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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, 2016

Mermaid Off the Port Bow

by Jerry Vovcsko

Back in the day, when hardy sailors went to sea under sail, the lookout stationed aloft kept a wary eye out for whales, reefs and other ships. But after a few hours spent scanning the empty horizon, a bored seaman's eye – and imagination - might wander a bit and it was then that legend had it a mermaid sighting might take place. Nobody mistook the creature that wandered into Cape waters last month for a mermaid even though manatees are rarely sighted this far north.

An animal rescue crew last week finally wrangled the elusive manatee that has been spotted around Cape Cod since August, plucking the animal from the cooling waters that had placed it in mortal danger as autumn set in. International Fund for Animal Welfare workers, who had spotted the roughly 1,000-pound male on Thursday morning, followed it into an East Falmouth estuary, corralled it with a net, and pulled it onto a beach.

There, the crew loaded it onto a boat and brought it to nearby Menauhant Yacht Club, where it will be placed on a trailer bound for Connecticut's Mystic Aquarium. Once it's deemed in good health, it will be taken back to Florida, possibly by airplane. This rescue actually saved two manatees as it was later determined that it was pregnant.

This time of year it's not a bad idea to seek out sheltered waters to find fish. One good tactic is to head for Cape Cod Bay and scout around some of the places that might not get as much attention as, say, Vineyard Sound or the Elizabeth Islands. Just east of the Town of Sandwich anglers can often find some action around the mouth of Scorton Creek. The creek flows under route 6A and there's a parking lot down near the creek mouth.

Catch a tide as it starts to flood, launch canoe or kayak and let the current take you up into the marsh. Make it a leisurely paddle or just drift along casting toward the banks on both sides. Suitable lures for this type fishing include pretty much anything in the small jig and plastic grouping, or maybe a three and a half inch swimming plug such as a Rebel or Rapala design. Light spinning gear is my choice for this type of fishing but lots of folks use the long wand and Clousers seem to be the fly of choice for them. Anyplace you spot even the tiniest rip is worth a look and deep pools near undercut embankments occasionally hold keeper sized striped bass.

One of the best things about fishing this location is getting a chance to see an amazing variety of wildlife around the marsh. Fox, deer, muskrat, mink owls, herons, hawks and the occasional coyote or eagle make time spent up in the backwaters of the creek a refreshing change from the daily grind of urban living. Stop and eat the sandwich you packed and when the tide turns let the current carry you back to where you parked. I consider the Scorton Creek estuary to be one of the all-around best fishing excursions available on the Cape, second only to the run down along the Elizabeth Islands.

Another similar location lies a few miles to the east in Brewster. Paine's Creek also empties into Cape Cod Bay and while it doesn't offer the same degree of tidal creek access to the marsh as Scorton's Creek, there's still lively action to be had at the mouth for spin, fly and bait fishermen alike. A nearby parking lot makes access convenient and a walk along the beach puts surfcasters in proximity with the Brewster Flats. Bluefish cruise these parts on a regular basis and it's not all that unusual to latch onto a ten-pound blue while fishing for stripers.

Between Sandwich and Brewster, Corporation Beach is home to an ample supply of tautog and the boulders and ledges that litter the bottom here make it very attractive to a resident lobster population. But keep a vigilant eye out for those white-with-red-stripe "Diver Down" flags that the Scuba crowd sets out when they're in the vicinity. For some reason these folks get a bit testy when an angler sets a 5/0 Siwash hook in a diver's thigh or arm.

And if by chance a fisherman launches his boat from the Sandwich marina, the entire shoreline from the Canal to Brewster to Wellfleet is prime territory for tube and worm fishing. Anyplace you can get your tube rig down in eight to twelve feet of water is likely to deliver good results. And if you head over toward Wellfleet Harbor don't forget to spend a little time around the mouth of the Herring River, especially if you find yourself on site around dusk or dawn.

As local waters cool, the best places to take stripers include the shoreline along the Elizabeth Islands, the flats around Monomoy Island, the rock ledges inside Woods Hole and, of course, the Cape Cod Canal. The funny fish continue to roam Nantucket Sound and the area out in front of Lackey's Bay is prime bonito territory right now.

The weather forecasts for this weekend are telling us it will be windy and wet with heavy surf and waves around the big islands in the five to seven-foot range. We're running out of time these days so grab any chance to wet a line when conditions allow; the fat lady will soon be singing farewell as the stripers head south and another striped bass season comes to a halt in Cape waters.

September 21, 2016

Big Papi Cruises In

by Jerry Vovcsko

There's great fishing all around the Cape lately. Plenty fish around to keep an ambitious angler hopping from Woods Hole to Orleans and all the way up to Race Point in Provincetown. Yessir, plenty of fish in local waters. Only trouble is, they happen to include goodly numbers of sea robins, skates, toadfish, and maybe the occasional flounder that wandered by as though in some sort of time-trip from the nineteen-eighties. Not very popular species, it's true, but, what the hey, it was only a mere three hundred and fifty years ago that the early settlers wanted nothing to do with lobsters, believing those creatures to be incarnations of evil put there by the devil, and look how that turned out. The week before Labor Day cooked lobster meat was going for a tidy forty-two dollars a pound at the local fish market.

Used to be that cod and haddock were so plentiful around here that vessels came back loaded to the scuppers with fish, and those boys weren't using sonar, GPS's or computers to put their boats on fish. Grizzled old captains fished their vessels based on decades of experience pursuing what seemed like an inexhaustible resource, an endless supply of fish that would forever provide a living for generations of fishermen. These days, with all that technology available to locate the fish, it turns out that most of the catch has been swept from these waters and the commercial boats have to settle for the few hundred pounds of cod allocated to them in an ever-shrinking season.

One of the few bright spots on the horizon, of course, is the turnaround that took place during the last couple of decades which rebuilt striped bass stocks that appeared to be in deep trouble as recently as the mid-nineties. The coastal states placed fishing restrictions and size limits that allowed depleted spawning populations to recover and now it seems the striped bass has made an impressive comeback. The two most important regulatory actions, to my mind, having been the increase from the sixteen-inch minimum of the nineteen seventies along with the restrictions placed on the Carolina seine boats that had decimated the fish stocks over the years while targeting the spawners coming up the Atlantic coast.

Remember when the cod stocks began to collapse and those affordable filets were no longer to be seen in the local fish markets? What species replaced them for a while? Yep, that's right: Pollock. And where have they gone lately? I can recall catching small Pollock on light gear from the rip rap along the Cape Cod Canal back in the mid-seventies. Then they just seemed to vanish. And how about the huge schools of mackerel that used to put in an annual appearance in Cape Cod Bay, bringing hungry tuna in after them? Haven't seen much of either this past season. The Canal boys deemed two thousand and fifteen one of the poorest mackerel years in memory. Hope that's not a harbinger of things to come.

I don't know what others have in mind but I'm going to do what I did as a kid; I'm going to head for the Green Pond Bridge with my rod, reel and a bucket of clam necks. I'll stand around with the other old geezers and swap lies about how the fishing used to be great and how we all used to fill our pails with enough flounder to see us through the winter, and how we could follow that up with all the mackerel we could eat just by wetting a line up there in the Bay and hauling them in three or four at a time, no problem. Yep, us old-timers will stand around and gam about the good-old-days and wonder what our grandchildren will be able to fish for in ensuing years.

We were lucky, I guess, to have experienced over the last four decades some of the best fishing the Cape had to offer. I just hope we haven't managed to do permanent damage to some of those species along the way. I'd like to think my grandsons will know the thrill of dropping bait and hook from the bridge and finding a fat, tasty flounder on the end of their line. And if the flatfish aren't biting that day, why, we'll settle for sea robin, skate or even one of those ugly old toadfish, won't we?

Bonito have swarmed into the waters around Martha's Vineyard recently and false albacore can be found throughout Nantucket Sound, albeit in fewer numbers than previous years. And the estuaries along the Cape's south side harbor plenty of sub-keeper bass along with the occasional snapper bluefish. The jumbo blues can be found in the rips south of Nantucket and around Wasque. The rips around Monomoy are pretty good places to look for stripers these days, as is the Middleground. The Elizabeths will produce striper catches until later in the season when the last of the migrating bass pull out. Tube and worm method works well at Billingsgate and plugs along the edge of the Brewster Flats is another productive approach. Football-size Bluefin tuna can be had from Stellwagen down to Chatham without going too far offshore.

Scientists tagged a fifteen-foot great white shark last week…and named it Big Papi in honor of the Red Sox great designated hitter whose numbers at the end of final season will almost surely guarantees his eventual entrance to the Hall of Fame. Nice to think the great white will continue to drop in year to year for a quick meal of Monomoy seal and a visit to local waters. And perhaps when the shark version of Big Papi returns next year, the real Big Papi will have led the Red Sox to another World Series championship…it's only fitting, don't you think?

September 15, 2016

Let the Games Begin

by Jerry Vovcsko

If you're looking for striped bass action these days, it's a good time to try the west end of the Canal and on down into Buzzards Bay. Jigging is probably your best bet right now but there are lots of ways to go about it. One of the more effective is to tie on metals slabs such as Hopkins, Kastmasters, Deadly Dick or Crippled Herrings and forego the traditional lead-head and bucktail type jigs.

For one thing, you can really sling the slabs out there for distance and there are days when distance makes all the difference, like when you spot early morning breaking fish just out of reach and no matter how hard you rear back and toss your usual needles and poppers you can't seem to reach out and touch them. The metal slabs will let you fire for effect and you can cheat a few extra yards by aiming your casts up-current from the fish and letting the hard running tide sweep your lure out a bit further as you free-spool for a bit.

That slab will be rolling and tumbling in the turbulence of the canal and the glinting metal is very likely to catch the eye of a feeding striper. By the way, one of the most impressive sights I can recall when I fished the canal with some regularity was an elderly gent working an eelskin that was tied on over a big reverse Atom plug. He, naturally, wasn't trying for any distance casting records but he put on a real striper clinic over near Portagee Hole and took more bass in a couple of hours than the half dozen or so nearby anglers combined.

I asked him about it and he said he used eelskins over plugs, slabs, jigs and pretty much anything in the tackle box. Said it had been a killer rig for decades and most folks just didn't want to be bothered or take the time to rig it properly. He mentioned that he switched his trebles for single hooks and it didn't seem to affect the balance of the plugs any. He worked the eelskin setup slowly and paid lots of attention when his retrieve brought the skin back in close to the rocks, swimming it around for some time before lifting it out.

"That's something I learned musky fishing," he said. "When you finish your retrieve and your plug is back close to the boat or shore you dip your rod tip and swim the plug around in a figure-eight pattern. Muskies will often smash it then even though you've had no action at all earlier on the retrieve."

I've since tried what that fella described to me and found that it works from time to time with stripers as well. I think a lot of fishermen don't give the bass a chance to hit in close to shore because they're lifting the lure clear of the water too soon. Once in a while I'll stop my retrieve and let the plug (if it's a floater) just sit on the surface for upwards of a minute, then give it a twitch. I tell you truly, you will never forget the strike you get when a big striped bass pounces on that plug practically at your feet.

Two or three days before a hurricane arrives is often fishing like you wouldn't believe. Must be the severe low pressure alerts the fish to eat now before things get stirred up so much the baitfish disappear into hiding. Watch your weather, but sneak out before the winds get too bad and you may just experience some of the best blitz fishing you've ever run into. It looked for a while like Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Hermine was going to give us a rerun of that pattern but then Hermine slipped away offshore without much of an impact at all on local anglers.

The usual mix of stripers and blues continues to show up in Buzzards Bay with one of the hot spots being around The Knob just outside Quisset Harbor. The mouth of the harbor has also been productive on falling tides for those anglers running drifts on the ebb. We're still waiting for sustained albie action but mostly it's been sporadic and unpredictable. Anglers casting for stripers along the Elizabeth Islands have seen pods of albies chasing bait from time to time but still haven't seen any of the large schools that show up around this time of the year.

There's been sporadic Bluefin action around the southeastern corner of Stellwagen Bank. And speaking of Stellwagen, President Obama has designated some 4900 acres just off Georges Bank as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. A protected area located approximately 130 miles off the southeast coast of the Cape, it will be off limits to commercial fishing as of 2023. Under terms of the designation, red crab and lobster fisheries will have a seven-year grace period before they have to exit the monument area, and other commercial fishing operators will have 60 days to leave.

Over the next few weeks the annual fall migration will slowly begin to ramp up and it won't be long before the striped bass that arrived in the spring from the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay will return from whence they came. Seems they just got here and soon it'll be time to say good bye…oh well, at least football season's here and pretty soon our New England Patriots will have Tom Brady back at the helm. Then let the games begin…for real.

September 07, 2016

A Taste of Fall?

by Jerry Vovcsko

Looks like one of those raw, rain-lashed dreary days today. Good time 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 a 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. Maybe the offshore passing of Tropical Storm Hermine this week will stir up a little action. 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.

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 oldtimer'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 in close to any kind of bass structure - rocks, weed beds, a fast moving rip - and there's a real 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 upcurrent 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 - Red Top and Cape Cod Charlie's are two that come to mind. 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. There's still fish to be had before the annual migration sends them south. Right now the Canal is a pretty good place to find them.

Recreational black seabass closed last week, unfortunately, but scup, tautog and flounder can still be found…Buzzards Bay continues as a prime source for groundfish. Albies and bonnies have taken up steady residence around Martha's Vineyard and the manatee cavorting around Harwich Harbor lends a surreal presence to this late season report. In case the idea of a manatee snuffling in the sea grass is not sufficiently weird, there was a report of a small barracuda taking a whack at a metal slab in Nantucket Harbor. I'm beginning to think we'll soon see tarpon and Goliath Grouper showing up if the ocean warming continues.

There's been good fluke fishing on the Middleground lately…some keepers to go with the little guys. Plenty of blues around and there are always a few keeper bass lurking in the holes along the western end of the reef; angler with a bit of patience and a stash of parachute jigs in their tackle boxes can score some major-league stripers by dropping a jig into those holes at the end of a well-aimed drift.

And Cape Cod Bay produced some keeper bass to boats working along Sandy Neck beach. A little further westerly is worth a look, especially around Scorton Ledge and even up inside Scorton Creek which happens to be one of the best locations in the Bay for a turn-of-tide kayak excursion. Ride the flood into the salt marsh and drift back out on the ebb; there are some seriously Large stripers hanging out up there where the water gets mighty skinny and a ‘yak is just the right conveyance to put an angler where the action is.

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