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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 31, 2016

April Fool's Day Coming to a Town Near You

by Jerry Vovcsko

Chances are plans are afoot among friends or family to spring some sort of April Fool prank on those of us who fish the briny deep. But we anglers are of steely character tempered by the plethora of wily tricks Mother Nature has played on us over the decades and we continue to persevere. With April arriving tomorrow and milder temperatures in view for the weeks ahead, it may not be such a bad idea to revisit a favorite location on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal: namely, Scusset Beach.

Now it's a well known saying among local old timers that "deer tracks and fish tales make mighty thin soup", and one of the Cape's longstanding fish rumors is that cod in the spring edge in close enough to the beach at Scusset that they can be plucked from the Bay by anglers dunking sea clams or, with a little luck, by determined plug tossers working with Danny-type swimming plugs in the shallows sloping out from the beach. I can't personally vouch for the presence of cod in tight around that area because the only early season fish I caught from shore there was actually a Pollock. But I have friends and long-time fishing buddies who swear by this location as worth a look in the early spring.

For those interested in taking a shot at holdover striped bass, however, I strongly recommend hiking down to the mouth of Old Sandwich Harbor and, if a kayak or canoe is in play, working up inside Old Harbor Creek. It's all mud-bank lined tidal creek waters up in there and these places tend to warm quickly when air temperatures moderate and the sun shines down for the better part of the day. Get up in there with plastic grubs, jigs or Sluggo-type baits and it's possible to find a surprising amount of early season action happening. Add a bit of sea clam or squid strip to those plastics and the odds become even more favorable.

We have another couple of weeks to go before striper speculation reaches full frenzy, though. That's about when local anglers start breaking out their gear in earnest and offering predictions about when the first migrating fish should be turning up in this place or that. Around Opening Day of the baseball season there will be a few old timers flinging Kastmasters and Hopkins slab lures over at South Cape and Popponesset Beaches in Mashpee on the south side of the Cape. Water temperatures will still be climbing slowly toward the magic fifty degree mark but these shallow, gently sloping beaches are also susceptible to the warming effects of the sun and stripers tend to gather in here early in the season to feed on bait. Usually, the first keeper bass of the year will be taken somewhere around these parts. The first bluefish of the season will show up around there shortly after.

It will be around the first week of May that bass begin to appear in numbers along the Elizabeth Islands, and that is when I have always considered the season as officially underway. These fish are migrating in from the Hudson River and they will spread out through Vineyard Sound, up the Cape Cod Canal and out along the backside beaches up to Provincetown. By then we will be hot and heavy into the 2016 fishing season here on Cape Cod and that will mark one more season on the salt for this grizzled old fish-seeker. For all the years I've wet my line in Cape Cod waters it is still new and exciting for me every spring while I await the first striper to hit my offering. Won't be long now.

March 26, 2016

Hi-Tech Hunting In the Far North

by Jerry Vovcsko

Over the decades technological advances have exploded in the fishing and hunting arena: electronic fish-finders that reveal what's happening below the surface allowing anglers to target big fish in ways that were unimaginable to old timers limited to reading structure and employing experience and savvy to find where the big ones hung out; bass-boats sporting every digital bell and whistle known to man and powered by mega-horsepower engines capable of pushing sea-going yachts and rod/reel combinations costing nearly five figures that do everything but land, fillet and freeze-pack an angler's fresh caught Bluefin tuna.

And on the hunting side, laser technology that identifies, reads the distance to target and zeroes in a hunter's shot; Wildlife cameras that reveal the presence of big game in an area; GPS devices that allow hunters to track into wilderness areas and retrace their steps without fear of getting lost as well as return to previously hunted locations with the accuracy of a sockeye salmon returning to its place of birth up some remote backwater stream.

And now it appears the inexorable march of hi-tech developments has taken to the skies thanks to a decision by the United States Supreme Court in a case centered on the use of drones during an Alaskan moose hunting incident. The U.S. Supreme Court handed an Alaska moose hunter a significant victory recently, overturning a lower-court decision that barred him from operating a hovercraft in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

In a Washington Post article the question of whether John Sturgeon can pull out his mothballed hovercraft before his next hunt may be a matter for the appeals court, to which the Supreme Court left several substantive questions. But in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the nation's highest court ruled against the National Park Service and said the appeals court took a "topsy-turvy" approach to reading a key provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The case stems from a 2007 incident when Sturgeon was approached by park employees while repairing the steering cable on his 10-foot hovercraft on a gravel bar in the Nation River in the eastern Interior. He was told then that the Park Service bars the use of hovercraft on federal park lands. Sturgeon and his supporters, however, argued that a provision in ANILCA sets the lands in Alaska apart, giving the state control over land management. Odds are this matter will resurface a time or two before the drone question is settled, but if I were betting I'd go with the likelihood that moose and other big game will need to keep an eye peeled toward the skies in order to enhance their prospects for survival.

It's almost time for Massachusetts anglers to cast an eye toward the soon-to-flourish salt water scene and it's important to know what the regulations concerning minimum sizes and catch totals look like. The table below provides Massachusetts' recreational regs for black sea bass, fluke (summer flounder), and scup for 2016. The fluke and scup regulations are unchanged from 2015; however, the regulations for black sea bass have been amended to achieve a mandatory 23% harvest reduction. The revisions for black sea bass are being implemented via emergency rule-making in order for them to take effect prior to the season's onset. A public hearing will be held later this year.

Black Sea Bass*

Private & For-Hire

May 21–August 31

5 fish



Private & For-Hire

May 22–September 23

5 fish




May 1–December 31

30 fish (up to 150 fish/ vessel with 5 or more anglers aboard)



May 1–June 30

45 fish


July 1–December 31

30 fish


* Black sea bass and scup may be filleted but not skinned while at-sea. No more than two fillets per allowed fish may be possessed.

Regarding black sea bass, each state from Massachusetts through New Jersey is required to implement the 23% harvest reduction because their existing regulations are estimated to produce harvest in excess of the 2016 recreational limit (2.82 million pounds coastwide). The interstate plan encourages the states to synchronize regulations where possible, but consistency is not required.

The Division held a scoping meeting and collected written input last month on possible options to achieve the mandatory reduction. Due to seasonal distribution and abundance patterns of black sea bass in Massachusetts waters and varied angler preferences for season length and timing versus possession limit cuts, the Division was challenged to find a set of regulations that would not have profound negative impacts on some segment of the fishery without also raising the minimum size limit.

As a consequence of raising the size limit from 14" to 15" and reducing the possession limit from eight fish to five fish, the Division is able to maintain season length, including the May 21 start date requested by a large segment of the for-hire fishery while still remaining open throughout most of the summer as favored by the majority of private anglers and other for-hire businesses that commented on the proposed options.

On the freshwater side Cape Cod ponds stocked recently include:
Barnstable Hamblin Pond, Hathaway Pond, Lovells Pond, Shubael Pond
Brewster Cliff Pond, Higgins Pond, Little Cliff Pond
Chatham Goose Pond
Dennis Scargo Lake
Falmouth Ashumet Pond
Mashpee Johns Pond
Orleans Baker Pond, Crystal Lake
Sandwich Peters Pond, Pimlico Pond, Spectacle Pond
Truro Great Pond
Wellfleet Gull Pond

That means fresh supplies of rainbow trout along with browns and brookies will have been added to Cape Cod ponds. Unfortunately the salmon that were introduced up until a couple years ago are no longer part of the State's fish-stocking program but ponds such as Peters in Sandwich and some of the Brewster ponds continue to harbor double digit salmon and once in a while some lucky angler ties into one of these lunkers. But it will require patience and skill because the ones still at large are wily and elusive.

Now that we appear to have eluded Old Man Winter's icy clutches, it's only a couple of weeks away from Opening Day for the Red Sox. Could it be another Last-to-First finish is in order for the Home Team?

March 17, 2016

Working the Ponds Until The Stripers Show Up

by Jerry Vovcsko

For anyone who missed this announcement back in January, Governor Charlie Baker has announced $50,000 in grants from the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) for recreational saltwater fishing access projects in Dennis, Gloucester, Marshfield, Plymouth, and Rockport. Cape Cod anglers in Dennis will have better access to Nantucket Sound as a result.

"Uncle Freeman's Landing in Dennis offers people from every walk of life an opportunity to enjoy not just Bass River, but Nantucket Sound as well," said State Senator Dan Wolf (D-Hyannis). "This grant helps make that access real, and does so with funds that come directly from fishing license revenue. Many thanks to the Department of Fish & Game for administering such a smart, successful program."

DMF's Public Access Small Grant Program uses revenue from the sale of recreational saltwater fishing permits to improve angler opportunity in Massachusetts' marine waters. This is the third round of grant funding since the state saltwater fishing permit was established in 2011.

During the third round of grants, DMF awarded funds to five coastal municipalities. The approved projects are listed below.
•Dennis — The town was awarded $15,000 to replace a gangway and two tie-up floats at Uncle Freeman's Landing, a state boat ramp located on the Bass River off Uncle Freeman's Road.
•Gloucester — The city was awarded $15,000 to partner with the local high school shop department to rebuild the floating portion of the Magnolia Pier in Gloucester.
•Marshfield — The town was awarded $1,100 to install lighting at the state launching facility at Green Harbor, increasing the safety of launching and retrieving boats during low-light conditions.
•Plymouth — The town was awarded $6,000 to install a filet table at the state boat launching facility at Plymouth Harbor, enabling anglers to clean their catch before going home. The fish racks will also be collected as bait for local lobstermen. A web camera will also be installed to allow anglers to see the current harbor conditions before driving to the boat ramp.
•Rockport — the town was awarded $13,500 to maintain access paths and the main pathway along Atlantic Path. Rockport will hire a professional landscape architect who will clear pathways and utilize natural materials that will maintain the footpath along the shore. The path traverses 1.5 miles of rocky coastline that boasts some of the best shore fishing in the Commonwealth.
The projects are being funded from revenues in the Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund, which was established in 2011 when the Massachusetts Legislature created a state recreational salt water fishing permit. Prompted by a federal mandate enacted to improve estimates of saltwater fishing effort and catch data, the permit program provides funds for marine recreational fishing programs including fisheries research, management, and public access for anglers.

DMF administers the fund with the assistance of the Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Panel, a group of private stakeholders that advises DMF on recreational fishing projects and initiatives. Under the state law that established the recreational saltwater fishing permit, one-third of all license fees are dedicated to recreational saltwater fishing infrastructure projects in Massachusetts, ensuring better access to coastal fishing.

Right now water temperatures are creeping into the low forties which is good news for local striped bass anglers. When the thermometer registers fifty degrees sometime in April, the striper-watch will kick into high gear and the countdown begins for the start of the 2016 striper season. Those early arriving bass will spread out along the Elizabeth Islands then gradually make their way north toward New Hampshire and Maine. Before we know it, it'll be: Game on!, and the salt water scene will light up for another year's worth of striper action.

Right now, though, there's plenty of good freshwater fishing to be had. Upper Cape destinations such as Jenkins Pond in Falmouth offer yellow perch, chain pickerel, smallmouth bass and white perch as well as smallmouth bass and even the occasional catfish. Fishing pressure on Jenkins is light throughout the year.

Another productive location in Mashpee is Johns Pond which offers yellow perch, chain pickerel, rainbow, brook and brown trout. However, because of contamination concerns questions related to contaminated groundwater seeping in from the old Otis airbase, there is a state Fish Consumption Advisory that suggests limits of public consumption to two meals of fish from Johns Pond per month and recommends that pregnant women abstain completely from eating fish from this source.

Mashpee-Wakeby ponds on the Falmouth/Mashpee line used to be stocked with chinook salmon until 1948 and anglers say remnants of those stocks continue to inhabit this body of water. This is a deep water pond (actually two conjoined ponds) with the deepest parts near ninety feet. Largemouth bass thrive here and canoes, kayaks and small skiffs prevail. Gamefish display excellent growth rates as sea run alewives travel in via the Mashpee River from Nantucket Sound. Largemouth bass and chain pickerel in Mashpee-Wakeby run bigger than average and anglers have tied into six pounds-plus white catfish. Shiners and PowerBaits are the lure de jour in the spring and artificials come into play later in summer and into the fall.

The Brewster ponds offer some of the best freshwater action on the Cape. Long Pond is another relatively deepwater pond with a population of sea run alewives and the smallmouths are plentiful in the three to five pound range. Yellow perch tend to run bigger than usual as do chain pickerel. Long Pond was actually stocked by private parties with striped bass up until 1971 but there have been no recent reports of the presence of stripers currently.

Herring Pond in Eastham is stocked regularly with brook, brown and rainbow trout and the presence of alewives swimming in from Cape Cod Bay means bigger than average trout not to mention that the wash of tidal seawater alleviates some of the tendency to become acidic. Those alewives provide great forage for the resident brown trout which Cape anglers target for their size.

Yes, we all yearn for the striper action to kick in before long, but until it does the Cape's ponds can provide a heckuva good alternative while we're waiting. It won't be long now.

March 08, 2016

Fish Stocking Trucks Roll On the Cape and Teflon Parm, You Shed So Well

by Jerry Vovcsko

The action at many Cape ponds will be picking up shortly. Mass Wildlife trucks are delivering nearly a half-million trout in the southeast district and that means good times for anglers heading for such locations as Peters Pond in Sandwich; Cliff Pond, Flax Pond, Sheep Pond, Higgins Pond, Little Cliff Pond in Brewster; Ashumet Pond, Mares Pond, Grews Pond, Deep Pond in Falmouth; Johns Pond, Mashpee-Wakeby Pond, Ashumet Pond in Mashpee and many more across the Cape.

With close to 500,000 brook, brown, rainbow and tiger trout being stocked this spring from MassWildlife's five hatcheries, there will be a trout bonanza for those folks checking things out locally. And the news gets even better as air temperatures soar into the seventies by mid-week so it behooves all of us with a fishing jones to get the gear oiled, cleaned and ready to go because ¬good times are here again and it won't be long before the salt water scene lights up with the annual arrival of striped bass coming in from the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay and points south.

Dunking a shiner under a float is a near guarantee of action but these early spring trout will also whack PowerBaits, Mepps lures, Al's Goldfish, small jigs and tiny Rapalas as well. For years I have opened the season by working a small orange and black Helin Flatfish around the drop-off line of Lawrence Pond in Sandwich and taking trout, pickerel and the occasional largemouth bass almost every time out. Old school lure, for sure, but the wobbling action appears irresistible to early season fish so what-the-hey.

Prosecutors had been working to keep Carlos Rafael, aka, "The Codfather", the owner of Carlos Seafood Inc., in custody pending his trial in federal court in Boston, calling him a flight risk. The New Bedford fish mogul had been locked up since his arrest Friday morning. But a US Magistrate agreed to release Rafael, 64, on the following conditions: He must post $1 million bond secured by his private property in Dartmouth and New Bedford; he cannot travel outside Massachusetts; he must abide by a curfew of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Rafael must maintain his residence in North Dartmouth. He must also refrain from discussing the case with his employees.

Rafael is one of the Northeast's biggest commercial fishing entrepreneurs and has been accused of developing a lucrative scheme to cheat the federal fishing quotas that were enacted 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 a quota. In reality, his fishermen would bring in fish that were restricted by a quota, such as pollock. His company would then buy the fish at the lower price of haddock, but sell it for cash at its higher market price to a New York buyer. Rafael, who will be arraigned at a later date, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Every year we speculate about the arrival time of migrating striped bass in our local waters. We guess this date and that date, wonder if they'll be earlier than usual this time and wait hopefully for first reports of sea lice-covered "scouts" showing up in Cape waters. But in the end the first stripers are caught right around the first week of May and off we go for another season. This year just might be different.

Typically, water temperatures in Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay sit right around the low thirties this time of year. But at the moment the NOAA buoys in these places show temps creeping into the low-forties and that's awful early to be in spittin' distance of the "magic fifty" mark that heralds the possible arrival of striped bass for yet another season. I'm wondering if we might see those first scouts in late April this time around.

Now is a good time to begin hitting the upper reaches of the south facing estuaries on the Cape. From Great Pond in Teaticket to Waquoit Bay the sun-warmed mud shallows will be visited by holdover bass searching for food and a savvy angler will work carefully with small rubber worms, jig & plastic combos and slow-fished shiners to accommodate these hang-around, year-around fish. Back in the day, I knew a gent who specialized in catching these early stripers on a fly rod employing a small Clouser streamer. He sold those fish for a good price as nobody else was catching anything that early. Of course, that was back when 16-inch was the minimum length for legal stripers but he managed to make enough to pay for a season's worth of bait and tackle before mid-May strictly with fly rod in hand.

I see Peyton Manning retired so the Brady-Manning duels will be a thing of the past now. Funny how the same folks who leaped to condemn Tom Brady for "having a general knowledge" of tampering with football air pressures are willing to give Peyton a pass on accusations of HGH usage as well as the history of sexual abuse of a trainer back in college at Tennessee. Must be some sort of Teflon coating that lets Manning slide while Brady is convicted in the court of Public Opinion. Not real sure how that works, but there it is.
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