the deep-freeze by strong winds boring down from the northwest. Like today, for example, where the thermometer reads a manageable 31 degrees but breezes blowing in from the Canadian high plains produce a wind-chill reading of 23. Not conducive to a leisurely afternoon spent pond-side.

However, those who ventured out recently and could locate access to open water continue to do well for themselves along with the hardy souls who create their own access to watery depths via ice augur or hatchet. On the Upper Cape, Peters Pond in Sandwich continues to produce trout, perch and bass (both large and smallmouth) as well as salmon occasionally reaching double-digit weights.

In addition to producing good catch prospects, Peters Pond has an interesting historical context. Back around the turn of the 20th Century when "gentlemen" were prone to wield cane fly rod while decked out in three-piece suit and bowler hat, Peters had long been a favored fishing locale of President Grover Cleveland who was a frequent visitor to the Falmouth area.

A 1911 survey reported the pond was in its youth "and a few bass present but do not bite" which makes one wonder about the skills (or lack thereof) that the old timers brought to the table. The pond was later stocked (between 1933 and 1948) with brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, Sebago salmon, white perch and yellow perch.

When considering historical context, though, it's well to keep in mind that times were very different back in the old days, especially where weather conditions are concerned. Anglers setting out for an afternoon session on the ice might well have to shovel away a couple of feet of snow cover before getting down to the ice surface. After all, back in the 1800s it was not all that rare an event for Vineyard Sound to freeze over completely from Falmouth to Vineyard Haven.

Locals whose livelihood revolved around delivering four-foot blocks of ice to homes and businesses in need of refrigeration would cut the ice in the Sound and load it onto horse-drawn wagons. When fully loaded those wagons might weigh upwards of a thousand pounds which gives some idea of how thick the ice cover formed back in the good-old-days, even the saltwater of Vineyard Sound..

Right now, though, the smaller Falmouth ponds such as Mares, Grews, Coonamesset and Deep ponds have re-grown their ice cover and offer plenty of perch, pickerel, bass and assorted panfish to those anglers willing to brave the chill. Shiners are the bait de jour although some folks like to jig with small-bladed, shiny, fluttering lures tipped with mini-marshmallows, pink being the favored color choice locally.

Another few weeks and we should be bidding farewell to the ice so there will be more opportunities to access open water via kayak, canoe or skiff. As the waters warm fish become a bit livelier and more aggressive in their feeding habits so savvy anglers ratchet up a couple notches from the smaller-and-slower methods they employed during earlier cold water excursions.

Next week the buses leave from Fenway Park carrying the Red Sox baseball equipment down south for the start of spring training. Right now it's hard to picture the Boys of Summer working out under blue skies and temperatures of seventy-degrees and upward while we struggle to clear the seven inches of snow that fell the other day. But we have to make room for fresh snowfall from the next storm the weather folk tell us is moving up the coast and heading our way. Of course, I don't really need to rely on weather forecasts from the TV people. My achy knees tell me what's what and these days the word is: Cold temperatures and lots of moisture in the air so I keep a snow shovel handy and plenty of firewood close at hand.

It's Super Bowl Sunday as I write this, so I'll watch the Denver Broncos tangle with the Carolina Panthers later today but it won't be the same without the New England Patriots taking the field. But there's always next year and we Pats fans have probably become spoiled with the success Brady/Belichick and Co. have brought our way over the years. So this time around it'll be Cam Newton jousting with Peyton Manning. I'm taking Carolina in this one.





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