I was living my dream to be an angler aboard a long-range, stand-up, ten-day, deep-sea fishing trip departing in October from America’s Cup Harbor in San Diego. I’d been preparing for two years for this trip while recuperating from a cardiac arrest, reading everything I could find and mail-ordering equipment I’d need on the trip.
October is perennially an excellent month for catching multiple species where we were heading. Yellowfin, Bluefin, and Albacore Tuna, and Yellowtail (members of the Jack family) are all usually abundant, highly-prized catches. While fun to catch using light line, the delicate flesh of Dorado (called Mahi-Mahi in Hawaii) doesn’t store well very long. These are the primary game fish species which anglers expect they may catch.
However, the primary game fish species that many anglers hope they may catch is a Wahoo, which with Sailfish and Shortfin Mako ranks among the fastest of pelagic swimmers. This fish is dangerous—it doesn’t have teeth per se, rather it has a razor-sharp serrated jaw bone. When fishing in water holding Wahoo, everyone on deck must wear footwear protecting the entire foot.
We’d arrived at the spot and Captain Kevin—who trained many Captains in the San Diego Sport Fishing Fleet—was the Deck Boss. He was standing on the bait tank, reminding the anglers we were in Wahoo territory—which means no “circle” hooks (semi-circular hooks used to catch slower species), and no “monofilament” fishing line. I thought that since I have neither, I’m good to go.
Here is a photo of Captain Kevin standing on the bait tank (and two mates on the top deck), watching the water for signs of fish.
On our first stop I was standing in the starboard corner of the stern (the back of the boat). I was the first angler to cast a bait. It was my first cast ever on a long-range fishing trip!
One second after hitting the water my sardine was eaten by an extremely fast fish.
Within two seconds the fish swam 60 feet away from me parallel to the stern on the top of the water, toward the port side of the boat, leaving a rooster-tail of water behind as if it were a speedboat. A rainbow was visible in the water spray which the fish’s tail produced.
The fish then made a 90-degree right-hand turn, leaving a rooster tail as it swam straight for another two seconds and 60 feet. It was difficult to follow my line. First, the fish was so fast. Second, everyone was hypnotized by the fish, boots seemingly glued to the deck.
The fish then made another 90-degree right-hand turn, swam straight for 30 feet making a rooster tail, and barreled snout-first into the aluminum hull of our boat. It lay still on the surface, floating and unconscious.
A mate standing next to a gaff watched this unfold and for an awkward second he, like the rest of us, was cognitively processing what we’d all just witnessed. Then the mate “woke up,” looked over the rail, and saw the slumbering Wahoo. On his third swing the gaff did its job. My 49-pounder (trophies start at 50-pounds) was the largest Wahoo caught that trip.
Captain Kevin was visibly irritated. He bellowed: “Didn’t I just tell you not to use a circle hook”? I replied: “Yes Captain, mine is shaped like a question mark!” I didn’t yet know that, in reality, I did use a circle hook—and they do look like question marks!
Captain Kevin became redder. He bellowed: “Didn’t I just tell you not to use monofilament line?” I said: “Yes, Sir, I used fluorocarbon!” I didn’t yet know that, in reality, fluorocarbon is monofilament line.
By the end of the trip we were good friends, and I’d learned a lot.
In the following photo I am posing at the dock in San Diego, holding my first and favorite catch of the trip, the Wahoo–my first-ever pelagic fish, caught on my first-ever cast….
My First Wahoo
Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.
March 31, 2021