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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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December 30, 2013

Frilled Sharks, Carnivorous Fish and Killer Lakes

by Jerry Vovcsko

Less than forty eight hours from now we'll be saying adieu to 2013 and welcoming the New Year into town. Maybe 2014 will be the year that those seals crowding the Chatham beaches figure out a way to co-exist with the great white sharks that have made the Chatham area a way station on their pelagic travels. It's pretty certain local striped bass populations are rooting for the sharks because these voracious seals have been feasting on the stripers over the years and that's a less than pleasing situation for Cape anglers who would just as soon see the seals thinned out a bit.

But even with hungry Great Whites cruising around the Chatham beaches, there are other locations around the world that prove even less inviting to folks looking for places to wet a line. Take, for instance, beautiful Lake Karachay, a Russian lake so tainted by nearby nuclear facilities that it's considered perhaps the most polluted place on the planet, a lake so polluted that spending an hour there would kill you! Scientists studying the lake region in 1990, concluded that just standing on the shore for an hour would give you a radiation dose of 600 roentgen, more than enough to kill you. (On the plus side, lakefront property is probably really, really cheap.)

The lake sits squarely within the Mayak Production Association, one of the biggest and most porous nuclear facilities in Russia. The Russian government kept Mayak secret until 1990, and spent that period of "out of sight, out of mind" existence experiencing nuclear meltdowns and dumping waste into the river. When Mayak's existence was finally acknowledged, there had been a 21 percent increase in cancer incidence, a 25 percent increase in birth defects, and a 41 percent increase in leukemia in the surrounding region of Chelyabinsk.

Lake Karachay is now chock-full of concrete that's intended to keep radioactive sediment away from shore. Downstream water in the Techa river has almost no radioactive cesium, though you still can't drink the upstream stuff and the riverbanks will be dangerous for hundreds of years. Kind of makes those great whites look a lot better, doesn't it?

And it looks like fishing is expected to be banned near the Atlantic islet of Rockall after a rare methane gas vent in the seabed and two new shellfish species were discovered by British scientists.The methane, which leaks through a so-called "cold seep" vent in the ocean floor, was found last year by scientists working with the government agency Marine Scotland. It is the first of its kind to be found near UK waters and only the third in the north-east Atlantic. Scottish scientists detected it after Marine Scotland's Scotia survey ship trawled up two new species of deep-water clam that have a "chemosynthetic" relationship with the methane: the clams' food source is a bacteria that harvests the gas. That tells scientists there may be a complex ecosystem around the mouth of the vent.

Francis Neat, the Marine Scotland scientist who oversaw the survey, said the site roughly four miles west of Rockall Island was comparable to the complex habitats that build up around often exceptionally hot mineral-rich hydrothermal vents found on mid-ocean ridges. The clams were "packed full" of polychaete worms that are also expected to be new to science, he said. The International Convention on the Exploration of the Seas, an intergovernmental agency which polices fish stocks in the North Atlantic, has now recommended a fishing ban for the site, which is international waters, to protect it from highly damaging bottom trawling. It has also requested additional fishing bans – adding to several already in place - at three other sites around Rockall to protect rare cold-water coral, sea sponge colonies, and sea fans or gorgonians which are being harmed by bottom-trawling. The agency's surveys around Rockall also caught a frilled shark, an ancient "living fossil" species of shark that dates back at least 90 million years and is rarely seen in northern waters.

Meanwhile, our southern hemisphere neighbors might not be dealing with great whites, nuclear wastes or methane gas vents, but they've got fishy problems of their own. A surprise attack by a school of toothy fish recently injured 70 people bathing in an Argentine river, including seven children who lost parts of their fingers or toes. The director of lifeguards blamed the attack on palometas, "a type of piranha, big, voracious and with sharp teeth that can really bite."

Paramedic Alberto Manino said some children he treated lost entire digits. He told reporters from the local TV channel that city beaches were closed, but it was so hot that within a half-hour many people decided to take their chances with the toothy fish and went back to the water. A nice little comment on human nature.

Which brings us back to Cape Cod and wintry conditions much the same as we bumped into last week. But the weather-meisters tell us we have several days of frigid conditions coming our way the rest of the week and before that's over we should have at least four inches of solid, reliable ice cover to make it possible to drop bait and lures through the ice so now's the time to get the shacks, tip-ups and the rest of the gear ready for a foray out on the hard water at a pond of your choice. My number one recommendation would be Peters Pond over Sandwich way…trout, bass, perch and the occasional salmon can be plucked from its waters on any given day.

The New England Patriots turned loose 250 pound running back LeGarette Blount on the Buffalo Bills and he shredded the hapless Bills with 189 rushing yards and another 145 or so bringing back kickoffs – a nice day's work indeed. In the end the Pats dropped 34 points on their final regular season opponent which earned them a bye in the opening playoff round. Now we fans can sit back and watch the run for the Super Bowl…and it looks like the playoffs may well include a Manning-Brady rematch. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that, folks.

December 24, 2013

Winter Ice is Mighty Nice

by Jerry Vovcsko

Santa Claus sails his sled down from the North Pole tonight so tomorrow morning all the good little boys and girls will find out if Santa got their letters and they'll see whether that shiny new Van Staal reel or a lump of coal turned up in their stockings. Surprises are nice but sometimes they're a little more startling than we might need…or want.

Take, for instance, Los Angeles resident Jessica Hanson who was delighted to see the delivery crew show up at her house with a brand new Sears dishwasher still shrouded in its plastic and tape packaging material. Although the delivery crew, and apparently everyone else along the delivery chain, failed to notice the sizable garter snake stuck to the packaging material, Hasson and her boyfriend were immediately able to spot the difference between a drain hose and a three-foot snake.

Hasson promptly called animal control—a smart move, no doubt—but after some really hapless bureaucratic natterings, officials declared that they weren't able to do anything, since the snake was "already contained." A call to Sears brought equally ineffective results and in the end Ms. Hasson returned the dishwasher for a snake-free replacement at a later date.

A week after Christmas Day we'll be ushering in the New Year and hoping that 2014 turns out to be a year with perhaps fewer bizarre episodes for us to deal with, such as the gent who tried to trade a live alligator for a beer at a convenience store in Miami. The Florida state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave that guy a citation for illegally capturing and trying to sell the gator. He apparently trapped the 4-foot-long gator at a nearby park and brought it to the store in early December. When he proposed to trade the animal for a 12-pack of beer, the store clerk called authorities and the deal fell apart. Authorities said the alligator was "pretty much in good shape" and the creature was released back into the wild.

Well, we're in that transition time right now from open water fishing to wetting our lines through the fishable ice that should be forming soon. Actually, most of the local ponds in Southeastern Massachusetts have an inch or two of ice on the surface and if the weather turns out the way the TV weather guys are predicting, we may well have a solid four inches on top by New Year's Day. In any case, most of the ponds are inaccessible to fishing right now because of the ice coating and the salt water scene pretty much dwindled away a couple of weeks ago. So what's an angler to do….?

Keep in mind that some of the larger ponds such as Mashpee/Wakeby, Peters Pond in Sandwich and Lake Wequaquet are open for the moment so trout fishing is available with live shiners and jig/plastic baits the preferred offerings along with PowerBait and salmon eggs. Those places with moving water such as Scorton Creek in West Barnstable, Yarmouth's Bass River and the Coonamesset River in Falmouth provide access as do the tidal estuaries on the south side of the Cape. Casting small spinner rigs across the current and low-retrieving can be surprisingly productive if there are fish around.

For those still Jonesing for salt water action, the Cape Cod Canal is the place to try. The Canal is a fishy four-lane freeway during the season and although fish-traffic slows during the winter months, there's always something swimming around in there. A few years back I caught three decent sized Pollock out behind Joe's Fish Market in the Canal in mid-January by drifting sea-clam laden jigs shortly after the tide turned easterly. I've also had catches of mackerel, tautog, sea robins, a lobster and even one bluefish (I surmised that the blue had been hanging around in the warm water outflow at the Pilgrim nuke plant over in Plymouth and tried to make a run for it when the water got too chilly in Cape Cod Bay.) When you can go out there at the Canal the day after Christmas and catch a fish, then you can genuinely stake your claim to the status of a Real Cape Cod Angler or RCCA as we say in the trade.

I would definitely be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the New England Patriots' demolition of the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday. It was awesome and if the Pats continue to play at that level we could be looking forward to a Super Bowl visit to New York City in February. Polish up the Lombardi Trophy, boys, the Pats are coming to town!

December 14, 2013

Careful Where You Step

by Jerry Vovcsko

Hunting season in Massachusetts continues to bring out elements of the strange and bizarre behavior that makes a person ask: "Say what?"

Like the Marshfield family that may be facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening hunters in a no-hunting zone and using an air horn to scare away ducks. Police Chief Phil Tavares says the allegations have been referred to a clerk magistrate who will schedule a hearing to decide whether there is probable cause to charge the family members with hunter interference and threatening to commit a crime.

Chief Tavares said the three hunters had set up stands in an area in which hunting is not permitted, but which had not been posted as a no-hunting zone. (No hunting signs have since been put up.) He says the family members threatened the hunters with physical harm. Their names were not released because no charges have been filed.

Over on Nantucket Island, when Cam Dutton came home from work Wednesday, she discovered a bullet hole the size of a saucer through her second-story kitchen window on Barrett Farm Road and after looking around, found the shotgun slug lodged in the hallway ceiling three rooms away from the window. With only a few houses on Barrett Farm Road, the land in that area is often used by hunters. But even with a hunting club regularly renting land at the end of Barrett Farm Road, Dutton said she's never been worried about being shot, since she feels most of the hunters are responsible and keep 500 feet away from houses as required by law.

"The gun club people tend to be responsible but I suppose there are other cowboys walking around randomly shooting. The environmental police spent a lot of time trying to figure out the trajectory and calculating how it could have gotten that high, unless they were trying to shoot Santa's reindeer. I just would like to see more responsible hunting and see the more experienced hunters policing some of these cowboys that are out back," Dutton said.

The environmental police told Dutton her house was the first to be hit by a stray bullet this year, although such incidents are not uncommon, she said. Last year, a bullet went through someone's dining room window while they were home, and she believes that sooner or later someone will end up as the unintended target of a careless hunter.

Meanwhile, way south of us, scientists have been focusing on enormous herds of rhino-like animals that turned parts of what is now Argentina into pastures of dung, new fossils reveal. These giant herb eaters were dicynodonts, mammal-like reptiles that some say looked something like a cross between a rhinoceros and the demon dogs from "Ghostbusters." Argentine researchers have now found that these dicynodonts pooped in communal latrines, designated areas for depositing dung - guess you had to be careful where you stepped back in the day.

Lots of modern-day animals, including elephants, llamas and rhinos, poop in communal latrines. Scientists have even discovered fossilized hyena poop from several hundred thousand years ago that was deposited in communal latrines, but the behavior has not been found further back in the fossil record.

"This is the only case of megaherbivore latrine and it's the oldest found fossilized", said study researcher Lucas Fiorelli of the Centro Regional de Investigaciones Científicas y Transferencia Tecnológica in La Rioja, Argentina.

Fiorelli and his colleagues began excavating in northwest Argentina two years ago and quickly uncovered fossilized poop — known as coprolites — by the bucket load. These coprolites date back to the middle Triassic, 240 million years ago. In this era, small dinosaurs were just beginning to appear. In some areas, there were as many as 94 rounded fossil poops every 10 square feet (1 square meter). The coprolites varied in size from just about half an inch (1 centimeter) in diameter to more than a foot (35 cm) wide. Such variation in such a small area strongly suggested a herd of young and old animals living together, defecating communally.

In total, the researchers found eight separate latrine spots. Most of the coprolites were oval or spherical, with a few "sausagelike" outliers and a few shaped like cow patties. The only animal large enough to produce dung balls more than a foot in diameter in this region was Dinodontosaurus, a beaky, tusked bruiser that could weigh up to 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms). In comparison, a modern African female bush elephant weighs about 8,000 lbs. (3,600 kg).

Modern animals use communal latrines for communication — a big pile of dung can say anything from "dominant male lives here" to "fertile female nearby!" Communal defecation also prevents animals from spreading parasites, because they don't poop where they eat, Fiorelli said. It's not possible to know why Dinodontosaurus engaged in communal pooping, but the behavior could have served a similar purpose. Fiorelli and his colleagues have plans for more excavations in the region. They also plan to take a closer look at the Dinodontosaurus poop, which provides direct evidence of the kind of plants that were in the area 240 million years ago. My guess is they'll simply discover what many of us already know: poop happens.

The weather is having a dampening effect on local fishing efforts these days: too cold for comfort; not cold enough to form safe ice. Some ponds have started to form an ice slick but nowhere near what's needed to support an angler's weight. And now the weekend forecast is calling for snow turning so we probably won't know what we've got until early next week. What we do know, however, is that there has been plenty of trout showing up in recent catch reports, including rainbow, brook and brown varieties. Smallmouth bass have also been providing some action lately and yellow perch continue to show up locally in good numbers. While it's true that not many anglers set their sights on perch as a first-choice option, these small critters are tasty in the extreme when corn-flour-coated and fried up in bacon fat in a hot, cast iron skillet…calories be damned

Scargo Pond in Dennis may not get much mention when the talk turns to good trout locations, but this fifty acre pond with a maximum depth of forty-eight feet is stocked annually by the state environmental folks and harbors populations of brook, rainbow and brown trout. Because Scargo has a kind of "shelf" where shallow waters drop off into plus-twenty foot depths, it's a favorite of fly casters other wader-wearing anglers. In general Scargo Pond doesn't get the same fishing pressure that other, more popular, ponds receive but it's definitely worth a visit.

Depending on what the winter of 2013/2014 has in store for us, we may be transitioning over to ice fishing before long. Best to have a little patience on that score, though. It may be some time before solid ice cover becomes sufficiently weight-bearing to support those of us closing in on the 300 pound category. I'm among those packing on the calories. I tell my wife it won't be long before the NFL holds its annual draft and I hear the Patriots are in need of offensive linemen. Well, I've certainly been considered as offensive as the next guy, so I figure I've got a chance to go by maybe the third or fourth round. But in the meantime I guess I'll stay off the ice until it's a good four inches thick …and you should, too.

December 06, 2013

Quiet In the Salt But Action In the Sweetwater

by Jerry Vovcsko

Hunting season on Martha's Vineyard is underway. Typically, that consists of traipsing through the scrub pine and tick infested underbrush and maybe getting a shot at one of the underfed, undersized bucks that proliferate the island these days. Some modern day hunters attempt to up the enjoyment level by arming themselves with black powder weaponry such as the Kentucky long rifle wielded by Daniel Boone and his cronies in days of yore.

But the annual deer hunt on the Vineyard took a turn toward the bizarre when Steven Carlson, 49, of Oak Bluffs, allegedly aimed his Ruger 77 modern black powder rifle at another hunter instead of a deer. Carlson was promptly arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon stemming from the incident, according to a statement from Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi.

When the first report of the incident came in police issued an alert and a nearby local school was locked down. Things ramped up as a police search for Carlson ensued at a nearby swamp, with assistance from multiple departments, according to Chilmark police. A short time later State police were brought in and lent the use of two helicopters. They were on the scene until late afternoon and the situation resolved peacefully when Carlson turned himself in after friends and family convinced him to do so and his bail was set at $2,000, according to Chilmark police. Why a gun was pointed at another hunter is not clear at this time and the incident remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, problems continue to emerge in the waters around the world. As if the presence of invasive fish like snakeheads and Asian carp wasn't already problematic, a new species may have arrived on the scene, namely, the Eurasian ruffe.

Genetic material from this species has been found in southern Lake Michigan for the first time, raising the possibility that it could migrate into the Mississippi River watershed and compete with native fish there, scientists say. Researchers testing Great Lakes waters for signs of Asian carp and other invasive species detected DNA from the ruffe in two samples taken in July from Lake Michigan's Calumet Harbor at Chicago, said Lindsay Chadderton of The Nature Conservancy, a member of the research team.

No actual ruffe were seen and State and federal officials downplayed the likelihood that the DNA discovery signaled a significant presence of the exotic fish even as they urged anglers to be on the lookout for them. Still, Chadderton urged the agencies to take the threat seriously and step up monitoring of Chicago-area waters.

"This could be the first indication that Eurasian ruffe are on the cusp of using the Chicago canal system to invade the Mississippi," he said.

You like to think that it would be a fairly uneventful matter to get in your kayak and head out for a little local fishing, but that's not always how it goes. Earlier this week a kayak fisherman died after a shark attack in Hawaii. Maui County Ocean Safety officials received a report that a shark attacked a man fishing in a kayak between Maui and Molokini, a small island less than 3 miles off the southwest coast of Maui that is popular for diving and snorkeling.
Maui County police identified the man as Patrick Briney, 57, of Stevenson, Wash. The shark bit his dangling foot while he fished with artificial lures to attract baitfish. His fishing partner in another kayak tied a tourniquet on the man and sought help from a nearby charter tour boat. The boat took them to shore, and the man was transported to a hospital.

And back in August, a German tourist died a week after losing her arm in a shark attack. Jana Lutteropp, 20, was snorkeling up to 100 yards off a beach in southwest Maui when the shark bit off her right arm. Before Lutteropp's death, the last shark attack fatality in Hawaii was in 2004, when a tiger shark bit Willis McInnis' leg while he was surfing in Maui.

Scientists haven't figured out why sharks attack have increased this year. If this keeps up it might just be time to bring Quint, Hooper and sheriff Brodie back out of retirement to deal with these increasingly bold sharks.
"Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…"

Cold weather, high winds and chilling rain has kept the salt water action to a minimum lately. A few local anglers continue to work the rivers, creeks and estuaries looking for a stray striper or two but for the most part the 2013 recreational fishing season is finito. However, the action is lively on the freshwater scene where anglers have been taking trout, salmon, bass – both smallmouth and largemouth – as well as pickerel and, in one or two Cape lakes, northern pike in double digit weights. PowerBait and shiners have been the popular baits for trout and locations such as Peters Pond in Sandwich; Sheeps and Cliff ponds in Brewster; Mashpee-Wakeby Pond in Mashpee and Grews Pond in Falmouth have been among the more productive sites.

One lightly fished pond that deserves more largemouth activity is Lawrence Pond in Sandwich. With maximum depths of 27 feet, Lawrence harbors an extensive largemouth population. Jigging with plastic worms and working buzzbaits along the surface will bring good results this time of year. Pay attention to the small coves and be sure to cast around the points of these bays. Lawrence is well protected from the wind and on a breezy day it's a good place to fish in safety and comfort. There are plenty of yellow perch in residence and tossing metal slabs around the edges of weed beds will likely turn up a nice pickerel or two.

Looks like the Yankees have signed speedy center fielder and base-stealer par excellence Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Red Sox. Well, Sox fans wish him well as he helped bring two World Series titles to Boston and played hard for the Boys of Summer. Yankee fans will enjoy watching Jacoby going from first to third on a base hit…as they say, you can't teach speed. Only four months to Opening Day!

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