Armchair anglers ready for red-letter weekend
As suddenly and even quicker than you imagined, we have arrived at the end of the 2011 summer fishing season. While there may yet be some fish to catch and action to be had, effort is about to plummet. The commercial men have lobsters to concern themselves with and fishing generally takes a back seat to other pursuits.
We are now on the eve of the season's last major tournament. The tropical activity that seems ubiquitous in the Atlantic and Gulf may have something to say about it but even that won't be a matter of more than a week or so. It seems like last week that we were hailing the first events as the start of a glorious new season that would see records broken and give us myriad days in the sun out on the briny.
Now we have arrived at the season's swansong. It is hard to believe that winter is waiting in the wings, looking to sweep on stage with blustery gales and rain and hail and all those other things that pretty much keep boating out of our minds.
But before the season moves toward its conclusion, there is one final fling in the form of the last major event, the Royal Gazette Wahoo Tournament. This event is the only local tournament that is species specific. Even the mid-summer billfish events recognise several species and usually have a category for non-billfish game fish. That is what sets this event apart from the others and the reason why historically it has always been held at this time of the year. It was originally set to coincide with the autumnal wahoo run and while that natural event has moved around, sometimes to the point of not even happening, the timing of the tournament has remained.
Rather than having just a single alternate day, this tournament set something of a precedent when it was fished on the first Sunday that saw acceptable weather. In the past, this “September” tournament has been fished into October. In 1987, the arrival of Emily put the tournament back two weeks and even then that was fished against a background of mayhem and a distinct lack of electrical power.
So much for history. At the moment, the weather forecast looks encouraging and it is in everyone's best interest to have it go at the first opportunity. As the month moves on, weather conditions tend to deteriorate and the chances of getting a suitable day become more remote.
The other element which no one can do anything about is the abundance of the fish. While they should be in good numbers with an emphasis on quality, there are no guarantees. In the final analysis, whatever actually happens, happens. What is sure is that there are over 40 boats with some 160 plus anglers registered to take part. All their attention will be focussed on a single species, the wahoo.
Wahoo fishing is generally associated with trolling. Early in the season and late in the year, trolling is the preferred means of fishing. The theory is that the fish are on the move and therefore more likely to be feeding. There is also the thought that by moving around, the odds of encountering a hungry fish are increased.
There is also the possibility that the fish may have areas of concentration at certain locations on the Banks or Bermuda's Edge and trolling allows a boat to work an area over and over, hopefully picking up a few fish on each sweep. This technique also allows a boat to work multiple promising locations. A side benefit to this is that single boats aren't usually able to hog the location and take all the fish for themselves. As they move through the “hot” area, other boats can follow them through in the hope of being in the right place at the right time.
This sort of situation is not limited to wahoo. Tuna, dolphin and other species often exhibit the same sort of behaviour, occurring at certain spots in higher numbers than the norm. The reason could be a current that favours the fish, a bait concentration (sometimes currents conspire to make bait schools more susceptible to predation) or some other factor that is attractive to fish.
But do not be lulled into the belief that the winner of the tournament will have to be a fish caught on the troll. Over the years, winners have been fish caught on the troll, on live baits, off kites, by drifting and in the chum. And there are complexities within each of these techniques. For instance, live-baiting includes the use of frigate mackerel; these are usually slow trolled and the ever-popular use of live robins from an anchored or drifting boat.
One of the more promising signs for this year's event is that there are some frigate mackerel offshore. Another is that there have been some reasonable wahoo catches recently even though most of the commercial fleet is concentrating its effort on spiny lobsters.
Some of these techniques are better suited to light tackle than others. In a tournament such as this weekend's, the class of tackle does make a difference and purists will be looking for big fish on 12 or 16-lb line. The lighter the line class, the more points scored per pound by the fish. This does not mean that the really big specimens can only be caught on the heavier line classes.
In the past, generally the greatest number of entries has come in on 30-lb class line. Part of the reason for this is that many amateurs use this class for trolling and because it does not require the finesse that the lighter classes do. The 12 and 16-lb test class entries are dominated by veteran anglers who routinely compete in light tackle tournament.
Some people jump to the conclusion that the overall largest fish will be caught on the heavier tackle classes but this is not true. The winner has often been a fish caught on one of the lighter classes. Truth to tell, although the wahoo is a formidable game fish, it would take a real giant, as in world record class, to require anything more than 30-lb test.
The winning fish is usually in the 60-pound or better bracket and there have been winners that have tipped the scale at over 70. The numbers of fish uslally come from the smaller fish, but this can surprise. Most wahoo are in the 15 to 25-pound bracket but that figure includes a lot of run-of-the-mill summer fsih. Autumn fish tend to be larger with 30-odd pounders occurring fairly commonly. The larger trophy fish tend to be loners even though sometimes there can be some really handsome double strikes from larger fish. Catching them both is the trick; just one is nice but together they will really improve the looks of a fish box. All things being equal there should be lots to look forward to.
So, we have a red-letter weekend ahead. Apart from the action that lies ahead for the competitors, the Dockyard weigh-in venue will afford an opportunity for armchair anglers to see the proceeds of the tournament. Seeing some big wahoo weighed in will provide them with some vicarious Tight lines!!!