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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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November 30, 2013

Let's Hear it For the Wild Turkey

by Jerry Vovcsko

Thanksgiving, except for turkey leftovers, is in the rearview mirror now as Christmas looms on the horizon. But before all thoughts of Thanksgiving fade into dim memories, it's worth a quick look at the guest of honor at some of those Thanksgiving dinner festivities, namely, Meleagris gallopavo, the American wild turkey.

A century ago, with a population of only 30,000, these birds were on the road to extinction. Today, they number 5.4 million. Habitat destruction and overhunting by early European colonists had put the wild turkey—North America's largest ground-nesting bird—on the road to extinction. Before the colonists arrived, millions of turkeys roamed across what are now 38 states, Mexico, and Canada. As the colonists worked to clear land for their homes, farms, and pastures, the most easily available food other than deer was wild turkey.

By the time the forests were cleared and wetlands drained to make room for rice, cotton, and other crops, wild turkeys had no habitat to call their own and no place in which to hide from their predators, including their number one predator: people. By 1851 wild turkeys were extinct in Massachusetts; by 1907 they had disappeared completely in Iowa. This pattern repeated itself over and over as the colonists settled across the country, killing turkeys and deer for sustenance while they cleared forests, planted their fields and started new lives.

By the 1930s, the only the places where wild turkeys remained were pockets of habitat inaccessible to people, such as the mountainous landscape of Pennsylvania's Poconos and the swamps of Alabama. A turnaround in Massachusetts began in 1972 when 15 birds were trapped in upstate New York and transplanted to Massachusetts. Now there are some 15 thousand inhabiting the state and New England hunters pursue the wily creatures in hopes of making one the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.

This week's fishing activity can be pretty much summed up with two words: windy and cold. How windy, you ask? Well, the ferry run from Cape Cod to Nantucket got cancelled a couple of times as wind gusts to 50mph made things too hazardous for travel. Besides, few folks feel like fishing when bare skin freezes to metal objects such as reels and beards raise a fine crop of ice crystals thanks to the Arctic breezes filtering down from the Canadian plains.

Still, a few adventurous types braver than I did manage to take a crack at the freshwater ponds over Sandwich way and were rewarded with trout, yellow perch and smallmouth bass. Peters Pond delivered up the trout, rainbows mostly, and Pimlico Pond, a small, seldom fished body of water, produced a brace of plump smallmouths for one enterprising Falmouth angler.

This weekend continues the pattern with temperatures trending from chilly to downright cold but the fish will continue to bite for those folks who persevere. One advantage to fishing the estuaries and creeks on the Cape is the prospect of hooking up with a random striper hanging around looking for something to dine on. Plastic and jig combos are ideal baits to coax bites from both fresh and saltwater species. Big time freshwater opportunities exist at some of the larger ponds such as in Brewster where Sheeps, Long and Cliff ponds offer a shot at salmon that have been stocked there over the years. The environmental folks didn't stock any salmon this year but plenty of these big fish remain, growing fatter and feistier on a robust diet of minnows and insects.

For those who simply must get their saltwater fix, the best bet for that might be at the east end of the Canal where occasional schools of mackerel have been showing up out behind Joe's Fish Market and around the mouth of the harbor itself. Their presence has been real iffy but for those lucky enough to be on hand when they cruise by, the action is hot while it lasts and these little critters make for a tasty dish, especially when they're stuffed with some of that leftover Thanksgiving stuffing and baked. For those not fond of mackerel on the dinner table, they can be frozen and stored in anticipation of striper season, 2014.

I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about my New England Patriots and their game-of-the-decade against the Denver Broncos. Down 24-0 at the half but never a notion of quitting, the Pats roared back to win it 34-31 on a muffed punt by the Broncos. Yessir, this could be another Super Bowl year and it just might be the greatest coaching effort of Bill Belichick's career. So all I can say is: Go Pats!

November 23, 2013

Wannabe Robinhood Meets the Sheriff of Bellingham

by Jerry Vovcsko

When I moved my family from Massachusetts to Washington State back in 1990 we settled in the college town of Bellingham located a few miles south of the British Columbia border. Located in bucolic surroundings with the North Cascades National Park wilderness to the east and Puget Sound to the west, Bellingham sat like a crown jewel in the northwest corner of the country. A great place to raise the kids away from the drug-infested streets of big cities.

And for the most part, that's the way it turned out…although it did seem that the northwest put some kind of weird backspin on the shadowy folks who inhabited the back-alleys and seamier side of town. Which is why it was no great shock when I noticed an AP item on the Internet regarding 36 year old David Wayne Jordan.

It seems one of Jordan's friends had taken up residence recently in the Whatcom county jail and found his surroundings somewhat depressing. In an effort to cheer up his brooding friend, this wannabe Robinhood wrapped a package of marijuana around the shaft of an arrow and fired it at the second-floor recreation area of the jail. Unamused by Jordan's innovative delivery system, police charged him with distributing the weed to inmates, but Jordan claimed he was hunting squirrels.

County sheriff Bill Elfo appeared somewhat skeptical of that tale noting that Jordan had no explanation as to why squirrel hunting requires attaching marijuana to an arrow, nevertheless Mister Jordan now also resides in the Whatcom County jail – his cell is located on the first floor where squirrels are unlikely to frolic.

With water temperatures in Nantucket Sound hovering in the mid-40s and air temperature plunging into the 20s this weekend, there's not much action on the saltwater scene. There may be a few stripers being caught in the estuaries, creeks and rivers along the Cape's shorelines, but they'll mostly be schoolie-size and hard to find. But it's a different story in the sweetwater where the Cape's lakes and ponds offer a plethora of opportunities for enterprising anglers.

Rainbow trout, salmon, even an occasional brown trout are the targets these days and that's not even to mention bass, both large and smallmouth versions, which are hungry and aggressive and willing to take bait or artificials. Such ponds as Sheep and Flax in Brewster, Peters, Triangle and Lawrence in Sandwich and Mashpee-Wakeby in Mashpee are among those that received visits from the Massachusetts Environmental trucks that have been stocking Cape waters with a new supply of trout. These fish haven't had time to become wily and elusive yet so anglers looking to stock their freezers will want to sink a PowerBait or jig & plastic combo in these ponds real soon now.

Those folks willing to make a short jaunt off-Cape might try their luck at Long Pond up in Plymouth. Some nice rainbows have been taken there and over the years broodstock salmon have been plunked into this 200 acre southeastern Massachusetts pond . With maximum depths of 100 feet there's plenty of good fish habitat and brook, brown and rainbow trout proliferate. Pickerel and perch can usually be found near the weedbeds and other structure. A few years back a double-digit salmon was taken right next to the boat launch by an angler casting an Al's Goldfish in the shallows while waiting his turn to launch.

Sunday night the Patriots take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Foxboro. The weather folk say by game time we could be looking at 20mph winds, a combination of rain and snow squalls and temperatures dipping into the 20s. Might be a good idea to include numbers-of-frostbite-cases in the statistics column.

And, as an added attraction, Wes Welker returns to the place where he once teamed up with Tom Brady to set eye-popping pass completion records. Fans respect the work he did for the Pats over the years but there will be some boos when his name is announced; his departure wasn't entirely on amicable terms but true football fans have to admire his skills and toughness. In this kind of weather, who can hang onto the ball might determine the winner. Could be a very physical game and the Pats generally handle those kinds pretty well.

Falmouth physician Art Crago with a scup taken on a fly

November 16, 2013

Around the Cape, Around the World

by Jerry Vovcsko

Fishing may be somewhat dormant in Cape waters these days but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of wildlife action elsewhere in the world. British fisherman Bernie Campbell has been trying to catch a monster fish for the past seven years and last week he managed to haul the 206 pound, 8-foot albino wels catfish from the River Ebro near Barcelona, Spain. His catch tops the previous world record by ten pounds.

And one of the most secretive creatures on Earth — the saola — has been photographed in Vietnam for the first time in 15 years. Scientists first discovered the saola in 1992 in Vietnam near the country's border with Laos. It was the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years. But since its discovery, the elusive creature has rarely been seen in the wild, earning it the nickname the "Asian unicorn" (even though it has two long horns instead of one).

A lone saola was documented this past September by a camera trap set up in the Central Annamite Mountains by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Vietnamese wildlife officials. Though the beast is more closely related to wild cattle, it resembles an antelope with two sharp horns that can reach up to 4 feet in length. Scientists suspect that no more than a few hundred or a few dozen saola exist in the wild, but they have not been able to come up with a precise population estimate. The species is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Closer to home, coyotes foraging in a Provincetown parking area managed to create a nuisance that could end up with the parking area shut down. After nine coyotes were spotted begging at cars one night last month, Cape Cod National Seashore officials threatened to close the northern parking lot at Herring Cove Beach for two weeks to stop people from illegally feeding them. Rangers found bags of dog food along Province Lands Road and piles of fish guts and fish heads in the parking lot which points to deliberate attempts to feed coyotes, according to Seashore chief ranger Leslie Reynolds.

"If we don't see a marked improvement, the superintendent is intending to close Herring Cove north for two weeks," Reynolds said. "We would only do that if the feeding continues."

The parking lot, with 208 spaces, is popular for residents and visitors throughout the year because of its drive-up views of the ocean and the sunset. The beach itself is popular for evening bonfires. The coyotes have been coming over the dunes and lingering on the tarmac next to cars, on the beach and in the shadows around the beach fires. Coyotes will eat whatever is readily available including rodents, rabbits, deer, birds, insects, reptiles, fruits and berries, but also scavenge road kill, garbage, pet food and even cats and small dogs.

The coyotes may be active right now but the salt water fishing has slowed to a crawl lately. Bluefish are virtually non-existent now except for the occasional lingerer in the Canal and Buzzards Bay. The Canal also harbors a mackerel, Pollock and a few striped bass stragglers. Schoolie stripers can still be found along the south-facing beaches of Nantucket Sound. The estuaries strung out between Woods Hole and Bass River will continue to hold school sized bass including some that will ultimately stick around over the winter and – the good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise – eventually establish a local spawning population (some say that has already happened).

Stripers are still being caught along the Elizabeth Islands with the bulk of the action taking place on the eastern side of the islands between Tarpaulin Cove and Cuttyhunk Island. South of Martha's Vineyard, around Nomans Island has seen some lively striper action although that's tricky this time of year as high winds kick up steep seas making it dangerous for small boats to get too far out into open waters.

November is typically a transitional time for Cape Cod anglers. The salt water action wraps up for another year and local anglers turn their attention to the freshwater scene. Fortunately, the presence of lakes and ponds from one end of the Cape to the other makes the switch relatively easy to endure. Stripers and blues leave the area but trout, salmon, bass (both large & smallmouth), pickerel and pike make pretty darned good replacements and the stocking efforts of the folks from the State Environmental Department provide ample replacements. Bring plenty of PowerBait, shiners, salmon eggs and artificial lures to the freshwater-dance that kicks in big-time now that the stripers have departed.

The Patriots come off their bye week and head south for a Monday night game with the Carolina Panthers. The walking wounded got a chance to heal, Bill Belichick and his coaches had a little extra time to come up with a game plan for Cam Newton and Co., and it's home-stretch-time now as teams gear up for the Super Bowl run. Won't be too long before the tip-ups and other ice fishing gear come out of storage and we start monitoring ice-thickness on the ponds as Mother Nature gives the seasonal clock another half-turn.

Oh, and it's none too early to keep an eye out for a fat guy in a fur-lined red suit carrying a sack of goodies slung over his shoulder; he'll be checking out who's been naughty and who's been nice, and somehow he'll know about that new Van Staal reel you were hoping to see under the Christmas tree. You may want to leave some cookies out…just in case.

November 07, 2013

So Long, 2013 Season;Hello, 2014

by Jerry Vovcsko

So here we are again, another striper season slowly drawing toward a close as water temperatures get ready to slide below the "magic 50 degree mark". We're not quite there yet, but it won't be long and the more organized anglers among us have already planning their shift from the saltwater scene over to the sweetwater for late fall adventures with the trout, pickerel and bass in our local ponds. The state environmental folks have dispatched their trucks far and wide around the state to stock ponds and lakes with lots of hatchery trout and a fair number of brood stock salmon. The weather has been surprisingly benevolent the past few weeks and forecasts look pretty good over the next ten days or so although we've had a warning taste of northerly winds recently.
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