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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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June 29, 2014

Killer Whales, Belugas and the Usual Suspects

by Jerry Vovcsko

With more and more oceanic areas being described as "barren" and "fishless" it only makes sense for nations to become more cautious about where, and to what extent, they allow heavy fishing pressure to be put on stocks. Along those lines, President Obama is looking to make a broad region of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year could create the world's largest marine sanctuary and just about double the area of ocean that is fully protected.

The announcement is part of a broader focus on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. Given the political climate of these times there's a real good chance that the oceans effort, headed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and White House counselor John D. Podesta, will trigger new political battles with Republicans over the scope of Obama's executive powers.

The president will also direct federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at eliminating ting seafood fraud and the global black-market fish trade. In addition, the administration came up with a rule that allows the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes.

Under the proposal the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles, all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories. Although the ocean area under consideration includes uninhabited islands in a remote region with sparse economic activity, the designation is expected to face objections from the U.S. tuna fleet that operates in the area.

Kerry said that the United States and other nations need to take bolder steps to protect marine habitat..."If this group can't create a serious plan to protect the ocean for future generations, then who can and who will?" he asked during an appearance at a State Department oceans conference.

More locally, we are seguing into the summer portion of our oceanic activities in Cape Cod waters. The fishing is good just about everywhere around these parts and will likely stay that way until we hit the dreaded "summer doldrums".

Bluefish are thick throughout Nantucket Sound, from Monomoy westward to Woods Hole blues can be encountered by boat and surf anglers alike. Never forget how tasty these fish are when grilled over a charcoal fire, especially if a few chunks of mesquite wood are included in the firebox.

On Nantucket proper blues have been visiting the north side of the big island lately and stripers are showing up on a now-and-then basis. Casting big plugs seems to draw strikes from bass on the upper size range and blues will hit just about anything tossed their way. Metal slabs will sometimes produce when blues aren't showing in numbers.

Over in Cape Cod Bay, where the iron bones of the former target ship James Longstreet form a fish-filled reef, black sea bass, scup, ‘tog, fluke and the odd mackerel serve as an embarrassment of bottom fishing riches. Go online to find the coordinates of the old vessel…or just head north across the Bay from Barnstable Harbor and when you see a gaggle of boats anchored up, you're probably at the wreck site. Any kind of bait will do or dip some bucktail jigs or jig & plastic combos…you're sitting over a veritable fish-bazaar.

Fishing the outside beaches calls for more patience than some anglers might possess but old timers who've worked these shorelines for decades know that a skunking is inevitably followed – eventually – by blitz conditions. The trick is to put up with slim-pickings in order to be on site when the fish come cruising through. It also pays to scout the shoreline at dead low tide in order to identify the location of "holes" and sandbars because wind, waves and currents rearrange the underwater topography out here on a daily basis. Further up around Provincetown the stripers have pretty much hung around Race Point since the start of the season. If the bass aren't strung out on the Atlantic side, a quick trip over to Herring Cove can often produce good results.

Billingsgate Shoal is providing some striper action for the tube&worm folk and before long a smart angler will begin testing things with live eels, especially as dusk fades to darkness. Big snakes often mean bid bass and The Bay is a good spot to check out the eel situation. From Billingsgate, a small boat can run southward and drift around Barnstable Harbor and along Sandy Neck beach in the evening hours. Catch a falling tide at the northwest corner of the Harbor and there may be a Large hanging around there at the corner looking for targets-of-opportunity. Drift an eel on the current and hang on! If eels aren't at hand, a mackerel chunk is next best.

For folks with bigger boats, reports from the Canyons say the action has been sporadic but occasionally lively for tuna, billfish and sharks. The weather can be iffy for runs out there but patient anglers can sometime spot a window of good weather and make the run with impressive results. South of the Vineyard there's ample bluefish activity but striper fishing hasn't been the same since Wasque Rip got rearranged by the winter storms a couple years back.

And, to wrap things up for the month of June I should probably mention the out-of-town visitors that passed through the area. A beluga whale dropped in near Fall River and meandered up the Taunton River drawing crowds hoping to spot the all-white creature that normally inhabits the Arctic region. And around the same time a pod of killer whales cruised past about 150 miles southeast of the coast of Nantucket. July will have to go some to top that.

June 23, 2014

Cape Cod News

by Jerry Vovcsko

"Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service say the great white shark population in the Northwest Atlantic appears to be on the mend thanks largely to a prohibition on landing these huge predators"

That observation accompanied a story that was out on the AP newswire last week. And ecologically it's good news even though California surfers, swimmers at Australian beaches and, of course, the seals cavorting around Chatham beaches the past few years might be less than pleased.

The great white shark population hasn't always been in such great shape, especially in the 70s and 80s when a robust commercial and recreational shark fishery pushed the numbers into a sharp decline until 1997 when a ban on landings of great whites was put into effect.

Some scientists are now wondering if that's what it will take to rehabilitate other depleted populations such as Atlantic cod, river herring and Bluefin tuna. Problem is, those who fish for the latter species have far more defenders –and highly vocal ones - who make their living in these fisheries. Closing them down would not be without serious political consequences.

That having been said, folks hoping to do a little fishing in Massachusetts this year will have an easier time buying and displaying recreational licenses and permits. The Department of Fish and Game has announced that the state's licensing system is now mobile-friendly, making it possible for people to quickly obtain licenses and permits using mobile devices such as iPhone and Android smartphones.

The first phase of the project gives customers the ability to use smartphones to obtain saltwater fishing permits, freshwater fishing licenses and trapping licenses. Hunting and sporting licenses are not available for purchase using mobile devices at this time, but the department says they will be available for sale via mobile devices later on in the year.

A new electronic signature will allow customers to download the licenses and permits to their mobile devices without having to print and sign the documents. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island will share $32.8 million in disaster relief funding for communities suffering severe economic losses because of declining fish populations. The funding is part of $75 million being sent from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to affected fishing communities around the country. The specific amounts for each state have not been determined yet.

There was considerable news coverage recently about Joseph Vaudo, the owner of the Sandwich fish market who pleaded guilty to receiving stolen oysters at his store. He had his first hearing before the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals where he is fighting an effort by the state Department of Public Health to revoke his license to operate Joe's Lobster Mart on the Cape Cod Canal. Vaudo's lawyer says his client has been "punished sufficiently" and publicly "embarrassed" and should not lose his license to sell fish at his Sandwich market.

John Kiernan, the Boston-based attorney representing Vaudo, told the hearing commissioner he intends to make a "double jeopardy argument." Vaudo paid a $6,250 fine for pleading guilty in the criminal case at Barnstable District Court to charges of receiving stolen property, willfully misleading police during an investigation and failure or refusal to file required statistical reports of wholesale and retail dealers. Vaudo has been in business 43 years and employees 20 people, Kiernan said. Both fishermen and other fish retailers depend on Joe's Lobster Mart as a "known and trusted" source, he said. Revoking Vaudo's license would have an adverse economic impact, Kiernan said. A full hearing, which will include witness testimony, is scheduled for September 4th.

The Canal continues as a hit or miss proposition although a recent influx of mackerel has brought a number of stripers into the east end and some of these bass reportedly were in the twenty to thirty pound range. The rips on the back side of Nantucket saw a mix of stripers and blues chasing baitfish in the churning currents. Problem there is weather conditions dictate if or when small boats can operate in and around those rips.

The Vineyard Sound side of the Elizabeth Islands has been active and productive the past couple of weeks. The stretch of shoreline from Tarpaulin Cove down to Robinsons Hole rewarded anglers who began tossing plugs at first light with catches of keeper-sized stripers with some plus-twenty pound bass taken around the northwest corner of Robinsons over the weekend.

The Middleground also produced some nice stripers to folks drifting live scup along the reef. The Middleground has long been a prime target for anglers in search of doormat fluke. An east to west drift is the direction de jour and squid strips or fluke belly are as effective a bait as any…some folks prefer to cast junebug-type spinner rigs or bucktail jigs (green or golf mylar threads in the deer hair are favored) and do well for themselves with the artificial versions.

Bluefish continue to cruise Nantucket Sound rounding up baitfish and triggering feeding frenzies that bring terns and gulls swooping down to dine on the flying scraps of bait that get churned up in the melee. Catching blues is only a matter of being nearby when the blitz is under way and tossing anything with a hook into the middle of the watery chaos. But casting beyond the frenzy with a Kastmaster or other metal slab, letting it sink deep and retrieving slowly can reward a patient angler with a Large striper, one of the Big Boys who lurk down below lazily dining on the chopped up pieces of baitfish that sink beneath the mass of bait-and-bluefish churning around on the surface.

Lively striper action continues up at Race Point in Provincetown and sand eels are the preferred offering by surfcasters and boaters alike. Most of these fish seem to fall into just-below or just-above keeper size and they stick around throughout the day although the best times are early morning and dusk-to-dark.

Anglers fishing around the Truro beaches got a look at a body pulled from the ocean near Peaked Hill Bars where a swimmer apparently got into trouble and drowned. The Coast Guard launched a small boat out of Race Point but the swimmer had already been pulled ashore and CPR begun without success. Just a reminder that the sea can be a dangerous mistress.

June 14, 2014

Bobcats, Bunnies and Blues...Just Another Day in New England

by Jerry Vovcsko

The fire that burned off ten acres of pitch pines and scrub oak last month in the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Cod didn't make national headlines, probably because it was part of a multimillion-dollar effort by federal and state agencies to rebuild the dwindling habitat of the New England cottontail, which lives in the dense bramble found in new forest growth. The fire consumed everything in its path but the scattered trees, leaving a bed of fertile ash and enough open space for the sun to reach the ground again, allowing growth of a new forest to begin.

That the cottontail population has been in trouble is an undisputed fact. Over the past 50 years, this wild creature has lost nearly 90 percent of its dwelling areas to development, which has also contributed to the loss of most of the region's young forests. The rabbit is the only animal from New England that federal officials are now considering as a candidate for the nation's list of endangered species. These rabbits play an important role in the ecosystem and the work being done to protect them also benefits scores of other animals who share the same habitat.

No one knows exactly how many cottontails remain in New England but wildlife biologists believe they have vanished from Vermont and dwindled to several hundred elsewhere. Those remaining live in young forests spread like islands over a few thousand acres across New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. They used to be found in every part of Massachusetts but now live only in Eastern Cape Cod and parts of the Berkshires. With the right conditions, wildlife scientists say, they could repopulate quickly. They can breed before their first birthday and females have two to three litters a year, ranging from three to eight bunnies at a time.

One wild creature that presumably would be delighted to see the New England cottontail population spike upwards is, of course, the bobcat…and it appears that recent sightings in the town of Sharon suggest the big cats are making a comeback in the state. One Sharon resident was surprised last week to look out her kitchen window and see a bobcat strolling across her back yard but recovered quickly and snapped a photo before it wandered back into the woods. Tom French, assistant director of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said it did appear to be a bobcat and, judging from the photo, was probably a young female, about 18 pounds. Bobcats usually avoid humans, French said, but they are common in western Massachusetts and are appear more and more frequently in eastern suburbia.

Leaving forest creatures to fend for themselves while we take a look at the latest doings on the salt water scene… the action has been steady, if not explosive. We haven't seen any of those boom-time blitzes just yet, the ones that rattle the nerves and jangle an angle's concentration…but we will before long. Closest we've come so far has been the discovery of some jumbo bass working over the sand eel population up Provincetown way.

The stretch of surf between Herring Cove and Race Point has been rewarding folks who dropped either sand-eel-baits or reasonable facsimiles into their midst. Some of those bass pull the scales down to the thirty pound mark and are more than willing to slug it out. These stripers don't stick to one spot and have also turned up south of Peaked Hill bars and southward toward Truro and Wellfleet. Fly-rod-folk have gotten good results with large streamer flies, Clousers and such. Top water needle plugs might work now and again but big plastics also are worth a try.

Bluefish have definitely taken up residence in Vineyard Sound and they'll hit just about anything an angler cares to toss their way. One Old Timer acquaintance of mine got tired of losing plugs and spoons to these big-toothed chomping machines so he took his battery operated drill and made himself a bunch of metal bluefish lures out of everything from beer can openers to Italian lire coins…bore a hole in both ends, hang a couple of split rings with a hook on one end and a swivel on the opposite side and he was good to go.

I asked him once about his lure-stock choices and he said "…that Italian funny-money is cheaper than buying scrap metal…and you can use the can opener to crack open a Bud when the action slows down." Like with all good fishermen, versatility is an important quality.

There were a couple of plus-thirty stripers taken at night from Devil's Bridge on the western end of the Vineyard and rumor has it the boat that accounted for these lunkers was drifting with live scup, a favored bait of pin-hooker pros. The usual suspects have been productive lately: Robinsons and Quicks holes, Sow and Pigs Reef and the stretch of shoreline between French Watering Place and Tarpaulin Cove. Heck…right now, anybody on site anywhere along the Elizabeth Islands at first light, should be able to catch three or four decent striped bass before the bite turns off just by getting a five inch swimming plug anywhere among the rocks near the shoreline.

Black sea bass continue to please the palate of those anglers bottom fishing in Buzzards Bay. And keeper sized tautog continue to move into the boulders strewn around the Weepecket Islands as well as the rock ledges in Woods Hole channel. Green crabs are ‘tog candy but whatever bait is handy will usually get sucked down by these toothy crunchers. And every so often one of the over-five-pound ‘togs will take a whack at a plug meant for stripers.

Things are very pleasant on the salt water scene at the moment; the Cape is a good place to be. Now if the Red Sox could just start winning a few……

June 05, 2014

Free Fishing Announcement!

by Jerry Vovcsko

The folks at Massachusetts Marine Fisheries would like everyone to take advantage of a no-license-needed weekend of fishing for the whole family. No permit needed, just grab some gear, rustle up some grub and taker the family out for a day at or on the water. Here's the announcement:

Massachusetts Anglers,

It's time to introduce your friends and family to fishing! This weekend, June 7th and 8th, is the Free Fishing weekend in Massachusetts. Whether you go freshwater or saltwater fishing this weekend, you do not need a permit. Permit and license free fishing only occurs on these weekend days, so make sure to purchase your saltwater recreational fishing permit to continue in the fun of saltwater fishing.

MarineFisheries, along with MassWildlife and the Department of Fish and Game, now has mobile-friendly permitting! When visiting our website to purchase or view your saltwater permit history on your smartphone or tablet, you will be directed to the new MassFishHunt system. Simply log in (or create a new login if you don't have one) to edit your personal information, purchase a permit or license, or send copies of the permit or receipt to an email address. However, you must still print out the permit and have it with you when fishing.

Saltwater recreational permits, freshwater recreational licenses, and trapping permits are all currently available through the mobile-friendly site. Hunting and sporting licenses will be available in the near future.

Tight lines!
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