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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, 2016

Sharktivity App a Winner

by Jerry Vovcsko

To me July has always been an interesting month. For one thing my birthday falls on July 18th and the 2016 one marked seventy-nine eventful years on this earth. And it was 98 years ago, July 21, 1918 to be specific, when a German submarine attacked the tug Perth Amboy of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and her four barges three miles off Chatham on the southeastern elbow of Cape Cod. Locally, it's told that in their haste to take off to repel the U-boat, the flight crew from the Chatham Seaplane Base forgot to load any bombs aboard the planes, and ended up throwing their wrenches and other equipment at the escaping German submarines. More than most other Americans, folks on Cape Cod were aware that there was a war on. A French naval ship guarded the French Atlantic telegraph cables that had been laid in nearby Nauset Harbor, while U.S. Marines secured the cable company's property in Orleans.

And earlier this week Plymouth Long Beach and White Horse Beach opened again after they were closed following a confirmed Great White shark sighting off the coast, according to the Plymouth harbormaster. The 15-foot shark was spotted by a lobsterman about a half-mile off Manomet Point around 2 p.m. Saturday, the Plymouth harbormaster said Saturday evening. Harbormaster boats searched for the shark Saturday afternoon and evening, but didn't find it, said assistant harbormaster Mike Dawley.

Looks like that new Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's sharktivity app that just went into effect last week has already delivered results by warning a family group that a 14-foot great white was nearby as they boated just off Monomoy Island. Following the warning from the app a shark spotter plane buzzed overhead to let them know the great white was just a few feet away from their boat. It looks like this app may well end up keeping Cape visitors out of shark trouble and perhaps even saving a few lives along the way.

And how's the fishing these days? As things slow down during a week of ninety-degree air temperatures, the Canal sees little action other than the occasional bass taken usually at night. Best bet is to fish the tides running east to west when cooler water from Cape Cod Bay pushes into the Ditch. There seem to be more bluefish than bass turning up in the Canal and the same goes for Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay.

The west coast of Martha's Vineyard has seen some decent striper action with a few plus-thirty-pound bass taken on live eels at Devil's Bridge and double-digit bluefish caught on the south side of the island near Wasque. The Elizabeth Islands continue to have their moments in and around the rocky shoreline. Plugs at first light bring good results and ditto for live eels at night. Bonito are beginning to show in Nantucket Sound and over at Nantucket Island. The Middleground continues to produce fluke but patience is required in order to find keeper-size flatties. Blues are prevalent throughout the Sound as well as in Buzzards Bay.

Provincetown had a slug of bass operating around Race Point but those fish seem to have moved on to cooler waters. The Brewster Flats hold stripers, especially on the falling tide when tube-and-worm anglers do some productive business albeit on mostly undersized bass. Still, the occasional twenty-pound-plus fish makes it worthwhile to spend some time there when the tide is right. Barnstable Harbor is pretty good right now with a mix of bass and blues and around dusk the stretch of coast between the Harbor and westward to Sandy Neck and Scorton Creek is worth a look.

East of Chatham the tuna action has begun cranking up with Bluefin moving into the area. Mostly on the small size at the moment but the big boys should be showing up before long.

Massachusetts Environmental Police were busy again this past week. They boarded boats in Cape Cod Bay looking for illegally caught striped bass and busted a half dozen poachers on commercial boats jump-starting the season and trying to hide the fish until the legal opening. At least a half-dozen boats were cited, fined a thousand bucks or more and their catches and equipment confiscated. Good to see the Environmental lads proactive with enforcement. Poaching fish is serious business and should be treated that way.

July 26, 2016

Doldrums On the Horizon

by Jerry Vovcsko

Well, next Monday is August first, and we all know that heralds the imminent arrival of the dreaded August Doldrums, that time of year when water temperatures soar and the striped bass, lazy to begin with, turn positively lethargic and head for deeper, cooler waters. So what to do? What's the best way to draw them into action when it seems the only thing they're interested in is a nice nap? Dunno about anyone else but that's when I reach for my box of jigs and a couple packs of sluggos in assorted sizes and colors.

You would think that live bait would be the most tempting but I think it takes a back seat because these bass, especially the Large, just don't feel like exerting themselves, and anything live is liable to run for it. So I like to flip a Sluggo out and twitch it a time or two and see what happens. What makes them especially effective, at least in my book, is that you can work them anywhere in the water column and control their speed by changing the weight of the jig you're using them on.

In other words, say you've got a five inch Sluggo that you want to work slowly but you also want to stay in maybe just few feet of depth. So you hang it on a light jig that's not going to dive-bomb toward the bottom, especially if there's a bit of a current running. You can work this as slowly as you please and still keep it running fairly shallow.

Conversely, you might be wanting to get small Sluggo (or a piece of one) down deep and that's no problem, either. You can hit bottom by snapping on a heavier jig without having to change the speed you're working the lure. If you want to change depth without changing jig size then you can control that by speeding up or slowing down the retrieve. Maybe you want to drop down a few feet just to see what's happening but don't want to be bothered with a lure change…if there's nothing doing, crank it back up and explore further up the water column.

Why Sluggos? Dunno…I've just had the most luck with them, I suppose. Yes, I use Fin-S and other plastic baits from time to time, especially when I want to try a new color, but Sluggos for some reason strike me as just the cat's nuts. Last year I started fooling around with the nine inch, trying it with the hook it came with in the package...a big, long bent shank number. But before long I reverted back to circles, which I use almost exclusively anymore. And, by the way, I know some folks have been critical of circle hooks tipped with plastic, but I've had no problems…or if I did, I never knew about them. I certainly didn't feel I was missing an excessive number of hookups or that my hookup-to-hits ratio had taken a downward turn.

I guess part of it is I just like the idea of bringing stripers in for release with a 6/0 circle tucked away in the corner of their mouths rather than down their gut or in a gill or elsewhere. And I have no doubt whatsoever that whatever the failings of circle hooks may be, they drastically reduce the number of gut hooked or bleeder fish. None of that, of course, is the result of scientific studies that I've been involved with. It's purely anecdotal and it's based solely on observations I've made since I've been using them regularly, which is about five years now. I've heard the arguments against but that hasn't been my experience so I guess I'll just stick with them.

Anyhow, here it is, August right around the corner, the water's heating up and the big fish have slipped away to slumberland. What to do? My advice is simple: Grab your gear, break out those jigs and plastic or rubber and head for the Cape Cod Canal. Bring some coffee and donuts and wait for slack tide…tie on that jig tipped with maybe a nine inch Sluggo and ease that baby through those riffles and semi-rips. Try that as darkness sets in or maybe a couple of hours before dawn...if the tides favor you that way. See if you can get there when the tide's about to start running east to west because the cooler waters from Cape Cod Bay will be pushing through there then and maybe that'll bring some of those Large out of hibernation.

At least, that's the method I favor to beat those August Doldrums. Tight lines.

July 15, 2016

Hey, Dad, I think I've Got a Big One!

by Jerry Vovcsko

Judging from the media coverage you might think Cape Cod waters are infested with great white sharks ever ready to gobble up any tourist bold enough stick a toe in the briny shallows. The reality is a bit less fearsome. The area most likely to receive visits from these apex predators is the stretch of beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean between, say, Wellfleet and Chatham. And to date local inhabitants and summer visitors alike possess enough digits to count the numbers of great whites dropping by for a visit.

That does raise the question, though, of just how many of these fearsome beasties can be found cruising nearby swimmers, surfers and paddle board aficionados on any given day. Well stand by to give a shout to those shark experts and local authorities who have taken another step towards better educating the public about the pelagic great whites. This week marks the debut of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's Sharktivity app. The app is a joint collaboration between the conservancy, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the Cape Cod National Seashore and local officials.

A press release from the Division of Marine Fisheries tells us that users will be able to view confirmed shark sightings via the app's mapping technology. Shark sightings by researchers on the water or beach managers and lifeguards on the shore, will trigger notification beach alerts via the app. App users are encouraged to act as citizen scientists and submit their own sightings (subject to official verification). The app will also include detection data from receivers in the water from Chatham to Provincetown that ping when a tagged shark passes. Although only tagged sharks are detected by the receivers, the information help researchers develop a better understanding of the habits of white sharks in the area.

Since the receivers were deployed at the end of May and researchers hit the water on June 16, shark activity has been strong. Scratchy, a 13-foot male white shark was the first shark to ping a receiver off Chatham on June 11. On June 27, the state's head shark expert Dr. Greg Skomal tagged his second shark of the season, an 11-foot white shark off Monomoy. He tagged the first one, a 12-foot male, on June 24 off Nauset Beach and named him Luke. Luke was first identified during the first year of the MA Division of Marine Fisheries's 5-year population study in 2014.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is clear to point out that the app is not an early detection system. It cannot foresee shark activity or determine which beaches are safest. The Sharktivity app is yet another educational tool put in place this summer by researchers and local officials. Earlier this season, the Town of Orleans debuted "Be Shark Smart" full-color posters at Nauset Beach. A menacing white shark glides across the posters, which contain safety tips about where and when to swim.

Nauset also flies the purple dangerous marine life flag, seen at many beaches, but theirs bears a white shark to further alert swimmers to the potential danger in the water. The ocean side towns that see the greatest shark activity including Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, as well as the Cape Cod National Seashore, all disseminate shark safety tips for swimmers. The app is currently only available for iPhone users at the iTunes Store. Although Android users will have to wait for their version, the data available through the iPhone app is also available on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy website.

Those great whites may be fearsome critters in their watery domain but, by golly, we human beings have got digital technology on our side as we try to improve the odds of survival when we head out to spend a hot summer day at the beach. The sharks might have razor sharp teeth but we've got iPhones!

Six-year-old Blake White, who was fishing with his family off Rock Harbor in Cape Cod Bay over the weekend didn't have an iPhone but he had to ask his dad for some help reeling in what they figured would be a jumbo striped bass, but after an hour of being towed around the bay Blake's dad, Lars White, realized he was going to need-a-bigger-boat than his 22-foot center console. Because what appeared on the surface was no striper but a twelve-foot great white. Lars told his boys to go to the center of the boat and sit down.

The shark hadn't swallowed the bait, it swam into the hook and spent an hour and a half trying to free itself, according to White. When the shark finally surfaced, Lars' wife, Nicole, took some photographs of their only catch of the day and then they cut their line and the shark swam away. Blake had hooked into the shark, which his father estimated was 10-12 feet long, at about 1:15 p.m. about a mile from Rock Harbor on the Eastham side, Lars White said.

White sent photos of the shark to the Atlantic Great White Shark Conservancy, a non-profit that researches the sharks off Cape Cod. State shark scientist Gregory Skomal confirmed in an email that he was aware of the report and that the shark in the photograph provided by White was a great white. But there have been no reports of somebody hooking into a great white so deep into Cape Cod Bay. Blake says he wants to go fishing again next weekend, but told his father "maybe we can catch something a little bit smaller."

Aside from catching great whites, what's happening these days on the salt water scene? Well, striper action in the Cape Cod Canal appears to be picking up a bit. Impending full moon tides may have something to do with that. Catches in the mid-thirties have been reported at local bait shops.

Some jumbo bluefish have been showing up in the rips south of Nantucket as well as off the south side of Martha's Vineyard. The Middlegound has offered up a nice mix of fluke and stripers depending on what the current's doing and Lucas Shoal remains a promising groundfish location. Striper fishing between Race Point and Herring Cove continues to produce – best times are dusk into the night hours.

Live eels worked around Cuttyhunk and Pasque Island have delivered bass up to forty pounds and the Buzzards Bay side of the Elizabeths is flush with sub-keeper size bass. Casting plugs into the rocks back there will provide plenty of catch-and-release action.

Not a lot of Bluefin tuna catches recently but yellowfin results have been strong south of the Vineyard as well as up around Stellwagen Bank. Anglers trying the flats around Monomoy Island have found stripers to be a bit skittish lately but considering the numbers of seals and great whites in the area, it's no wonder. Billingsgate has been productive for folks working tube-and-worm offerings and bluefish have been showing up around Sandy Neck Beach late in the afternoons.

The American League prevailed in the All-Star Game so home field advantage goes to whichever team wins the pennant. Could be the Red Sox…if the pitching holds up.

July 07, 2016

Orcas, Bonnies and Big Papi

by Jerry Vovcsko

Ever since the seal population exploded at the eastern end of Cape Cod there's been a concurrent rise in the number of great white sharks showing up in the waters around Chatham and Monomoy Island. And why not? The great white is an apex predator with almost no marine enemies to speak of. There is, however, one creature a lot higher on the food chain that treats great whites as so much chum and is known to casually torment and kill the big sharks with ease. That would be the killer whale, aka, the orca.

Bruce Peters has seen a lot of things in his 40 years as a skipper navigating Cape Cod waters. But earlier this week, in an interview with a reporter for a Cape newspaper, he said he witnessed what experts consider to be a rare event — watching as an orca cut through the waves, its slick black dorsal fin glistening as it pierced the sea's surface near Chatham's coastline.

"I'm 60 years old, have been fishing my entire life, and I've only seen them twice in my life," said Peters, who owns Capeshores Charters. "I was surprised."

Peters spotted the orca, a species commonly referred to as killer whales, while on a trip fishing for tuna roughly 15-miles east of Chatham, he said. When the orca suddenly appeared, Peters reacted just as quickly.

"I picked up my camera and took a picture," he said. He later posted the images to Facebook, where they were shared more than 1,500 times.

Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said the sighting was "very rare."

LaCasse said the last sighting in New England waters that he could recall was in 2014, when officials from the US Coast Guard came across orcas roughly 150 miles southeast of Nantucket. This is the first time in his 15 years at the Aquarium that he's heard of someone seeing a Killer Whale swimming so close to the shore. "It's exceptionally rare this close," he said.

It probably seems a bit odd to be talking about bonito on the Cape when we're only coming up on the second week of July. But, you know, this has been a very strange year with everything happening sooner than usual, so why not talk bonito? Normally, the tiny tunoids wouldn't be putting in an appearance much before the last week of July and wouldn't really show up in any numbers until after we'd turned the corner on August, but I expect we'll be hearing reports of a few stray arrivals any day now. So let's review:

First of all, we know that when schools of albies and bonnies start buzzing around the Sound it brings out the beast in some of our fellow skippers. Guys who normally hold the door for the little old lady pushing a shopping cart at the Stop & Shop suddenly grow fangs and foam at the mouth when the tuna fishies appear. My favorite, I believe, is the fella who came roaring up in a twenty- foot Regulator a couple of seasons back as a small fleet of boats gathered off Lackey's Bay where a school of bonnies was herding bait in circles.

Anglers aboard one of the boats were casting to breaking fish when the cowboy in the Regulator zoomed up, cut it too close and rammed them broadside. Not satisfied with those antics, the regulator skipper grabbed his rod and cast across the boat he'd just smashed into. Too bizarre? Nah…chalk it up to Bonito Fever. Look sharp, me lads, they'll be here any day now.

Although striper action has cooled a bit on the Sound side of the Cape, things are still popping on the back beaches and over to the north around Cape Cod Bay. Eels at night, live eels that is, are beginning to take their place as the bait de jour now that the herring and squid have departed for parts unknown. Around Provincetown, Wellfleet and Truro, stripers and blues are gorging themselves on sand eels and if you can't lay hands on any of the real thing, try to emulate the little sand burrowing eels with Deadly Dicks, Swedish Pimples and small Hopkins lures. Shiny narrow metal works very well this time of the season, although there are those who swear by SlugGos and Fin-S baits and take their share of big fish.

If you had in mind to try Provincetown Harbor this year, now's the time. Trolling jigs tipped with plastic can fetch up anything from a twenty-pound bass to a big doormat fluke and one of the secrets that the locals rarely share with part time visitors is that drifting a seaworm in these waters at night can be as close to a sure thing as it's liable to get. Select one of the bigger ones from your flat of worms and hook it along the head so it trails lengthwise in the water…you don't want it bunched up. Leave the tip of the hook barely sticking out and flip it up-current, then let it drift. If you see any hesitation or stoppage in the line's movement through the water, set your hook (or reel in steadily if you're using circle hooks…which I hope you are).

There's was an old timer from the Falmouth area who used to stock his freezer with fillets from big stripers by slow trolling a couple of lines from his fourteen-foot skiff with willow leaf spinners attached and a seaworm trailing from each. He dragged these up and down just outside the harbor and took keeper-size stripers as casually as though he were ordering them up at the local fish market. Thirty or forty years ago it was a common thing to see slow-moving lapstrake Lyman Islanders idling along at about a knot and a half, burning maybe a cup of gas a day, with their grizzled, old skippers pulling in fish after fish and selling their catch at the back door of the local seafood emporium. The technique worked back then; it'll work just as well today.

Anyhow, these days - and nights - the cooler waters of the backside still beckon to those who would pursue stripers from boat or surf. Head out toward Nauset, Orleans, Truro and P'town. Bring seaworms…lots of them. And don't forget those eels. The fish are there. Come and get them.

Meanwhile the David Ortiz farewell tour continues around the American League as Big Papi goes about wearing out opposing pitchers on a nightly basis. If the Sox ever get their own starting pitchers on track they could well be headed for another World Series appearance come October. The fishing's good and the Red Sox are on the march…must be summer in New England. Carry on.

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