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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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March 30, 2014

Oysters and Computer Cleaning

by Jerry Vovcsko

Anyone that's ever eaten a bad oyster doesn't need to be told how sick these shellfish can make you. And now the Department of Marine Fisheries has announced public hearings on oyster safety plans. The new control plan will address Vibrio parahaemolyticus concerns. A new plan to help curb Vp related illnesses will be unveiled at public meetings in Eastham, Duxbury and Vineyard Haven in early April. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) Thursday announced three public meetings to unveil the 2014 Massachusetts Vibro parahaemolyticus (Vp) Control Plan for Oysters.

During the three meetings, to be held in early April in Duxbury, Eastham and Vineyard Haven, DMF will review a plan that was created with recommendations from the US Food and Drug Administration to control post-harvest growth of Vp bacteria in oysters during warm weather to prevent Vp related illnesses, according to a DMF release.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Vp is a bacterium that "naturally inhabits coastal waters in the United States". In the same family that causes cholera, it causes gastrointestinal sickness including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting. There is a higher concentration of Vp in the summer months, according to the CDC.

Summer 2013 was the first year a Vp outbreak closed harvest areas in Massachusetts. In February, public meetings were held to seek feedback and input from oyster harvesters. That input was used to create the control plan, according to DMF.

The plan includes:
• Faster cooling and delivery of oysters
• Changes in oyster handling for harvesters
• Harvester icing within two hours of exposure/harvest and before leaving landing site

The plan also features additional Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) record keeping requirements for "primary buyers of oysters harvested within the Commonwealth for commercial purposes". According to the US FDA, HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed and analyzed from beginning through handling, distribution and consumption.

All commercial harvesting of oysters in Massachusetts will fall under the new plan between May 19 and October 19, 2014, according to DMF, which will be developing new regulations to mandate the plan.

The three public meetings are as follows:
• Friday, April 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Duxbury Maritime School, 457 Washington Street, Duxbury
• Friday, April 4 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Nauset Regional High School, 100 Cable Road, North Eastham
• Monday, April 7 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Katharine Cornell Theatre, 54 Spring Street, Vineyard Haven

DMF regulates aquaculture for the state by overseeing the licensing of sites by towns and cities and permitting growers to "obtain and possess" sub-legal shellfish (seed) for transplant and grow-out to legal size." For more information about harvesting sites and licensing, visit your town's shellfish or natural resources office.
On another subject, and as a Public Service Reminder, all computer users should be aware that the annual Internet cleaning is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Mark it on your calendar. During the day, you should place duct tape over any open network outlets to eliminate recycled electron spills. If you forget to do this and later find piles of electrons on your desk, take appropriate precautions in cleaning them up.

Although the recycled electrons may be safely discarded with your regular trash, they should be collected using an extra-strength paper towel that has been only slightly dampened. Using too much water can lead to a nasty shock if you wipe up more than a Coulomb. In some cases, you may find it easier to push these electrons back through the router and onto the Internet.

To accomplish this, obtain a can of compressed air (or use a reversible vacuum cleaner). Create a funnel using a piece of standard paper that has been folded in half by rolling the paper and then spreading one end. Place the small end of the funnel in the router outlet and use the compressed air or vacuum cleaner output to blow the electrons back into the outlet.*

*Thanks to Mr. Bill Blinn of Columbus, Ohio, for this timely reminder. Be sure to mark it on your calendar.

March 24, 2014

The Village Smithy Goes Fishing

by Jerry Vovcsko

Even though the weather has been anything but cooperative in New England, there's still plenty to do while we're waiting for things to warm up. New Hampshire Fish and Game officials are offering a series of outdoor adventure talks in April that will feature fishing, birds of prey, and a film festival. Topics include taking your fly fishing to the next level on April 2, New Hampshire raptors April 10, and an introduction to kayak fishing April 23. The midweek talks will be held at Fish and Game's headquarters in Concord. They are free, open to the public, and start at 7 p.m. Registration is not required.

Then there's the Reel Paddling Film Festival at Concord's Red River Theatres April 16 which will take viewers on a hair-raising ride down the rapids. The film festival is cosponsored by Fish and Game and Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Tickets can be purchased at the theater and are $10 for students and $12 for others.

"Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. "

A pretty capable wordsmith by the name of Henry Longfellow wrote that poem, The Village Smithy. Back in the day, when I was a fresh-faced, callow fourth grade student, we had to memorize such classic verse as The Smithy and, by golly, daunting as it seemed to go about stashing eight stanzas in our reluctant memory banks, with continued practice we discovered we could manage to get it done. Nowadays, of course, some seventy-five years later, I consider it a success if I can recall where I last put the car keys and whether or not I had already taken my blood pressure pills. Sure, those good-old-days weren't all problem free and smooth sailing but there was a lot of useful lessons that served us well over the years.

As a long time angler I've picked up – and also discarded - plenty of hot tips and ostensibly "cutting-edge techniques" over the years. Among the discards were most of those sure-thing lures promoted –and marketed – on those nifty TV commercials served up on the plethora of Saturday morning outdoor/fishing shows by one fast-talking "expert" or other. The battery-operated, robot type lures went into the mental trash can pretty much upon first-sight. Besides being illegal in most places, they just seemed too stupid to take seriously (although, to be fair, some of that robot technology eventually morphed into such modern delights as the housewife's friend, the look-ma-no-hands, Roomba vacuum cleaner.)

But there were other Old School methods and tools that came along for my decades-long ride as an enthusiastic, often hapless but always willing to learn, amateur angler. And high on the list of tools I still employ after seventy-some years on the water, are the Jitterbug, the Hula Popper, the Helin Flatfish and the Hawaiian Wiggler. Anyone with a hankering to pursue and land black bass, both large and small mouth, pickerel, walleyes and other freshwater species, might do well to add some of these Old Timers to the tackle box. They're not all currently in production but a quick glance over on eBay will find them available at surprisingly reasonable prices.

The Jitterbug is perhaps the most effective topwater bass lure ever designed and if the lake or pond you're fishing holds a population of largemouths, this lure will draw smashing hits, especially in the hours between dusk and dark. It acts like a mouse or other small creature that's fallen into the water and struggles to swim to shore. And if pike or pickerel should be the target species, a killer technique is to cast and then let the lure sit unmoving for a full minute or more, and then twitch it before starting the retrieve. Often, the hit is immediate and explosive.

The Hula Popper has a concave face that stirs things up on the surface with a popping sound when worked properly along the surface. It's especially effective fished near and around docks, pilings or stumps. Late in the day, where a shadow forms back under a dock, the Hula Popper will consistently draw strikes from lurking largemouths. And if fished around the edges of weedbeds, pickerel can't seem to resist ambushing it.

I first laid eyes on the Hawaiian Wiggler when I was about ten years old and used to read Outdoor Life magazines under the covers by flashlight. I thought the Wiggler was the absolute cat's whiskers and when I finally laid hands on one found it to be a go-to lure when weedless action was needed. The rubbery skirt kept the hook from snagging weeds but allowed hungry bass to hook up with little effort.

And no other lure that I've ever fished felt like the vibrating dynamo that is the Helin Flatfish. Orange and black or frog-color design are the classic bass configuration. When I fish Cape Cod ponds I locate the drop-off line where the shallows fall away to ten feet or so and drift along while working the flatfish midway down the line. The action drives bass crazy and I've caught the same five pound bass I just released two or three times of an evening; can't do too much better than that when it comes to selecting a bass bait.

There are others that I use from time to time, but these four are old favorites and they're always in my tackle box when I head out to do a little fishing. That's not to say that modern lure technologies aren't equally effective – I've fished with some of those holographic Japanese swimming plugs and there's no question but that they're attractive to the fish. But as they say, Dance with the one that brung you, and I've been doing the foxtrot with these old favorites for so long I can't quit ‘em. Sometimes, Old School is the best way to go.

March Madness is full under way right now and my Alma Mater (UMass) didn't make it out of the first round. Upsets were the flavor of the day and such powerhouses as Duke, Syracuse and previously undefeated Wichita State got bounced even before achieving Sweet Sixteen status. It should be a spectacular Final Four and, hey, can you believe that Major League baseball season already opened – in Australia, no less? Looks like 2014 promises to be a year to remember in the World of Sports…and the stripers will soon be on their way north. Ya gotta love it.

March 15, 2014

Blimey, It's a Great White!

by Jerry Vovcsko

Massachusetts state shark scientist Greg Skomal helped tag a 14-foot, 1-ton female great white in the waters off Florida last winter. Since then, she's been on a nearly 20,000-mile voyage along the East Coast of the U.S., and then Newfoundland in January before turning toward Europe. Last week the great white shark (named Lydia by Skomal) was monitored within less than 800 miles of the English coastline. Although she had been heading north for around a week, if she does reach Great Britain it would be the first documented Atlantic crossing by a white shark, Skomal said.

Scientists maintain a shark tracking website that plots signals from Smart Position and Temperature tags, called SPOT tags, which are bolted onto the great white's dorsal fin after it is caught and raised out of the water on a specially adapted platform on a large research vessel. SPOT tags broadcast a locator signal to satellites every time the shark's dorsal fin breaks the surface. Skomal has either tagged or assisted in tagging 37 great whites in the four years since his first successful tagging off Chatham in 2009. All but Lydia were tagged in Cape waters, mostly off Chatham, where they prey upon seals in the largest gray seal colony in the U.S.

When Lydia's satellite tag popped off in June, analysis showed she was diving deep, as far down as 3,000 feet, and surfacing. Scientists believe that may represent deep ocean hunting behavior as the white shark pursues prey in the pitch-­black depths of the sea, where the temperature can range between 37 and 41 degrees, and then surfaces to get warm again. Some sharks don't surface for months at a time and their SPOT tags can have long gaps between locations, but Lydia has a lot of satellite markings in recent weeks and that is one indication she is likely still diving and surfacing.

What does concern shark researchers is that few if any juvenile great whites – between four and ten feet long – have been spotted in the Atlantic. In almost all other areas of the world that have established great white populations, these juveniles can be seen feeding on fish in shallow waters. Some scientists worry that the lack of these younger sharks could mean the Atlantic great white population may be in trouble.

We can't seem to shed the cold weather here in New England just yet but water temperatures in Nantucket Sound have been creeping upward, albeit at a glacial pace. It's not terribly exciting to see temperatures of 36 and 37 degrees at the NOAA buoy in the Sound right now, but considering that we were looking at 33 and 34 degrees a couple weeks ago, the trend is in the right direction. Pretty soon the possibility of mackerel showing up around the east end of the Canal becomes a reality and it won't be long after that tautog anglers will be spotted working the waters around Cleveland Ledge and the Weepeckett Islands. And when April arrives we can get right down to the business of wishful speculation about what day the first striper scouts will show up in Buzzards Bay or over near the warm shallows of Poponnesset Beach.

Right now, though, the ice has pretty much disappeared from Cape ponds and we're sliding into prime trout-fishing times. PowerBait and shiners cause the cash registers to jingle at local bait shops and the fresh water scene lights right up this time of year. Bass and pickerel are also available and mid-Cape ponds that have been salmon-stocked over the years hold trophy specimens for some lucky angler.

I would be derelict, I feel, if I didn't say a word or two about the free-agent frenzy that brought former Seahawk Brandon Browner and Darrelle "I Am an Island" Revis to the Patriots. I'm guessing Bill Belichick has seen a sea change in the way defenses need to be put together to counter run/pass quarterbacks and, presto, change-o, Revis-Island has surfaced here in New England. Now if he can get Tom Brady one or two more talented pass catchers, this could be a very good year for the Pats. Brady turns 36 and I turn 76 this year…so, c'mon, Bill…we're running out of time here. It's Super Bowl or bust!

March 07, 2014

Mountain Lion in Town

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Town of Winchester, a typical New England village, sits about eight miles north of Boston and until the mid-1800s the territory that would ultimately become Winchester comprised parts of Arlington, Medford, Cambridge and Woburn. Then the Whig Party decided there were just too-durned-many Democrats in Woburn so they decided to split away and incorporate Winchester as a separate entity and Colonel William P. Winchester generously contributed $3000 toward the construction of the first Town Hall. Then, as now, money talks, which is how it came to be named Winchester. Unfortunately Colonel Winchester contracted a terminal case of typhoid fever and died before he ever laid eyes on the eponymous new building.

This peaceful New England town was perhaps best known for current and former residents that included: pro wrestler Brutus Beefsteak who occasionally partnered with Hulk Hogan to engage in villainous tag team antics; former Heisman Trophy winner and college All-American running back at Navy, Joe Bellino; world class cello player Yo-Yo Mas, and Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford.

So it seemed just a bit out of character that Winchester should turn up in the news because a resident reported seeing a mountain lion in town earlier this week, an animal that's officially extinct in the area. The man told police he spotted the mysterious animal in the Dunster Lane, Pepper Hill Drive neighborhood. Massachusetts Environmental Police responded and found paw prints that strongly resembled those of a mountain lion - also called a cougar, puma or catamount.

The last confirmed mountain lion sighting in Massachusetts was in 1858, in the western part of the state. There have been numerous reported sightings since, but none have been confirmed which probably contributes to lingering skepticism around this report. One resident says he has spotted a fisher cat in the neighborhood, and thinks that's probably what the person who reported the mountain lion saw.

But it just may be possible that mountain lions are returning to areas they once held after a 156-year absence. Like most cats, they adapt easily and can live quite well in suburban areas. A 140-pound lion was killed in an accident involving an SUV on a Connecticut highway in June 2011. That animal was tagged and scientists determined from the tag that the cat had traveled all the way from South Dakota to get here. What the heck, bears have managed to somehow make it across the canal onto the Cape so why not a mountain lion coming down from the mountains of Vermont or New Hampshire and crossing into Massachusetts?

We may not have any mountain lions on the Cape just yet, but dolphins sure seem attracted to the beaches around here. Five common dolphins - four adults and a calf - were found stranded the other day on low-tide flats in the East End of Provincetown.

One of the dolphins died but the others were deemed healthy. The animals were lined up by rescuers in a kind of star-shaped array so that their snouts were facing each other. Their tails could be seen moving and flipping in the frigid, windy air. Plans were to transport and release them at Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown and word is the rescue was successful with the healthy creatures released back into Cape Cod Bay.

Speaking of frigid air, the series of cold days we've been hit with recently has slowed down the arrival of the New England maple syrup season. Folks tapping maple trees need warm days and cold nights to really get the sweet sap moving and we've yet to see a significant stretch of warm days. Question is, will the chilly days and nights slow down the arrival of migrating stripers coming up from the south? Well, if the stripers are smart, they may want to linger a while in the Hudson River or the bathtub-warm waters of Chesapeake Bay rather than braving the chilly water temperatures of Nantucket Sound which have hovered in the mid-thirties for some time now. And the weather gurus don't sound too optimistic about the immediate prospects for the region. They say the chill will remain in place for the next couple of weeks at least.

But those low temperatures are doing a fine job of keeping solid ice cover on local ponds so local anglers have been catching plenty of perch – white and yellow – as well as trout, pickerel, bass and the occasional pike. It shouldn't be too long before the ice is out and access to freshwater haunts becomes more available. In the meantime, bait shops continue to sell shiners, chubs and jigs to hardy angler stocking their freezers with Mother Nature's fishy bounty.

It's hard to believe that the Major League baseball season opens in less than a month. Haven't seen any Polar Tec uniforms up until now but this could be the year for them. Maybe the 7th inning stretch will consist of fans standing and chanting "Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……." to get the juices flowing. Think I'll stay home and watch Opening Day on TV. These old bones don't get along well with the cold.
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