The first leg of the Bahamas Wahoo Championship was pulled off without a weather hitch, which was nice, considering that all three legs are held during autumn and winter, to capitalize on these big fish migrating through the Bahamas. As director Raul Miranda says, “If you’re going to have a rough tournament day with 8-foot chop, it might as well be the first day. The second day had 2-foot seas, and the third day was flat. That’s the day everyone remembers.” That was also the day when 1,174 pounds of Wahoo hit the docks the last evening, compared to a 1,256-pound total for the previous two days.
Here at Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island, we were at the last viable, close-to-Florida deepwater port with a good marina, fuel, easy airport and a fine choice of restaurants, following a tough hurricane season. (Lucaya is far more affordable and family-friendly than we would have believed, but that is another story).
Interestingly, though many wahoo hit the docks, overall action wasn’t fabulous. The top three boats all failed to weigh their two allowed fish on each of the three days. The winner was the vessel Scatterbrain/Double Trouble, that didn’t catch a fish the first day in those choppy seas, but fished like champions the last two days, and even landed the biggest fish, a 64-pounder, to put them on top. A rare center console in this game of big boats, who came out on top after nine days of trolling last year ( Rebekka Lynn from Orlando) also had a grim first day. But then they kicked butt later with a triple knockdown, landing all three wahoo only moments apart. Fish were flopping all over the deck, with the biggest weighing an even 50 pounds. The crew had to settle for fifth place in this leg, however. Second place actually went to Weekly Sails, whose total after two days was miles ahead of the pack, but they folded on the last day. Third place went to Black Gold.
A hard luck trophy should have gone to the 70-foot, billfish charterboat Captain Video of Fort Lauderdale. Captain Paul Poirier welcomed this reporter aboard. Video was in first place after day one, but then struck out with a hungry camera on board. The following day they again weighed two fish—this time without the media. If they had caught only two 30-pounders with me, they would have been near first place, along with action photos in this very article…
Fishing tactics at this wahoo shootout were almost standardized, with wire lines on almost every boat. One crew did have some awesome strikes on Yo-Zuri diving plugs, but they were experimenting with the plug’s hooks, and lost all four fish on day two. Changing their hooks back, they plugged two wahoo on the last day.
Almost everyone else in this 31-boat tournament favored plastics, both on top with billfish tackle, and wire lines down deeper. No downriggers were observed. The most efficient way to land wahoo is to fast-troll at least 12 knots and more, winching the fish in with a bent-butt rod left in the gunnel, keeping the boat in forward gear. Wahoo often travel in small packs, and the trick is hooking up with a double or tripleheader. That doesn’t happen often with the boat dead in the water with a hooked fish. Some boats remain in forward gear while a deckhand leaders the wahoo through the transom door, without a gaff.
With nine days of fishing in the three legs of this tournament ending in February, and some hefty cash totals in the boat pools, the crews were tight-lipped about their techniques. (The middle leg at Chub Cay runs from Jan. 12-15, with the third leg returning to Port Lucaya Feb. 2-5).
Wahoo fishing certainly has its diehard fans. Most big boats in this event do not fish billfish tournaments, sticking with wahoo. As Miranda related over a dockside breakfast, just after the fleet sailed, wahoo fans go back a long way. He says that Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first African-American U.S. congressman, who hailed from New York, was in self-imposed exile in Bimini after his years of service, around 1970. He fell in love with wahoo fishing, and the first wahoo tournaments were held right there, though the exact year is uncertain. When Powell passed away in 1972, his ashes were scattered at Bimini. A memorial wahoo tournament was held there for Powell, and others soon sprang up in his wake, notably several held by Tom Malone and Penny Turtle in the Abaco Islands.
Today’s Bahamas Wahoo Championship is in its eighth year, and conservation with biological sampling of dockside specimens is a constant. It’s very different from early tournaments, where they had an aggregate weight per boat. One boat crew got the bright idea of running to the coast of Cuba and returned with 800 pounds in a single day…whoops! Not what the tournament had in mind. A boundary of 65 miles went into effect, with the combined weight of two wahoo allowed each day.
This tournament remains fairly low-key, due to winter fishing. If wahoo ran through The Bahamas in summer, they would easily have a hundred boats entered each year, including small boats. With winter’s weather, Miranda says you have to consider a 35-foot boat about the minimum size for this event, even though fish are caught only a few hundred yards off local beaches. More isolated, wahoo-attracting spots such as Memory and Isaac rocks, and Matanilla Shoals, require running in unprotected water. Crossing the Gulf Stream back to the States in a north wind can be Charlie’s Surf, so to speak, with towering seas. Though the last day was fished in gorgeous, slick calm conditions with a fine awards banquet outside, boat crews scampered back to the mainland early the next morning in a rising north wind. By midafternoon, seas were peaking at 15 feet in the Gulf Stream. Boat owners, older participants (and writers of course) caught the smooth, 28-minute flight back to Miami on American Airlines, watching whitecaps far below from a safe altitude of 8,000 feet.
The Presidential Challenge Billfish Tournament in Iztapa, Guatemala had a memorable, if not frantic three days of fishing, with 51 anglers releasing 507 sailfish, two blue and a striped marlin.
With IGFA observers on each of the 17 boats, the numbers are beyond dispute. They monitored the mandated fishing technique, which was trolling with 20-pound Trilene line, while using circle hooks.
With savage action found just offshore, this tourney was also rounded out by a pho
to finish, perhaps the closest in this tournament’s history. Repeating their 2003 win of the PCCA Guatemala Contender Team Division was Team Picapleitos, with anglers Margie Adams, Gwen Hahn and Fernando Aguilar. Amazingly, they won by only four minutes over the Palm Harbor Hookers team. The second-place boat, led by Jim Turner with teammates Nick Ferraro and Mike Wnek, turned in the same number of fish and points, but barely lost to Picapleitos, who received an invitation to represent this tournament at the Rolex IGFA Offshore Championships in Cabo San Lucas in May.
Jim Turner was top angler, pulling away from challengers on the final day by releasing 15 sailfish. Margie Adams is the Eagle Claw grand champion angler. She fished the Presidential Series in Costa Rica, Venezuela and Guatemala for an accumulated total of 31 billfish releases.