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Tournament’s success depends on fish showing up

If you haven't made a run offshore, it is getting to be high time to do so. The Bermuda-Azores high currently in place will keep the cold fronts away, for a while at least. Then we can expect a continuing deterioration of the weather and even the most committed weekenders know that a time does come when the gear needs to be stowed away.

What is really being hoped for is a sudden burst of wahoo activity. With the annual Royal Gazette wahoo tournament just a few weeks away, it becomes blatantly obvious that for the tournament to be a success, the fish need to show up. Not even the most talented organisers in the world can orchestrate that.

Wahoo occur over a very wide distribution but many anglers simply never encounter any. Part of this is because salt water hot spots either seldom catch this species or there is the matter of nomenclature.

For instance, in the Caribbean, especially Barbados, they are referred to as “kingfish”. This is where things get complicated. There is a separate species which bears some resemblance to the wahoo that is actually called king fish or king mackerel. These fish are important to the fisheries of the south-eastern United States including Florida and the Gulf states. It also occurs in the Caribbean, hence the use of the name down in the islands. The problem is that most of the fish called kingfish in Barbados and elsewhere are actually wahoo.

Wahoo are less common in Western Atlantic coastal sports fisheries where their ecological niche might well be taken over by the kingfish or other species. They tend to be common around islands, including Bermuda, the Bahamas and Hawaii. Confounding this is the fact that certain locations, notably the Gulf of Thailand and off the Ivory Coast, both continental coastlines, are home to huge numbers of wahoo.

Here in Bermuda, the wahoo are the backbone of the commercial fishing industry and are vitally important to sports fishermen. Although they are present year round, the best times are during the spring run which can occur anytime from early March to late April and then the major or autumnal run, the beginnings of which we should be seeing now.

Sometimes the run can be really spectacular and that is when it coincides with the influx of juvenile mackerel and blackfin tuna. When these show up it is in good numbers and as a delectable bait, no self-respecting wahoo is going to leave the area. This keeps numbers up and the predators tend to be larger fish. Generally the autumn and winter fish tend to be of decent size with the summer the time when the fish weigh in the 'teens or even smaller.

The guessing is that the summer fish are year-old fish and the later fish are older ones that have had additional time to grow and mature. Most fish continue to grow throughout their lives, so bigger fish are older fish. The actual growth rates may vary markedly between individuals. Being in a bait rich environment means that the predator can feed consistently and therefore grow more quickly than a similar fish that has to burn more energy to find anything to eat.

So while we await an improvement in circumstances, what is there to be caught? Well, two things: marlin and large yellowfins. Both are present in reasonably good numbers with the former really providing some classic action. Boats concentrating on billfish are reporting multiple shots a day with variable results. Capt. Allen DeSilva's Mako went three for seven one day, Capt. Alan Card's Challenger was two for two and some of the remaining visiting craft have averaged close to two a day. Best of all, some of the fish are large ones, bettering the 600-pound mark.

Capt. James Robinson's Wound Up has been taking advantage of the large yellowfin, scoring four fish over 100 pounds apiece. These are not quite as consistent as the billfish but putting in a bit of effort seems to lead to the reaping of rewards.

Less ambitious anglers can also concentrate on smaller game with robins, ambers, bonitos, jacks and a selection of colourful bottom dwellers. Even on the Banks it is possible to get the yellowtail snappers to cooperate although the sharks can make it really difficult to catch an intact specimen. One of the tricks to making a success of things at this time of the year is to be flexible and to try different tactics and techniques.

Sticking with the glamour species, the IGFA has announced the Great Marlin Race, a multi-ocean, multi-species competition to combine tournament angling with modern fisheries research. The IGFA has teamed up with researchers from Stanford University to promote the use of archival tags at certain selected major billfish tournaments. Participating teams are asked to sponsor the cost of the devices. The competitive aspect of the research is that the winner will be the tagger of the fish that travels the farthest during the 12 month exercise.

Archival tags are electronic wizardry that collect information on location, light, temperature and depth, compiling a record of the fish's movement and lifestyle. The way that they work is to collect the data until at some preset time the tag separates, leaving the electronic bit to pop to the surface where it downloads its data to a satellite which in turn, is accessed by the scientists. Naturally, such things don't come cheap around $3000 a pop.

Although the gadgets have been around for a while and some research has even been carried on in conjunction with Bermuda tournaments, the cost has meant that only a limited amount of data has been collected. This present effort hopes to deploy 50 tags in the hope of learning more about billfish movements.

Naturally, there are some pitfalls. There is a chance, albeit a limited one thanks to the reliability of most modern electronic devices, that the tag could malfunction.

The fish could die and just sink to the bottom or be attacked and killed by sharks or other predators. Such might physically damage the tag or cause it to be released earlier than desired.

And maybe 50 sets of data simply aren't enough to provide any meaningful insight into the life and times of billfish. Figure that there are several species (say, blue, white and striped marlin discounting the sailfish and spearfish) and several oceans, all of which are big. Those factors combine to make the total number of tags look pretty insignificant. In any case, the programme gets underway next month at the 58th Club Nautico International Billfish Tournament in Puerto Rico (September 4-11).

One public holiday and one big tournament left in the calendar along with several club competitions. Then that is it. The hot summery weather will be with us for a while yet, but it can, and probably will, suddenly give way to wintry blusters. So before letting procrastination leave you out of some of the season's best angling, do take a bit o time to get yourself some Tight lines!!!

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Published August 20, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated August 20, 2011 at 9:02 am)

Tournament’s success depends on fish showing up

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