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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 31, 2016

Weird Times in Cape Waters

by Jerry Vovcsko

When you get two weeks of air temperatures in the eighties and nineties it's only fair to expect local waters to warm up a bit. And right now Nantucket Sound registers 75-degrees at the NOAA buoy. So I suppose we can expect peculiar occurrences now and then. Like the manatee swimming around Chatham, and the great white shark looking for a meal about 4 feet from shore up at Race Point. Humpback whales foraging over near Stellwagen Bank? Sure, why not? Just another day in Cape Cod waters.

And it had been a slow day of tuna fishing for a group of friends bobbing in a boat 12 miles off the coast of Chatham this week. But then they witnessed a rare event — an apparent pod of killer whales swimming nearby as their vessel cut through the Cape Cod waters. Alex Wyckoff, 17, of Brewster, said he was on the "Fish Box," which launched from Nauset Marine East, in Orleans the other day when he and three friends spotted the orcas.

"We have seen white sharks, but since the whales are foreign to these waters for the most part, we were ecstatic," he told a Boston Globe reporter. "We didn't know they were orcas at first, because we only saw the spouts. But they ended up being very playful and swimming alongside the boat."

Some locals speculate that the orcas were drawn to the area because of the seal colonies that have taken up residence along the Cape's Atlantic-facing beaches. But marine scientists say the North Atlantic pods of killer whales are not the same as those on the Pacific coast and feed mainly on squid, fish and sea birds.

Well, today looks like one of those gray rain-lashed dreary days today. Good day to stay home and get some of those honey-do inside jobs finally taken care of. Or maybe spend some time cleaning out my office...when was it I was last able to actually see the top of my desk for all the junk piled up on it? The garden tools could use some maintenance, and I really ought to sharpen the kitchen knives; my wife said she'd have better luck slicing tomatoes with piece of broken glass than the dull blades nestled in the knife rack. Lots to choose from, which one to do? Heck with it, may as well go fishing.

No need to drive out to Nauset, Orleans or any of the back beaches right now. Lately they've been as dead as Cleopatra's cat. Chatham has been a bit more active but you pretty much need to be onboard a boat to do any serious business around there. Skip the Bathtub unless you're interested in small bluefish. The shallow waters in there are a mite warm for striper activity.

Great whites notwithstanding, Provincetown is still pretty active up around Race Point especially. Sand eels are the order of the day and a few skiff trollers have been doing business with rubber-tipped jigs, although there's more to that technique than meets the eye. And I still urge folks to try the old-timer's method of trolling a willow-leaf spinner rig, red beads and all, with two or three sandworms trailing from a 3/0 hook. Funny how such an effective method all but vanished from the scene. Maybe because trolling, for a lot of anglers, isn't nearly as much fun as chucking lures into the surf. But one thing I know, if you need a decent sized bass for the grill, there are two ways to pretty much guarantee success. One is, of course, the tube 'n worm. And the other, to my mind, is that willow leaf spinner rig. Pull that around real slow close to any kind of bass structure - rocks, weed beds, a fast moving rip - and there's a good chance you'll have bass for the grill.

There I go spinning off on fishy tangents again. The subject at hand, naturally, is: Where's a good place to find fish this time of year? Well, I'd say a good bet right now is the Cape Cod Canal. And the best way to go about it, especially for those folks not entirely familiar with the Canal, is jig and rubber. Specifically, depending on speed of the current going through there, a jig somewhere between an ounce and a half and four ounces. Hang a SlugGo on your jig - nine inch version - these are big fish that hang in the Canal - and try to get it down near the bottom by casting slightly up-current and retrieving just fast enough to keep from getting hung up on the rocks, lobster pots and other debris that litter the bottom. And bear in mind that if you aren't getting hung up and losing a jig or two, you probably aren't getting down deep enough. Lost jigs are simply the cost of doing business in the Canal.

If you don't have any favored Canal spots, try around the bridges, including the Railroad Bridge. There are some deep, current-scoured holes around there and the Large bass like to sit down there waiting for the tide to bring dinner along. Pick up a map of the Canal at one of the local bait shops. The map will show you where places like the Cribbin, Murderer's Row, One Hundred Steps, The Mussel Bed and others are located. Best time to hit it is just before or just after turn-of-tide when the slack water lets you get down deep and work your jig near the bottom.

Some bonito showing up in Nantucket Sound lately. Out a little ways from Lackey's Bay is worth a try. And they're catching them on the Vineyard from shore as well as from boats. The Elizabeth Islands continue to produce stripers; the islands are probably the best bet right now what with the high water temps in the Sound. Find moving water and work those rips for good results. So many bluefish around that there's no point in suggesting where-to-go spots; just cast in any direction and a bluefish is liable to show up and take a whack at your plug.

In Cape Cod Bay Billingsgate is probably your likliest shot at stripers. And I've preached tube and worm for so long that there's no point in my mentioning it again. But tube & worm is your best bet…there, I said it again.

I almost hate to bring it up, but we're about to turn the corner into September, which as everyone on the Cape knows, is pre-migration. When it happens, the fishing turns from pretty damn good to FANTASTIC. Unfortunately, what follows is the lead in to winter, the dreaded time when north winds blow, snow piles up and anything wet turns to ice. So get out there now while the getting's good. That's what I'm going to do as soon as I put this honey-do list back where it belongs: under the stack of bills I should probably do something about one of these days.

August 25, 2016

Eels? What Eels?

by Jerry Vovcsko

Got a phone call from my son Mark last night. He lives down in New Orleans and went with a buddy up one of the Ponchartrain estuaries chasing redfish. They did okay, taking five apiece. Mark said he was checking the stomach contents on a ten pounder and jumped about a foot when a half-dead, two-foot-long water snake spilled out on the cleaning table. I told him to try to get hold of some live eels for the next trip out.

He said, "Dad, they don't sell eels in any of the bait shops down here."

Go figure that one. I consider it blasphemy.

On the local scene, the action is heavy at the canal, especially during the west tides. Plastic baits, such as nine inch Sluggos are a good first choice. Jigs in the three-ounce size range come into play when the current picks up and big swimming plugs make a pretty good backup. Carry a few metal slabs with you as there are some bites where only those seem to work. Pip's Rip and the area around the former Joe's Fish Market are good starting points.

Lately big schools of bluefish along with pods of Large stripers have been showing up on-and-off up around Race Point and Newcomb Hollow. Too early to be forming up for the start of the migration. Later, as that begins, they'll be working their way south along the outside beaches all the way down from P'town to Monomoy. Night fishing along there is at its best this time of year and those fish are hungry as they cruise by.

Around Vineyard Sound over near Woods Hole and on into Buzzards Bay there have been sightings and a lonely few catches of Spanish mackerel. Albies are turning up here and there these days and school blues continue to turn up in school numbers. Blind casting gives an angler a fifty-fifty chance of turning up good results because there seem to be more bluefish around than typical for this time of year.

Tautog fishing around the traditional places - Cleveland Ledge, the Weepeckets and the northern end of Buzzards Bay - is spotty but flounder catches are picking up and seem to be improving daily.
There was a nice school of stripers up around Sandy Neck last weekend and they appeared to move westward toward Scorton Creek judging by the catches reported along the way. Monomoy right now is another good location for boat anglers but action along the Elizabeth Islands has slowed lately. The islands will turn on again, though, before the season is over as the southern end is traditionally a staging area for bass before they leave for the year.

Remember the good old days when we used to scoop up as much tinker mackerel as we needed and liveline the little guys for big bass? Where have all the mackerel gone? We're into that time now where the shores along the western part of Vineyard Sound, from West Chop to Devil's Bridge and from Woods Hole to Cuttyhunk, are alight with striper activity. Nearly any place along there that an angler chooses to wet a line is potentially likely to produce striped bass. But to nail down the possibilities to as close to a sure-thing event as striper fishing gets, try some live eels. At night.

Scout out a couple good possibilities during the day. Look for spots where rips show up when the current gets moving, and try to locate rocky, weedy or sand bar structure points. Find those combinations of conditions and you've found the places where the big bass lurks waiting to ambush whatever nature's buffet brings their way. Bass aren't stupid but they are lazy. So why chase something small when you can make a very fine meal out of a snake-size eel that swims past right in front of your nose?

Some say that female bass especially become enraged at the very sight of an eel because eels are predators that feed on striper young during spawning season. Dunno about that but some of the most explosive hits I've had came on a live eel swimming around in striper territory. Always seemed to me the fish had a little more fervor in their strikes than when I was livelining, say, a herring or scup. So maybe there's something to the eel-as-enemy story.

My own preference for location has always been along the shoreline between Robinson's and Quick's Holes down at the southern end of the Elizabeth islands. I don't know of another place on the planet that holds bigger concentrations of Large bass than this area during the summer season. The habitat is perfect for stripers, boulder-strewn with lots of bait swimming around and currents galore. An answer to a fisherman's wish-list if ever there was one.

A little further south, of course, is Cuttyhunk and that is, to my mind, the absolute Mecca of striped bass fishing. A place that every fisherman should visit at least once a year. Problem is, it's a little more open to the Atlantic and while Sow and Pigs reef has over the years offered up as many fifty-pound-plus stripers, it is also a potentially treacherous spot that can turn malevolent in an eye-blink. Which is why I suggest the Robinson's-Quick's shoreline. Sling an eel into the rocks along there just before or just after dusk and chances of a hook up with something Large are as good as anywhere around Cape Cod.

And when you visit the bait shop try to make sure a few of the eels you buy are snake-size. I know the argument continues as to whether or not size is important, but I'm definitely on the side of: When it comes to eels, yes it matters. The biggest bass I've caught up to came on the biggest eels I fished. Coincidence? Maybe, but I feel better when there are at least a couple eels in the bucket fourteen inches or more.

August 15, 2016

The Year Of the Shark-

by Jerry Vovcsko

It seems 2016 might well be viewed as the Year of the Shark. We've had the great whites dining on whales and seals off Chatham; town beaches closed from Duxbury to Nantasket; threshers and makos cavorting in Cape Cod Bay and anglers catching brown sharks in numbers off Martha's Vineyard. And now the news arrives that a female Greenland shark living in the icy cold waters of the Arctic was the Earth's oldest living animal with a backbone. They estimated that the gray shark, part of the species named after Greenland, was born in the icy waters roughly 400 years ago, and died only recently which puts that species right at the top of the longevity list. And here I'm feeling ancient at a puny 79 years old.

Wildlife closer to home showed up near the doorstep of some startled city folk last week. A Quincy family had a bit of a scare when they spotted a timber rattlesnake outside their home Thursday evening, police said. Around dusk, a resident of Grove Street called police about the snake, according to Quincy Police Captain John Dougan. Dougan said police called Massachusetts Environmental Police, who released the snake back into the Blue Hills Reservation, where the snakes can commonly be found. Dougan speculated that the snake may have been searching for water in the drought and ventured into the Quincy neighborhood.

Sharks and snakes: not very reassuring, I'd say. But how's the fishing here in mid-August? Let's have a look:

Anglers working the waters of the Cape Cod Canal have been doing alright with topwater lures in the morning hours. And local lads lobbing live eels at the west end near the Mass Maritime Academy managed to take a couple of thirty pound stripers as a result of their nocturnal efforts. And up around the Sandwich basin area at the east end of The Ditch occasional forays by mackerel have been providing excellent livelining opportunities for folks doing business between the jetty and the entrance to the harbor.

Plenty of school stripers in Buzzards Bay right now and there are lots of them congregated around The Knob outside Quissett Harbor. The sheltered nature of The Knob makes for quality fly fishing, especially around dusk when the prevailing southwest winds tend to lay down a bit.

Nantucket Sound is bluefish, bluefish, bluefish. Three and four-pound blues cruise around Nobska Point and larger blues – five pounds and up – can be found around the Martha's Vineyard shoreline. The Elizabeth Islands continue to offer up striped bass that may range from twenty-six inches to upwards of thirty pounds with the bigger bass generally taken down toward Quicks Hole and the Cuttyhunk area.

And speaking of the Elizabeth Islands. I have written extensively about that area. And with good reason as I consider it one of the most striper-productive areas in Cape Cod waters. But it does come with a caveat or two. The island chain runs from Woods Hole channel westerly to Sow and Pigs Reef at the far end of Cuttyhunk. It is strewn with rocks, boulders, ledges and all manner of excellent structure that returning striped bass are happy to call home. The trick for angling success is to cast into those rocks, boulder, etc., and get one's lure right up practically on the beach before starting the retrieve. The bass hang in there that close to shore.

Problem is, the stretch of shoreline is open to prevailing southwest winds and it's easy in the excitement of landing a fish to forget that somebody has to pay attention to keeping the boat off those rocks. Last week the Coast Guard was called out to rescue some fishermen who got a little careless and put their twenty-three foot center console onto the rocks along Nonamessett Island.

The Coasties sent a forty-five-foot response boat to the scene and considered sending a rescue swimmer in to shore to bring the stranded anglers out, one at a time. But brisk winds and choppy surf put the kibosh on that plan. Then an Aids to Navigation Team Woods Hole crew launched a 20-foot shallow-draft boat to assist. The rescue swimmer brought the four to a cove a half mile north where they were picked up by the shallow-draft boat crew. A commercial craft pulled their boat back off the rocks later.

Moral of the story is: Very often the best fishing can be found in locations that may be pretty sketchy for boats so Pay Attention!

August 09, 2016

Stripers, Funny Fish and a Whale Blubber Meal

by Jerry Vovcsko

Those of us who pursue the finny denizen that inhabit local waters are used to working hard to tempt those fish to take our baits or lures and thus be captured for sport or a rendezvous with the backyard grill. But last week Cape Cod anglers experienced a strange, new phenomenon: namely, fish leaping out of the water at their feet. Yessir, all along Nauset Beach hundreds of ten to fifteen-inch Atlantic Menhaden, frantic and desperate, flung themselves onto the beach in an attempt to escape a mix of hungry striped bass and bluefish that were herding the menhaden toward the shore.

New England Aquarium biologists say this kind of behavior is fairly common although we humans rarely get to witness it. Biologists said blues actually work together, trapping schools of menhaden against a shoreline, a possible scenario that occurred at the Orleans beach. Although it looks dire, the menhaden jump out of the water onto the shore in an effort to avoid attack

"What appears to be a suicidal act to people, actually might offer a slim but better chance at survival as an incoming tide, the next lapping wave and some flopping around might eventually get the fish back into the water after the predator has departed," the scientists say.

Menhaden or pogies are a foundation fish species on the marine food chain. In addition to blues and stripers, they are also eaten by sharks, tuna, whales, seals and seabirds during the summer in New England.

Speaking of sharks (which we seem to be doing with ever-increasing frequency these days), six great whites were seen chowing down on a Minke whale carcass this past week off Truro. The sharks had removed the tongue, internal organs, and most of the muscle," local officials said in a statement.

"The carcass was still floating, but was essentially little more than the spinal column and skull."¬

Three Truro beaches had been closed when the sharks were sighted but opened the next days. I guess the beach-master figured the great whites wouldn't need to eat any swimmers after guzzling down that much whale blubber.

The Canal looks to be cranking up the action now that mackerel and herring are around to serve as floating buffet lines for stripers and blues. Some of the bass caught topped the forty-inch mark and it's good to see the increased activity after a couple less-than-robust weeks of Canal fishing. Over around the big islands (The Vineyard and Nantucket) there's been an outbreak of brown shark action reported during the nocturnal hours and bluefish have been providing sport for locals and visitors as the warmer waters in the Sound lull striped bass into somnolence and ennui.

But that will change in another month as the stripers begin packing away extra calories in preparation for the return journey home. The Great Fall Migration offers some of the very best striper fishing on the east coast and it's not that far off. Right now it's the start of Funny-Fish hijinks in Nantucket Sound and there have already been bonito and Spanish Mackerel taken along with the reports of the first false albacore boated near Lackey's Bay.

There are bluefish in the rips out behind Nantucket Island with Old Man's Rip harboring some double-digit blues in the standing waves. Blues and bass are also coming out of Wasque lately although anglers have to work through bass in the 24 to 26-inch range in order to find a keeper or two. There have been some nice striped bass taken from the boulders around Penikese Island last weekend and once in a while a jumbo tautog will take an interest in a plug cast into those rocks providing a nice serendipity effect.

Bonito are arriving in numbers around Nomans Island and they'll be moving into the Sound along about mid-week. The Buzzards Bay side of the Elizabeth Islands have been flush with school-size stripers although some big guys were taken on live eels in Quicks Hole and on big swimming plugs around the southwest corner of Robinsons Hole.

The charter skippers occasionally pull forty-pound-plus stripers from the reef at Sow and Pigs but they actually do better when southwest winds churn things up around there. It's worth taking one of those charter trips just to see an old timer out of Mattapoisett back his bass boat into the boulders on a pitch-black night with the wind ripping thirty knots and rain pouring down.

They'll rig a big swimming plug on wire line and feed it out over the stern…when the line feels like it's "thrumming" just so, a strike usually comes soon after and bass up to fifty and sixty pounds have been known to get pulled out of there. Not for the amateur, perhaps, but those who know the reef score big when wind and tide combine on a night that ends up putting fish – big fish- in the boat.

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