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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, 2015

Happy Humpback, Happy New Year!

by Jerry Vovcsko

come We are too soon old, and too late smart. (Anonymous)

Water temperatures in Nantucket Sound at the NOAA buoy…49 degrees. Pretty warm for this time of year. Usually we'd be seeing numbers around the low forties or even the high thirties by now. So I don't know if it's just another El Nino anomaly or if we're beginning to see global warming having an impact on our local climate.

Either way, it seems one juvenile humpback whale decided to celebrate the mild temps with a lively frolic in Narragansett Bay this week punctuated by midair acrobatics. The display of gymnastic leaps took place about two miles north of the Jamestown and Newport bridges. The whale was likely in pursuit of food and decide to have a little fun along the way to the delight of onlookers along shore.

Humpbacks rarely show up in Narragansett Bay and scientists speculated that the whale was a youngster that remained in New England waters for weeks after its elders left to breed in the Caribbean. The Latin name for the species — Megaptera novaeangliae — can be loosely translated as "big-winged New Englander," so maybe it's just a case of the teen-aged chickens home to roost, if whales can be construed as some sort of giant waterfowl that is.

There was a humpback spotted in New Bedford Harbor a couple of weeks ago; could be it's an itinerant adolescent roaming about looking for adventure in New England waters. Many juvenile humpbacks congregate for the winter on their mid-Atlantic grounds, off Virginia and the Carolinas, but with water temps milder than usual in Massachusetts and Rhode Island this one probably saw no reason to rush off.

In the Gulf of Maine, a favorite summer ground for the humpbacks, the mean surface temperature rose 4 degrees between 2004 and 2013. Cape Cod Bay, for example, has been stuck at 49 degrees for more than a week although readings there are normally in the low 40s at this time. As a result of the higher temperatures, many stranded turtles on Cape Cod that in other years might perish are being rescued alive.

There are still mackerel being caught in the East End of the Canal and rumors abound of random schools of macs roaming around Cape Cod Bay We also heard of a big school of mackerel off Chatham but Old Timers like to remind us that rumors and fish tales make mighty thin soup…so there is that.

It's looking like it may be a very long time before Cape Cod sees enough ice for anglers to venture onto the hard water but there's plenty of freshwater action still at hand. A bucket of shiners will bring plenty of fun when dropped around the weed beds where hungry pickerel hang out in local ponds. Peters Pond, Mashpee-Wakeby, Grews and Lawrence ponds on the Upper Cape are prime targets of choice and Cliff, Sheep, Long and Nickerson ponds down Brewster way regularly serve up pickerel, bass and trout.

The Patriots stirred up plenty of controversy by electing to kick to the Jets after winning the coin toss. That didn't work out so well for them but a win in Miami this Sunday will give the Pats home field advantage all the way throughout the playoffs. Some say that Commissioner Goodell is busy these days thinking up excuses so as not to have to be the one to hand Tom Brady the Lombardi Trophy should they win the Super Bowl. New England fans on the other hand are storing up a massive reservoir of Schadenfreude which they will be more than pleased to serve Commissioner Goodell on a gilded platter.

In any event, I want to wish readers a wonderful 2016…hope the year brings nothing but happiness and good things. For me, hip replacement surgery is on the schedule for next spring. I'm thinking it will be nice to actually walk around without looking like Peg Leg Pete or Chester from Gunsmoke.

Happy New Year everyone!

December 26, 2015

Post Christmas Ponderings

by Jerry Vovcsko

Sitting here in the midst of a debris field consisting of scattered swatches of torn Christmas wrapping paper, gift tags and beribboned empty LL Bean boxes, it occurs to me that Santa has come and gone and the most illustrious holiday of the year is slowly receding in the rear view mirror. Hope everyone got what they asked for and also enjoyed the chance to gather with family and toast the memories of those missing from their place around the hearth.

Sipping a cup of coffee and reviewing the events of the preceding season, a few random thoughts come to mind. Chatham entertained visits from a number of great white sharks again and scientists tagged a fresh crop of those visitors hoping to study their behavior patterns. Already they've determined that these streamline creature travel vast distances in our planet's oceans.

And once again a plethora of sea turtles found themselves caught by falling water temperatures in local waters and in need of help from volunteers, scientists and experts from the New England Aquarium. Many survived and were released back into the wild. Some did not make it.

Octogenarian Shirl Russo fishing out of Green Harbor caught a bluefin tuna earlier this year that weighed in a bit over 275 pounds. Here's a photo of his fish.

Local ocean waters continue to warm and species that were formerly subtropical regularly appear nowadays. Whoever would have expected to see lionfish in Woods Hole Harbor or mahi mahi down along the Elizabeth Islands?

The Boston Globe ran a story recently on the status of commercial fishing in our waters, and the prospects for the future. Not exactly inspirational material.

speaking of the Globe, there was a piece that caught my eye about one of our smaller animal inhabitants of the New England region that caught my eye and I thought I'd pass it along. Lots of interesting facts and general information on the nature of this tiny ball of energy and smarts, the weasel. But what really impressed me was the writing. First rate stuff by this woman who shared her deep admiration for a creature rarely mentioned in favorable terms. An excellent read for a winter's day.

frequently reminded that this business of ageing is simply not much fun. Aches and pains and general discomfort brought on by excess mileage on the body's odometer. Lately, I've had my share including a stint under the cardiac surgeons scalpel to have an aortic valve replaced with a fresh one provided by some anonymous bovine contributor.

The latest addition to the litany of old-guy's infirmities showed up when I went in to see about a new pair of eyeglasses and got the word that testing showed glaucoma had taken up residence in my left eye. My ophthalmologist, Dr. Lawrence Weene, in Brockton prescribed some drops and they seemed to help by reducing pressure in the eyeball.

During my last visit to the doc I noticed a brook trout on a wood plaque he had on the wall in his waiting room. I asked him about it and he said he'd caught the fish while vacationing with his family and had the mount done to mark the event.

"It's funny you brought up the subject of fishing," he said. "I just had a patient in this morning who had a fish story he told me about six schoolteachers who chartered a trip in Cape Cod Bay this summer. They each had caught a keeper-sized striped bass and were headed back in when one of them had their rod go over from another strike. Eventually he landed a massive striper that probably ran close to thirty-five pounds. He said they thought about keeping it and throwing one of the others back but decided not to and released the Big One."

It was nice to hear they'd had the ethics to do it the right way. It would have been tempting to a many of us to keep that big guy and slip one of the smaller ones back even if its survival prospects were nil, but the hope is that in the end a sportsman would do the right thing as these folks did.

The Patriots have nailed down the conference win that assures them a spot in the playoffs. But they've got their sights on a number-one seed with home field advantage throughout the playoffs so Sunday's game against the Jets is a big deal. The Next-Man-Up philosophy has gotten a real workout because there's been about a dozen injuries over the past few weeks and the roster has a cluster of new names including Steven Jackson and Leonard Hankerson. The goal, of course, is to win the Super Bowl where Commissioner Roger Goodell has to hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots…yes, that would be sweet indeed.

Crank up the Duckboats, boys, I think it may be time for another victory parade!

December 10, 2015

2016 Mass Fishing Permits

by Jerry Vovcsko

And then there's this from the folks at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries:

December 2015

2016 Recreational Saltwater Fishing and Lobster Permits are now available!

A 2016 recreational saltwater fishing permit makes the perfect gift for your favorite angler! 2016 permits are available for purchase online, at our offices, and at permit vendors. Please note, when buying a permit online, that the convenience charge has changed. Instead of a single fee of $1.85, the Active Outdoors charges are now the administrative handling charge ($1.34) and a 3% convenience fee ($0.34).

To get your 2016 permit online:

you can call to purchase over the phone: 1-866-703-1925. Available Monday through Sunday, 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please have credit card information ready!

Here we are, stewing in our juices about the 2015 striped bass season fading into distant memory and all it takes to get revved up again is the mention of salt water licenses on sale for the 2016 season. Yep, we'll soon be guessing about the imminent return of Old Linesides to our waters. But then again, I suppose that's why so many of us buy lottery tickets...

December 08, 2015

The Fat Lady Ain't Sung Just Yet

by Jerry Vovcsko

"With me, fishing has always been an excuse to drink in the daytime."
Jimmy Cannon
American sportswriter

I knew there was some reason I drag myself out in the cold and rain to throw garish bits of wood, plastic and metal into the ocean hoping something good will happen. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Jimmy.

For years we've heard dire warnings about high concentrations of mercury in swordfish, tuna and other pelagic fish. That's not news. But now we're told that the striped bass we catch in state marine waters may contain high levels of toxins that make eating too much harmful to one's health, especially for pregnant women and children.

Striped bass, folks! The fish we breathlessly await every spring so we can resume our quest for a thirty, forty or even fifty pound specimen. Now we hear our beloved stripers may be laden with all manner of toxic contamination. Massachusetts, of course, is the only state on the East Coast that does not specifically mention striped bass in its fish consumption advisories. While some states issue broad blanket advisories, especially for pregnant women and children, others offer

Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire all recommend that children as well as women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant not eat striped bass at all. Some states in New England warn the general population not to eat more than a maximum of between four and 12 meals per year of striped bass caught in state waters. Rhode Island has the most stringent advisory, urging striped bass not be eaten at all.

Now, Massachusetts activists are pushing for a bill that would create a statewide consumption advisory to warn the public about high levels of mercury and PCBs, a likely carcinogen that may be in striped bass. They say fish in Massachusetts have the same risk of toxins as striped bass in other states where there are advisories for the fish.

"Folks cannot make informed health choices if they are not being told of the dangers of consuming what they otherwise are being misled to believe is safe to eat," said Dean Clark, Massachusetts co-chairman of the conservation organization Stripers Forever, while speaking at a state Joint Committee on Public Health hearing on the bill in September.

"This labeling bill corrects a public awareness oversight in immediate need of fixing."

No federal warning specific to striped bass exists. Instead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consumers look to their states for advice on eating fish caught in local waters. While all adults are at risk of mercury poisoning, children, infants and fetuses exposed to high amounts of methylmercury — the form mercury takes once it filters into waterways and is absorbed by aquatic organisms — may be at risk of impaired neurological development, warns the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

While striped bass are not specifically mentioned in Massachusetts' consumption advisory for fresh and saltwater fish, the advisory does include a recommendation that at-risk populations limit consumption to 12 ounces, or about two meals, per week of fish or shellfish not covered by its guidelines.

The bill, pending before the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives, also calls for the state advisory to inform consumers concerning toxin levels in other ocean fish, such as tuna, mackerel, swordfish, grouper and bluefish. Massachusetts advises at-risk populations against eating bluefish, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna steak, and more than 12 ounces of canned tuna per week but provides no consumption advice for the general public.

Water temperatures hover right around the fifty-degree mark. Still, there are bass to be found in local waters, tautog continue hanging around in deeper water and mackerel in numbers cavort at the east end of the CC Canal. The macs are fairly small with most barely registering twelve inches on the tape measure, but there are some bigger guys mixed in as well.

There's lively action happening in local freshwater ponds, though. Peters Pond in Sandwich has been delivering ample catches of rainbow trout to anglers employing shiners and PowerBaits. Peters has been stocked over the years with salmon until the fisheries folks decided to stop stocking them. However, there are still plenty of salmon in residence and they've gotten larger every year, so it's worth taking a run at these broodstock Atlantics as they're not paying attention to fisheries department policies.

The ponds in the Brewster area have also produced robust catches of trout and will continue to do so right up until the January freeze puts the kibosh on open water fishing efforts. And Wequaquet Lake in Barnstable serves as a particularly popular destination these days because in addition to bass, trout and panfish, the lake holds a thriving population of pike, some of which tip the scales in double figures and upwards. The fat lady hasn't sung just yet and good fishing continues around these parts.

And now, after watching the past two Sundays worth of NFL football, I'm afraid the New England Patriots Scorched Earth Tour has fizzled out. The loss of such titans as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Donta Hightower and Dion Lewis to injuries has brought low the once mighty Pats and until Coach Belichick and his cohorts can get things turned around, the team will continue to struggle. But hear this, sports fans: The Pats will rise again and they have a deep and abiding familiarity with the road to the Super Bowl. Don't count them out just yet.

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