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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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July 31, 2014

Gotta Know the Territory, Right, Willy?

by Jerry Vovcsko

Even though Massachusetts will see little or no effect from the law it recently passed, still, it became the ninth state to criminalize the traffic in shark fins. Governor Deval Patrick signed the new restrictions into law outlawing the removal of shark fins (often while the animals are still alive) although it exempts locally caught species including skate, smooth hound sharks and spiny dogfish from the regs.

Restaurants which serve shark fin soup charge as much as one hundred dollars a bowl for the Asian delicacy which has contributed to the fierce demand. The new law is designed to help shrink the US market for shark fins that are typically imported from countries with less restrictive laws. Violators of the new Massachusetts law could be fined up to $1,000, plus 60 days in prison and the loss of their fishing licenses, according to the Governor's office.

In other news, Massachusetts has been trying to lower the mortality rate for endangered shorebirds, including plovers, by regulating off-road vehicular access to nesting areas and restricting foot traffic to these areas during the crucial nesting periods. But as of late town, state and federal agencies are grappling with the complex problem of addressing the increasing populations of predators that cause more shorebird deaths than human activities.

Many of these predators, including foxes, skunks, coyotes and even crows are thriving on foodstuffs discarded by humans and their populations are growing to such an extent that they threaten to virtually exterminate some shorebird species. The Mass Audubon Society tells us that crow populations have just about doubled since the 1980s and continue to rise exponentially, taking an unsustainable toll on plover eggs among others. In the past two years alone, the number of plover chicks that successfully reach maturity levels are much lower than what it takes to have a stable population, and that is largely due to increased predation, say conservation science officials for the state's endangered species program.

One of the most promising tools in protecting these birds from predators flamed out when predators figured out how to exploit beach cages known as exclosures that safeguard eggs and nesting birds. Then too, the lethal removal of predators by poisoning or with hired shooters is no longer an option as public opinion put the kibosh on such programs ever since a crow-poisoning project in 2010 had to be cancelled because of a firestorm of public protest.

While in 2001, the Cape Cod National Seashore had a somewhat successful plover protection program, with 76 nesting pairs of birds and 155 chicks that reached the point where they could fly and migrate, last year only 46 chicks fledged from 85 nesting pairs of birds, just half a chick per pair. Previously, the wire cages (exclosures) were so successful in safeguarding plovers from wandering coyotes and other predators that as many as 91 percent of the eggs hatched and more than two chicks per nesting pair successfully fledged.

Coyotes are the most prevalent predator on Monomoy Island and refuge officials killed 189 coyotes and pups between 1998 and 2012. They also killed individuals from other bird species such as black-crowned night heron. Town officials say that if the shorebird losses to predators continue at the current rate, discussions about eliminating those predators may well be back on the table as perhaps the only effective solution to keep some shorebird species from sliding into extinction.

Meanwhile, the fishing in Cape waters runs the gamut from so-so as the rising water temperatures push striped bass populations into deeper waters, to pretty decent at first light and around dusk in places where rips provide opportunities for bigger fish to set up shop waiting for baitfish to get tumbled in the current.

One of the reasons that I spend the bulk of my time tossing plugs into the rocks and boulders along the Elizabeth Islands is the presence of such localized rips formed by the tidal currents that sweep along the island chain. There's a reason that striped bass are known in the vernacular as "rockfish" and if it's rocks an angler seeks, there's no better place to find them than down along Naushon and Cuttyhunk Islands. Which is also why so many world record stripers have been pulled from these waters.

And then there's the stretch of shoreline along the western edge of Martha's Vineyard. A clever and determined angler could spend the entire season fishing along that shoreline and do very well for him/her self. For a shot at really BIG bass, there's the infamous Devil's Bridge, a rocky shoal that juts out into Vineyard Sound near the southwestern corner of the Vineyard.

I know a gent who fishes nothing but parachute jigs on this prime striper habitat and keeps his grill busy all summer long turning out delicious marinated striper steaks and his freezer well stocked for the winter months. Mostly, he runs a drift along the Bridge on the night tides, switching up on occasion by wirelining the jigs down deep over the holes he is as familiar with as the idiosyncrasies of the ancient forty horse Evinrude that hangs from the stern of his salty old lapstrake skiff.

His fishing secret?

"Do one thing but be expert at it…know your territory, know every last rock and sandbar and stick with that."

Well, maybe that didn't work so well for Willy Loman as readers of Arthur Miller's classic "Death of a Salesman" can vouch for, but then, striped bass don't read (sort of like "Charlie don't surf!") so, what the hell….

These days bluefish are everywhere. Snapper blues can be found in the harbors and estuaries along the Nantucket Sound shoreline. Bigger blues cruise the Sound daily and the rips behind Nantucket hold some double-digit bluefish that will give anglers a real tussle before they come in over the gunwales.

Tunas can be found east of Chatham now, both the big bluefins and football-sized varieties…and some of the more exotic, southern species are showing up thanks to the vagaries of the Gulf Stream currents – mahi mahi, cobia, even the odd wahoo have surprised local anglers tooling around offshore looking for stripers or whatever.

Those cooler waters east of the Cape keep the stripers feisty and alert so fishing the surf after dusk can be very productive along those outside beaches between Chatham and Provincetown, especially for anglers using live eels. This is an ideal time to lob those "big snakes" into the wash and feel them hammered by wide-shouldered striped bass upwards of thirty pounds.

Just steer clear of the seal colonies down around Chatham. They'll clean a hooked striper off an angler's hook in a jiffy, yes, but more to the point, they invite unwanted visitors, namely, the Great White sharks that sure do love themselves a little seal meat. Best not to add "tasty angler" to the menu.

July 25, 2014

Rabid Foxes and Fish Sanctuaries: Just Another Day in New England

by Jerry Vovcsko

First it was problems at the parking areas near Race Point in Provincetown as visitors insist on feeding coyotes and park Rangers warned about the public making close contact with wildlife as rabies are often an issue. Now residents of Newbury and Newburyport are being told to keep a close eye on their children and pets after two recent rabid fox attacks.

Board of Health officials say a 60-year-old resident was attacked by a fox that suddenly appeared from the woods last weekend. That fox was caught and euthanized. A few days earlier a woman in the same area was attacked. Both women quickly sought medical attention and while it's not certain that it was the same fox, the many similarities in the attacks point in that direction.

Police told local media that they have received multiple sightings recently of raccoons and foxes that might be infected with the deadly virus. The Board of Health is asking residents to make sure pet rabies vaccinations are up to date and to keep a close eye on pets and children.

A recent story in the Boston Globe reminds readers that "for thousands of years, the jagged rocks of a submerged mountain range about 80 miles off the coast of Gloucester have preserved one of the region's most distinct marine habitats. The frigid waters and glacier-sculpted peaks are home to a billowy kelp forest and an abundant array of life, from multicolored anemones to cod the size of refrigerators."

That place is Cashes Ledge and for hundreds of years fishermen recorded massive hauls of cod, pollock, and other groundfish. But about a decade ago, in an effort to bolster declining fish stocks, regulators cordoned off 550 square miles of the area, making it one of the largest fishing closures from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia.

Now the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees fishing issues in the region, is considering reopening some or all of the area to trawlers. Not surprisingly this has seriously pissed off environmental groups who worry about the impact on the ledge's unique biodiversity and the risk of damage to the already decimated cod populations.

Fishermen claim the closure is no longer necessary because a quota system now caps the amount of each species that fishermen can catch each year. They also say the closure likely causes more damage to the environment than allowing fishing in Cashes Ledge because fishermen spend more time raking the seabed with their dredges and nets in areas where it's harder to find fish. If they were allowed into waters where there are ample amounts of cod and Pollock, they could speed up their catch, burn less fuel, and earn more money, they say.

The council will hold public hearings in the region this summer and will vote on lifting the closure this fall. Its members will look at four options, starting with one that would permit fishing throughout the entire 550 square miles and ending with one that would maintain the status quo.

It's likely few will be completely satisfied by the final decision but the council has been receiving heavy pressure from the various stakeholders and it's a good bet that some changes will be made; the question is, to what extent? Typically, when these opposing constituencies get together at these kinds of meetings, it often deteriorates into what sounds like Bingo-Night at the Tower of Babel. Maybe this one will be different and folks will actually try to reach a workable compromise….or maybe not.

The Canal has been seeing increased early morning action these days and much of that has been top water action with needles and darters the favored plugs. It's mostly school sized bass but the occasional keeper turns up now and again. Bluefish show up from time to time but mostly individual fish, not the pods that continue to cruise Vineyard Sound. A 12 pound blue took a chunk of mackerel near the east end this week and probably contributed a fillet or two to the lucky angler's grill.

First reports of bonito over around the Vineyard surfaced a few days ago and that's always good news for anglers who crave the reel-screaming runs these mini tunas make when hooked. They and their false albacore brethren provide great action as the season hits the mid-point in our waters and tilts toward the downhill run to the fall migration.

Unfortunately, as the bonnies and albies begin to show up locally, the bass fishing slides into the dreaded doldrums and stripers become considerably harder to find. Best bet now is to cruise on down the Elizabeth Island chain and work the tides in Quicks Hole, Robinsons Hole and around the Cuttyhunk shoreline on both the Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay sides. It's a good idea to stock a couple dozen or so live eels on board as there are days when the stripers turn up their fishy noses at artificials but continue to smack a feisty live eel just on general principles. There are a number of theories why stripers will attack an eel but from what I've read it seems likeliest that the eels prey on striper fingerlings and the bass, particularly the females, take issue with having their young preyed upon.

A few miles south of Nantucket gets anglers into tuna-territory and further south bring boaters into the realm of the deep Canyons and this year the actions started with a bang as one boat caught and released a twelve foot marlin near Veatch canyon. East of Chatham, Bluefin tuna show up from time to time and a couple of those Big Guys have already been caught this year.

In the estuaries along the south side beaches between Woods Hole and Waquoit, snapper blues and mini-stripers can be taken of light spinning gear and there's no better fun than to take a couple of small children along and let them enjoy a fish-catching bonanza by drifting small pieces of seaworm in the currents around these warm, sheltered inlets. Cast a worm into the shadows around moored boats and there's a good chance school sized stripers will take a whack at it. It's a twofer as the fish is hooked and the child finds his/herself hooked on fishing, sometimes for a lifetime.

Two pretty good locations for anglers out for fluke include the area around the mouth of the Bass River and, further west, the Middleground. Scup and black sea bass can be picked up around the Woods Hole/Lackey's Bay area and sea bass continue to reward anglers fishing over wrecks such as the James Longstreet in Cape Cod Bay. Billingsgate Shoal continues to deliver stripers to folks working tube and worm in the slot and around the edges. Locals employ a slick technique by making a turn that puts their tube& worm rig over the deeper holes and then slowing boat speed to drop the rig down to those holes. Time it right and it's a killer technique for big, lazy bass that lurk in the holes waiting for something to drop by for an ambush…it works also at the western end of the Middlegound where holes at the sixty-foot depth level hold lunker bass as well.

There were reports of stripers feeding in the surf on the south side of the Vineyard last week but a person can do a lot of walking and still end up skunked as bass become very fickle this time of the season. Nevertheless, it's worth a look for boat fishermen roaming around Cuttyhunk who want to change up their location and try a few new spots. Maybe take a shot at where Wasque Rip used to make up…maybe the fish will be drawn back there based on their own memories of the good-old-days when the rip featured a four-foot standing wave and churned up baitfish like an epileptic washing machine.

This the time of the year that separates the real anglers from the wannabes…early in the year, back in May and June, the bass are newly arrived hungry and relatively easy to catch. Now it takes some skill and determination to get a hookup and land a keeper. But that's why it's important to accrue experience when it comes to fishing…after a while an angler develops a feel for where the fish might be. Instead of just tossing a lure anywhere and hoping for the best, experience whispers "Over there, just at the head of that rip making up by those rocks…work it slow at an angle to the current."

That's the way a wannabe gradually becomes an angler… and that's how we figure out who's cook and who's the potatoes.

July 15, 2014

Fishing the Elizabeth Islands

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued a press release this past week announcing the completion of 15 fishing and boating access projects across the state. The combined projects cost $2.2 million and included four on Cape Cod and one on Martha's Vineyard.

Funds for much of the work were made available through state general funds, bond appropriations, revenue from the sale of saltwater fishing licenses and reimbursements from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service under the federal Sport Fish Restoration Act.

The four Cape projects took place in Dennis, Harwich, Mashpee and Orleans:
• Uncle Freeman's Landing in Dennis – Included $5,000 in improvements to the boat ramp. were made. The boat ramp, which is on Bass River, is managed by the Town of Dennis and offers good fishing for striped bass, bluefish and flounder. Parking spaces for eight vehicles with trailers and three single cars are available at the ramp.
• Allen Harbor, Harwichport - Received $140,000 project consisting of the reconstruction of the bulkhead/retaining wall. The harbor provides boat access and has parking for 20 vehicles with trailers. Fishing for striped bass, bluefish, fluke and cod are popular in this area
•Popponesset Bay, Mashpee - The access stairway at the shore fishing area was repaired at a cost of $7,000. There are five parking spaces at the site and fishing for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish is popular in the area.
• Baker Pond, Orleans - $1,000 in general site repairs and improvements were made. The Department of Fish and Game manages the car-top access facility. There are parking spots for eight vehicles and the location offers good fishing for three species of stocked trout and smallmouth bass.

Artists have always been drawn to Provincetown by the pureness and intensity of the light at the Cape tip. But last week two artists on a painting trip encountered a weird blob at the Cape tip.

"It was so freaky looking," said Arthur Egeli, who snapped a photo of the large wormlike object he estimated to be 10 feet long. Egeli and Kevin McNamara were painting an outdoor scene in the town's East End when they noted the weird object.

One chunk was disposed of several days ago by the town, and another piece about 7 feet long showed up a few days ago in the East End. The piece that Egeli and McNamara found at the beach at Snail Road and Route 6A on Friday was possibly 2 to 3 feet in diameter. One scientists said the object looked like the viscera of a large whale or an extremely large basking shark and expects to carry out further research on the materiel.

Meanwhile, down Chatham way it looks like coyotes have made North Beach Island their home and officials are offering safety tips to visitors. According to a Chatham Police Animal Control release, coyotes have been observed on the island over the past several months.

Animal control and the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife have compiled a list of tips for keeping visitors, their children and their pets safe:

According to the release, coyotes are shy and tend to avoid contact with humans but may associate people with an easy source of food and cats and small dogs are included in that food source. People should avoid contact with wild animals at all times. Wild animals including coyotes should never be fed. Pets should be leashed at all times and kept inside at night. Trash should be either properly secured outside or stored inside. If pets are fed outside, they should be supervised and the area should be cleaned of food remnants after feeding.

Coyotes have become more visible and bolder on the Cape lately. Last October, the Cape Cod National Seashore issued a warning to visitors about feeding coyotes at the Cape's tip. According to a CCNS release at the time, coyotes were seen begging at cars for food in the Herring Cove North parking lot in Provincetown and officials are concerned about the potential presence of rabies…possible signs of rabies or sickness include circling, falling over, lethargy, seizures and aggressive behavior.

Hurricane Arthur brushed past the Cape last week bringing high winds and pounding waves to the outside beaches but sparing the Cape any serious damage. As often happens, the fish go a little crazy pre-storm and then drops off sharply once it passes through the area. That's pretty much what happened and anglers are only now beginning to see the good fishing returning to these parts. Inshore action has been fairly good in such places as Nantucket Sound, Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. But surf fishing along the outside beaches between Chatham and Truro has taken a hit and things have been slow to re-settle along there. The action around Race Point has also diminished since the storm and anglers have had better results inside the Bay.

Brewster Flats continues to produce good striper results for trollers and casters working the edge on a falling tide. Barnstable Harbor and Bass River also hold populations of stripers and the stretch of beach from Sandy Neck to the East End of the Canal has been home to pods of cruising bluefish. An early morning visit – before the arrival of vacationing swimmers – is likely to deliver both stripers and blues to early rising anglers. There's nothing quite like pausing for a mug of steaming coffee from the thermos as the sun rises over Cape Cod Bay…with or without fish in the creel it's a delight.

The Sound side of Monomoy around the flats has been alive with stripers lately. Spinning gear of long wand style has spelled success for tide-conscious anglers working those flats. Most of the bass are school-size but every now and then a Large shows up and is taken on board somebody's boat. Walk-the-dog plug specialists have been scoring around the mud flats and should do well until water temperatures rise into doldrum-levels in a few weeks.

This is the perfect time to head for the Elizabeth Islands; the rocky shorelines are alive with bass, blues and even the occasional tautog (which will definitely smash a plug if one should land in its vicinity.) Best spots to hit right now are the points off both Quicks and Robinsons Holes. When the tide runs through these inter-island channels a flotilla of small boats lines up to drift both live and cut bait through the current. There are big fish down there…sometimes there are Very Big Fish down there.

For those folks who have fished the western end of the Elizabeths over the years, the time comes when the western-most tip of the islands calls out for a visit: that would be the legendary Sow and Pigs Reef. World record bass have been coaxed from these waters below Cuttyhunk…back in the day wealthy industrialists cast lobster tails into the boulder-strewn waters looking to score that once-in-a-lifetime-strike.

By all means give it a try but, on your life, get someone who knows the area to show you around the first couple of times you try it. There are huge stripers around – yes – but the trick is to make sure you return from the visit. There are also huge submerged boulders lying in wait and the winds blow heavy when they come up from the southwest. The bones of vessels and fishermen lined the deep over the eons and local knowledge is absolutely crucial. No need to add to the numbers.

July 08, 2014

Hurricane Arthur, We Hardly Knew Ye

by Jerry Vovcsko

Summer is officially here now that the first report of a great white shark sighting is at hand. Researchers from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy happened to be in the area when the shark was spotted a little ways out from Nauset Beach. The southeastern end of the Cape has become a destination resort for great whites and they show up regularly now for dinnertime frolics with the seal colony that's established itself around Chatham and Nauset.

Great whites are frequently in the news on the west coast as abalone divers and surfers work the waters where the great whites reside. Last week there was a report of a swimmer bitten by a great white near a dock where folks were fishing. We had one shark-bite event last year and odds are there will be more to come with these eating machines cruising around our waters now.

Great whites are massive animals but on a much smaller scale, another dangerous critter has turned up in our region. Scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst this spring detected the presence of a newly recognized disease in 12 deer ticks found on or near state residents — including six people from Cape Cod. Its appearance is so new it doesn't have its own name, Borrelia miyamotoi is being known by the species of bacterium that causes a relapsing fever type of illness. The disease was first discovered by Japanese scientists in 1995. It was first reported in humans in Russia in 2011 and in U.S. citizens in early 2013.

"It's a Lymelike illness," said Stephen M. Rich, UMass professor of microbiology.

The disease is the fourth illness known to be carried by hard-bodied deer ticks in Massachusetts. In addition to Lyme, the ticks carry anaplasmosis and babesiosis, incidents of which have risen over the past several years. Whether cases of Borrelia miyamotoi are going up or have been here for years, undetected, isn't known just yet but it's cause for study, scientists say. Diagnosis is tricky and researchers described how two men at first thought to have anaplasmosis ended up being so sick with miyamotoi they were hospitalized. Symptoms of the illness include fever — sometimes recurrent or relapsing fever — fatigue and muscle aches, sometimes with a rash.

On the fishing scene, Hurricane Arthur scrambled things pretty well before heading on up to the Canadian Maritimes. Things had been looking good in the Canal what with schools of stripers showing up to munch on baitfish, herring and mackerel in particular. Then Arthur blew past about fifty miles west of Nantucket and all bets were off.

Even with the disruption, bluefish activity continues at a good pace and the seventy-degree waters of Nantucket Sound have made things quite pleasant for scads of baitfish to call it home in the Sound. Few things excite blues like big schools of baitfish wandering around in open waters and there have been some double digit bluefish caught around the south side of the Vineyard not far from what used to be Wasque Rip.

Lots of school bass showing up in Buzzards Bay now, although Arthur may have put the kibosh on that for a while until things settle down later this month. The islands should recover quickly as the boulders along shore provide excellent bass habitat and safe harbor from the big storm swells that rolled in as Arthur steamed past.

Cape Cod Bay continues to produce striper catches around Billingsgate, Scorton Ledge and the western edge of the Brewster Flats. The tube and worm patrol at Billingsgate pulled in couple of near-thirty pound bass and the Flats have been generous to T&W anglers doing business around dusk. Barnstable Harbor has also continued to produce and it's a good sheltered place to fish when the winds churn things up in the Bay.

The Monomoy Rips are coming into their own right now and some Large bass have been taken recently including at least one fish nudging into the forty pound range. Race Point probably caught as much of the brunt of Arthur's effects as anywhere around the Cape. The bass that had been hanging there for weeks must have felt like they were caught in a giant kitchen blender when the storm churned past. It will be a while before things settle down along the outside beaches…and chances are, the sandbars and "holes" along the Outside have been rearranged by wind and wave, so it's worth doing some bottom-scouting at the next low tide.

We've had a few days in the 80s and 90s and the weather gurus say there's more on the way. If they're correct, we could be peering at the front end of the dreaded "doldrums", although that's hard to believe since we just emerged from spring it seems. Still, if water temperatures continue to climb, doldrums it will be, so now's a good time to hit it while the fish are still active.
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