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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, 2014

Weather;s Lousy; Fishing's Good

by Jerry Vovcsko

On the day before Thanksgiving a couple of years back. I drove to the local seafood emporium to pick up a couple of lobsters to add to the table for the holiday feast. Seems that was a tradition in many Cape Cod homes a few hundred years ago, once the Pilgrims had changed their minds about the "crawly bugs" being agents of the devil. (I always like to ponder the question of who was the first person to gaze at a lobster and say, "Hmmmm, I think I'll cook that...and eat it.") But anyway, once that first taste of pure white lobster meat had started its journey down some New England fisherman's throat - helped along by a generous dollop of melted butter - Homarus Americanus soon took a featured place on the Thanksgiving Day menu.

Stepping out of my warm, cozy car put me right in touch with a brisk northwest wind blowing 15 to 25, a chill breeze that had dropped wind chills down to zero level by midmorning; it was clear that only the hardiest of fishermen would be out there this day. Well, lo and behold there was an old timer wetting a line down by the Canal and he had a nice assortment of mackerel in the bucket by his feet. He grinned and said "You wouldn't think they'd be hitting on a day like this, would ya?"

Of course, that's the way it often feels to veteran fishermen; the best fishing comes in the worst weather. There's the story about a farmer and his four sons who worked from first light to "can't see" six days a week. But after church on the seventh day, he and the boys without fail piled into their beat up old skiff and rowed out to the middle of the farm pond where they spent the afternoon fishing. One Sunday, as they sat there dunking worms and waiting for a bite, it started to rain. Before long it was pouring down, drenching them. The old farmer looked around at his soaking wet sons, considered the water dripping from the brim of his straw hat and mused aloud, "I wonder....I just wonder if fish can laugh."

But getting back to lobsters, a couple of weeks ago I stopped to pick up some cold cuts at a local deli and noticed a sign in the display case that read "Lobster meat - $36 lb." That's THIRTY SIX DOLLARS a pound, folks. This from a creature that the original settlers loathed so deeply that they used it in their fields for fertilizer. And back in the late nineteenth century the rich industrialists who fished from platforms anchored into the boulders along Cuttyhunk's rocky shores sent their guides to trap lobsters so they could use the tails for bait because it was the striped bass's favorite food, the fish obviously having better sense than the humans that pursued them. So if the wife happens to order up a lobster or two this holiday season, here's the way to handle them in the kitchen:

First of all, DON'T boil them. That's a sacrilege, according to Provincetown seafood chef, the late Howard Mitcham. He said to put about a half inch of water, a tablespoon of salt and tablespoon of vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. It's steam we're after, not a potful of boiling water. Put in one lobster and steam for fifteen minutes for one pound chicken lobsters with an additional five minutes for each additional pound. Check for doneness by grabbing the end of the tail, straightening it out and releasing. If the tail snaps back with a loud "clack", it's done. Don't overcook. Dulls the flavor. In a small saucepan, melt down some butter, then skim off the white froth and serve with the lobster. A fresh salad, some crusty French bread and a chilled bottle of good white wine. Life is sweet.

To avoid excessive guilt after the fine repast, grab a rod and head for the nearest, bay, lake, pond or stream. It's great exercise and fun besides. Now I don't know if fish can laugh or not, but as much entertainment as they provide for us anglers, they deserve a chuckle or two at our expense, so get out there even if that wind comes churning in from the north and ices your mustache and freezes your nose. Winter solstice is only a month away and the days start getting longer then, and that means Spring isn't so far off, is it?

November 26, 2014

Turkey Time in New England

by Jerry Vovcsko

Looks like Thanksgiving Day in southeastern Massachusetts is going to bring a bit of snow with it. We'll be settling down at the dining room table ready to work out on old Tom Turkey and watching the white stuff come fluttering down outside. That's okay, though…at least we're not expecting anything like the SIX FEET of snow that buried them in Buffalo last week. If the "lake effect" dropped six feet of snow out in western New York, imagine what a full-blown "ocean effect" could deliver here on Cape Cod.

Orleans District Court was the setting for a you-don't-see-this-too-often courtroom drama for two alleged incidents that resulted in a man being banned from all Wellfleet beaches. Fifty-one-year-old William Vannoy, of Fairfield, Connecticut, was arraigned on charges of assault and battery on a staff member at one local beach and destruction of property over $250 at another.

According to court documents, Vannoy was driving along Ocean View Drive in Wellfleet back in August and swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle that was passing a cyclist. Vannoy allegedly reversed direction and followed the other man's car into the Wellfleet Beachcomber parking lot at Cahoon Hollow. That man told police he noticed Vannoy next to his car. Vannoy allegedly ran down the dunes to the beach when confronted, and police found four puncture holes in a tire.

In his report Wellfleet police Sgt. Michael Turner said Vannoy was homeless and slept in his Jeep. A week later Lt. Michael Hurley responded to White Crest Beach in Wellfleet for a report that Vannoy had been harassing beach staff members. In his report, Hurley said lifeguard Jody Craven told him that Vannoy appeared intoxicated and seemed to be passed out on the sand. After staff members approached him to check on his well-being, he allegedly became angry and confrontational and shoved one of them off the back of his pickup truck.
That lifeguard filed assault charges against Vannoy, whose blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, according to results from a breath test administered by police. Vannoy was subsequently banned from all Wellfleet town beaches, ponds and parking lots. He is due back in court in mid-December.

A sea turtle weighing close to 300 pounds washed up on an Eastham beach Thursday, the largest discovered in Massachusetts waters this century, said Bob Prescott, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.The 279-pound adult loggerhead turtle was among hundreds of sea turtles that washed up along the Cape Cod shoreline in the past few weeks, Prescott said.

Bitter chill, harsh winds and choppy waves kept Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteers and naturalists from Dennis to Truro on Cape Cod Bay exceptionally busy. Starting the weekend 17 Kemp's Ridley turtles, stunned by the cold, were plucked from the shore. On Sunday, another 28 endangered sea turtles were rescued by the same folks. Sunday's rescue of 28 sea turtles is the highest for a single day since 1999, according to a New England Aquarium release.

All 45 sea turtles were then transported to New England Aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy. The hospital, a rehab for endangered sea turtles, will have trained staff slowly warming the cold-stunned turtles by raising their body temperatures from 50-odd degrees to where it should be around 70 degrees. Once their body temperatures are regulated and they are treated for hypothermia, malnutrition and another other ailments, the turtles will be transferred to the south and released in warmer waters off Georgia or Florida.

In an odd way, according to the aquarium, stranding is a sea turtle's only real chance at survival once they are trapped in the unforgiving November waters of Cape Cod Bay. Once their body temperatures hit the low 50s, they no longer have the ability to navigate out and around the long arm of the Cape that protects the bay. Water temperatures plunged early this year and to date more than fifty Kemp's Ridley sea turtles -the most endangered sea turtle in the world - have been shipped south to balmy Florida waters.

Water temperatures in Nantucket Sound have slipped below the fifty-degree mark and that's a little too cold for comfort where striped bass are concerned. That's not to say that they're not still around – there'll be stripers lurking in Cape waters right through the winter months…but last spring's immigrants will have mostly departed these waters by now and the ones left here won't be easy to find.

The Cape Cod Canal probably hosts a few bass still hanging around, looking for a meal of stray mackerel or herring but they'll be lethargic and tough to coax into hitting artificial lures. Best chance for a Canal striper these days would be on an east-running tide. Water from Buzzards Bay is a good deal warmer than pours in from Cape Cod Bay so it's probably best for anglers to try their luck in those relatively tepid currents. Chances are, though, those wandering currents of the Gulf Stream, the ones that brought us such semi-tropical species as jack crevalle, cobia, banded rudderfish, mahi mahi and red drum, are long gone now and we won't see their like again until the 2015 season. They were fun while they lasted.

Bluefish are gone now as are the funny fish – bonnies and albies – but in their place an angler's thoughts turn to the freshwater action and that's been pretty good so far. Trout fishing, especially rainbows, continues to provide plenty of action Peter's Pond in Sandwich, Sheeps and Cliff ponds down Brewster way and Mashpee/Wakeby on the Falmouth/Mashpee border.

The usual baits – worms, shiners, salmon eggs have all been effective – but artificials are taking their share as well and the worm/spinner combo has picked up some big rainbows in the deep ponds. If things slow down in the trout world, there's always a chance to coax a big pickerel from weed beds in most of the Cape Ponds – toss a shiner near the edge of the weeds and stand by. Or folks working from kayak or canoe can troll a red-and-white dardevle spoon along the edge of the weeds. It's an exciting prospect to feel a kayak momentarily stopped dead by a smashing hit from a big chain pickerel erupting from a weedy ambush site – even better if there are northern pike in residence.

I guess I should say a word or two about my New England Patriots. From the disappointing performances they showed us against Kansas City and Miami, they've come a long way and if that 9-2 record should prove to be a springboard into homefield advantage for the playoffs, well…it could mean another Super Bowl appearance for Belichick, Brady and Company. Go Pats!

November 15, 2014

The Cod Forsaken Waters of New England

by Jerry Vovcsko

After years of warnings, the feds who oversee the fishing industry finally said Okay, guys, that's it for all commercial cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine. Cod, the region's iconic species, are now subject to new rules (which will last for the next six months) expanding areas where fishing for cod was already banned and will also apply to recreational fishermen. They reduce the allowed accidental catch of cod to just 200 pounds per boat, tighten reporting requirements, and cut the size of nets allowed to be used to reduce the bycatch.

"We're trying to absolutely shut down fishing where there are concentrations of cod, so there will be zero cod caught," said John Bullard, Greater Atlantic regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "No one can trawl any gear that can catch cod. Anything that can catch cod is not allowed in these areas."

The temporary decisions could be made permanent when the next fishing season begins next May, Bullard said. The cuts come after the New England Fishery Management Council last year slashed the cod catch to 1,550 metric tons per year – 77 percent lower than was allowed in 2012.

Every year, it seems, as water temperatures fall, the cooling waters around Cape Cod become an obstacle to endangered sea turtles and many of these slow-moving creatures end up trapped in Cape Cod bay. Nine such sea turtles--all Kemp's Ridleys--were rescued from the shores of the Outer Cape last week, all suffering from hypothermia.

November, according to the New England Aquarium (NEA), marks the start of the sea turtle stranding season. So far this month, 11 sea turtles have stranded, according to an NEA release. On average, 100 sea turtles strand along the Cape's shores each season. The cool waters stun the turtles and the powerful waves and heavy winds push the turtles ashore. The turtles, most juveniles, have been in the area feasting on crabs.

Kemp's Ridleys are one of the three types of sea turtles that strand this time of year and into December; they are the most endangered sea turtle in the world and are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Most of the turtles rescued on the Outer Cape last week were found in Eastham, according to NEA, and were saved by the staff and volunteers of Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (WBWS) and taken to New England Aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy.

Experts will slowly warm the cold-stunned turtles by raising their body temperatures from 50-odd degrees to where it should be around 70 degrees. This slow process is done in increments of 5 degrees. Once their body temperatures are regulated and they are treated for hypothermia, malnutrition and another other ailments, the turtles will be sent south and released in warmer waters off Georgia or Florida.

Saw a couple of gents dunking bait in the creek by the Sandwich boardwalk the other day. Not much in the way of action but it was a mild, sunny afternoon and this time of year even the occasional sea robin bite is something to be cherished as a reminder of those heady spring days when the stripers first showed up on our Cape shores after a winter's worth of waiting, hoping and predicting their eventual arrival.

The 2014 striper season's just about done for these days but wasn't it great when the first scouts showed up back in May? We waited and waited for the bass to arrive and cheered when the temperatures in Nantucket Sound hit the Magic Fifty mark. Now it's 48 degrees and falling at the NOAA buoy in the Sound and yesterday morning we woke to a light coating of snow on the lawn as a wide band of wintery mix seeped into New England. It's almost over now, when it comes to fishing the salt water locations that held the promise of stripers all season long.

Almost, that is…which is not the same as completely done for. This is the time when the highliners get separated from the feather-merchants. There are still bass to be caught but they'll take a little more skill and determination to find and catch. Ideally, anglers looking to score will ease up into the salt marsh estuaries with kayak or canoe. Scorton Creek in West Barnstable comes to mind as one of the best locations for this type of late season fishing.

The trick is to time the tides so as to ride the flood deep into the marsh, toss a jig-and-plastic rig along the edges of the marsh and then ride the ebbing current back down to the mouth of the creek where it rejoins Cape Cod Bay. When the tide floods over the grassy banks of the stream, it washes all manner of bugs, worms, insects and assorted crawling things into the creek and stripers will be waiting. There may be debate as to whether these late season fish are just tardy migraters or winter holdovers or members of a local run, but whatever they are, the important fact is: they're still here and can be found deep into December and even beyond.

Of course, the usual suspects are still around as well. Tautog, for instance continue to hang around such places as the Weepeckett Islands; the rock ledges in Woods Hole; Cleveland Ledge in Buzzards Bay and pretty much anywhere rock piles or other structure offers safe shelter for the toothy buggers. Did I mention the wreck of the James Longstreet in Cape Cod Bay? Any wreck is worth a look and if green crabs can be found, the ‘tog will be happy to dine enthusiastically.

Winter flounder is as tasty a piscatorial treat as can be found anywhere. The trick, of course, is to find any. North of Cape Cod these guys can be caught the year around. South and east of the Cape it's March 1st to December 31st. Minimum size is 12 inches in either location and anglers who can persuade these scarce flatfish to take a whack at lure or bait will be in for a real taste treat when a few lightly seasoned and floured fillets hit the skillet. (And forget the butter-substitute any-old-things…real men use bacon fat…harrumph.)

So, yes, the saltwater scene is nearly drawing to a close but that just means the action's looking up over in freshwater lakes and ponds. We'll take a look at that venue in next week's blog. Sunday night sees the Patriots visiting Andrew Luck and the Colts in Indy. The Pats don't play in domed stadiums too often but TB and the rest of our stout lads will undoubtedly give Patriot Nation plenty of entertainment when they unleash their newfound passing game featuring Gronkowski, Lafell, Edelman, et al. Once again Air-New England takes to the skies. Eeh-hah!

November 07, 2014

High Winds, Horse Mackerel and Season's Swan Song

by Jerry Vovcsko

A couple of intense nor'easters took the top off much of the late fall action over the past week or so. That first slug of wintry rain/snow mix that coated Gillette Stadium for the Patriots – Broncos game brought air temperatures diving down toward the dreaded thirties. As air temps sink so do water temperatures and those mid-fifty numbers we've been seeing are steadily declining; magic-fifty mark, here we come. Won't be long now before we can say with some finality: So long, 2014 striper season.

But in the meantime, there's still some places to visit and fish to catch, stripers included. The Canal continues to produce bass for those persistent anglers who spend enough time working plugs, jigs and bait in the swirling currents of the Ditch. Slack tide allows a jig to make its way to the rocky bottom and it's there that the Big Ones lurk.

Live eels score with the occasional big bass pouncing on an oversized "snake" and thirty pound stripers are still at hand in the Canal ready to whack bait or lure passing nearby. Swimming plugs are the best choice now although a few anglers have done OK with pencil poppers. Personal preference dictates best lure color but I'm really all-in for those garish "parrot" color combos. For some reason they seem to work for me on late season stripers. Maybe it's just a case of that old saw: If you think it will or you think it won't, you're right.

Mackerel are probably one reason stripers continue to hang in the Canal. There have been large numbers of the little tunoids hanging around the east end and they are, of course, a striper favorite. In addition to the Canal, the macs had been thick as fleas on a barn cat up around Race Point and Provincetown Harbor. While few folks like to eat mackerel, they do make prime striper bait and those being caught here in the late fall will likely take up residence in anglers' freezers only to rise again in the spring.

To keep mackerel freezer-stored and relatively fresh for the following season, it's best to add a half-cup of salt to a quart of water and pour that into a half-gallon wax milk carton. Add however many small macs as will fit and pour more water in until the fish are completely covered. Close and seal the carton, lay it in the freezer and come next spring, these macs will make surprisingly fresh bait ready in time for the influx of the new season's striped bass.

Righty now is a very good time to fish the outflows of the south-facing estuaries and ponds from Woods Hole to Monomoy. There are still bluefish to be had in Nantucket Sound and stripers remain mixed in. Those rips south of Nantucket are active hot spots right now but the weather hasn't been the angler's friend lately as high winds have kept small boats moored at anchor for the most part. But when the rips make up and the winds allow, fishing the rips is exciting business, indeed, as the bluefish and striper mix is visible to plug casters anchored up within casting range.

The bonito and false albacore apparently felt the chill of the recent brisk nor'easterly winds and we won't see them again until August next year. They were great fun on light tackle but the fun's over for this season and the funny fish have taken it on the lam. North of Cape Cod Bay there are Bluefin tuna hanging around Stellwagen Bank with the occasional stray tuna showing up around Peaked Hill Bars and east of Head of the Meadow beach at Truro. All those mackerel schooling up off Provincetown may be the reason the Bluefin are sticking around.

The Vineyard – being the southerly departure point for the fall migration – still offers a mix of bass and blues and maybe even a solitary bonito that got distracted and forgot which way it was headed and hangs around hobnobbing with the others. The pre-dawn bite continues to be best-bet-time although anglers working live eels after dark have had productive sessions along the western shore of the Big Island down as far as Devil's Bridge. This is another wind-dependent location so small boat operators should have a care and know where to scamper in to the nearest safe harbor.

I would feel remiss if I didn't say a bit more about that Patriots-Broncos game I referred to earlier. When newly acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers sacked Peyton Manning late in the second half it pretty well put the cherry on the chocolate sundae. With Tom Brady lacerating the Bronco's secondary and The Gronk running wild on crossing and seam routes, the Patriots made clear just who was the cook and who the potatoes. The Pats are looking good – very, very good – these days and those football seers who wrote their epitaphs a few weeks back are being served generous portions of humble pie these days. As they say, "On any given Sunday……"

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