The forecast was looking good with light winds, warm temperatures, calm seas and a crew that was itching to head offshore. The call was made to declare our first day of the wahoo tournament and make the 60 mile hike to the ledge. We left early in the morning and made the long run to the grounds in the pitch black. As the sun finally peeked over the horizon we had our lines in the water and high hopes of a winning ‘hoo, but after two lackluster hours of trolling we were starting to get a bit restless. While scattered weeds kept us busy clearing lines, we were all ready for that first smoking strike.
Moments after resetting one of the lures in our prop wash, the left long popped out of the rigger clip and the captain and I turned our attention to the lucky reel. Without an initial run we reminded each other that we needed to check the rigger clip tension. The strike appeared to be none other than a clump of grass, but just as the captain turned his back the reel started to scream. Everyone turned to see line melting off the reel at an alarming pace and suddenly we were all scrambling to clear the rest of the lines. We had hooked a big fish and we were convinced it was a tournament winner.
By the time the initial chaos subsided the fish had yet to slow and the captain finally pulled one of the engines out of gear. As we turned toward the fish I started to gain some ground but it was apparent that this fish still had plenty of fight. Every time we straightened out and tried to put pressure on the fish it would take every inch of line we fought so hard to gain. When the big fish finally came within 100 yards of the boat one of my buddies pointed out the huge wake on the surface, sending even more excitement across the deck. We were stoked, as this was definitely a monster!
The fight wasn’t over yet and the fish taunted us as we could see the wake and even the sargassum clump that was caught on the skirt, but we still couldn’t make out the fish’s silhouette below the surface. As the fight continued on it became obvious that something wasn’t right. We bounced around a few ideas and concluded that our tournament winning wahoo was very likely foul hooked and we could potentially pull the hook at any time, though we kept our hopes high.
With gaffs in hand and the swivel nearing the tip we still couldn’t see color. The suspense was killing us. The captain finally stepped in to leader the fish and I knew something was very wrong when there was no swing of the gaff and no child-like screams that typically accompany a quality fish. Wouldn’t you know it…we managed to hook a bucket, and no this isn’t one of those fishy stories. Sixty miles off Jacksonville in more than 300 feet of water and we literally managed to hook the handle on a floating 5-gallon pail! Seriously? What are the odds?
Trying not to show our disappointment, we put the lines back out. Not more than a few minutes later and the same reel started to scream. The typical mad rush to the reel didn’t happen this time as we all glanced at each other with defeat and uncertainty. Someone finally stepped up and started turning the handle, yet the excitement level remained low until we finally got a visual. When the stud wahoo came to the surface and the captain sunk the gaff we let out a loud cheer. A few uneventful hours later and we decided it was time to call it a day with one quality fish in the box and a bucket full of memories. – Sam Oughterson