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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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August 30, 2015

Lobsters On the March and You're Fired!

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Boston Globe ran a lengthy article a few days ago describing the crash of lobster stocks in southern New England while at the same time the lobster population has simply exploded in the cold waters off Maine and further north. What's the answer? Well, to some scientists, the geographic shift points to the warming of the ocean.

Whatever the reason, the result is the driving of lobstermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island out of business, ending a centuries-old way of life for them.

‘‘It's a shame,'' said Jason McNamee, chief of marine resource management for Rhode Island's Division of Fish and Wildlife. ‘‘It's such a traditional, historical fishery.''

In 2013, the number of adult lobsters in New England south of Cape Cod slid to about 10 million, just one-fifth the total in the late 1990s, according to a report issued by regulators in July. The lobster catch in the region sank to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, from a peak of about 22 million in 1997.

The declines are ‘‘largely in response to adverse environmental conditions, including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years,'' along with continued fishing, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said in a summary of the report.

But in northern New England, meanwhile, the bad news for southern New England lobstermen signals a bonanza for Maine fishermen who have landed more than 100 million pounds of lobster for four years in a row, by far the highest four-year haul in the state's history.

‘‘It very much looks like what you would expect from a species that is responding to a warming ocean: It's going to move toward the poles,'' said Andy Pershing, chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute of Portland, Maine.

‘‘The wheelhouse of the lobster fishery has shifted north,'' said Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and chairman of the Atlantic States commission's lobster management board.

Maybe the lobster stocks are in decline in Cape waters, but there's no shortage of sharks…and once again bathers at Coast Guard Beach were ordered out of the water for about an hour last week after a lifeguard observed a pool of blood near a group of seals. Swimmers were allowed back in the water about an hour later.

Some may wonder if the bluefish are starting to sense the start of the fall migration coming in view. I mention it because there's been an awful lot of action in Nantucket Sound featuring blues driving bait every which way recently. Blues in the Sound and stripers schooling up in Cape Cod Bay…sure sounds like pre-migration activity. Maybe the big southward runs will be starting a tad early this year.

Once again, working live eels at night is a good way to tie into some of those cow bass that will be feeding heavily in anticipation of the journey back to whence they came from last spring. The Cape Cod Canal continues to feature pre-dawn topwater action but live eels and deep-down jigging come into their own during nocturnal visits to The Ditch.

School bass are around in massive numbers the length of Buzzards Bay. From the western shores of the Elizabeth Islands on up to the lower end of the Canal, non-keeper size stripers are everywhere in numbers. Makes local anglers optimistic about the future of the striper stocks to see all those little guys milling around.

Lots of bait fish around in Nantucket Sound as well as throughout Cape Cod Bay. On the ocean-facing beaches folks pitching live eels have been doing very well from dusk into the night time hours. Swimming a big snake around and into the holes and sandbars on a flood tide is very likely to produce a rod-bending strike from bait-guzzling stripers up to and including the occasional forty pound version.

Meanwhile, end-to-end in Nantucket Sound, the funny fish have taken up residence and are at peak activity levels right now. Bonito and allbies abound, especially in that stretch of the Sound between Waquoit Bay and Woods Hole. Pitching a lure into one of their lightning-fast, bait-driving swarms can bring exciting, line-sizzling runs from those torpedo shaped speedsters.

And with a little luck, hooking up with one of the five-pounds-and-up critters can produce a reel screamer of breathtaking proportions. Folks who tangle with one of these guys for the first time – even experienced anglers – have been known to become paralyzed by the speed of the initial run and freeze while line melts off the reel like butter in the noonday sun. Yep, the funny fish are here and they won't be around for long so get them while the getting's good.

And finally, a word about DeflateGate…the more transcripts and documents that emerge from the hearings in Judge Berman's court, the clearer it becomes that Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL are on a mission to get-the-Patriots. As that fact becomes embarrassingly clear, it might be that Rodger the Artful Dodger will soon have lots of time to spend getting after those north-bound stripers himself because his handling of the Peterson-Rice-Brady situations may well end up in the immortal words of one D. Trump: "You're fired!"

August 27, 2015

2015 Mass Commercial Striped Bass Fishery Closed

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) announced last week that the 2015 commercial striped bass fishery is closed for the season. The closure went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday the 21st. At that time DMF anticipated that the season quota of 869,813 pounds will have been taken.

Now through the opening of the 2016 commercial striped bass fishery, fishermen are prohibited from possessing more than one striped bass at least 28 inches in length, a DMF release said. Fishermen are also prohibited from selling or attempting to sell any striped bass in Massachusetts.

In addition to the ban on the taking of striped bass, seafood dealers in Massachusetts are also prohibited from purchasing or receiving striped bass from fishermen until the 2016 season opens. During this period, dealers may possess and sell imported striped bass, according to the release. Imported bass must have been legally caught in another state and be tagged with the state of origin. If resold whole, the tag must remain attached to the fish, DMF said. If the fish is processed after it is imported, fillet containers must bear appropriate tags and the original tag from the whole fish must be kept by the dealer.

Through Tuesday, August 25, all striped bass in the possession of dealers, caught locally or otherwise, must be a minimum of 34 inches in length. Beginning Wednesday, August 26, dealers may import "sub-legal" sized fish as approved by the state of origin.

The two other commercial fisheries that are currently closed are scup (Winter I) and tautog. All other fisheries, including black sea bass, bluefish and dogfish remain open.
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August 17, 2015

The Old Tacklebox

by Jerry Vovcsko

I was cleaning out my ancient, wood tackle box the other day and as each fresh-water lure emerged I felt like I was taking a time-trip all the way back to kid-hood. First out of the box was that old faithful Jitterbug, the green and white one that took my first largemouth bass, a three pound beauty that to my nine-year old eyes looked like a world record candidate…or a state record at least.

That fish hit the J-Bug as it churned along the eastern edge of Sunken Island in Otsego Lake wobbling like a demented minnow, its concave metal lip spraying water left and right as it burbled along. I worried that the reel would seize, the line would snap or some other catastrophe would happen. But it didn't and I landed my (up to that time) biggest-ever-fish.

A battered red-and-white Dardevle followed the Jitterbug out of the box and recalled my first pickerel, an event that made me feel the way big game hunters must feel when they bag their first rhino. The pickerel came rocketing out of the weed bed like a piscatorial torpedo, all tooth and attitude, but the classic old spoon stood up to the strike and before long that toothy fish took its place on the stringer and, later, on the family dinner plate, bones and all.

A Rapala minnow appeared next, roughly chewed up as though Dracula himself had sharpened his incisors on its back and sides. Somewhere among the myriad teeth marks were those left by my first pike…a fish that I viewed as a pickerel on steroids. It exploded on the Rapala on a quiet lake situated near the Adirondacks in upstate New York one evening around sunset. No camera was handy but no matter, I have that image burned irrevocably in my memory banks as vividly as if it were on Kodak color film.

Yep, that old tacklebox holds a lot of memories…feather-light cork poppers that annoyed a few smallmouth bass into ill-considered strikes that landed them in my old, black, cast iron skillet, nicely coated in corn meal and bacon fat. My first bucktail jig…a lure that every angler insisted should be the top choice if only one lure was available. It took me a more than a few decades to learn how to work it…and then it became my go-to lure forever after.

As a carpenter loves his tools, I admire the form and function of these old standbys. Every so often I get them out and handle them just to be carried back in time to when I was a youngster falling under the spell of what would be an activity to last me a lifetime. I started at seven years old on a lake that James Fenimore Cooper wrote about in his Leatherstocking Tales novels…seventy years later that old tackle box stands as an archive of the memories of an Old Timer looking back fondly at his days spent fishing.

But that was then, this is now and what's happening in and around Cape Cod waters these days?

For one thing, sharks are on everyone's mind once again. According to a release from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), researchers spotted almost twenty sharks off Chatham last week. And tourists were mightily entertained by one of those Great Whites demolishing a seal just off Coast Guard Beach. Summertime beach goers seem to have adapted to the presence of sharks sharing the ocean with them. Let's hope the Great Whites continue to demonstrate their menu preference for seals and leave the visiting bathers alone.

Once again stripers set up shop in the middle of the Cape Cod Canal and teased shore-bound anglers by staying just out of reach of all but the most talented distance casters. Double-digit bass worked over baitfish on the early morning hours but reaching out and touching one of the jumbos takes real skill. Pencil poppers and metal slabs are best bets for this type of canal fishing.

The funny fish are arriving in numbers now and the back sides of the big islands are heating up for both albies and bonito. Fluke on the Middleground continue to provide action along with scup and the occasional black sea bass.

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth experienced a federally mandated shutdown this past weekend as they are mandated to shut the plant down if water temperatures climb higher than 75 degrees. The shutdown was only the second in 43 years. No wonder the striped bass have been lethargic and hard to find. Whatever one's opinion about global warming, these kinds of water temperatures are not good news. The action for stripers was a little more positive in the cooler waters of Cape Cod Bay and the tube and worm crowd working out on Billingsgate Shoal did about as well as anywhere around the Cape.

The Elisabeth Islands saw slow going for stripers but more bluefish turned up mixed in with the occasional bass. Keeper-sized fish have been few and mainly down around Quicks and Robinsons holes as well as during the night tides on Sow and Pigs reef. Unfortunately, Sow and Pigs is no place for on the job training during the nocturnal hours.

Hire-a-guide is my best advice about this destination. A southwest breeze against a westerly tide can turn the place into a real churning cauldron and hidden boulders have put many a sea-going vessel on the rocks over the centuries. Forty pound bass aren't uncommon on the reef but, once again just to be clear, if you're thinking about fishing Sow and Pigs at night, be smart and hire a guide.

Looks to me like the DeflateGate saga is headed for trial in Judge Berman's court and most probably later on in Federal Appeals Court. Today's toddlers may be pre-teens before this thing sees final resolution. Just imagine how motivated Bill and Tom are to garner that fifth Super Bowl ring now.

August 08, 2015

The Chilly Outside Waters Heat Up

by Jerry Vovcsko

Hard to believe summer is half over…seems we‘d been waiting for it ever since the last snowstorm buried us. But here we are with water temperatures in Nantucket Sound clocking in at a tepid seventy-five degrees. And Buzzard Bay's just about the same. It's maybe a few degrees cooler in Cape Cod Bay but not very much.

Striped bass are less than pleased when the waters heat up and they tend to seek out the deeper, cooler haunts. Best bet now for topwater action is right around first light, which is the order of the day in such spots as along the Elizabeth Island chain; in the Cape Cod Canal; over around Monomoy Island and the big islands, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

The first visitors from the funny-fish contingent have begun straggling in…false albacore catches, although sparse, have been reported along the south side of the Vineyard, around Nomans Island and in the rips south of Nantucket. Pretty soon we'll see pods of the little tunoids turning up around Woods Hole and Lackey's Bay. Bonito should follow close behind and may well already have a few scouts in the area.

Bluefish pretty much take over the action in Nantucket Sound nowadays and there'll be some jumbo blues turning up as the season moves along. It's hard to accept t6hat the days – hot and sunny now – are getting shorter, but the clocks don't lie. Before long the kids will be heading back to school and anglers will begin turning their attention to that mega-event, The Great Fall Migration! But there's still time to get in some fishing before that happens and one of the areas that typically lights up now is along the outside beaches.

The stretch from Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro on down to Chatham sees the action heating up. Sand eels and mackerel baits work wonders along with live eels and sandworms. This is also a time when big plugs tossed into the surf produce keeper-and-above sized bass. Those holes and sandbars come into play for anglers who take the time to scout along the beaches during low tide.

Nauset and Chatham turn on for striped bass and the occasional jumbo bluefish, seals and great white sharks notwithstanding. It's no coincidence that highliner surf casters ply their trade starting at dusk and morphing into the night shift. That's when the stripers are active and feeding

Over on the Cape Cod Bay side Barnstable Harbor offers plenty of action for school bass and bluefish. Bottom fishing remains excellent around wreck structure with scup, flatfish and black sea bass in numbers where the Coast Guard sunk the remains of the James Longstreet, former bombing target for pilots-in-training. Occasionally hake, Pollock and dogfish will swallow a bait in this location.

On the Sound side, Handkerchief Shoals and the stretch along South Cape Beach have been bluefish magnets lately and some jumbo blues have been trolled up on hoochies and Christmas tree rigs. Jigging around the Waquoit jetty area continues to deliver bluefish almost at will and flattening the barbs makes release less of a headache when a bluefish with a mouthful of sharp teeth is thrashing around in the boat.

There's a nice combination of tuna and bluefish action around the Hooter and the strong currents in deep water make Muskegat Channel a productive striper producer when the tide is right. Those rips behind Nantucket _ Old Man's Rip in particular – hold an active population of bass and blues right now. Just keep a weather eye peeled as the winds do make up in a hurry and they can turn mighty fierce this time of year.

The northern reaches of Buzzards Bay with all the harbors and inlets that stretch from Old Silver Beach down to Quisset Harbor offer plenty of wind-protected fishing for fly rod aficionados. And speaking of the long-wand crowd, I saw an elderly gent working out on stripers on the Brewster Flats last week. He ambled out with the ebb tide and came back in on the flood. Took a heckuva lot of small stripers along the way and released them all. But, kids, if you try this method, pay attention to the water behind you…the Flats have an unsettling knack of filling tidal channels that cut you off from shore if you aren't watching-your-six. That can be lethal to folks hoofing it while clad in waders.

I'm guessing that we hear this week about a deal between the Tom Brady camp and Roger Goodell's forces-of-darkness. And if my speculation is correct, here will be no suspensions for TB. I doubt the League wants this hag-ridden suit to stagger into a real court because the more information that emerges, the more it looks like the whole thing was concocted by Goodell and his minions to sock it to the Patriots. But I could be wrong…I remember one time when I was…I think it was back in '83.

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