Friday, February 29, 2008

Winter Wahoo Rodeo

We have been flirting with the idea of entering a fishing tournament. This started last month when we watched the weigh-in of an early season tourney here, and realized that we had caught fish that would have won it. We also have no illusions about us knowing what we are doing. We are persistent in our fishing, and that's about all we can claim about it. We catch fish in spite of ourselves. We learn from experience, and what we can find out on the internet and from talking with local people who do know what they are doing.

We watched this "Wahoo Rodeo" tournament date approaching on the calendar, deciding not to decide until it was either too late to make the commitment or perhaps until we assembled sufficient excuses to blow it off regretfully. (Commonly called "playing it by ear" in the lexicon of the lazy.)

(The poster is misprinted by the way. The largest dolphin was second place with $ 2,000. prize money. Tuna was third. Little things like a thousand bucks one way or another can become important.)

We honestly had lost sight of the fact that the tournament was upon us. We had started moving into the house last Tuesday, initiating a series of long, hot, frustrating and tiring days, and by Friday afternoon we had totally forgotten all about the tournament on Saturday. That would have allowed us to snap our fingers on Sunday morning and say "Oh DARN it! We missed the Wahoo tournament! Oh well, maybe next year ...."etc.

If by some freak accident someone had reminded us of it before it was too late, we were also prepared to cite the windy conditions, rough seas, and our small boat, lack of experience, and that we were totally tied up in moving. We had a house guest. We had fallback excuses in that our fishing gear is on the wimpy side, we don't have outriggers, had neglected to sign up in time, etc. etc.

Then, Friday afternoon the phone rang. It was our friend Jay Johnson, the owner and operator of the Bottle Creek Lodge on North Caicos. Jay said that he had brought his boat over for the contest and had room for a couple extra fishermen. La Gringa offered to keep tabs on the house situation so that Jon and I could fish in the tournament, bless her heart. The invitation was totally unexpected, and more to the point, Jay's generous offer totally negated any and all of the excuses we had assembled. He had the boat, the gear, had already paid the entry fee, and just needed a 'yes' or 'no'. So, with my enthusiastic son hopping up and down with excitement about the opportunity to see how a real pro would fish a tournament, we accepted Jay's offer. I saw it as a chance to learn to be a better fisherman myself. I might be an old dog, but I still love them new tricks.

We met Jay, his mate Ron, and one of Jay's friends from North Caicos, Brodie, at 07:00 Saturday morning at the Turtle Cove Marina. Jay's 30 foot Grady White , the "Reel Job", was all rigged up and ready to go:

At the stroke of 08:00 ( give or take a few minutes) it was full speed ahead as the 24 boats in the contest hit the throttles and scattered as soon as they left the cut in the reef:

"Reel Job" steps out right smartly, with a pair of Yamaha 225 horse four strokes on the blunt end. Four hundred and fifty horsepower....Oh yeah!!

Jay was all over that boat like a seagoing chimpanzee. He was setting outriggers, rigging ballyhoo, adjusting drag on the reels. We ran a spread of lures with a teaser. This was the first time I had fished with outriggers, and I have been thinking about adding them to our boat, "Cay Lime". I watched Jay setting up things that up until now I had only read about on the forum. And Jay was great, explaining why and how he was setting things up the way he did. And it all made perfect sense. Hallelujah.

Around 9:30 am, maybe around the end of the first brunch beer, one of the reels suddenly jumped and did that attention grabbing shriek as the line flew off the spool. "Fish On!!" Jay grabbed the rod, set the hook and then handed it all to Jon. With a belt slapped around him to hold the rod, Jon found himself suddenly fishing big time. Maintaining an outward calm, while I know he was munching on the top of his heart...he worked a nice rainbow dolphin almost up to the boat.

Jay helped him set the drag on the Shimano reel. This equipment was all new stuff to us. In fact, it made me realize that our own gear is basically toys for this kind of fishing.

Just as the Captain was grabbing for the gaff, the dolphin lept into the air in a brilliant array of colors and flying water droplets.... and threw the hook. "Oh....gosh... dangit" is not even a close approximation of what was said in the sudden silence that follows the realization that the fish is gone. The line is slack. It's over, and ain't gonna happen. You are left with the emotional equivalent of an adrenaline pressure wash, and little else. It gets real quiet, but the realization that the fish is history sets in pretty quickly. So we replenished the bait and set everything back out.

Half an hour later Capt. Jay himself got hooked up with another dolphin, with the same result as Jon. A few minutes of good fight, and the fish threw the hook. That's two fish hooked, and two lost, but at least Jay losing one made Jon feel a whole lot better about the one he tangled with. We were pretty happy at that point, two hours into the day and we had already had two decent fish on the lines. That said to us "Right boat, right Captain, and right bait". This is optimism at it's finest.

But then the day got quiet. Too quiet. We trolled for hour after hour, in the broiling sun and six to occasionally eight foot seas. We watched for birds diving on bait, studied the sea for jumping fish. Kept an eye on the rigging...

We kept out of the sun as much as possible and studied the horizon. We watched the spread behind the boat. Many of us drank beer. We waited...

Jon is replaying his brief but exciting connection to a fighting fish over and over in his mind, and the hours drone by without another bite. At this point, for all he knows he will go home with nothing but the same old story of the 'one that got away'. People didn't wanna hear it five thousand years ago, and they ain't gonna wanna hear it today, either. Welcome to offshore fishing, son.

Jay went back and forth from driving "Reel Job" to adjusting the outriggers.. checking drags, watching the spread behind us.

He kept the lures untangled, tried changing a few of them to another color ( blue and black did not work on this day) and checked the bait to be sure it was running the way he wanted.

He told us tales of other tournaments he has won. He took second place in this very tournament last year, and didn't get a single bite until 2:30 in the afternoon. Could happen any moment, the man said. Watch the bait. Be ready.

Ten o'clock became eleven. Noon came and went. We munched sandwiches, listened to the stereo ( Heavy on southern rock), and watched the ocean. One o'clock in the afternoon and Brodie announced that if we were not going to catch any fish he was going to just drink beer. We were well equipped for that, but he was just venting frustration. Nobody gets drunk on a few Presidente Light beers in this sun. Not even Brodie. The constant rolling and pitching in the seas pretty much kept everyone in place. Jay broke the monotony every now and then by busting a wave, soaking the appreciative people on the windward side of the boat. Kept us awake, though.

The hours went slowly by, with five sets of sunburnt eyeballs watching silent reels, spooled up with line and the drag levers in the strike positions.

Jay's well used fighting belts sat close at hand, just in case we got a strike:

But after four listless, non-productive hours with no fish, it was not looking good. At least the cooler was chock full of refreshments.

Then around one thirty in the afternoon, the lethargic silence was suddenly busted wide open by that "ziiinnnnnnnnnggggg!!!! sound a fishing reel makes when a big fish hits the lure and runs with it. Two seconds after Jon grabbed the first screaming rod, a second one went off as well. Two dolphin had streaked in, each grabbed a hook, and tried to make for open water. Jon and Ron were both fighting fish and cranking reels. Jay and Brodie were scrambling around the deck trying to get the other four lines aboard so the live ones did not get tangled. I grabbed the boat's wheel and tried to keep it out of the way of a large motoryacht that was bearing down on us. From dead quiet and boring to heart pounding excitement in less time than it takes to holler "Holy Shoot!" or something that sounded kinda like that...

This time, we got both fish on board. This made for a very happy crew. Especially when we realized that both of these fish were probably contenders in the dolphin category.

This was my son's first Rainbow Dolphin (Mahi-mahi to the Polynesians, Dorado to the Spanish). He had never seen how one of these "lights up" changing colors in the sunlight. It's always thrills me to watch a dolphin leap out of the water, changing colors right before your eyes. They go through vivid, brilliant, almost irridescent greens, with neon blues, yellow, and even sometimes they turn an albino looking silver with spots. This can all happen within minutes. And they are all muscle and speed when they decide they do not want to be hooked. I am sure it was a fight Jon will never forget.

After the two dolphin, it got quiet again. After the high-fives all around, and cleaning up the blood splattered deck, heartbeats returned to normal. Listening to the other contestants on the radio we heard that someone had a large wahoo, but since we had no wahoo ourselves, we were more interested to hear if anyone else had caught any dolphin. And yeah, one boat reported that they had two "small" ones on board. Ah oh. What do they mean by "small" exactly? Competition. Anxiety. A determination to keep fishing. We need a bigger fish.

It was not to be.

We trolled until around three o'clock, when we got into a school of small barracuda. After bringing two on board (Brodie insisted that those were his) we called it a day. The 'cuda were biting off all our baits, and we did not want to head out to deeper water again because we needed to be back at the marina before the contest closed at four o'clock. So we went in early. We were the first boat in with fish. And the first boat to put a fish on the scoreboard. This is something else Jay taught me on Saturday. In case of a tie (two fish of equal weight) the first fish on the board would win. "Ah ha!", thinks I. (For no particular reason other than I needed something to think, and "Ah ha" fit as well as " Oh Ho!" or "I see!"....but joking aside, that's good information to have.

So we carted the bigger of the two fish up to the scales, and after what seemed a long and needless series of readings, the official version of the weight was recorded as 23 lbs. I am sure it seemed a lot heavier when we caught it. Still, 23 lbs. ain't bad.

For the next hour we waited while other boats came in to add their catch to the contest. Many of the other contestants would walk up first to see what was already recorded, and if their fish couldn't beat what was already entered they did not bother to take it out of the ice. Finally, the official version of four o'clock rolled around, and the weigh-in was closed.

And our 23 pounder won the dolphin category.

Jon, Gringo, Capt. Jay, Ron, and Brodie. The team from the "Reel Job".

Out of the 24 boats signed up for the tournament, seven of them ended up entering fish. We don't know how many fish were actually caught, of course, since fish smaller than the entries stayed in the boats. The wahoo category was won by a team led by Froggy Williams. Froggy is the brother of our electrician, Derek Williams. Froggie's "Team Pursuit" also won this same tournament last year. Hmm....He must know something....

Here are all the final entries in a pile at the weigh-in scales:

The winning wahoo was 61 lbs. Not bad.

Another long-time friend of ours, Chad Stubbs, was interviewed on the local radio station as a member of the team with the first place wahoo.

The gray haired gentleman in the background was surely incredulous over something other than what Chad was saying, although the man can tell a fish story . If you need an opinion or fish story, Chad has probably got one. He's kinda photogenic, too.

A lot of photos were taken by local media, the contestants, and of course visitors who were hanging around the marina and the Tiki Hut watching the excitement. The next weekly newspapers have not come out as of yet, but if there is a write-up on the contest I will post it here.

After it was all over, Jay gave Jon a lesson in cleaning and filleting fish back on the "Reel Job"

Brodie claimed the two dolphin after Jay removed the filets, said us white guys left too much meat on them to just throw them away. The local guys make fish stew from this, and they are right. There is a surprising amount of good fish left when you just take the filets. Brodie kept the two barracuda, as well.

So, after basically giving up on even entering the contest, we got to fish on one of the winning boats. Capt. Jay won $ 2,000, and four tickets to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. And he certainly earned it. I don't think he even needed the rest of us, the way he fishes. Jay took care of everything just as though we were a paying charter. Oh, we brought our own beer and food, but he did everything else from rigging the bait to determining the spread. The rest of us received t-shirts and trophies.

I did crank in one of the barracuda, but we didn't bother to even enter it in the contest. It would not have won, anyhow. For what it's worth, our second dolphin would have also won that category if we had entered it instead of the larger one Jon brought to the boat. They were both winning fish.

La Gringa 'held down the fort' at the house for us, and yet managed to be waiting with a rum punch in hand when we hit the dock. She also talked Chad out of a sizeable hunk of the winning wahoo. Then, to top off a pretty spectacular day she and I were invited to fish on another friend's boat for a five day billfish tournament this coming summer. We don't know nuthing about no billfishing, either. But we can sure learn.

Anyone who wants to experience offshore fishing or bonefishing with a good captain with a great boat, contact Jay at the Bottlecreek Lodge on North Caicos. Jay and Sandy run a nice lodge, with fishing, snorkelling, exploring to your heart's content. Full bar with sat TV and internet, away from the crowds of Provo. Their website is :

Thanks, Jay. It was a day to remember.


Anonymous said...

Awsome! And the beer breakfast must have been nice on the open ocean....

Malicious Intent said...

Looks like a blast! I grew up fishing on salt water, fresh water is for sissys!

I am so craving sushi right now though.

Anonymous said...

Some people say that gamefishing is 95% boredom and 5% mayhem. I'm inclined to agree.
Congratulations on the tournament win guys!

MrPat said...

Congrats on being part of the winning team! Trolling = a boat ride for hours + a few minutes of chaos.

Winter is slow for trollers her in Central Florida. Our season gets going in the Spring and then again in the Fall. Is that how your trolling seasons work in the TCI?

Unknown said...

What memories...
Sounds like life just keeps getting better!
...for both of us!

Anonymous said...

Congrats and keep the lines in the water! Then the fish will come. And for sure cook the bones and head into a fish stew.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments. Life is still hectic. We are running some visitors out to Pine Cay this morning, and should have some fresh photos when we return.

Hey, Key Pine Savage...Good to hear from you. But no way am I gonna put a comment with THAT many mentions of that forum on my blog, ha ha. Poot on em.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.