Monday, August 20, 2012

Wahoo-ee! Virginia Beach blue-water angling adventure

VIRGINIA BEACH - “Battle stations.”

That’s all Virginia outdoors writer and angler Charlie Coates needed to say.

It was also a tad obvious. The reason being, the skipper of the 57-foot, 30,000-pound “Waterman” had throttled back on the vessel’s 1,000-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine after making a 2 1/2-hour run.

The “Waterman” was now 60-plus miles off the Virginia coastline, at the edge of the Continental Shelf where the Gulf Stream’s current cruises by on its way to the British Isles and beyond.

Underneath the boat was 25 fathoms of water, or in the Queen’s English; about 150 feet.

And just a few miles further east the depth plunges to the ink-black depth of around 1,000 fathoms. Again, in the Queen’s English, about 6,000 feet. It is here where the shelf just drops away into virtual nothingness.

Well, not entirely nothingness.

This is where a brew of cold Atlantic Ocean wrestles with the warmer Gulf Stream current, and where the edge of perpetual darkness slaps the face of the much shallower Continental Shelf.

Secure these conditions and you’ll knock on the door to a plethora of salt-water game fish species.

“We’ve got a really remarkable variety of fish out here,” said the “Waterman’s” first mate, Jason Carroll.

“There’s wahoo, dolphin (mahi-mahi), white marlin, blue marlin, shark; just a lot of different fish.”

And to catch this trove of creatures which are typically more great than small, Carroll and boat pilot Jimmy Grant work in smooth tandem.

While Grant steers the “Waterman” with one eye on the vessel’s array of electronics and the other for signs of surface fish activity, Carroll rigs the lines, maintains the outriggers and wraps dead ballyhoo baitfish unto the hooks.

Except for the super size-me dimensions of the boat and equipment, the fishing’s pretty much what any Lake Erie walleye troller could identify with as being held in common.

Of course, the water is salty and not fresh, the water’s depth drops to more than one mile, the Atlantic Ocean could swallow a whole bunch of Lake Eries, the gap between the coast and the fish-proving grounds is greater than the distance across Lake Erie, the fish are bigger and meaner and some can even bite back; so it’s sort of the same thing, only different.

“It’s been a really good season so far but every day you never know what you’re going to catch,” Carroll said as he made one of countless tackle adjustments. “At least we haven’t broken anything.”

Working in swells that topped out at eight feet or so the ocean was being stirred by winds of up to 30 knots; again in Queen’s English, around 35 mph, give or take a gale or two.

“It’s a good chop,” Carroll said.

We weren’t sure if Carroll was joking though he had earlier mumbled as to how the National Weather Service had gotten the forecast so wrong once more.

No matter, for between strikes from fish, the need to shoot a digital photograph or to jot down a worthy quote, Coates, fellow Ohio outdoors writer Paul Liikala of Cuyahoga Falls, and myself would relax in the “Waterman’s” opulent salon.

This specious cubicle of fiberglass is air-conditioned and some rather well-padded benches suitable for stretching out between innings. One almost hated to be stirred when some fishing needed our attention.

Almost, but not entirely.

At least twice lines were snatched, their tough 300-pound test shock leaders bitten through by what was believed to be from sailfish, or white marlin.

More than anything, the five-person ensemble was praying for a hook-up from a billfish/sailfish.

And most of all, a blue marlin, which can tip the scales at up to several hundred pounds. Even one-half a ton in some exceptional cases.


By mutual agreement I was elected to be the first to claim the fighting chair in order to worry a fish that would hung on to the bait. That will work, I figured, and it did, too.

Directed to sit, hold tight and not let go of the $2,000 worth of rod and reel, I manned my personal battle station.

The rod’s stout butt was pegged in the fighting chair’s central rod holder, giving me some leverage to work the fish.

“Keep the rod pointed in the direction of the fish,” yelled Grant from his second-story perch.

Then Carroll added to the instructions by saying “keep the line moving across the reel’s spool.”

Oops, forgetting that with such a massive reel that has no level wind mechanism, I could see that the 800 yards of 130-pound test plastic cord was bunching up in the spool’s center.

While an angler reels in line he (or she) must also at the same time manhandle the fishing line back and forth evenly across the spool. Otherwise, the line pinches itself between the spool and the reel proper, arresting any further retrieval.

Reel, pump, reel, pump; it was a bit of work, especially with orders being barked from all angles that were threatening to short-circuit my ability to process them all.

Finally, I was able to scroll the fishing line back onto the reel’s massive spool but only after the fish had several times ripped off more than I immediately could chew.

At that point Carroll reached over the boat’s transom, snatching with a massive gaff whatever I was fighting.

He then quickly but deftly deposited the catch onto the vessel’s deck.

Here the large (make that, very large) wahoo began its death dance, shimming around the fighting chair, sprouting a bloody trail as it slithered about the platform.

“Don’t get down!” I was ordered by more than one person.

No problem there as the wahoo looked dangerous enough from the safety of the fighting chair. The last thing I wanted was to test just how serious the creature was in desiring to do me harm.

The wahoo - all 39 pounds of it - was finally secured in the boat’s fish hold, which was filled with crushed ice.

Satisfied, I stepped out of the fighting chair and gave an ever-so-broad grin. Enough so that no one needed to say “congratulations.”

They knew, as I did, that the wahoo may very well have represented my first, last and only big-game, blue-water Bucket List adventure.

Yep, I’m more than sufficiently happy, especially now since there’s a whale amount of wahoo fillets occupying space in my freezer.

For information about fishing aboard the “Waterman,” call 757-753-3113; the Virginia Beach Fishing Center at 800-725-0509; and also the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-VA-BEACH. Also, visit, and

Virginia Beach is a popular tourism destination, including with visitors from Ohio which contribute large numbers of folk eager to sample the resort community’s many attractions, hotels, businesses and the like.
Including the not-as-well-known salt-water sport fisheries.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twiter: @Fieldkorn

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