About 15 miles outside of Beaufort Inlet, a curious wahoo found itself in hot water when it swam up to investigate the charter group of guide Stewart Merritt of Morehead City. After enticing the fish with bait chunks, Merritt rigged an available, yet under-matched spinning reel, and put Dwayne Gray of Winston-Salem on the ride of his life before landing the 60 pounder on August 27th.
“We had just pulled up on a ledge in about 75 feet of water,” said Merritt of Salt Air Ventures Charters. “I wanted to see if we had any wind or current and what the boat was going to do before I put the anchor out. We were targeting grouper and I had taken some bait out of the cooler and put it on the cutting board to thaw. As soon as I looked down in the water, I could see this big wahoo swimming in circles 10 to 15 feet down, checking us out.”
After 15 to 20 seconds of making sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Merritt (252-725-1725) broke a couple of frozen sardines and threw them overboard, which the fish happily ate when they sank to its level. Then, Merritt stunned a live pinfish on the motor hood and tossed it over. Again, the fish ate.
Convinced the wahoo would bite a hook, Merritt decided against re-rigging the stouter, stiffer rods he brought for grouper fishing, believing their inflexibility would pull the small trebles of a 2-hook king mackerel rig free upon a strong run. Instead, he tied the rig on a 6000 series Penn spinning reel spooled with 40-pound braid that he kept aboard for pitching baits to dolphin and baited the hook with the biggest pinfish he had.
“I had tightened down the drag a little and figured I had 300 yards of good line on the reel,” said Merritt. “But, when that fish bit, he took off and left the country.”
Positioning his angler on the bow, Merritt took the helm and gave chase to regain line.
“We were doing 5 or 6 knots,” said Merritt,” but the reel was just melting. It went from a full spool to being able to see the bottom coming up.
“I told Dwayne he was going to have to hold on and we sped up to 15 or 16 knots.”
Just then, Merritt heard what he feared most.
“It's slack! It's slack!”, called Gray.
Believing the fish to be unhooked, Merritt halted and began to assess the situation. He untangled the loose line from around the guides of Gray’s rod and followed it under the boat where it was wrapped around the lower unit skeg and freed it.
“I started cranking the handle just like if you were going to reel back an empty hook and the fish was still on there,” said Merritt. “I came tight and the fish felt it and took off again.”
This time the big wahoo was more subdued, but still managed a 30-minute tug of war with Gray, circling the boat multiple times before Merritt sunk his gaff.
The elated crew went on to limit out on gag grouper before bringing the fish in to be weighed at Chasin’ Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach.