Archive for the 'Fishing' Category

Oct 14 2013

Tautogology

When I was a kid I saw some fishermen bring a mess of tautog (Tautoga onitis) into the Town Dock and lay them out on the planks for a hose-off. I'd never seen a fish like it before, and was really fascinated by the horrid red tumor-ish looking thing on their white underbellies. They are known as "blackfish," "oysterfish" and the "poor-man's lobster." Yesterday I caught and ate my first one ever.

Tautog is a word from the Narragansett tribe, originally "tautatog"  and first noted by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1648 lexicon of the Narragansett language. They are members of the wrasse family and are remarkable looking fish, with thick rubbery lips and snaggle-toothed mouths with blunt teeth for crushing and grinding shellfish and crustaceans, their preferred diet. They spawn inshore in the spring and move off a bit to rocks and wrecks during the summer, migrating to deeper water over the winter. The fish are renowned for being one of the better eating fish in New England, especially in fish chowders, and are said to be tricky to catch given their penchant for diving back into the rocks when hooked up.

With the fall fishing season being measured in weeks if not days, I feel a strange longing to get on the water as much as possible these autumn weekends and put my time in before I put the boats away and settle into another winter of my discontent. So yesterday, on a brisk Columbus Day weekend Sunday, I called around the local bait and tackles looking for crabs -- the preferred fall bait of the tautog -- found some in Falmouth, and off I went for two quarts of green crabs, some six ounce bank sinkers and four pre-tied rigs.

My son and I took the skiff out through Seapuit and the Osterville Cut and immediately questioned the wisdom of pounding through the three-foot seas to the best tautog spot in the area, a ledge of rocks a mile or so off of Centerville. I could only run the boat at slow ahead while trying to dodge the spray and I could feel the negative vibes radiating off of my passenger as one wave after another soaked us down, rendered my sunglasses useless, and foretold an expedition that would probably redefine "fool's errand." But we had $10 worth of crabs to use and I was determined not to throw away good bait just because of a healthy northeasterly breeze pushing a chop into our face. Real men fish when they can, not when it's nice.

After twenty minutes of slow going I saw the surf crashing over the exposed pile of snaggle-toothed rocks -- a bad sight that made me happy to have a VHF radio aboard should something catastrophic happen -- and made a slow approach, looking for the best way to anchor in the building seas without crunching the lower unit of the outboard on the pile of glacial till. My son made ready with the anchor, I motored upwind to one side of the reef, told him to let it drop, and waited until it dug in and the boat pointed up into the wind.  We were too close on the first set as only  five feet lay between us and catastrophe. So I went back into gear, took the tension off the anchor line and had him pick it back up for another set about twenty feet off. The advice on fishing tautog was simple: find the obstruction and get close as the fish lurk right around the rocks picking off barnacles and crabs. Setting the baits too far away is useless because the tautog won't venture very far from their shelter.

With the anchor set and no signs of dragging to our doom like the wreck of the Hesperus, I was confident enough to turn off the engine and make ready with the rods. We were using old fiberglas trolling rods owned by my grandfather -- wooden handles, yellow and blue thread around the guides, with old Penn conventional reels filled with 50 lb. test monofilament. I tied on the rigs, clipped on the weights, and, seeing that the boat was pitching way too much to safely play with hooks, took a safe seat, opened up the chinese-food paper quart container, and took out the first victim -- a little green crab.

Fishing with bait is a bit violent. Guaranteed to get an "eww" out of the audience, and working with crabs is a bit sadistic. I ripped off the claws and legs until I had a half-dollar sized circle of crab body. In goes the hook, one on top and another below in a classic hi-lo bottom rig

I slung-cast both sets of bait right beside the ledge, handed one rod to my son and kept one for myself.

The boat kept pitching and rolling like crazy. An open 18-foot skiff, in mid October on Nantucket Sound without a single other boat around to offer rescue should the worst occur and Cousin Pete out of town for the weekend and thus unable to answer any panicked cell phone calls to come out in his boat and save us (and I didn't renew my BoatUS tow policy this summer).  But we had life jackets and a radio so I wasn't too concerned, just vigilant as we were on the verge of pushing our luck as the white caps built and the wind blew harder off the land in the direction of Hyannisport and the Kennedy Compound.

"Whoa." My son went from skeptical to interested. I turned and saw his short rod bent double.

"Caught in the rocks?" I asked skeptically.

"Hell no. This is a fish."

The rod bounced the way they do when there are fish on the other end as he reeled, fighting the submerged surprise. I got ready to assist. Bracing myself against the rolling of the boat as the anchor line creaked and rubbed in the chock. And then, from the green depths, was a black shape. I leaned over, guided the line through my hand to the leader, and swung the catch inboard.

It was a tautog. A black, slippery, pugnacious tautog with the big red "vent", its exaggerated anal opening all red and protruding due to the crushed shells that pass through it, sort of the fish equivalent of a diet of crushed glass and razor blades mixed with hemorrhoids and fissures. I got a hold of the very cool looking fish, let it calm down, grabbed the fishing pliers and worked the hook out, laid the fish along the ruler on the edge of the cooler seat, and finding it well over the 16" minimum, tossed it in the bucket for dinner.

Then it was my turn. I landed a little one, about a foot long, and gave it the obligatory good luck kiss on the head and sent it back to grow up.

Thirty minutes, fifty unlucky crabs, and the bucket was loaded with the limit of six squirming fish (three each). I tossed the remaining crabs over the side to fend for themselves or appease the hungry Tautog God, then broke out two beers and a pair of chicken sandwiches slapped together from Saturday night's leftovers. All was well with the world.  It doesn't get much better for a guy than to catch fish with his eldest son on a sunny day (and then watch the Red Sox snatch an epic victory from the Tigers later than same day).

The "fun" part began when we got home. I banged a nail into a plank to keep the fish from sliding around while I filleted them and got very up close and intimate with my food. Which is how it should be. The tautogs' stomachs were filled with crabs and shells (CSI Cotuit, Dave Churbuck fish coroner). I stripped out the guts and gills and set aside the heads and racks to make a fond de poisson (fish stock). While that bubbled away we hit the grocery story and bought the fixings for a Bahamian fish chowder. It was good. The tautog went to their maker in a very good and spicy stew and will see further duty tonight in Baja-styled fried fish tacos.

 

5 responses so far

May 09 2013

Sharpening the hooks

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

The lilacs are about to bloom, the lily-of-the-valley is coming up behind the kitchen and my birthday is only days away which can only mean one thing:

The fish are back.

Or should be back. They weren't here  last weekend. I went out twice and was skunked both times, but that's part of the fun of spring fishing. Fisher, Cousin Pete and I kept the local waters honest on Sunday with a brave slog out of the Wianno Cut to Lone Rock in the Good Ship Wet looking for squid. Pete saw the squid fleet arrive and depart a few days before, so either the squid run isn't happening this year, or the squidders got out too early because the Cape is  experiencing a delayed spring with lower than usual water temps brought on by a thoroughly shitty winter. Who knows. Maybe this weekend.

On Sunday we cast our squid jigs down to the bottom, bounced them up and down --  little pink torpedos festooned with pins which supposedly tick off the squid who attack them in the belief they are fish after their eggs. These are good eating squid and the big fleet of commercial fishermen who line the horizon of Vineyard and Nantucket Sound the first week of most Mays are testament to their value. Pete, Fisher and I like to catch them for dinner and to put away some in the freeze for fluke and striper bait later in the season, but I hear these are really prized squid for the table and command a high price on the market. On a good day an angler with a single rod and a couple jigs can easily fill a 5 gallon bucket. I've learned that a half-dozen are all I need. They are a pain in the ass to clean and according to one local expert, rinsing them in fresh water ruins them -- apparently  only saltwater should be used. I can't cook them. Squid confound me. Always come out tougher than inner tubes. Like fish flavored rubber bands. Some say to either cook them for ten seconds or ten hours. And as for calimari? That was a disaster. My attempt to clone the awesome grilled squid from Inaho in Yarmouthport?  A cat wouldn't consider it. (digressionary recommendation: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, fantastic documentary on the sushi master of Tokyo, the first to get three Michelin stars).

Squid are very fun to catch -- they change colors like a hippie lightshow at the Fillmore, blast jets of black ink in protest, and, if handled correctly while being de-pinned from the jigs, can be aimed at one's fellow squidders to coat them in the stinky stuff. The boat is always a disaster afterwards. My old friend Bob used to go out with a bunch of beer, dressed in a white painter's pants and a white wife beater just to really get down and dirty in the ink.

Anyway, we rolled and staggered with our yet-to-be-learned sea legs, beam-to in a big Nantucket Sound swell coming out of the southeast ("Wind east, fish bite least") and even though it was very nearly shorts and t-shirt weather back at the house, the ocean still feels downright March-like. I need to check the water temperatures, but we were bundled up in fleece and windbreakers and may stay that way until Memorial Day.

Ten minutes squidding and there was nary a sign of them at the rock, so we ran in with the seas to the Cotuit channel, switched the squid rigs for day-glo orange surface plugs  -- Rangers and Ballistic Missiles -- and made a half dozen big casts to see if we could induce an early bluefish scout to attack. Nothing happening. So we ran all the way up inside of the bay, beached the skiff at the west end of the Narrows, and threw little Rat-L-Traps and Sluggos into the channel looking for a spring schoolie striper. Nothing there either, so we cracked a beer, shrugged and decided we were a week early.

I've caught bluefish in late April. There were squid around, so that may explain the missing link. I used to catch tons of striped bass this time of year, tagging them for the American Littoral Society -- but I'm not so into catch-and-release anym0re, not wanting to mess up a fish just for the sport of playing it on light tackle. The Cape Cod Times is reporting a keeper-sized bass taken in Cotuit (I need to check what the rules are now, in my mind a "keeper" will always be 36"), as well as a bluefish off of Popponesset, so I know where I will be tomorrow afternoon when I return to the Cape from NYC.

And, to kick off the piscine season, I even remembered that the Commonwealth now requires a saltwater fishing license, and like a good citizen I paid the state my $11 bucks for the slip of paper. The regulars at Reel-Time used to get all heated on the topic of licenses. Libertarian anglers are pretty common. Me, I favor licenses if the funds are earmarked for fishery protection and yes, I believe striped bass should be declared a gamefish and put off limits to the commercial guys.

My son wants to learn the maddening art of fly fishing this year, so I cleaned up an old Scott 1o-weight and will get him going on the lawn this weekend, elbow tucked into his side like he was holding a bottle of gin, casting with his forearm only, stiff wrist, making a long oval in the sky with the rod tip, double-hauling, feeding out more and more line until he turns into a regular Lefty Kreh.

As for the tackle shop that lives in my garage.... well, it's also where I store the galvanized garbage cans full of bird seed -- so the rodents have infested the drawers and cabinets with their balls of  fuzz and sunflower husks, peeing all over everything and probably exposing me to some ugly hantavirus. I found one fly rod case with the end chewed off and a family of field mice inside. Little $%^%^&&%$#'s .....I'm buying a lot of moth balls and will see if I can resort to chemical warfare to keep them away.

There are few OCD pleasures in the world that compare with fiddling around with fishing tackle. I'm an obsessive when it comes to the old saying that most fish are caught the night before. Bimini twists, wire leaders, split rings, new 4/0 trebles on the bluefish plugs, splicing 30 lb leaders onto the striper rods with Albright knows and a bead of Pliobond rubber cement to ease the knot through the rod tip; cleaning the fly lines, cataloguing the flies and putting together a box for early season bass, poppers for bluefish, a hookless plug so I can use a spinning rod to tease the blues up to the fly fisherman; leaky waders, wader belt, line basket......the list is staggering, but given the evil price of tackle these days, it pays to scrounge the high water wrack line on Dead Neck every fall for the plugs and lures that wash up there. For the price of a new hook and a little TLC I can resurrect a $10 lure and absorb some of my own losses due to bad knots, boneheaded casts, or overpowering fishies.

Found money -- an old wooden popper found on the beach with the paint worn off

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Apr 25 2013

Karen Hill: 1940-2013

Karen Ann Hill passed away this week after suffering a fall. She was 73 years old and arguably the best known face of recreational fishing on Cape Cod.

For Karen owned Sportsport, the little tackle shop in Hyannis that she inherited from her father, a beloved institution marked by the familiar sight of the Old Salt fishing in the parking lot wearing yellow foul weather gear, rain or shine. I knew the Old Salt before I ever met and became friends with Karen. It was one of those icons I first saw as a kid and have carried with me ever since, despite how much the rest of the Cape changes around me. Some motorist took him out a couple years ago. Karen had sold the shop already and retired. But the new owners knew that Sportsport wasn't Sportsport without the bearded man in the red boat, and he fishes on to this very day.

I didn't get to know Karen until 1991 when I first moved to Cape Cod full time to raise my family. Churbucks weren't a fishing family when I was a kid. My father prohibited fish (aside from frozen Gorton's of Gloucester fish sticks served to his kids) from ever being served (some old dislike he probably picked up in the 40s when a bluefish was about it when it came to protein for the table) and he certainly didn't fish but he sure loved to clam. My grandfather wasn't a big fisherman as I recall.. So there weren't a lot of the father-son-grandpa-bonding-over-fishing-scenes in my youth. When I did fish it was with my brother, a dropline and a cracked open quahog from the Town Dock for scup and eels, the latter species terrorizing me.

When I became a townie in 1991 I noticed the locals all driving around with fishing rods on their roof racks in the early spring and fall -- something was going on that I didn't know about and I decided I would take up fishing. Obsessive maniac that I become when I really get into something (fishing, Italian bicycles, watching complete archives of a TV series in one binge), I started to really get into fishing, developing a fishing jones I couldn't appease. I read nothing but fishing books, bought nothing but fishing tackle, and coveted rods and reels like a sex fiend. I woke up at 3 in the morning to fish. I fished at 10 pm in January during a snowstorm on a beach in Sandwich  near the Cape Cod Canal on the stupid hunch that I might catch a tom cod. I didn't but it was worth it for the story. I risked drowning night after night standing in the foaming surf on sandbars off the beach in Chatham fishing for a "keeper" (a striped bass over 3-feet long) and marveling at the wildness of the stars and the Atlantic all in front of me. I waved a fly rod so much in the wind that my shoulder fell apart and I had to stop for six months of physical therapy.  They say there are 365 fresh water ponds on Cape Cod? One for every day of the year. I tried to fish them all. Livelining, chumming, trolling, roll casting. You name it, I wanted to try it.

I even started "the Internet Journal of Salt Water Flyfishing" - Sportsport was the first advertiser.

And Karen Hill fed my habit. I basically moved her tackle store ten miles west into my garage over ten years, one sinker, one bobber, one hook at a time. I could have betrayed her and gone online, but that would have meant missing out on the unique retail experience that was Sportsport under Karen's ownership.

First, there was no such thing as "ducking in real quick" for something at Sportsport. Karen never rushed. Ever. Stepping inside the door and getting out again in under 30 minutes was a miracle. The place could get very busy, and Karen would be winding new monofilament on somebody's reel while a mob fidgeted to pay for their bait and get back to the fish. She had to hang up the phone to swipe a credit card. She totalled up all the little bits of fishing stuff -- swivels, lures, buckets of writhing eels -- on a scrap of paper, totalled it up on a calculator, and then put the total into the register. She usually swore at the register.

Second, she was the CIA of Cape Cod fish. If there were rumors of fish, Karen heard them first. And to get her to part with this intelligence meant buying something, even if it was a $0.30 lead sinker. eCommerce fishing tackle sites doesn't whisper to you that "they're murdering them at Dowses on purple Deadly Dicks" A photo of one's self on the door of the bait refrigerator meant you were a made man. Cousin Pete and I schemed to freeze an October bluefish until February (they migrate to the Cape in May), thaw it out, drive it to Hyannis, and ask Karen to take a picture of us holding the earliest bluefish of the year for the fridge. I regret we never did it. She would have howled and called bullshit and then taken the picture anyway.

And then there was Karen's School of Fishing. Feeling bored and beset with cabin fever on a sunny day in early April, weeks before the stripers and blues return? Karen would teach me the ins and outs of fishing for winter flounder and I'd walk out $50 poorer with flounder rigs, a chum pot, and the advice to fill it with crushed mussels and cans of cat food.

Her assistant Mark became a good friend and great fishing buddy. We sort of enabled each other's addiction and would drive from one side of the Cape to the other just to catch the favorable tides at Menahaunt on the southside and Bone Hill on the north.

But most of all Karen was a friend, a good wise motherly lady in a business not known for a lot of ladies. She was blessed with a great sense of humor, a way of making you feel you were the most important customer she'd seen all day, a great laugher, and a true Cape Codder;  a veritable Old Salt herself.

One of the greats has passed. I'll kiss my next fish on the head and let it go to swim another day just for Karen.

2 responses so far

Mar 04 2013

2013 Herring Counts

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

The annual herring census conducted at the Marstons Mills run at the intersection of Routes 149 and 28 will be discussed Saturday, March 16 at a meeting   at Liberty Hall in Marstons Mills from 3 to 5 pm. I can't make it, but I hope to volunteer my time to the cause.

The herring project has a blog with more information and contact info.

The fish generally arrive in mid-April (I always associate them with school vacation and Tax Day) and continue into early May. The population has crashed in recent years (theories abound as to why) but the taking of herring has been banned by the state (as well as Rhode Island and Connecticut) for the past several years to the dismay of striper fishermen who love to live line for the first run of spring bass. The first scouts should be reported in a couple weeks at the Middleboro  and Aquinnah runs which seem to see them arrive first.

A good source of information about the alewive and blueback herring project (as well as the moratorium on their taking) can be found at the state Division of Marine Fisheries' website.

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Oct 06 2012

On tuna and birds

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

A day of hooky east of Chatham looking for bluefin tuna aboard the tractor-of-the-sea, the good ship Laura J, dawned to find me in the company of some sixty-other boats trolling squid bars and rigged ballyhoo in aimless etchings across a calm October sea somewhere to the north and east of the wreck of the Regal Sword. Wreck sites are sinister places and entomb under their unknowing depths some vestige of the violence and fear that occurred there on that exact spot on the Cartesian grid some days and years before.  Some wreck sites, like that of the Andrea Doria south of Nantucket, are marked by buoys so divers can find them. Other are marked by little death symbols on the chart. Others are existentially unknown, but down there just the same. The Furuno depth plotter will sketch a pixellated silhouette of the tanker or trawler, but only the tuna and the blue sharks, the herring and the humpbacks can really know the truth of what lies on the sands 200 feet below shrouded in tattered fishing nets.

Fishing isn't called "catching" for a reason. Ten hours of standing at the rail or atop of the flying bridge scanning the surface of the ocean for signs of the unknowable below can inspire reveries on the micro chaos of the water's surface and the macro order of the implacably flat and even line of horizon between sky and sea. One's complete insignificance as the only lonely thinking speck in the middle of all that nothing... the fear of drowning, of falling overboard, zipper dropped, into the foaming wake of the Duffy '33, is compounded by the thoughts of the broken-backed tanker somewhere down below the skipping squid bars and the hydraulic breaching flukes of the whales.

The sight of the tuna fleet trolling around in a disorderly fleet of $6 million Merritts and tiny death-defying $100,000 center consoles, boats owned by beer distributors and contractors, real estate tycoons and dentists, all chasing the elusive 900-pound giant bluefin while bickering about run-over lines and cut off fish in amazing blue rants of obscenities and racial epithets unsquelched on channel 68, is enough to calm any anxieties about going over the side and drowning slowly in the nothingness with no one to come and care. There is a society east of Chatham. An improvised tribal structure of men in competition and cooperation, bound together by the anonymity of a VHF radio that has no Caller-ID, just the blind attempt to know each other by the color and type of their boats. Sample discourse:

"Blue center console to my port. Blue center console to my port. What the fuck am I supposed to do if you do that under my bow? Get your shit out of my shit please. Over."

Skippers give one another a "shout" and try to find some enlightenment as they ask each other "how's it going over there?" and share veiled intelligence by trying to hide from the crowd on a different channel and speaking in extemporaneously composed code:

"I'm a-south of you, near the place with the initial of my last name where we found them last week...."

The radio chatter is heard by all, a common sound track for the afternoon. The fights, the squabbles, the hints of success ....the crew of the Laura J.  stops talking amongst themselves to listen like a Depression family in the days pre-TV of radio fireside chats and Fibber McGee.

There are no fish this morning, but hopes are pinned on the slack tide in two hours, the story of yesterday's success that says the tuna will rise from the depths after 3 pm for the "late bite." So the crews of the 60 boats stop staring at the skein of lines strung off their sterns and sit down for sandwiches and apples, Double-Stuffs and Ruffles, and tell each other yarns about condom-jammed cesspools, dockside fist fights, and the stupidity of wealthy boat owners.

The lunch break brings a change of topic to the discourse on Channel 68. Ornithology.

"Hey, we've got a bird aboard."

"We've got two."

"Ours likes ice cubes and SmartFood"

"Ours likes macadamia nuts and Poland Springs"

As the radio talks of birds one flies up to the starboard side of the Laura J and tries to perch on the splash rail.  The crew looks over the side to see it fall and land in the water. We cheer when the bird breaks free from the deadly surface and lifts itself up and over the rail, confusingly skittering among the three bodies in the cockpit, to dodge past us to safety inside of the cabin with the captain who is tucking into an Italian sub with no hots.

"Don't tell Eddie there's a bird in the cabin," says one. "He'll go nuts if he thinks it's shitting in there."

A second bird arrives a moment later. A different kind of bird. Like a chickadee, but different. It lands, exhausted, panting, feathers puffed out and disheveled on the floor of the cockpit among the flying gaffs and mono leaders, not caring at all about the boots and TopSiders so close by.

"Look, a sparrow."

"Nah, that's a warbler."

"How do you know?"

A pedantic, semi-informed lesson in the fall warbler migration begins, with discourses into the annual phenomenon of the flocks that fill Provincetown's Beech Forest, the deaths of tens of thousands of birds that strike illuminated sky scrapers in the cities of the East Coast, and disruptions in the earth's magnetic field that mess with the Corolis effect and put these tiny little birds off-course and far out to sea where they will perch on a sportsfisherman out of sheer desperation.

The crew stops worrying about the possibility of defecation on the boat and decide to come to the aid of the dying birds. One puts his finger down and provides a safe perch for the little creature. The magic of that moment, of man and little bird, so close together, forced together by the bird's desperate need for a moment's rest, is about as poignant a scene as that of a lonely old man holding one of his grownup and departed daughter's childhood dolls and feeling maudlin pangs of loss for her and their youth. The bird is a metaphor for something, and initial jokes about tossing it over the side to the sharks, the "blue dogs" is softened as the bird makes itself at home on its human finger perch.

It closes its eyes, puffs out its feathers, and breathes deeply, beaten down by the frantic flight that set it thirty miles off the beach into the void of the Atlantic. A bottle cap is filled with spring water and offered. The bird opens its eyes, dips its beak, and then nuzzles the thumb holding the cap. A Cheez-It is crumbled up,  offerred and ignored. A nut is crushed and ignored. The bird sips more water and continues to perch.

The second bird, still alone on the cockpit floor, rouses itself and flies in a tight circle, landing on my shirt. It hangs on, upside down, like a wren would. It is a bit perkier than the other bird, more curious, and hops down onto the crotch of my pants which elicits the coarse suggestion that it unzip them and perform an oral sex act. It hops onto my finger, looks up into my face, closes its eyes as it relaxes, and then poops a big squirt of dark brown juice that suddenly connects its fading life with my own by being warm and transmitting the fact that it too has a body temperature.

 

The birds stayed for an hour. The tuna never arrived. The wren left first. It spent a few minutes on the port rub rail psyching itself up then bravely lifted off and headed northwest towards P-town, skittering over the waves. The warbler stayed a while longer, standing in the sunshine inside of the cabin under the windshield until Captain Eddie scooped it up in his hands and tossed it out the window.

There was sadness as it flew to the west in little darting swoops. Was it strong enough to make it? Did it know where to go? Couldn't it have stayed aboard until the Laura J. was steaming into the Cotuit channel and then flown ashore to the certain safety of the trees? Or could it have been tamed and adopted like Otis Barton's tame tern and lived in a little bamboo bird cage from Chinatown ....

The birds were gone and there was no more talk of birds from the other boats on the radio. Lunch was over. Slack tide was near, and the breaching whales among the Rybovitches and Grady Whites meant the bite could still happen, but it didn't, and the fleet dispersed in the late afternoon over still waters for their docks and moorings inside safe harbors.

3 responses so far

Sep 19 2012

Shark tagging off the Cape

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

Thanks to Marta for bringing this awesome shark expedition site to my attention. Ocearch is a serious tagging operation that catches Great Whites, hauls them onto a submersible sling, and then measures, tags, and samples these magnificent beasts before releasing them back to the sea.

They are currently having great success off of Cape Cod and have tagged two big sharks in the past week or so.

http://ocearch.org/expeditionblog/mary-lee-a-legendary-shark/

Once tagged, the sharks can be tracked online.

4 responses so far

Sep 17 2012

You can tune a piano but you can’t …..

Published by under Fishing

... Tuna Fish. ten miles northeast of Chatham at Crab Ledge on a trolled Green Machine. There I was, stuffing my face with potato chips and watching the lines and squid bars bouncing in the wake of the Laura J (aka, "The Tractor of the Sea") when one of the lines popped out of the outrigger clips. "Hmmm," I thought. "I should fix that."  I stood up, tried to horse the fluorescent yellow monofilament back into the clip when I realized there might be something on the other end of the line.

There was. A nice football-sized bluefin tuna which awaits me in the shop refrigerator.

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Jun 13 2012

Salt Marsh Die-Offs

Walk the beach long enough and you'll see big balls of peat, festooned with a hair cut of cordgrass, washed up above the high water line, apparently uprooted to drift away from their starting point.  This is a symptom of marsh die back, a phenomenon that scientists say is due to a break in the delicate equilibrium in marsh ecology.

The culprit is a small crab, the sesarma, or as we called them, Fiddler Crabs. These crabs live in burrows around the high water line and can be found in Cotuit in great numbers inside of Cupid's Cove on Sampson's Island and around the mouth of Little River. As kids we'd dig them up and set them on each other in gladiator battles in "coliseums" dug out of the sand.

Now scientists at Brown University are reporting that swathes of saltwater marsh are being killed off because of the negative effects of recreational fishing. They observed that marshes with dying cordgrass were not being affected by the foot traffic of anglers, but by the effects the fishing had on the sesarma's natural predators, primarily striped bass. Saltwater flyfishermen have long known that flies patterned after small crabs can be used on stripers with deadly effect. Well, now it appears that if the striper population is reduced, the crab population thrives, and over time the crabs overfeed on the grass, and ... well, the consequences are shown in the National Park Services photo below.

"With far fewer predators in areas where  is prevalent, native Sesarma crabs have had relatively free rein to eat salt marsh grasses, causing the ecosystem to collapse, said Mark Bertness, chair of Brown's Department of Ecology and  and the paper's senior author. He led a series of experiments and measurements published online in the journal Ecology that he said unavoidably implicate recreational fishing in marsh die-off.

"We had to be so careful about dotting all the 'i's and crossing all the 't's and making sure that we had ruled out all alternative hypotheses, because even within the scientific community, there are plenty of fishermen who don't want this to be true," Bertness said. "Certainly out in the general public there are plenty of people who are into recreational fishing who don't want it to be the problem."

I plead guilty to marsh fishing -- I've done it on occasion in the past -- the streams and muddy creeks up high in the marsh system can hold some great fish, and the surroundings can be beautiful and very peaceful. As well as buggy, muddy, and treacherous in the dark.

The condition of the marshes in and around Cotuit seems pretty healthy -- there's a large one at the head of the Mills River near Prince's Cove, another around the Cow Yard in the Narrows, a third surrounding the "delta" of Little River, one by the town way to water at the confluence of Oceanview and Main. None see a lot of fishing traffic. Parking is tight and access limited.

Keeping the marshes and peat banks healthy is crucial to the health of an estuary. I've heard them described as the "lungs" of the system, filtering and absorbing a great deal of pollution and storm surge from the main shoreline.

Here are some links:

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May 07 2012

Eels face poaching threat

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

Eels face poaching threat | CapeCodOnline.com.

There haven't been many eels around in a long time. The Asian market for baby eels -- or elvers -- is probably to blame, what with prices up around $2,000 a pound and plenty of poachers willing to risk the law to cash in on the action.

Eels face poaching threat | CapeCodOnline.com

Cotuit was infested with eels in the 60sthrough the 70s. A kid couldn't fish off the Town Dock without hooking into one. My grandmother was a big fan but I never developed a taste until I experienced broiled eel in sushi form -- unagi/unago -- and have even tried to duplicate the recipe after my cousin landed a whopper a few years back in his crab pot.

My grandmother had an interesting way of skinning the things. A nail pounded through the head into the side of the boat shed, a quick slit around the neck with a sharp paring knife, and then a quick "un-socking" with two pairs of pliers gripping the slimy edges of the neck cut. This all while the eel went beserk and tied itself into figure-eight knots and spun around the nail like a pinwheel.

The joys of a Cape Cod childhood. The woman meant business when it came to food, even if she was allergic to hardshell bivalves.

Anyway, those mature eels -- anguilla anguilla -- or the European Eel, aren't what the poachers are chasing. They are looking for the small fry heading  up the coastal streams from the ocean. Eels are "catadromous" fish: they spend their lives in fresh water (there is (or was) a mysterious albino eel in Thoreau's Walden Pond that evidently crawled over land to get there) and return to the sea -- specifically the Sargasso Sea south of Bermuda -- to spawn. The elvers, or glass eels, make their way back from the floating rafts of seaweed in the Sargasso and take residence in the ponds of New England.

They make excellent striped bass bait when they are about a foot in length. Bluefish destroy them. They are an utter mess to try to hook and can literally tie themselves in a knot when provoked.

Now the eel is critically endangered, and with scarcity comes the cruel law of economics which means they are even more valuable to those who eat them, hence the extraordinary poaching price of $2,000 a pound. Hydroelectric dams and their turbines do a terrible number on them as well.

The Cape Cod Times today reported on the arrests of two poachers:

"The price spike stems from a surge in demand from aquaculturists in Asian countries who purchase the wild juvenile elvers, raise them until they reach a half-pound then sell them in the sushi market, explained Mitchell Feigenbaum, principal of Delaware Valley Fish Co. of Portland, Maine. A significant drop in recent years in the number of wild Asian glass eels, combined with a European ban on exporting their own wild stock, meant the U.S. elvers suddenly commanded high prices. Feigenbaum said the price increase really isn't that large when you consider the profit farmers make selling the adult eels on the high-end sushi market. A good farmer, he said, could turn $2,000 worth of glass eels into $20,000 in sales.

 

A dozen years ago, the price for glass eels was $25 a pound. In recent years, it climbed to $325 and last year reached $900. Now at more than $2,000, the tiny translucent eels, less than 6 inches long, newly arrived in the Cape's rivers and streams from the Sargasso Sea this spring, were particularly inviting to poachers.

Harwich police Sgt. Brackett had no way of knowing, but the 2 pounds of elvers swimming in those unpretentious buckets could have fetched $4,000 to $5,000 when sold in Maine, one of only two states where it is legal to harvest and sell them. With prices that high, competition for prime spots on Maine's waterways has been fierce and the yields are nowhere near what fishermen get in Massachusetts, where the elver fishery is banned and the competition virtually nonexistent.

"I hear stories of someone coming in (to dealers) with 50 pounds of eels and I think, they must have been to Massachusetts," said Gail Wippelhauser, a Maine Department of Marine Resources scientist specializing in eels. "There's noplace in Maine where you can get that many eels in one night."

If you see anyone creeping around a run at night, drop a dime to the police please.

 

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Dec 04 2011

Dead Stuff on the Beach: Mola Mola

I took a hike around Great Island hike in Wellfleet yesterday with a college friend and his wife. A mere 14 mile, four hour slog to the tip of Jeremy Point under scudding purple December clouds with the Pilgrim monument in Provincetown a prominent finger to the north. Our only company was a half-dozen orange coated hunters with shotguns -- one of whom told us to stay out of the woods unless we too were wearing orange, which we were not. So out of the woods we stayed and to the beach we went.

We walked down the bay side beach, made it south to the point, and then returned along the inner beach facing Wellfleet Harbor, stepping over countless clumps of wild oysters sitting on the sand, begging to be picked up. Near the end of the walk, inside the cove and marsh, we came upon a large, white, grey blob the size of a table laying in the wrack and flotsam.

It stank. It was gelatinous, and in an advanced state of decay. I looked for a minute and deduced it was a dead ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, one of the weirder fish in the sea.

from the Wikipedia

First -- they are all head. Seriously. No body to speak of. Just a massive head with fins.

Second -- they are the heaviest fish in the sea, weighing up to 2,200 pounds.

Third -- they swim very very slowly, preferring to drift on their side, right on the surface, sunning themselves as befits their name.

Fourth -- their fin flaps lazily overhead in the air as they bask and some people mistake that fin for a shark.

This one is one of the dozen or so that have stranded on the Cape this fall. When the temperatures plunge the fish are stunned and can't survive. According to the Cape Cod Times:

"The Mola mola is a frequent visitor to Cape waters and the season is under way for finding them stranded on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, Carson said. Although there are three types of ocean sunfish, the Mola mola is the one most likely to be sighted off the Cape's shores."

Here is link to a gallery of photos at the Time's website of a marine biologist examining a dead Mola mola on a Cape Cod Bay beach in Brewster in October.

 

 

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Nov 28 2011

Dropback Herring

Published by under Cotuit,Fishing

A few weeks ago, while taking my afternoon constitutional with the dog along Ropes Beach, I witnessed the weirdest example of a massive biomass I've ever seen on the Cape. The fall is a particularly fecund time of year on the water, with the baitfish balling up into a tight concentrations that are assaulted over and over by blitzes of bluefish and striped bass fattening up before their southern migration for the winter. Usually the baitfish are immature menhaden, also known as "peanut bunker" but what I saw that afternoon on the shores of the cove was, in my opinion, a school of immature river herring, or alewives, also known as dropback herring because they drop back into the sea following their anadromous cycle of birth in the inland freshwater ponds and maturation in the deep sea.

The spring herring run is a classic event on the Cape, occurring in mid-April around the time the forsythias bloom.  During that run the adult alewives swim in from the deep ocean up to the very heads of the saltwater estuaries, lured in by some mystical genetic marker that leads them to seek out the same sweet waters they were born in. The fish then jump and wriggle their way up the coastal streams, over concrete fish ladders and other obstacles, dodging gulls and people with nets to finally made their way to some inland pond to drop their eggs and milt. These runs used to produce prodigious amounts of fish in colonial times, not so much any longer, and the state has imposed a ban on the taking of spawning herring for a number of years now.

What I saw, beginning at the footbridge and extending a half mile along the entire curving shoreline to Handys Point was a band of tiny black fish -- minnow sized -- that extended from two feet from the water's edge out about 12 feet -- a big long, moving black band of a gazillion tiny fishies all finning and pointing in the same direction, occasionally erupting when something disturbed their peace. Why do I think they were herring?

1. The week before I saw a steady stream of little black smolts swimming out of Little River.

2. Peanut bunker are distinctively shaped and these were not peanut bunker.

3. I've heard that herring like to circle the shorelines of the ponds in a big schools following their hatch. These fish were tucked right up on the beach, in the shallows where the sun could warm them.

Cue the video for a vague sense of what I saw. It's not an exaggeration to say I walked past 20 solid minutes of fish during that sunny stroll.

Flickr Video

 

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May 09 2011

Goodbye Old Paint

In 1999, flush with a Forbes.com bonus (those were the days, when IPOs were in everyone's future and even Tightpants.com had a shot at millions) I bought a brand new 40 horsepower, four-stroke Honda outboard engine. This was a good purchase, one of the best I've made, living up to all the pre-purchase expectations of owning a precision piece of machinery that was dependable, clean, and ran with the elan of a sewing machine.

It replaced a POS Johnson outboard, purchased when the skiff was new in the thinking that if Johnson was good enough for my grandfather, it was good enough for me. Alas, American manufacturing had already shit the bed as far as two-stroke outboards were concerned and the Japanese in the form of Honda and Yamaha were kicking their ass. I went on a poisonous-letter writing campaign, demanding satisfaction from OMC, the parent of Johnson, but alas, they weren't going to replace it, so I showed them and spent $5,000 of ill-gotten dot.com riches on the Honda.

I babied it. I learned how to change its oil, the filters, the spark plugs. It never let me down, carrying me south of Martha's Vineyard and all over Nantucket Sound in search of squid, stripers, bluefish and fluke.

Last year, Andy at The Boat Guy, my trusty mechanic, told me I had better start thinking of a new one. "This one doesn't owe you anything, " he said, but I squeezed one more season out of it, becoming, by October, the only person on the planet who knew the exact combination of throttle, choke, and cranking to get it start. The time had come.

But, hope springs eternal in the spring, and this March I was in the driveway changing plugs and filters and to my surprise, the old trusty silver engine turned over and bubbled away happily with a garden hose connected to the water inlets. I re-registered the old trailer, painted the bottom a spiffy new coat of copper antifouling paint with a jaunty red boottop -- and launched on a bright spring day.

As I motored out to the mooring, happy to be afloat in April, I decided to run up the RPMs and give it a little shakedown cruise. Everything was copacetic until the warning horn went off.

Uh-oh.

Limping back to the launch ramp I popped off the lid and was met with a cloud of steam and a blast of heat. Something was very wrong.

So back on the trailer she went, and off to The Boat Guy with feelings of profound pessimism.

Andy called late last week. "She's toast Cap'n," he said. "But don't despair, another customer is selling his old 40 hp for $2,500 if he can clear the financing for a new one."

So it goes, tearing up dollar bills while standing in the shower. But the squid are out there, the bluefish and stripers have arrived, and I am itchy to get waterborne as soon as possible.

 

5 responses so far

Jan 25 2011

Oceanic Libertarianism: The Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing License

Published by under Fishing,General

Back at the dawn of InterWeb time I started an experiment in what I guess would now be called "long-tail community publishing." Lotus founder Mitch Kapor suggested I think about creating an Internet news service, and I came up with the name "RealTime" as a play on the potential for constant deadline cycles and instant publishing (this was 1994 remember and everything was new). Then Chris Locke -- one of the Cluetrain authors -- threw me a contributing editor/columnist gig at InternetMCI (one of the first ballyhooed "portals") and asked me to write about online journalism. As a stalking horse to prove my points about the potential to focus on micro audiences, I invented a fictitious news service for fishermen, then saltwater fishermen, then saltwater flyfishermen, and finally saltwater flyfishermen on Cape Cod; largely because it was a subject I knew something about first hand, could create content around, and seemed to make the point better than a service about knitting with one's pet hair.

As it turns out there are people who knit sweaters with golden retriever hair ((but that thought disgusts me so I do not), and saltwater flyfishing was, for me in the early 1990s an obsession of late night surfcasting, prowling the back creeks of the local salt marshes, and learning how to fling a hook covered in fur and feathers 100 feet into the teeth of a howling wind. Thankfully I don't have that time or endurance anymore, and now take out my frustrations on a rowing machine.

The fictitious fishing site I invented for InternetMCI because a real enterprise called "Reel-Time: The Internet Journal of Saltwater Flyfishing."  With a partner, we launched the site in 1995 and were pleasantly surprised to see it quickly become the go-to source for local fishing information on Cape Cod and the Islands. Before I knew it I was a quasi-fishing journalist, delivering weekly reports on where the fish were in my local waters.

The bulletin boards for community discussion were very lively affairs -- definitely a great example of community building and where I learned my lessons in moderation the hard way.

But I digress, that was a long way of backing into the comment that Massachusetts now requires me and my fishing brethren to pay a small fee ($10) for the privilege of fishing in the state's territorial waters. This was a perennial pissing match starter at Reel Time

The perennial volatile topic that was guaranteed to start a pissing war was the subject of a saltwater fishing license in the Bay State. Freshwater fishermen have had to cough up $25 or more every year for the right to fish in a freshwater pond or lake, but saltwater anglers were able to roam the bounding seas and Big Briny for free, taking what they wanted from the water without having to pay the Man his due.  You would be astonished at the libertarian vitriol of the fishing fanatics over the subject of licenses.

So listen up friends and family who like to wet a line for the occasional bluefish, striper, fluke or scup: you need to pay your respects to the Commonwealth and go to this website to pay your dues. The governor argues that the state had to require a license, otherwise the Feds would have imposed a more expensive one. Oh well. I'm used to paying for the little piece of paper every time I go fishing in Florida, it was eventually going to happen here.

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May 24 2009

Smoked bluefish

Published by under Fishing

Wind east, fish bite least, and that was the case on Saturday morning when we ran east to Wianno to scout some striped bass on the flats by the fish weir. The conditions were too overcast and sloppy to see any cruising fish so we ran back to Cotuit and set up a drift towards Sub Rock, casting orange Roberts and Ballistic Missiles on wire leaders. In twenty minutes we landed eight big bluefish – averaging eight to ten pounds – and stopped at the point of Sampson's Island to fillet them and toss the racks into the channel for the crabs to pick over.

I brined the fish in a gallon of water, two cups of kosher salt, a cup of maple syrup, garlic powder, Pete's Texas Hot and a lot of soy sauce, leaving the fillets in the fridge overnight until this morning, when I dried them to a shiny pellicle, ground a ton of black pepper over them, and finished them with a dusting of Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning. Eight hours in the Cabela's vertical propane smoker with two loads of soaked hickory chunks and I now have a big stack of leathery smoked bluefish. I'll turn some of it into bluefish pate, using the Legal Seafood's recipe; the rest will get wrapped and handed out to neighbors and friends. If I do two loads this spring, it will be a lot, and every time I do it I start to wonder, based on the $10 the restaurants charge for about two ounces of the pate, if I could set the kids up with a serious business venture peddling smoked fish to the high end boutique grocery stores here in Cotuit and Osterville. Then I start thinking about the Board of Health and snap back to reality. I hate to waste fish, and if the family can polish off four fillets it's a miracle. I've tried vacuum sealing the stuff, freezing it – nothing really works on smoked fish, and bluefish, sorry to say, is not my favorite fish in the world unless it is blackened Cajun style or smoked dark brown like a herring.

I really want a striper for the table, but just am not clever or devoted enough to set the alarm and bomb off into the dawn for Bishops & Clerks or the shoals off of Succonnesset. Maybe tomorrow. I really am a fan of pan roasted bass with a chive and sour cream sauce.

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Apr 25 2009

I figured it out today …

... I slept an hour later than usual, woke to grey skies, ate bacon and eggs instead of beneficial oatmeal, did rapid-fire errands, stopped by the herring run just as the day turned awesome (I saw a big school of herring waiting in the top pool), installed a new mower blade and mowed the lawn, bought a six-pack of Offshore Ale, strung up my rod with a new lure, and hit the prettiest beach on Cape Cod for two hours of casting practice (no fish yet) in the setting sun before rushing home and catching the last five innings of a four-hour classic of a baseball game against Yankees (who also lost a nailbiter to the Sox the night before), cooking the entire time (rillettes, duck leg confit, vegetable stock, hummous) screaming at the TV in the kitchen, and scaring the dogs.

I congratulated my esteemed neighbor for doing the right thing, and she told me about an profile of your humble narrator in the Barnstable Enterprise.  I couldn't find a copy, but someone dropped it by the house while I was running errands. I feel conspiciously auspicious. I'd point to it, but it's not online and I am not in the mood for personal promotion.

A good friend dropped by and we got on the topic of seagull attacks and the time I watched a seagull poop into someone's agape mouth aboard the Hyline ferry M/V Point Gammon when I worked on there as a deckhand in college.

Tomorrow I paint the bottom of the yacht and continue my gardening. My spring peas have sprouted and my arugula is showing itself.  The tulips have opened and the alcove reeks of hyacinths.

On a day like today it does not suck to be me.

2 responses so far

Mar 15 2009

On the upcoming reading list ….

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

via Spielberg Hooks Rights to Derby Book - 3/13/09 - Vineyard Gazette Online.

This ought to be good. A book about the Martha's  Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby -- my annual excuse to take vacation on the island and chase fish. The late Robert Post's Reading the Water is one of my favorite volumes in the fishing section of my bookshelf, this promises good things as well. It gets released in early April. Dreamworks thought highly enough to buy the option.

"The Vineyard may yet be the scene of another big fish film under the eye of Steven Spielberg: the Jaws director’s studio, DreamWorks, has just bought the film rights for a soon to be released book about the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

The book, The Big One: An Island, an Obsession and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish, by David Kinney, published by Atlantic Monthly, will be released on April 8."

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Mar 14 2009

R.I.P. White Rooster

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

via R.I.P. White Rooster.

On the topic of noble but dead birds ....l. some great Cape Cod writing by Bethany Gibbons on Cape Cod Today.

"  Skunk? Big red Jimmy got nailed by an owl. Maybe he was out too early that snowy morning. Whitey Bulger flew the coop and went on the lamb. My daughter insists he may be still hiding out in the swamp somewhere, living the wild and free life. I doubt it. The evil Spanish Black Minorca lost his head to a stump and some Lebanese friends. I couldn't do, but after living through civil war and that cheese (arish?) they leave out in the sun for weeks on a rooftop, they had no problem doing the dirty work. I just couldn't have a 5-year-old lose and eye to a wicked bad rooster."

I'm so impressed that her rooster will live on in many a saltwater fly pattern.

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Oct 04 2008

Rocktober

What could be finer?

  1. There is no wind at 8 am so I am about to go for a pleasant fall scull around the harbor.
  2. The dogs are frightened and avoiding me because of my bellicose behavior at 1:30 am when J.D. Drew homered to bury the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the second game of the ALDS.
  3. Hence my new motto, courtesy of Surviving Grady is: "WE ARE THE MOTHERF@#KING BOSTON RED SOX, CHUMPS, AND THOSE WHO OPPOSE US WILL TASTE THE LIGHTNING!"
  4. I am on vacation. Ten days of being and nothingness. It's time for the Fall Run and I am off to the Great Backside Beach to stand in foamy surf, sling eels into the darkness, and ponder my existence while staring across the Atlantic at Portugal.
  5. I am going to cook a roti de porc au lait for my dinner tonight.
  6. Perhaps I shall seek bivalves in the mud later today. Must check tides.

So, whereabouts this coming week? Going nowhere. How to contact me? Don't. Blog probabilities? Low, except to lie about fish I haven't caught, and to gloat about the BoSox.

4 responses so far

Jul 24 2008

Toxic Tomalley

Published by under Clamming,Fishing

Ben at Walking the Berkshires and the Cape Cod Times (and its excreble daily video show CapeCast) are sounding the tocsin over that-which-should-not-be-eaten, Tomalley, or the vile green goo found inside the bodies of lobsters.

Apparently lobsters, who personify the term, "bottom feeder"  are utter scavengers who dine on whatever lands on the bottom, store a lot of toxic crud in their tomalley, which is essentially a two-organs-in-one deal for the lobster, playing the role of both liver and pancreas.

Lobsters lying in state

Lobsters lying in state

Sorry, but I don't know about you, but I tend to use my liver to deal with stuff like toxins. Indeed, back in my glory years when tequila shots were my bane, anyone who ate my liver, Prometheus style, would have been struck dead faster than a spy biting on the cyanide molar implanted in their jaw.

My mother, a native of the New Hampshire sea coast, gets more mileage out of a lobster than a parasite. We're talking Outer Limits/Twilight Zone sort of behavior -- with much meticulous sucking and picking away until there is nothing but a red husk on the plate. She is one of those whack jobs that declare "tomalley" and its nasty red twin, "coral"or the roe, to be a delicacy. Ben's mom apparently is the same way. Me, I believe tomalley is a soft, meconium sort of substance that one usually finds on a dock after a flock of sea gulls meets the fleet on a hot day.

So when the State of Maine health department and then the Massachusetts BOH declare tomalley to be bad for you, I've got to ask: "Who in their right mind ate it anyway?"

Check out the photo on this Cape Cod Times story. Hungry? And my respects to anybody who would brush their teeth with tomalley, you are my hero.

YouTube Preview Image

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Jul 05 2008

It’s a fluke

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing


2008 07 04_0955.JPG

Originally uploaded by dchurbuck

This is the biggest fluke (summer flounder) I have ever caught. I landed it off of Succonnesset Shoal on the Fourth near the tail end of the ebb tide.

It fed four of us. It had big teeth.
The sucker was so big it hung over the edges of the cutting board.

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