Like most Shenandoah Valley anglers, the majority of fish I catch are rather small. It might be an 8-ounce bluegill, 12-ounce crappie, one-pound smallmouth or two-pound largemouth. With light tackle, though, it's still fun to battle even these diminutive quarries.
But it's hard to imagine the thrill Susan Nelson, of Whiteford, Maryland, must have felt when she latched onto a new Virginia state record wahoo in the Atlantic Ocean a few weeks ago. The fish weighed an incredible 122 pounds, one ounce. It measured 82 1/2 inches long and surpassed the previous record by 13 pounds. That fish had been caught by Delmo Dawson, of Zuni, nearly 20 years ago and weighed 109 pounds.
Nelson was fishing off of Wachapreague, with Captain Keith Neal, aboard the charter boat "Teaser." They were fishing near the area known as Lumpy Bottom, said Lewis Gillingham, director of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. Trolling is typically the method used when fishing these offshore waters and one never knows for sure what will strike. It could be a big yellowfin tuna, a huge bluefin, a blue or white marlin, dolphin, sailfish, swordfish or wahoo.
As they eased through the blue waters, suddenly a violent strike came on the long rigger line. It was rigged with a Joe Shute lure and ballyhoo combination rigged on a 130 pound monofilament leader crimped to a Mustad Hook. The rod was a custom built model, teamed up with a Shimano Tiagra 50 reel spooled with 80-pound test Mamoi Hi-Catch Diamond monofilament line.
At the time, the "Teaser" charter boat's crew was participating in a "Tuna-Ment" and targeting that species. For a while, the crew and angler weren't sure that they didn't have a big tuna on the line that might place well in the event. Later, because of the way the fish was fighting, though, they thought they might have a foul-hooked blue marlin on the line.
After a blistering run, the fish came up towards the surface, but never broke through. The battle was long and arduous and the fish came up four more times near the top without revealing its identity. Finally, on the fifth surface run, the crew saw the stripes and realized they had a magnificent wahoo on the line.
The battle lasted over 45 minutes, when finally Susan worked the big fish close the boat. The crew knew there was a good chance of losing it at the boat as it thrashed, so they used two gaffs and hauled the giant wahoo aboard.
At first, they thought the fish might weigh over 90 pounds. They quickly slipped the wahoo into an iced-down insulated fish bag, but before doing so, measured it. The tape said it was over 80 inches.
That's when Captain Neal thought they might have a new state record. And indeed they did. Back at the dock, the record catch was confirmed and identified by Bill Hall, of Bloxom, a member of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament State Record Committee.
I'll still cherish catching a one-pound smallmouth in the Shenandoah, but what a thrill Susan Nelson must have felt to land that beautiful wahoo.