Gary Hurley

Guide Time – Stripes on Ice

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Striped, svelte, speedy, and stellar on the table (raw, cooked, and all points in between), what angler doesn’t love the wahoo? North Carolina boasts perhaps the most enviable wahoo fishery north of the Caribbean, and blue water anglers in the state land the stunning fish in every month of the year.

Positioned at the southern end of the Outer Banks, Morehead City offers some of the state’s most consistent wahoo action, and Capt. Thomas Wood and the “Dancin’ Outlaw” take full advantage, ferrying boxfuls of the toothy predators from the Gulf Stream to the docks of Morehead’s “Charterboat Row” as dependably as anyone.

Scott Wallen, J.J. Khoury, and Gary Hurley with a pair of wahoo, a dolphin, and a blackfin tuna that attacked ballyhoo under sea witch and Ilander skirts in the wake of the "Dancin' Outlaw."

Scott Wallen, J.J. Khoury, and Gary Hurley with a pair of wahoo, a dolphin, and a blackfin tuna that attacked ballyhoo under sea witch and Ilander skirts in the wake of the “Dancin’ Outlaw.”

The Fisherman’s Post crew has joined Wood aboard the “Outlaw” for several enjoyable wahoo trips over the past few years, and we didn’t have to wait long on our most recent, an early-November outing, before the first stripes met the ice.

With his usual mate out of town, Thomas had brought fellow Capt. Cameron Guthrie along to run the cockpit, and he’d barely gotten our spread of skirted ballyhoo fine-tuned and parked himself by the planer rod before he jumped back into action.

A quick bounce of the planer rod’s tip let Guthrie know that something had taken a swipe at the Islander ballyhoo/combo running deep but failed to connect with the hook.

While he tried to cajole the fish back into taking the bait, we heard the sweet sound of a line popping free from an outrigger clip, the soon-bent rod testifying that this fish had indeed found the hooks.

“Who’s up?” Guthrie queried with a grin.

Gary had brought his brother-in-law J.J. Khoury along on this trip, and we’d also hauled Fish Post friend Scott Wallen aboard, and Wallen hopped into the Outlaw’s fighting chair without a moment’s hesitation.

As they’re famous for, the wahoo tore off a significant amount of line in a breakneck burst, but the tight drag on the 50W Shimano reel soon took its toll, and Guthrie was sliding a gaff over the brilliantly-lit, neon-blue back of a very healthy wahoo less than 20 minutes after we began to troll.

The planer bait had come in bitten off just behind the hook, evidence that either the wahoo had veered off the halved bait for one of the surface offerings or that one fish biting the deep bait had excited another nearby into rocketing to the surface for a snack.

“I doubt that was the same fish,” Guthrie replied when I put the question to him.

Wahoo frequently feed in packs well below the surface, and it’s a common scenario for a fish committing to the planer bait to trigger a competitive reaction leading its schoolmates to snatch the offerings trolled on top. Most serious North Carolina wahoo anglers run a bait deep on the planer for this very reason, particularly in the fall.

There’s typically a solid spring wahoo bite as well, but the fish often bunch up more in the fall, as Wood explained when I asked him a few questions following our trip.

“Every year’s a little different,” the captain explained, “but the trend is that the fish get much more concentrated around structure in the fall. In the spring, they follow the bait more and you’re likely to catch one about anywhere you’re on bait.”

Huge numbers of dolphin also move in toward the tail end of the wahoo bite in the spring and the area occasionally has a good yellowfin tuna bite, so crews pull more varied spreads than fall, when wahoo are the prime target.

“We go strictly to wire leaders in the fall,” Wood continued, “and we use the planer a lot more.”

While plenty of wahoo are luckily landed on mono and fluorocarbon leaders by anglers trolling for other species, many more of the toothy fish bite off the hooks and lures, so wire leaders are near-mandatory when the ‘hoos stack up. Like much of the rest of the Morehead City and Hatteras charter fleet, who handle more wahoo in a season than most anglers see in a lifetime, Wood prefers long, bright silver piano wire leaders over the coffee-colored stainless wire more common in tackle shops.

Other species can of course show up late in the season as well, and the long wire leaders didn’t seem to be a turnoff to the blackfin tuna and dolphin we also landed on our recent trip.

Sailfish seem to enjoy the same conditions as wahoo, however (and we released several alongside wahoo on an “Outlaw” trip the previous fall), and are often more apt to strike a bait on a more-stealthy mono leader. In the event the hookless daisy-chain teasers we were also pulling brought a sail up from the depths, we were running a naked ballyhoo on a light mono leader close to the transom on the starboard side of the spread, with another rigged and ready as a pitch bait in case a pair of the fish came up.

Aside from the naked bait, Wood’s wahoo offerings are simple and fairly consistent—ballyhoo rigged behind sparse sea witch skirts with a larger Iland Lure enhancing the profile of one or two of the baits in the spread. Colors can vary a bit, but blue/white and a darker skirt including some black are mainstays.

If, like us, the sight of the brilliantly-lit stripes of a wahoo coming aboard and the ensuing meals are something you crave (or if your desires swing more towards a boxful of summer mahi or billfish action), give Capt. Thomas Wood a call to talk about your own trip aboard the “Dancin’ Outlaw.” You can reach him at (252) 504-2342, learn more on their website or Facebook, or just pop down to the Morehead waterfront on a late afternoon to see what comes out of Wood’s fish box.