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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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October 31, 2014

Ghosties, Ghoulies and Other Halloween Pests

by Jerry Vovcsko

We're rapidly approaching that transitional moment when the striped bass season morphs into late fall and a sportsman's attention turns to hunting. Instead of being preoccupied with the question: what are they hitting, we break out compound bows, shotguns and deer slugs, and for those looking northward, our trusty deer rifle. New England offers excellent opportunities to hunt deer, bear, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, grouse and lots more. Unfortunately, along with game animals, New England forests – Cape Cod in particular – are infested with ticks. And not just any ticks – the nasty critters that carry Lyme disease are out there as well.

Now Lyme disease is no joke. You wouldn't think that a bite from such a wee small creature could turn a hunter's life into pure misery, but it can and very often does. There used to be a Lyme disease vaccine but that's no longer available. Seems the manufacturer discontinued production in 2002, citing insufficient consumer demand. As it happens, protection provided by this vaccine diminishes over time and if you received the Lyme disease vaccine before 2002, you are probably no longer protected against Lyme disease.

There are a number of things you can do to keep the nasty little buggers at bay: Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin. Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
If you've been out in the bush, it's crucial to find and remove ticks from your body. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in the hair. Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully check pets, coats, and web gear. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to zap any remaining ticks. Be as conscientious as possible about searching– these bugs are determined hitch hikers and they're ever on the alert for a human (or animal) host to cling to.

The biological trigger that sends striped bass heading home from Massachusetts' waters may well be connected to the nor'easters moving through New England these days. Water temperatures that have hovered in the mid-fifties since last September might drop a bit by Halloween weekend as the weather folk predict a strong possibility of rain/snow mix.

But right now it's fifty-six degrees in Nantucket Sound and fifty-nine in the harbor at Woods Hole. So it looks like the stripers will be with us for a little while longer. Fish those estuaries, creeks and rivers for best results. And fish slower than usual – the bass in residence right now are stocking up on calories and aren't interested in expending more calories in the chase than they'll take on board when they catch up to bait or lure. So slow that retrieve and fish bigger lures to make it look worthwhile for that hungry striper to expend the effort.

Halloween weekend in the NFL has a real clash-of-titans on tap for kickoff time in Foxboro where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning go head to head in another shootout at the OK Corral, aka, Gillette Stadium, to determine Top Gun status. That'll be a heckuva good way to usher out October as well as an epic introduction to November. Which reminds me, I'll likely be needing a turkey before very long so I guess it's time to break out the old Remington twelve gauge. And the Deet as well I suppose – no ticks welcome here, thank you very much. Mother Nature must have been half asleep when she created those guys.

October 25, 2014

High Winds and Wellfleet Oyster Fest

by Jerry Vovcsko

A full blown nor'easter brought 55mph winds our way this week…so much for taking out small boats. Those winds and chilly days ought to by rights have dampened water temperatures by a few degrees but somehow didn't (maybe the northeast breezes blew the Gulf Stream a little closer to our shores.) Still, we're gradually slipping into fall-countdown mode and won't be seeing bonito, bluefish much longer. Stripers, though, will likely stick around well into November if previous years are any indicator. Actually, local anglers have taken stripers in December and January during those occasional winter-thaws when Old Sol warms things up for a day or so and winter-over bass prospect for grubs, insects, worms and baitfish in the muddy, shallow waters of our south-facing estuaries.

The Wellfleet Oyster Fest was a grand success this year as the gala event kicked off last weekend and drew some twenty-thousand visitors to the tiny seaside village on Saturday alone. One of the featured events was a $140-a-head champagne and caviar reception at PB Boulangerie & Bistro. The real action started Saturday morning when the crowds poured in and the band Crabgrass kicked things off on the main stage with good-timey bluegrass music

The real star of the weekend was, of course, the lowly oyster and they were available just about any way you cared to try them – raw on the half shell, steamed, fried, grilled, baked, or in soups and chowders – as befitting a bivalve that serves as both a historic and ongoing part of the Cape Cod lifestyle. Oyster farms pump dollars into the local economy across all income levels, and they taste great. There's just nothing like the briny, salty taste of a fresh oyster; it tastes like the sea itself, fresh and clean.

And speaking of oysters, it looks like the long-running saga of Joe's Lobster Mart and the stolen oysters has finally reached a conclusion. Last we heard, the Mass Board of Health had pulled owner Joe Vaudo's license to sell seafood at his Cape Cod Canal location and Vaudo had tried to finesse that decision by seeking an injunction in the courts (rather than before a magistrate). But the results were not what Vaudo was hoping for as Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas Connors denied owner Joseph Vaudo's request for a preliminary injunction against the state Department of Public Health.

Connors gave Vaudo 14 days to sell off the seafood market's inventory before he must close, according to the ruling. In his decision, Connors found that Vaudo and his attorney failed to demonstrate likelihood they would be successful in appealing the state's ruling to revoke the licenses. The state Department of Public Health issued a notice of intent to revoke Vaudo's licenses April 15, just a couple of weeks after he pleaded guilty in Barnstable District Court to charges of receiving stolen oysters and failing to keep proper shellfish records. Vaudo, 63, also admitted sufficient facts to a charge of misleading a police officer. He was ordered to pay a $6,250 fine.

In court, Vaudo's attorney John Kiernan said Joe's Lobster Mart, which has operated for 43 years, is a $5 million per year business that during the peak seafood season employs 20 people. Kiernan said that Vaudo intends to continue the legal battle, appealing the DPH ruling in Superior Court. But absent an injunction, it appears Joe's Lobster Mart will be forced to sell of its current inventory and its long-standing battle for survival may be drawing to a sad close.

There are still bonito cruising Cape waters, although much of the funny fish action is over around Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The Cape Cod Canal has been the scene of some rip-roaring striper action the past couple of weeks up until the heavy winds disrupted much of the local fishing activity. Quite a few plus-30 pound bass hit the scales of area bait and tackle shops.

Bluefish continue to hit pretty much whatever gets thrown their way in the Sound and the funny fish continue to cruise the waters around Lackey's Bay and Woods Hole Harbor. The Weepeckett Islands are thick with tautog these days and the ‘tog gobble down green crabs like kids at a marshmallow roast. The Elizabeth Islands continue to produce good sized bass with Quicks Hole leading the way with thirty pounds and upwards fish in good supply. One spot that typically receives light fishing pressure is over around the mouth of Quisset Harbor and that's hard to figure because this time of year the striper gang up around The Knob before presumably heading south in the migration.

The striper action's been relatively light recently along the outside beaches and what activity there might have been was blown out by the storm and the piles of mung stacked up along the shoreline. There's still time left before the stripers, blues and, yes, the funny fish depart Cape waters. Looks like the weather's going to be pretty decent for the next week or two – it doesn't get too much better than this and a few more fish in the freezer does make the winter a little less foreboding.

October 15, 2014

Whale Of a Tale and Late Season Bass

by Jerry Vovcsko

That was some whale that washed ashore on Long Island on Thursday last week. The bite marks looked like something had treated the 58-foot fin whale's carcass like a giant corn on the cob and gnawed massive chunks of skin and blubber from the beast (most likely after it was already dead.) Odds are whatever took those bites was either a great white shark or an orca, the fin whales only predator. Fin whales in the North Atlantic tend to top out around 75 feet in length although the Pacific versions have been known to reach upwards of 85 feet. That size whale can easily weigh in at as much as 80 tons.

New Yorkers discovered the creature near the campgrounds at Smith County Park in Shirley, New York, just outside New York City. The creature was missing most of its skin and was in an advanced state of decomposition. The fin whale is an endangered species, with conservative estimates placing about 1,700 North American specimens left in the ocean so each time one is lost it has a major impact on the species. Marine biologists think the whale was likely struck by a boat and say that samples will be sent out for further analysis to confirm the preliminary findings.

Now the trick is to figure out what to do about carcass removal as beached whales tend to decompose rapidly inflating from the buildup of gases and actually exploding. Eighty tons of decaying whale will undoubtedly prove challenging for local officials to dispose of. Best bet is to drag it off the beach at high tide and tow it out to sea, maybe out to the offshore canyons…that should provide an exciting prospect for some unsuspecting angler who snags the whale's carcass with a cod jig.

Water temperatures in Nantucket Sound continue to hover around the low sixties and there are still plenty of striped bass, blues and bonito in residence locally. But many stripers have already departed on their annual southward journey. The fall migration happens in stages and the early-to-depart fish are already on their way. The ones still left, however, are hungry and willing to hit bait or lure – the trick is to find them. This is typically a good time to check out the estuaries along the south coast of the Cape, Such places as Great Pond in Maravista and Eel Pond over toward Menahaunt Beach are places that stripers visit to find bait. Green Pond is another good location to find bass and Eel River holds bass well into November and even later with holdover bass in residence the year around.

On the Cape Cod Bay side Scorton Creek and Pamet River are well worth a look and Scorton in particular will offer a bonus from time to time in the form of brown trout, a species which provides great fun for anglers employing long wand or light spinning gear. Scorton is one of the best locations on the Cape to drift up into the recesses of the salt water marsh on a flood tide and work back down toward the creek mouth as the tide ebbs. Jig and plastic combos as well as small swimming plugs bring best results. But those times when dusk to dark occurs around dusk and into the night time hours, working a live eel in the upper reaches of the creek can sometimes produce a very Large bass, much larger than one would think these skinny waters might hold.

Of course, the Cape Cod Canal is a productive location right up until the fall migration becomes history and sometimes even beyond. These are mostly transient bass traveling down from New Hampshire and Maine populations and early morning topwater action can be rewarding. Make sure to bring rod-and-reel combo that gives best distance as it often seem that the stripers deliberately set up their feeding activities just fifteen feet or so beyond an angler's reach. Later in the day, or during the hours of darkness, working jigs along the bottom of the Big Ditch can bring big-fish-results. Ditto for live eels. But bring plenty of jigs (or eels) because the bottom is a landscape of rocks and boulders and the local anthem here is: If you're not losing lures, you're not fishing deep enough.

I should be amiss if I didn't point out that the Patriots are back in their accustomed first place in their division and the 1-5 Jets are due in for the Thursday night game tomorrow. The weather folk are calling for rain so it may come down to who brings the best running game to bear. My money's on the Patriots to come away at 5-2.

Won't be too long before stripers and blues are long gone and we head back to the sweetwater for some fall action. Here's Scott Russo with a nice four pound bass taken from a Duxbury pond on a plastic worm.

October 07, 2014

Another Chapter in the Lobster Mart Chronicles

by Jerry Vovcsko

In the never-ending saga of The Stolen Oysters, Joe Vaudo, the owner of Joe's Lobster Mart has dug in his heels and plans to fight on against the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the folks who intend to shut Joe's business down as a result of his purchase of oysters stolen from local oyster beds in Cape Cod Bay. On Friday, the state issued a cease and desist order to Vaudo, the Sandwich retailer and wholesaler whose business received the stolen oysters last year. The Department of Public Health moved to revoke the business license to buy and sell seafood.

Michael Bryant, the alleged thief who brought the oysters to Vaudo, was sentenced to two years in prison for the shellfish theft. But it looks like Vaudo isn't going down without a fight. This weekend, according to The Cape Cod Times, he answered by securing an injunction.

"We have an injunction against the state of Massachusetts right now," Vaudo said, holding the paperwork in his hands. "That's why we're open. We plan on staying open."

The DPH decision came after Vaudo made an unsuccessful appeal of the revocation. In March, after a months-long investigation, Vaudo pleaded guilty to receiving stolen oysters, and was forced to pay more than $6,000 as part of the plea agreement. But, although Vaudo's guilty plea saved him from further criminal proceedings, it didn't prevent the state's department of Public Health from taking steps to shut him down. Shortly after Vaudo entered his plea, the Department of Public Health moved to revoke his permits and Vaudo appealed, which allowed him to stay open this past summer.

Vaudo claims the public's health was never at threat because he says he dumped the oysters into the Cape Cod Canal and they never entered the market. The DPH argues that businesses cannot be allowed to violate the regulations by buying uninspected, unregulated oysters from any old source and get away with it so long as no member of the public is harmed by one of these oysters. But now, instead of a hearing by the State's Division of Administrative Law Appeals, the injunction moves the case into the legal system and the Lobster Mart saga continues to unfold.

There's nothing particularly startling about a shark eating some other fish, but here's a case of a giant Goliath Grouper taking a five-foot long shark right off am angler's line. Watch the video at:

speaking of looking at strange things, how about this old-timey lure that seems to have faded into the mists of time? It's a glass tube, corked at the top, with treble hooks sprouting out the sides…catch yourself am assortment of bugs, drop them in and cork it up…it's showtime. These used to be red-hot items back in the 1930s and earlier but you'll wait a helluva long while before you spot one these days…and then it's likely it'll be on some collector's display shelf, not in an angler's tackle box. Seems like there was a greater willingness to experiment with unconventional lures back in the day. Nowadays, it's pretty much a marketplace filled with glitzy, holographic – and expensive – lures that do everything but get up and dance the Macarena. Dunno that we're any better off than back when a handful of grasshoppers, houseflies and inchworms in a glass tube sufficed as the lure de jour.

Looks like the reports of The New England Patriots' demise may just be a bit premature. After the licking the Kansas City Chiefs put on the Pats last Monday night, fans and sportswriters were quick to leap on the "Belichick and Brady are finished" bandwagon. But not so fast, Brady & Co. put a serious hurting on the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and look like they'll be in the hunt for the Super Bowl come January. Now if the Red Sox can just find themselves some front line pitching….

The saltwater scene hit a bit of a lull last week what with brisk winds, chilly rain and rough seas to contend with. Those anglers who made it out to the outside beaches from Provincetown to Chatham had to contend with wind-blown tangles of mung and other weedy debris but a few hardies managed to pick up a striper here and there in between wind gusts. The flats down around Monomoy continue to hold plenty of school sized bass and Nantucket Sound still offers anglers a late season shot at bluefish as water temperatures hover in the low and mid-sixties. the same holds true in Buzzards Bay and both the Sound and the Bay feature bonito, bonito, bonito with more of these sleek speedsters around than we're used to seeing most years.

In a few weeks we'll probably be transitioning over to freshwater activity but for now the fall migration hasn't really hit full steam so there's plenty of action to be had in the salt. Best spot to try these days might just be the Cape Cod Canal…all those bass that made it on up to New Hampshire and Maine will be coming back down this-away over the next couple of weeks and they will take the pause-that-refreshes should an angler be lurking at the Ditch with a nice juicy offering of live eel at slack tide. There are some seriously Large striped bass hanging out in the Canal this time of year…drifting eels or herring in those currents can sometimes nail a trophy bass.

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