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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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May 31, 2016

Action Explodes on the Cape

by Jerry Vovcsko

I ran across an interesting thread on one of the fishing forums that I visit in my frequent cyber travels. Now the conventional wisdom has it that metal slab lures such as Kastmaster, Hopkins and so forth, are meant to be fished during the day. Come the evening, like midnight for Cinderella's pumpkin, many anglers hold that they should be retired in favor of more suitable lures.

Well, it seems that some Cape Cod fishermen are disregarding conventional wisdom in favor of dunking those same metal slices in the dark of night. Not only that but they're hanging plastic tails, seaworms, squid strips and who-knows-what from the single hook on these lures. Of course, some of the metal lures come with trebles but that doesn't stand in the way of our intrepid anglers. A snip of the side-cutters and here comes a nice 5/0 circle hook as a replacement.

The modified metals have been big producers for a few savvy folks who've quietly fished them over the years. Striped bass upwards of thirty pounds gave it up as a result of the flash and glitter radiating from the chromed surfaces of a Kastmaster or its metal brethren. One of the killer techniques is to creep the lure slowly along sandy structure, jerking it once in a while to emulate the erratic path of some crippled bottom dweller. Hits are sudden and explosive when a striper decides it's seen enough and decides to pounce. Even more so when bluefish attack.

The waters around the Home of the Cod are in full swing now, with striped bass, bluefish and fluke at the top of everyone's menu. Well, there are some who delight in a bucket full of scup or a nice, big ready-for-chowder tautog. But in the main, it's the Big Three that's on everyone's mind.

The rips around the Vineyard are humming. The "large" are showing up along the Elizabeth Islands. Buzzard's Bay reports bass, blues and fluke all over the place, especially near the western end of the Canal and around the Mashnee Flats. Fly fishermen soak their Clousers and Deceivers these days all along the shore from Wing Neck down to The Knob near Quisset Harbor which teems with school bass, a fly fisherman's paradise. Ditto West Falmouth Harbor.

The rips around Chatham exploded into action recently with boats reporting keeper size bass on a number of trips. Bluefish have taken up residence all along the southern side of the Cape and bass fisherman working jigs on the west side of Martha's Vineyard will take the occasional jumbo blue up to 14 pounds. Virtually everyone at all comfortable with the stringent demands of wire line has tried their hand with parachute jigs and pork strips. Be assured that hairball and parachute jigs moved rapidly from tackle shop shelves when that report got around.

Hedge Fence shoal reports mixed bass and blues and that holds true for the sand flats around Poppy and Cotuit. The outer Cape picked up recently as well, and surf fishermen score with live eels now. Although some feel that eels aren't suitable for early season fishing, I've always felt that was nonsense. A hungry striped bass isn't any more likely to stop an eel and inquire why it's swimming around at this time of the season than a wino is to ask for the vintage of the bottle somebody hands him.

Water temperatures in Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay have climbed into the high fifties and Cape Cod Bay is only a few degrees behind. Sand eels turned the striper bite on big time from Provincetown down to Wellfleet recently and the first blues in the Bay showed up around Sandwich just in time for Memorial Day. Unfortunately, the vehicle traffic also showed up for the Holiday that launches vacation season on the Cape and both bridges were choked with cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycles and buses. Welcome to pre-summer on Cape Cod, version-2016.

May 26, 2016

The Band's Getting Together for a Hoot on the Cape This Weekend

by Jerry Vovcsko

Just about everyone's heading for the Cape this Memorial Day weekend and it should be a hoot.

The season opened for Black sea bass on May 21st which is probably why there's been a gaggle of boats anchored up over the remains of the former target ship, the James Longstreet. There are very few tastier species of fish than black sea bass and some good sized specimens can be found round wrecks like the Longstreet (as well as scup, tautog and even hake.)

Speaking of scup, the Hyannis fire department rescued a dozen men who were fishing for scup on a breakwater last weekend and became stranded as the tide rose. The men had walked out onto the breakwater — a rock structure that extends into the water — around 5 a.m. in order to fish for scup, said fire captain Greg Dardia.

Because of all the storms over the years, there are some breaks in it," he said. "At low tide, you can walk all the way out to the end, but at high tide, you can't get back."

As the rising tide cut off their path back to shore, the waves started getting higher and higher, crashing over the breakwater, said Dardia. It's always a good idea to check out the effects of tidal action beforehand; it's pretty unnerving to look behind and find you're cut off as the waves start pounding where you're standing.

In this case, one of the men was able to reach a young family member in town, who contacted the Hyannis fire department. Fire department personnel used a small Boston whaler skiff to shuttle the men off the rocks before transferring them to the larger fireboat nearby, which brought them, their equipment, and freshly caught fish to shore. None of the men were injured.

Newly arriving striped bass have been spreading out through Cape Cod waters over the past couple of weeks. One spot that has been delivering stripers in the 20 to 30-pound range is the Middleground, that reef that runs parallel to the northwest corner of Martha's Vineyard. Two effective methods of fishing there include drifting with live (or fresh dead) herring, scup, squid or what-have-you and jigging with hairballs and parachute jigs. Wireline folks do very well also but the relatively shallow waters make it more than possible to operate with mono or braids. Look for a west running tide and watch where the other boats drift if you've not been to this location previously.

Blues are an on-again, off-again proposition along the south facing beaches in the Sound and things have definitely opened up over on the Vineyard as well. With the fluky winds disrupting the sight-fishing that usually accompanies the presence of blues, a number of boats are locating fish by trolling a Rebel or YoZuri on one side and a metal slab on the other, then stopping and casting blind when there's a hit.

Although some consider it a bit early, the tube and worm technique is effective as ever so long as the boat is throttled down slow, slow, slow….and tucked in as tight to shore as possible. It's particularly good in those areas where sand bottom changes to weed with plenty of boulders sprinkled about. Watch for a hit anytime the tube passes near a boulder, and if it passes the rock and travels immediately across a patch of sandy bottom, that's as near to a sure-thing as you're likely to get. Be alert.

And, please folks, pretend that the limit on blues is no more than five per person, in fact, make that three. There's no reason to fling eight or ten in the bottom of the boat, then realize that nobody's going to want to clean that many, let alone eat them. Every so often you'll see a dozen or so bluefish floating near the Woods Hole boat ramp and you just know that somebody got caught up in the excitement dragging them aboard, then recovered their wits on the way in and simply pitched the dead blues overboard. Don't do it. Don't let greed overcome good sense. Sure, they're easy to catch when they're in feeding mode but bend those barbs down, clip all but a single hook off a popper and have a good time. Keep a couple for the grill and let the rest go for next time.
I swung by the Cape Cod Canal in Sandwich earlier this week to have a look around. A couple of locals were wetting lines…one gent working a rig with mackerel jigs and another fellow tossing a popper long distance and working it cross-current. Neither was successful while I was there but I hear schools of mackerel have appeared recently on and off in the Ditch and live macs are about as good a striper bait as we've got available. There have been a couple of plus-40 inch bass taken during the week but nothing spectacular just yet. Plenty of schoolies available in Buttermilk Bay nowadays and they're great fun on light spinning or fly rod gear.

No better place to pursue stripers right now than along the Elizabeth Islands. Some bigger bass have been taken down around Quicks Hole and Cuttyhunk and some of those seriously-big striped bass have taken up residence in the rocky structure of Sow and Pigs Reef according to the charter skippers who make a living piloting their bass boats into the maelstrom that forms up around Sow and Pigs when the tide runs against southwest winds. Anglers determined to hook up with a forty-pound bass will have a very good chance of fulfilling that dream down here but on your life get yourself a good charter skipper who knows this area rock by rock. It's no place for on-the-job-training .

Folks looking to fill the freezer and keep the grill supplied with haddock and cod will do no better than by spending a bit of time just southeast of Stellwagen Bank. It's been productive whenever the winds have laid down enough to allow small boats to make it out and back safely. Check the NOAA weather forecast and stay alert to changing conditions. It's big water out there.

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the Cape Cod Tourist Highway Hootenanny every year and Cape traffic reaches epic proportions with backups at the bridges and short tempers among some of the newly arriving motorists. Be prepared to take evasive action when some urban cowboy in a monster-size Hummer decides to pass on the right and squeezes you over toward the median. And try not to retaliate…your family needs you to bring them back safely from this season-opening weekend on the Cape.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

May 15, 2016

Birds, Bait, Bass and Blues

by Jerry Vovcsko

"The sea was angry that day my friend, like an old man sending back soup in a deli"
-George Costanza

Seinfeld! Nine seasons of hilarious entertainment in a show about well, nothing. But it gave us an opportunity to watch Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer contend with daily life in a way that offered a look at just about everything, including the classic episode in which the irrepressible Cosmo Kramer drives a golf ball into the blowhole of a whale allowing faux-marine biologist George Costanza to achieve momentary hero status by removing it. A little bit of everything, that's what the show offered us over the years. And that's what we've got right now in Cape waters.

Birds: Terns have been dive bombing around Nobska as pods of baitfish come under attack from newly arrived stripers and bluefish. These blues run in the three to four-pound range and they've arrived hungry so anything that swims, flashes or splashes nearby will draw a hit. Those old beater plugs in the bottom of the tackle box are perfect for a day's tussle with itinerant schools of bluefish especially once the barbs are flattened down. Great sport and a good way to stock up for tasty backyard barbecue activities.

Bait: The Canal is alive with bait these days, as are the rivers, bays and estuaries all along the south side of the Cape as well as the islands in Nantucket Sound. Some keeper-sized bass have gathered for a hoot near the herring run as those tasty herring emerge. Back in the day anglers stood shoulder to shoulder live-lining herring in The Ditch and it wasn't all that unusual to come away with a plus forty-pound fish. But the herring stocks became depleted to a point where the State stepped in and shut down access to the runs which made mackerel the bait of choice for many anglers, both live and chunk versions. Anyhow, there's plenty of baitfish available right now the newly arrive stripers have been chowing down since their arrival.

We spent the winter waiting for these guys to get here from their winter residences: the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay and points south and here they are. The Elizabeth Island chain has been filling up with its perennial striper population and tossing plugs into the rocks and boulders from Nonamesset Island on down to Cuttyhunk has become striper-productive now that the water temperatures have climbed into the low to mid-fifties. Yozuris or Rapalas and Rebels tossed in close to shore – best time is right around first light – will find stripers in the 22 to 26-inch range from the Woods Hole channel down to Tarpaulin Cove and keeper-size fish down around Quicks and Robinsons Holes.

Migrating bass are swimming up around the outside beaches now heading for points north and they'll be taking up residence in Cape Cod Bay, Boston Harbor and on up to New Hampshire and eventually along the Maine coastal area. There's a resident striper population in Nova Scotia that contributes to the northern diaspora so it won't be long before the action turns on in those parts as well.

Blues: There used to be a lag time of a few weeks between the arrival of the first striper "scouts" in Cape waters and the subsequent appearance of bluefish but over the last decade it seems that line has blurred and bass and blues now show up almost simultaneously. Perhaps it's a function of the ocean warming that has seen lionfish creep into New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts waters along with Mahi Mahi, Spanish mackerel and even Red Drum. Whatever the reason, once the first stripers filter into the Sound you can almost certainly set up shop just off the Waquoit jetty, cast into a southeasterly "slot" and before long find yourself attached to the season's first bluefish.

"I got about fifty-feet out and then suddenly the great beast appeared before me. I tell ya he was ten stories high if he was a foot. As if sensing my presence he gave out a big bellow. I said, Easy big fella!"

And, of course, it was Kramer's Titleist lodged in the whale's blowhole that gave George momentary hero-status until he blew it by admitting he was only a pretend-marine biologist. But Seinfeld managed to entertain us for years as a weekly series before reprising the humor in reruns and we've got another year of birds, bait, bass and blues to keep us happy here in New England.

So take it from George Costanza who told us: "I don't know if it was divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but I tell you Jerry, at that moment I was a marine biologist."

Just as we are anglers, the stripers are here and life is good once again. Enjoy it.

May 08, 2016

Memories Are Made of This

by Jerry Vovcsko

Come this July I'll be turning 79, just one year short of quadrennial status. I don't really need the calendar to tell me that…joint pains, thinning hair, multiple nocturnal trips to the loo…the years do take their toll. And I seem to spend a fair amount of time looking back over those years…ah, memories, they do linger.

I was driving through Falmouth the other day and visits there always trigger a flood of nostalgia. Passing the Maravista jetty brought back the days in the 70's when I fished the outgoing tides there with my fishing buddy, Junior. We were tossing metal slabs for bluefish on the west side of the jetty when a camo-clad dude marched out to the end of the eastern side of the jetty. He looked real spiffy in camo pants, multi-pocket jacket and a Robin Hood cap, sans feather. The burlap gunny sack hanging from his belt said here was a gent serious about his angling activities. Junior and I waited while camo-guy readied his first cast, and there it went…straight down into the rocks he was standing on…to be followed by two more just like it. We watched as he calculated the adjustments needed to get bait in contact with water. Whatever ballistic calculations he came up with led to over-compensation and bait and sinker rocketed skyward arching pretty close to straight-up. I stood watching openmouthed but Junior waved an arm skyward and shouted: "Infield fly rule."

It seemed the perfect comment for the moment.

The other Maravista jetty recollection that springs to mind took place across the street from the Nantucket Sound-side by the channel that empties into Great Pond when minimum keeper size was sixteen inches. It happened on a mid-day flood tide and I had lucked out with striped bass feeding on baitfish carried in with the current. I had a nice striper on the line when a sliver Mercedes pulled up by the bridge and a middle-aged gent hopped out, grabbed a rod from the trunk and sprinted down toward me. Now I wasn't used to seeing anglers in three-piece suits and wingtips racing along through the tidal puddles, wet seaweed and crushed quahog shells but here he came, assembling his two-piece spinning rod as he ran.

"Looks like they're hitting", he said, as he arrived and bending on a needle plug fired his first cast into the current. We took a few more stripers and then the current slowed, the stripers moved on and the action was over. Turned out my fishing companion was a lawyer and later he would handle the closing on the house I bought in Great Harbors. I figured I could trust a man who had his priorities straight and realized all else could wait when breaking fish were there to be had.

By the time I got to Woods Hole I was awash in time-travel and flashed back on the time Junior and I were catching bluefish in the harbor and had pulled dockside to boat a five-pound blue. What followed was my own fault as it never pays to get careless while de-hooking lure from blue. But I did and the fish thrashed energetically managing to flip the five and a quarter inch Rebel swimmer up against my forehead as I leaned over. Luckily the flying treble missed my eye but embedded one of the points past the barb just over the eye and I was now Siamese-twin with a frantic flapping bluefish as blood ran down my cheek and I seized the fish to keep it from doing any further hook-damage. One of the men in a boat docked next to us happened to be a professor who taught orthodontic surgery at Tufts medical school and he demonstrated real skill with his side-cutter pliers and the loop-of-mono, press-down-on-the-hook extraction technique. Junior – ever ready to offer minimal sympathy for what he regarded as googan-stupidity – picked up a can of WD-40, shot a stream of it onto the wound on my head to help staunch the bleeding and sneered "Suck it up, man, them blues are still hitting…let's go."

Yep, memories…there's nothing like them and even at my age they're still vivid.

So what's happening in the salt these days?

Well, the Canal has begun to heat up especially around the Herring Run. Keepers just starting to come out of there with increasing frequency now. And we are getting real close to the usual arrival date for stripers anyhow so it's not like we have to spend all our time chasing down wild rumors; the fish are due in about now anyway. Have to admit I haven't had much luck myself. A couple of school bass and that's about it. But, what the heck, I was checking back over my fishing logbooks from previous years and the fact is I don't seem to really get going until June arrives and I start hunting the Big Boys down along the Islands. So maybe these early season efforts are half-hearted attempts just to keep my hand in and ward off the boredom and early season frustrations.

A few macs are around now, it seems. They made a showing for a while along the west shore of the Vineyard down near Gay Head and provided great fun for a few local anglers while they lasted. Dunno what effect the recent winds will have but maybe the school will turn up again in that area. Smaller macs are hanging around the east end of the Canal and that population usually sticks around for a while. Of course, should the bluefish turn up in numbers anytime soon, say bye-bye to the mackerel.

Speaking of bluefish, a couple more under-five pounders were caught this past week but so far neither the big schools nor the jumbo blues have been sighted. Only a matter of time, though…they'll be arriving in about a week would be my guess. The surf boys have been doing okay tossing metal slabs at Poppy and along the shoals over there. For some reason, the fish do seem partial to metal early in the season. Worth a try, anyhow.

The tautog population in Buzzard's Bay appears healthy this year, if anybody could get out there in a small boat, that is, what with high winds, rain, trough seas and who-knows-what to battle against. But the rocky places from Cleveland Ledge on down to the Weepeckets at least, appear to be teeming with the bucktoothed critters. I heard one report of an over-nine pounder getting caught by a lady angler and the source is pretty reliable so it could well be.

If by some chance you're able to lay hands on some herring, and have a means to keep them alive, you may want to spend a little time drifting around the rock piles in Woods Hole, just to see if there's any big fellows lurking there yet. The Hole's a funny place and you never know until you try it. Scuba diving around there years ago I recall spotting genuine tropical species around the pier pilings. That's when I was young and stupid, of course, because later I was given to understand that you can also locate conger eels in impressive sizes around those pilings as well. And those things have about as nasty a disposition as any species around. What I was thinking poking into some of those places I'm not exactly clear about, but one thing is certain: I won't be doing that again anytime soon.

I know the calendar says it's May, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Brisk northeast winds, cold, pelting rains. The fish, however, seem to be far less bothered by the inclement weather than the fishermen. More keeper-sized stripers are being caught every day. Squid have moved into the Sound in fair numbers, and striper do savor these tasty guys. Striper action seems to have been delayed a bit this season but judging from previous years, I'd say it's about to bust wide open in Cape waters. Maybe this week coming up.

Fair is fair, so I have to acknowledge that my Red Sox marched into Yankee Stadium ready to rumble and the Yanks waxed them in the first two games of the season. So time to regroup and get back on the winning track. Play ball!

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