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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 30, 2016

Nothing Sluggish About Sluggos

by Jerry Vovcsko

Let me say a few words on behalf of a soft plastic lure that has become one of my favorites, namely, the Sluggo. I fooled around with them when they first came out but became seriously interested after a few trips down along the Elizabeth Islands south of Woods Hole. At first I played around with the four-inch version, using them to tip small bucktail jigs for cast-and-retrieve purposes. And they worked just fine, albeit seeming to attract the smaller edition of Morone saxatilis (lordy, I miss the old Roccus lineatus designation), that is, lots of peanut sized bass in the 18 to 24-inch range. But hey, I'm not looking down my nose at fish that size…on light spin gear, a bout with a bunch of feisty schoolies can be lots of fun.

So I kept tossing the small sluggos into the rocks on my forays down-island until one mid-summer day, the kind where nothing's moving, little or no current, and you just feel like you've marooned yourself and crew in the middle of the Horse Latitudes. Definitely not a feels-fishy kind of day. So there I was drifting off Naushon Island, the crew (sons Jeremy and Mark) busily helping themselves to sandwiches and potato chips washed down with cans of cooler-cold soda. I was rummaging through my tackle box in a desultory sort of way pondering what I might possibly offer up to the fish gods when my eye lit on a package of nine-inch sluggos that I'd picked up at the local tackle shop. Hadn't fished them yet and even though the offset hook included with them looked more suitable for latching onto bluefin tuna or maybe a stray shark. I thought Heck, why not?….and rigged a rod with 17lb Stren tied directly to the hook, no additional terminal tackle needed.

Compared to the small jig-and-Sluggo rigs I'd been throwing previously, the big nine-inch version felt like the next thing to a live eel…in fact, I caught myself hurrying to get the tail in the water before it curled up my line. Two nice big boulders poked clear of the water close to shore and I dropped the Sluggo right in the middle and just past the two rocks. I started to swim the lure back through the slot and, Bang! This was no schoolie. Five minutes later, after a lively battle, I landed a nice, spry 30-inch bass.

By now we'd drifted a few hundred yards down current and with the boys still busily attacking their food I didn't bother to run back to where we'd been. But a quick scan of the shoreline revealed a tiny riffle where a rip was trying to make up and I flipped Mr. Sluggo just a tad up current. No more than two cranks on the reel handle and it felt like I'd hooked up with the twin brother of the first striper. This one turned out to be a long-line-release deal when I lost concentration for a second as we drifted in a little tight to a particularly ominous rock that appeared zeroed in on our hull. My attempt to start the motor, back out and keep the line taut, all at the same time, resulted in a thrown hook. Looking up momentarily from his sandwich, Jeremy, my youngest, inquired disinterestedly, "Need a hand, dad?" then proceeded to applaud as brother Mark snickered into his bag of Fritos.

Before the day was finished, I and my boys (who had furtively filched the two remaining sluggos while my back was turned) managed to hook up with six more stripers, the largest of which measured out at an impressive 37 inches. This, on a day where nothing else drew even a sniff from the bass population lazing around in the rocks. Not Rebels, YoZuris, jigs or poppers. Nothing but those slinky sluggos. So that's how they ended up incorporated in the go-to compartments of the old man's tackle box where have remained these many seasons later.

Black, white and clear are my current favorites and I pick up a couple packs of each when I see them in the tackle shops. If you haven't tried them, my advice is don't! You likely won't catch any fish. In fact, your best bet is to promptly send any that you have laying around directly to me. I'll dispose of them in suitable fashion, free of charge. No need to thank me…I do it as public service.

So what's happening in Cape Waters these days? Well, over around Stellwagen Bank the patriarchal humpback whale, Salt, had a calf recently and that's always good news for a depleted species. Salt picked up her name as a result of the white tip on her fin and her sometimes-partner is called Pepper for the black markings on hers.

And an untagged and never-seen-before great white shark showed up near the seal colony over at Chatham. Scientist Greg Skomal will no doubt be looking to tag this 14-foot shark during her visit to the Cape if he gets the opportunity. Chatham has become host to one of the planet's major gatherings of great whites thanks to the buildup of seal colonies down along the Monomoy shoreline.

The Canal was a little sluggish last week but there were reports of a couple of stripers in the high thirty-pound range so there are still fish to be had in the Ditch. Slack tide is a very good time to drop jigs into the boulder-strewn depths and it's also the best time to work a live eel down deep as well.

School bass abound along the eastern shoreline of Buzzards Bay all the way from the west end of the Canal down to Cuttyhunk Island. On the Vineyard Sound side, Quicks Hole has offered up some nice stripers to both tube-and-worm anglers as well as those fishing live eels. Throughout the day the etch from Tarpaulin Cove down to Robinsons Hole remains fertile territory for plug-tossing anglers.

Monomoy Island is flush with bass when seals and great whites aren't in residence and the Monomoy Flats in Nantucket Sound. Tuna has been spotted offshore east of Chatham but no solid catch reports so far.

On the Cape Cod Bay side anglers fishing the ebbing tides of the Brewster Flats are doing business with tube and worm rigs as well as trolling plugs along the drop-off. On the backside beaches there's been heavier striper action around Balston Beach and Head of the Meadow Beach. Scouting the sandbars and holes during the day at low tide pays off big time when flood tide begins to ebb especially if the time coincides with dusk and the early night hours. Clam bellies and mackerel chunks are favorite baits and some surf casters set up a sand spike with bait while they toss plugs into the wash.

Cleveland Ledge and the Weepecket Islands are popular destinations right now for folks seeking keeper-size tautog and Buzzards Bay holds as good a population of black sea bass as we've seen in years. Ever since the Environmental Police busted those guys poaching black sea bass earlier in the season it looks like everyone's cleaned up their acts. Tax dollars well spent, I'd say.

June 26, 2016

Herring, Stripers and Politics.

by Jerry Vovcsko

Back in the day, one of the surest ways to hook up with a big striper was to dip net a couple of nice, fat herring and live-line them in the Canal or maybe over at Billingsgate or around the reef at the Middleground – the destination being less important than having that tasty herring on a 5/0 hook at the end of your line. But those stocks became seriously depleted over time and the state eventually shut down the herring fishery to recreational anglers. Now the Federal fishing regulators are considering a slight cut to the catch limit for Atlantic herring, a fish that is important both to the fishing industry and the ocean's food web. Atlantic herring are small fish that gather in schools that can number in the millions. They are a critical food source for bigger fish, seals and whales, and are important to humans as food and bait.

The National Marines Fisheries Service might reduce the catch limit by about 3 percent to about 105,000 metric tons. The proposal's up for public comment until July 21. The herring fishery takes place in New England and the mid-Atlantic, but is principally based in Maine and Massachusetts. It was worth a little less than $30 million in 2014, when fishermen caught 92,000 metric tons.

Now that the weather has returned to normal, catch reports are coming in from the Cape Cod Canal and other places that were seeing limited activity the past few days. At the Canal, the prevailing size of striper taken seems to be 27-inches, which may leave hopeful anglers without fresh bass for the Fourth of July grill. Herring chunks, live mackerel (where available) and jig ‘n plastic baits have proven effective. Surface plugs and poppers have also taken some fish during early morning feeding activity.

With the water warming along the southern coast on the Cape, the striper activity appears to have diminished a tad. Instead of easy pickings, even schoolies are requiring hard prospecting if an angler is to be successful these days. But a few spots continue to deliver. For those boaters willing to get in tight around the rock ledges at Nobska the payoff has included some big fish. Live scup drifted through that area have recently produced fish up to twenty pounds. Of course, scup as live bait has long been one of those not-so-secret secrets of local charter skippers. When menhaden became unavailable to local anglers, those who turned to scup, along with small cunners taken on tiny hooks along the jetties, do very, very well.

This time of year, with the stripers not exactly jumping into an angler's boat, a tube and worm setup can be absolute dynamite. Surgical tubes about 18" long and trailing a 5/0 hook with a nice, juicy seaworm trailing behind become lethal enticements to bass of all sizes. The trick is to work as slowly as possible, as close in among the rocks as possible. If the shoreline is clear of weeds this technique is as close to a sure thing as there is in fishing. For an added attraction, try hanging the worm on a large willow leaf spinner, like the salt water version of a June Bug rig. In the old days, savvy local fishermen made hay with spinner and worm rigs on both sides of the Cape. It still works.

I've become more and more interested in a method that I began trying this year. That is, trolling a two-ounce popper such as an Atom or Striper Swiper in much the same way and in the same places as where I employ the tube and worm. It seems to be among the few things that work when the water is clear and the current isn't doing much. Again, it's important so throttle down as much as possible and work in tight to sure. Of course, in places such as along the Elizabeth Islands it's always a good idea to have an eye peeled forward for those nasty boulders that lie barely submerged along the shore. They're the main reason so many fish hang out there but they're always ready to eat your hull for lunch should your attention wander.

Another point. When you hook a striper in among the rocks, it's important to quickly swing the tiller (or wheel) out away from the shore. You want to entice the bass out into deeper water before they can take you down into the rocks and part your line on a handy barnacle. I don't use wire leaders – I just think they scare off the fish – but a 50 or 60 pound test mono leader is a good idea, especially if you're using braid. You want a little give somewhere along your line to absorb the shock of a hit from a big bass and help prevent the hook from tearing out. And it also helps keep your line intact should it make contact with a barnacle or sharp rock edge.

Great Point out on Nantucket has been a gathering place for blues lately. Not anything spectacular in terms of size, but lots of them and, as always, they are hungry. Lambert's Cove on the Vineyard has seen similar activity lately and the Middleground has been a bit spotty. Some fluke are hanging out there but the striper action has been sparse. This reef is another good place to liveline scup, and don't worry about using too big a bait: Fluke and striper both have wide maws and can easily handle most anything you drop down there. Anyhow, July is here, the weather should be improving and it's a good time to get in some fishing before the real August doldrums arrive. And hey, don't forget one other oft-forgotten technique that can really deliver the goods: drifting a seaworm. More about that in an upcoming blog.

East end of the Canal's been pretty active lately, with stripers going after mackerel whenever those little guys show up. Along the Islands, Quicks Hole, Robinsons Hole and the Buzzards Bay shores of Cuttyhunk have been delivering keeper size stripers on the morning tides to anglers tossing topwater plugs.

I mentioned the herring fishery at the start of this blog so I figure it's only right that I say a little bit about herring's long history in Massachusetts waters. After all, it was the profits from the combined mackeral and herring fisheries that in 1670 supported and maintained the first free public schools in Plymouth colony. And in 1774, just two years before the colonists signed off on the Declaration of Independence, the town of Sandwich coughed up some eighty pounds sterling from herring profits to help fund its militia.

And then there were the good folks of Falmouth who in the late 1700s actually established political parties based on one's support-for or opposition-to the notion of allowing herring to swim up the Coonamessett River in order to spawn. Feelings about the matter grew more and more intense until the Anti-herrings decided their cause could use a little boost and decided that a public demonstration might do the trick. So they dragged a cannon onto the Falmouth Common, pounded in a generous amount of black powder and topped that off with a bushel of herring.

Unfortunately, the gunner was a tad fervent in tamping down the powder. When he applied match to fuse, the gun exploded, scattering pieces of itself, the herring and the gunner across the village green. This untimely setback to the Anti-herring cause didn't dampen the party's political will, however. They remained as stubbornly opposed as ever and a few years later a proposal to divide the town failed primarily because the warring factions couldn't agree on who would get what share of the herring assets. And after watching the circus that the current Presidential campaign has devolved into, I think it's safe to say that politics hasn't changed very much after all these years.

June 15, 2016

High Heat and Good Fishing

by Jerry Vovcsko

Windy conditions lately have made Vineyard Sound a rough proposition for boat fishermen. Seems even when things are fairly calm in the early AM by afternoon that old sou'west wind begins to hum and navigating in a three to four-foot chop becomes a regular event. Still, discomfort notwithstanding, the fishing's been pretty good on the south side of the Cape.

Of course, it helps if you're fond of bluefish, either for cooking or for eating. Because Cape waters are seeing as many bluefish around these days as I can recall reaching all the way back to the mid-seventies. There are so many, in fact, that it scares me a little bit. Folks tend to forget that historically bluefish have appeared and disappeared on a cyclical basis. In fact, up until the thirties or forties they weren't to be found locally. The old timers of that era talked about the bluefish blitzes that they recalled around the turn of the century, but their stories were written off as the meanderings of feeble old minds. And then the blues returned.

And now we take for granted that they'll always be around, and in huge numbers to boot. Anybody who thinks along those lines would do well to read John Hersey's book, "Blues"…it's a great winter read, and it chronicles the vanishing bluefish phenomenon. What's scary about those disappearances is that typically they lasted for a couple of decades or longer until the fish returned. So keep that in mind when you're cursing over a lost plug or two that got consigned to the choppers of a ten pounder out there around Nobska, or because you lost half an eel down around Quick's Hole. From what Hersey writes, it seems that bluefish become much more appreciated a year or two after they've disappeared from local fishing grounds. Might be we'd do well to treat them with a little more respect while they're still around.

While the blues seem to own the top layer of the water column, striped bass appear to have taken up residence on the bottom, the bigger ones anyway. Tube and worm aficionados are doing business along the Middle Ground and in tight to the rocks along the Elizabeth Islands. Island fishing calls for very specific and detailed local knowledge. Doesn't do a lot of good to pull a worm through the water if you're a hundred yards out from shore, but you get in close along Naushon, Pasque and Cuttyhunk and you stand a very good chance of finding a damned big hull-eating rock with your boat. That's why local anglers regularly take big fish out of that spot while weekend skippers get shut out in the same area…a few feet in close to the rocks can make all the difference. If you don't know you're way around in there, try to find somebody who'll take you with them who knows it rock by rock. And when you get that chance start keeping track of where the rocks are located and where you can safely fish, and on what stage of the tide you can do that.

When we were teens we mostly hung out on the same street corners all the time. Why? Because that's where we knew the girls would be passing by. Same with the fish, except with them it's food, not females, they're after. And that's where you want to put your rubber tube with that juicy seaworm trailing from the hook…right in front of their noses. The old timer who taught me to fish the tube and worm showed me a trick that worked then and it will work today and seasons to come as long as stripers are around. You find the place where they hang out, troll past and slow your speed so the tube and worm sinks a few feet as it gets to where the fish are sitting, when you resume speed and the tube starts to come back up and head forward again, you'll get your hit just then…count on it.
In the meantime, while you're still figuring out where the rocks are and where your boat can safely go, why not break away for a bit of action when you see birds working over feeding bluefish? If you don't want to lose your expensive lures keep a spare rod loaded with some beater plug that you've rigged with a single hook. And to make it even easier to release a frantic blue, crimp the barb. Keep a couple for the grill and toss the rest back; it's fun and, besides, history tells us they won't always be around, so why not enjoy them while they're here.

Those of us who live and die following the fortunes of our local sports teams were particularly interested in the results of the recent baseball draft. The Red Sox, picking at number twelve in the first round, chose Jason Groome, a 17 year-old, 6'6" left hander fresh out of high school who throws a baseball 97mph (high heat) and loves to fish. In fact, he's part of the high school fishing club, said Dan McCoy, Groome's coach at Barnegat HS in New Jersey. Well, young Jason may have spent some time fishing for stripers and blues off the New Jersey coast but he'll have a chance to do some serious fishing here in the striped bass mecca of the northeast. Welcome to Red Sox Nation, Jason.

Bluefish action was at peak levels off Cotuit and around the Waquoit jetty in Vineyard Sound. Also, some jumbo blues were smacking metal slabs off South Beach, Poppy and Oregon Beach early in the week. Same thing around Nobska and over along the Woods Hole channel. These were smaller blues in general but perfect for the grill.

Striper action on the south side of the Cape seemed sporadic but a 39-pound bass was taken from the surf at Martha's Vineyard and weighed in at a local tackle shop. That's a nice fish by anybody's standards and one of the biggest I've heard about so far this season. The rips around the east side of the island have been productive this week and the Middleground shows signs of heating up as well. Much of the striper action on the west side of the island has been on schoolie bass.

Water temperatures in the Sound and Buzzards Bay have crept into the low sixties and that seems to have motivated bass and blues alike to be more aggressive these days. The Canal saw robust early morning topwater action mid-week delivered keeper-size bass to anglers fishing the night tides. As always in the Ditch, the key is to get jigs down deep on the slack tides keeping in mind the advice of savvy locals: If you ain't losing a few jigs to snags, you ain't fishing deep enough.

Over on the Cape Cod Bay side, Barnstable Harbor saw lots of striper action with schoolies for the most part and the Brewster Flats had some bigger bass taken on ebbing tides by anglers tossing plugs along the edge of the flats. This weekend should be just about perfect weather assuming the winds don't kick up too much. Game on, people…game on.

June 08, 2016

Summer Days On the Way

by Jerry Vovcsko

The official arrival of summer is only a couple weeks away and the weather has been cooperating for the most part. And to help jump-start the fishing season, the state of Massachusetts is hosting its free saltwater fishing days on June 18 and 19. No need for a saltwater fishing permit in state marine waters, out to 3 miles, until the weekend is over. That saltwater permit, by the way, is one of the all-time bargains at ten bucks for the license plus a buck sixty-eight online-purchase fee, but the weekend of June 18th/19th gives anglers a free pass, so make it a point to get out there and check out the saltwater action.

June 18 and 19 are the only days when saltwater anglers aged 16 years or older do not need a fishing permit (unless otherwise exempt). Anglers 60 years and older must register, but receive a free permit. Review the requirements and get your permit online. The purchase of a Recreational Saltwater Fishing Permit directly funds improvements to saltwater fishing access projects and other programs that support marine recreational fishing in the Commonwealth.

The state's largest illegal black sea bass bust of the season was made this weekend, thanks to an observant harbormaster. Sunday evening, while checking vessels at Tempest Knob Boat Ramp, Wareham Assistant Harbormaster Jamie McIntosh noticed a boat with what looked like an excessive black sea bass catch. McIntosh notified the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) who responded immediately. According to an MEP release, the officer boarded the boat and found 8 coolers. The boat operator told the officer the coolers contained black sea bass and scup. A full inspection revealed a catch of 209 black sea bass. Of the 209, 122 were undersized.

The operator is a commercial permit holder, but does not have a recreational saltwater fishing license, MEP said. There were five other passengers onboard including one minor. Only one adult had a recreational saltwater fishing permit. The passengers were issued civil citations for fishing without a saltwater recreational license, possession of over the limit sea bass and possession of undersized sea bass. The unidentified operator was issued a criminal summons. His bass, boat, trailer and fishing gear were all confiscated, according to the MEP release.

This is the largest seizure of illegal black sea bass so far this season, the harbormaster said. The illegally-caught sea bass were reportedly sold and profits will go through the civil process, the harbormaster said. The daily recreational take for black sea bass is 5 fish. The legal limit aboard this boat would have been 10 fish over 15". The black sea bass season officially opened on May 21.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has deployed a wave buoy on Cape Cod Bay. According the United States Coast Guard, USGS deployed the buoy in association with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS). Buoy 221 (NDBC Station 44090) is located approximately eight miles east of the east entrance to the Cape Cod Canal at latitude 41° 50.38'N, longitude 070° 19.74'W. The buoy will measure wave height, direction, period and sea surface temperature. During the night it will emit a yellow flashing light. Data from the buoy will be updated every half hour and is available on several websites including NERACOOS, the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) and the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP). The data will be available on weather and boating websites in the future.

Blues and bass are keeping things hopping along the south side of Cape Cod from Nobska to Monomoy. Surf Drive in Falmouth checked in with catches of striped bass including one just a bit under the thirty-pound mark. Anglers working Bass River report good supply of blues as well as numerous stripers but the bass have mostly been below keeper size. Around Monomoy the night tides have produced a few keeper-sized bass but the action is mostly catch-and-release with shorts pretty much the order of the day. Larger size bluefish in Nantucket Sound appear to be showing up with reported catches just under sixteen pounds…not too shabby indeed.

The Canal continues to have its moments although the mackerel that have been spotted around the east end of the ditch recently have shifted into Cape Cod Bay taking some of the bigger bass with them. Tube-and-worm anglers working the edge of the Brewster Flats on ebbing tides have done well the past few days and more and more stripers are showing up in Cape Cod Bay. Billingsgate striper action has been stop-and-start lately – early morning activity trumps other times of day.

Fluke season opened May 22nd but that hasn't translated into a lot of catches just yet. The MIddleground typically offer excellent fluke action but not many fish have been taken meeting the sixteen-inch minimum size requirement. The Elizabeth Islands are well populated with stripers now and the chances of catching a keeper improve the further down toward Cuttyhunk anglers set up shop. The west side of Martha's Vineyard is beginning to develop a bit of success with some keeper-sized bass taken at Devil's Bridge.
There's not much going on along the outside beaches just yet but things should be heating up now that migrating stripers are beginning to spread out and head for locations along shore in New Hampshire and Maine. Stripers have been feeding on and eels between Race Pont and Herring Cove and there are reports of keeper-size bass taken at Ballston Beach in Truro on live eels.

It's worth keeping mind that fresh water ponds on the Cape continue to offer excellent trout fishing and Peters Pond in Sandwich has been one of the best. There's very little fishing pressure at these locations now as so many anglers have their sights set on the saltwater scene. Nothing quite like fresh-caught brookies or rainbows on the grill to make breakfast a real treat.
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