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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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September 29, 2014

Autumn Comes to Call

by Jerry Vovcsko

So we lost our shot at black sea bass when their season closed for 2014 last week. And now fluke is done for as well so I guess that leaves tautog as the main bottom-fishing target the rest of this year. And that's OK because ‘tog are pretty tasty in the skillet, on the grill, or as a welcome addition to the classic bouillabaisse dish. It shouldn't be any surprise that a fish that feeds primarily on shellfish is going to have a very flavorful taste itself. And if tautog could select their own diet it would be First: green crabs and, Second, anything else that wears a shell.

Best thing about ‘tog is they're pretty much ubiquitous in Cape waters. They can be found in Buzzards Bay over around the Weepeckett Islands, up near Cleveland Ledge and even in Woods Hole channel itself especially near the massive rock ledges just off Broadway, although the fierce currents that pour through there make it a real challenge to fish from a small boat. Still, one of the constant sights on weekends throughout the summer, was the twelve foot skiff anchored up at the edge of the channel with five guys Oriental hauling in scup and ‘tog, currents-be-dammed. I always figured one Monday morning I'd be reading about them under the headline "Five Fishermen Drown in Woods Hole Tragedy"… but so far their luck seems to have held.

It's not just Buzzards Bay that harbors tautog. Corporation Beach near Dennis in Cape Cod Bay has a healthy population of ‘tog and folks that fish the wreck of the James Longstreet are on familiar terms with these toothy fish. And there are some good sized specimens located on the remains of the venerable old target ship. When you can drop a line and stand a good chance of tangling with a ‘tog that registers in the double-digit weight class you're really saying something…and each summer there are at least a couple of jumbos that tip the scales past ten pounds. Again, green crabs are the preferred bait for most highliners, but seaworms, clam bellies and squid strips are known to work as well. In Nantucket Sound locating ‘tog is as simple as finding good rocky bottom structure: Nobska Light, Hedge Fence Shoal and the Middleground come to mind but any rock-strewn place will do.

Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Canal: The Canal lit up last week as schools of small baitfish moved into the Ditch and brought stripers in after them. Some Large bass found their way onto anglers' lines, including a pair of forty-pound-plus fatties. Jigging during the night time hours was one route to success and the banks of the Canal proved useful to a number of locals who specialize in pursuing bass getting ready for the migration back to home waters. Buzzards Bay would likely see more striper action but heavy winds have been making things rough for the small boat flotilla that usually pursue late season bass.

Bonito and false albacore continue to provide plenty of action for those able to get out on Nantucket Sound these days. And there are still bluefish around which is no surprise as long as water temperatures continue to hover in the mid-sixties. This a pretty good time to explore some of the estuaries along the south side of the Cape. Such places as Great Pond in Falmouth and Waquoit Bay further east harbor surprisingly big bass and offer protection from windy conditions out on the open waters of the Sound. These two estuaries are fed by the Coonamesset and Eel rivers, respectively and stripers will hang around the mouths of these rivers waiting for baitfish to emerge. It pays to work live eels around there from dusk into the night hours.

Sunday's eighty-degree air temperatures and sunshine brought out large numbers of beach goers and the parking lots was filled at Race Point. About thirty feet off from the beach a six-foot shark frolicked in the shallows. Bathers didn't seem perturbed by its presence and apparently remained oblivious to the possibility that it was a juvenile shark whose much bigger parent might just be nearby. It seems we've grown pretty blasé about the presence of creatures we once referred to as "man eaters". But one of these days I fear some random great white is going to make its presence known by dining on a visitor from Kansas or Nebraska and our casual attitudes will undergo a serious makeover. In the meantime, there are lots of bluefish feeding on mackerel in the Race Point area…an afternoon spent plug casting from boat or beach can result in sore arms indeed after battling these feisty blues.

So we're entering the last days of the 2014 fishing season around Cape Cod, and, coincidentally, Derek Jeter finished off his two-decade long career with a three game series at Fenway Park. Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees had banner seasons this year and they're going to be hitting the golf links while others get ready for the playoffs. But they'll both be back in 2015…just like the new cycle of striped bass emerging from their spawning grounds in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, we'll soon put away the surf gear and get ready to break out the tip-ups and power ice augers for that time when ponds and lakes freeze over and winter shuts down all but the hardiest among us. Thanks for the memories, 2014…looking forward to meeting you, 2015. Tight lines, everyone.

September 24, 2014

South Seas Dreaming

by Jerry Vovcsko

Although the buoy in Nantucket Sound reads in the mid-sixties right now, water temperatures in Cape waters have been trending downward for the past couple of weeks. The weather gurus tell us the upcoming weekend will feel like summer revisited and undoubtedly the beaches will be clogged with sun-seekers, but, ladies and gents, there's no getting around it: fall is right around the corner. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The fall migration is ranked second only to spring in terms of red hot fishing action her on the Cape but when the striped bass and bluefish depart for points south it will start the clock ticking for local anglers counting down to May 2015 and the return of saltwater action for another year.

Right now, though, there are still fish to be caught. False albacore have staked out territory in Nantucket Sound and Buzzards Bay providing real thrills for anglers hooking up with the tunoid speedsters on light gear. That sizzling first run is not-to-be-forgotten experience for the fortunate few who happen find an albie at the end of their line. Deadly Dicks, Kastmasters, Hopkins lures and the like provide plenty of distance when long range throws are needed such as when pods of albies are bait-busting out a ways in the Cape Cod Canal. An extra ten or twenty feet can make the difference between successful hookup or big time frustration and the metal slabs can reach out and touch an albie where a plug falls aggravatingly short of the action.

Striped bass have been somewhat angler-shy since the dreaded doldrums descended on Cape waters. Things will get better as the migration picks up steam but for now bass can best be found down along the Elizabeth Island chain between Woods Hole and Cuttyhunk. Charter boats have been taking twenty and thirty pound stripers in the Quicks Hole area and along the western shoreline of Martha's Vineyard. Drifting with live eels has brought good results lately and the rocky shoreline around Cuttyhunk and Pasque Island lends itself to this method of striper gathering.

Bass, blues and an assortment of funny fish are making themselves available over around Nantucket Island and there are plenty of jumbo-size bluefish cavorting in the rips south of the big island. Nantucket Sound between Falmouth and the mouth of the Bass River has been a lively scene with action provided by a mixed bag of bass, blues, bonito and albies with reports of a school of jack crevalle working over baitfish on the surface just off Waquoit Bay. It seems each year new visitors from southern waters turn up locally…one of these years we may wake up some morning and find bonefish finning along on the Mashnee Flats. Hey, it could happen. It wasn't that long ago that the idea of Spanish mackerel in local waters was considered nuts; now it's an event that barely registers on the Odd-O-Meter.

The outside beaches are a hit-or-miss proposition as migrating stripers coming down from northern waters light up the fishing for the surfcasting crowd, but pickings are lean in between schools. Some of the bigger bass have been taken on live eels drifted during the nighttime hours and a plus-thirty pound striper was netted from the beach a little south of Peaked Hill Bars. Race Point sees on-again, off-again striper activity with the occasional appearance of bluefish and a few locals managed to coax a nice catch of keeper size fluke from Provincetown Harbor.
Cape Cod Bay continues to offer up striped bass in the Billingsgate channel, along the edge of the Brewster Flats and over at Scorton Ledge. It's mostly tube-and-worm or live eels in these places with some plug casting for schoolie stripers around Barnstable Harbor.

Chatham and Monomoy continue to produce stripers although there hasn't been much lately in the way of size. Plenty of schoolie bass around the Monomoy Flats and the seal colony presents quite an obstacle for returning stripers…maybe one of the scientists monitoring the comings and goings of the great white sharks will take the time to do a study on how many stripers are consumed by the seals that have taken up residence along the Chatham beaches. I think they'll find that a lot of fish are ending up in the gullets of these seals but the government lads say hands-off the seals, so what are you gonna do?

The leaves are turning colors now; the local apple orchards are cranking out product; the last of the tomatoes are showing up on farm stands. Won't be long before snow shovels and bags of rock salt appear on the hardware store shelves. It's autumn in New England. And that means winter is just around the corner. Now it's time to decide between a snow blower and a generator. When I hit the lottery jackpot I think I'll talk to George about becoming the at-large editor covering the fishing scene around Raritonga or Papeete. Yep, cold beer at hand, hammock strung between a couple of palm trees and fishing rod stuck in a sand spike…Jerry Vovcsko reporting with the South Sea Chronicles. I do believe I could handle that.

September 16, 2014

Saturday Nights at the Bucket Of Blood

by Jerry Vovcsko

My New England Patriots redeemed themselves with a win in Minnesota Sunday but sure got their heads handed to them the week before in Miami. Reminds me of those high school Saturday afternoons at Richfield Springs in upstate New York when we went at it with our chief rival Cooperstown. We'd slug it out on the gridiron in the afternoon and then meet later that night at the Brass Lantern in Schuyler Lake, a one-store intersection halfway between the two towns. The Brass Lantern was a bucket-of-blood bar room where we could drink without getting carded because Henry, the owner/bartender, was usually three sheets to the wind by 11 o' clock and less than conscientious about checking IDs.

Regardless of who won the afternoon game, the real battles played out that night as players from their respective schools shipped aboard excessive wet goods then fired insults and taunts across the crowded bar. Before long trash-talking turned to fists-flying and eventually the mob spilled out into the blacktopped parking lot to continue the manly art of beating the hell out of each other while too drunk to stand without leaning on some other inebriate. Sometimes we didn't even make it outside and I can recall a time or two trying to brush something off my cheek and discovering it was the floor. Yeah, that was football as we played it…Old School style.

Closer to home, though, those of us who once-upon-a-time indulged in Saturday night fisticuffs to satisfy the urgings of excessive testosterone levels, nowadays set forth to do battle with the wily denizen of local waters…the striped bass, the bluefish, the bonito and the albacore. Though we outweigh these fishy opponents by a factor of something like thirty to one, to hook up with a ten pound bluefish is to come away with aching forearm muscles and a healthy respect for the blue's willingness to slug it out, size disparity notwithstanding.

And double-digit blues are not all that difficult to locate right now. The mild days and chilly nights we're experiencing now are the first reminders that fall is lurking just around the corner. That means the migration is not far off and stripers and blues will soon begin taking on calories for their long journey home. It used to be that an angler in search of jumbo bluefish need only head the backside of Martha's Vineyard to Wasque Rip and have at it with big swimming plugs or metal slabs. But winter storms over the past few years rearranged Wasque right out of existence and it takes a little more effort to locate the big ones nowadays.

A good place to start would be the Cape Cod Canal. Everything that swam north last spring will be heading south soon and most of these fish will pass through the Canal on the way out of town. Ideally, anglers looking to tangle with the resident Large will have been savvy enough to save up some whole or chunk mackerel for bait. Catch the half-hour intervals at turn-of-tide when currents slack off enough to allow baits to sink deep and, chances are a hookup will be forthcoming.

Come the evening hours, a live eel drifted down deep should bring good results. Often there will be an Old Timer or two working a rigged eelskin in among the rocks and these guys are worth watching because anyone who knows how to rig an eelskin possesses a virtual storehouse of savvy and experience when it comes to catching bass. Watch and learn.

Albies are swarming Nantucket Sound right now but they can be devilishly frustrating when it comes to trying to draw a strike. When they're around I keep a rod at hand pre-rigged with a metal slab – usually a Hopkins or small Kastmaster – featuring a bit of bucktail with a few strands of mylar flash. I can grab that rod when a pod of bait-driving albies cruise past and whip a cast a little ways beyond them and work it back on a path that intersects with where they're headed at some point. And when one hits it's Katy-bar-the-door because that first run is a not to be forgotten line-stripper. Best bet right now is around the Woods Hole Harbor/Nonnamesset Island area on over toward Hyannis and the mouth of the Bass River.

Groundfish action got a little less rewarding as the season for black sea bass ran out as of September 15th. Those tasty critters sure do please the palate even though they're real pains to clean and prepare what with the tiny pin bones that need to be plucked out individually with tweezers or pliers. It's worth the effort, though, when a crispy-skinned sea fillet bass plunks down on your plate with a side of roasted potatoes and a serving of tangy slaw…doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

So, yeah, the fish are around right now, bass and blues…but this is the part of the season where time seems to accelerate and it won't be long before they're all heading off for home waters leaving us to wonder if it's too soon to break out the ice fishing gear. Guess we better get out there and do some business while business is still being done.

Oh, and about that drinking/fighting stuff I mentioned in the beginning? A pretty good writer name of Kurt Vonnegut said as we grow up we drink less because we don't want the police to revoke our puberty by taking away our license. I think he was on to something there.

September 06, 2014

Doctor Gonzo Time

by Jerry Vovcsko

"It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top." Hunter S. Thompson

I ran across that remark recently while I was rereading some of Hunter's short stories in all their Gonzo brilliance. Got me thinking about what he'd make of all the great white shark activity in Cape waters over the past couple of years. Makes perfect sense he'd see it in terms of the silly hubris we humans embrace in our dealings with other creatures – in this case an apex predator. Hunter wouldn't be terribly troubled by the notion of a huge shark taking a chunk out of some tourist's ample derriere…and when you get right down to it, neither am I.

This does seem to be the Year of the Shark around these parts. There was even a sighting ten miles inland in the Taunton River. The first report was checked out by harbormaster Ron Marino and he found a ten to twelve foot sand tiger shark cruising in shallow waters. But then another sighting came in about a much bigger shark, also seen in the river. That one turned out to be a basking shark, a creature that grows to around thirty feet as it reaches adulthood.

Then we heard that officials had closed the beach in Duxbury because a great white had been spotted just offshore. A few locals took the opportunity to write "You're gonna need a bigger boat" in the sand, a reference familiar to all fans of Steven Spielberg's seminal shark-horror film, Jaws. This visit was followed by another great white sighting near Chatham with its colony of seals as the primary lure de jour.

Wednesday's sighting is the third in ten days after sharks were spotted near Duxbury Beach and off the coast of Chatham, and the recent slew of sightings closes out a summer that felt like it was full of sharks. And then this past week a great white shark bit into a kayak off the coast of Plymouth tumbling two frightened but unharmed kayakers into the water where they were rescued by the Plymouth Harbormaster.

So, yeah, this was definitely shark-time around Cape Cod waters even though nobody was eaten by one of these apex predators. And, hey, at least we didn't have to contend with a deadly albino cobra like the one that ran loose for days in a Southern California neighborhood was captured Thursday.

"We are overjoyed. We are glad that the public was not harmed," Los Angeles County spokesman Brandon Dowling said after county animal control officers nabbed the monocled cobra.

The venom of the cobra is a neurotoxin that can kill within an hour. Television reports showed officers using a long-handled tong-like grabber to haul the snake from a pile of scrap lumber in a backyard and put it in a long wooden box. So, no thanks, we'll stick to great whites and California can keep any and all assorted cobras out there in La La Land. Seems only fair to me.

Nantucket Sound may not have registered any great white shark action this season but it sure has its share of albacore activity going on right now. Pods of albies have been herding baitfish every which way and anglers have probably tossed a cumulative ton of metals at the speedy little tunnies. In lieu of metals, those holographic Yozuri swimmers bring good results for folks able to get close enough to lob one in front of the cruising albies. Local Canal-rats heaved metal slabs and performed high-speed retrieves with good results during the week and that action should continue through the weekend.

Striper catch reports have been sporadic although a few locals have done very well around Quicks Hole and out near Penikese Island. Penikese offers excellent tautog action because of the rock-studded bottom structure that surrounds the island. Bluefish can still be had just about anywhere in Nantucket Sound and some bigger blues have been taken in the rips south of Nantucket Island.

Tube and worm is a good bet to produce along the shoreline from Scussett Beach around toward Manomet. But kayakers in particular should keep an eye out around Manomet Point as that was the location of the last great white sighting. And the back beaches, from Nauset to Race Point, have been kind to surf anglers lobbing live eels into the wash, especially between dusk and dark…just don't get too far out there in waders and such. As Game of Thrones characters are fond of pronouncing, the night is dark and full of terrors. At least for those who didn't get a bigger boat.

I started this thing with a Hunter Thompson quote; guess it's only right to wrap it up with a line about Doctor Gonzo. So how about this one by Frank Kelly Rich, editor and publisher of Modern Drunkard Magazine:
"There was always a powerful comfort in knowing he was out there somewhere in the night, roaring drunk, guzzling high-octane whiskey and railing against a world amok with complacency and hypocrisy."

Yeah, well, Hunter's not with us any more…when the aches and pains and depression got to be too much, he checked out with a .44 magnum bullet to the brain while talking with his wife on the phone. While he was around though, he stomped the terra…and left his Gonzo mark on the literature. So RIP, Hunter…you had a helluva run while it lasted.

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