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Giant Wahoo off St. Augustine
By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer
More than a foodie, artsy, historical, and beach destination, the ancient city of St. Augustine, Florida is becoming renowned for wahoo fishing.
The toothy, silver, black-striped, speeding cousins of the kingfish show up in big numbers (and sometimes big weights) offshore from November through April. About a week ago, a team competing in the Northeast Florida Wahoo Shootout in a boat called “Off the Ledge” weighed a 109 1/2-pound monster– a new tournament record.
The crew, led by captain Jody Fusinato, caught the fish in the very region for which the boat is named– a jagged drop-off about 50 miles offshore that extends from St. Augustine to Jacksonville.
“There’s been an incredible run of big fish,” said Matt Bridgewater, skipper of the 39-foot Yellowfin center-console named after his stainless-steel marine accessories company GEMLUX. “Wahoo fishing, when it’s good here, it’s as good as anywhere in the world and for big fish, especially.”
If there ever was a fish worth making the two-hour run east from St. Augustine to “the ledge”, it is the wahoo. One of the fastest fish in the ocean, it has been known to dump many a conventional reel full of 50-pound test on its initial bite-and-flight. If it doesn’t manage to strip off all the line, it sometimes does a perverse 180 and charges full-speed back toward the boat– often freeing itself when the angler is unable to recover the slack in time. For the angler skilled or lucky enough to boat a wahoo, fantastic table fare is the ultimate reward.
“It makes my wife happy. She LOVES wahoo,” Bridgewater said.
Wahoo chasers in northeast Florida usually employ one of two popular methods: fast-trolling artificial lures at upwards of 18 miles per hour or trolling natural baits at half that speed.
Bridgewater prefers the slower method.
“I enjoy getting a bite feeding the bait to the fish rather than getting a reaction strike,” he said.
On a recent outing with his stepson and two friends, Bridgewater deployed five fishing lines: one in each outrigger; one deep on a planer; one deep on a 32-ounce lead; and one ‘shotgun’ line from the tower trolled 150 yards back. Lines were baited with bally hoo and Ilander lures in colors of black-and-red, blue-and-white, and purple-and black. A bowling pin teaser ran off the stern. The skipper used his temperature gauge to stick to Gulf Stream waters in the low to mid 70s.
For a while, nothing happened. But then the GEMLUX picked up a small blackfin tuna, followed an hour later by a gaffer dolphin.
In mid-afternoon, it finally happened: the shotgun line with the blue-and-white Ilander began to peel off the 50-pound conventional reel with blurring speed. Angler Hunter Brant was closest to the rod. At first, all Brant could do was hold on while the line continued to zee-eeee out behind the boat. But then the tension eased up, and he was able to recover a good amount of line. The fish made a couple more short runs, but Brant steadily gained on it until it arrived boat side for Jacob Belanger to gaff: a 41-pound wahoo. Not huge by St. Augustine standards, but plenty for dinner for the crew and their families. And a fun day of trolling it old-school.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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