Rhode Island charter captain AJ Dangelo was trolling a 9-rod setup aboard The Maridee on Oct. 10 when he hooked a wahoo whose size — more than 10 pounds heavier than the largest ever recorded in the state — is just one of many remarkable details from a catch that yielded no record but one heck of a fishing story.
Rhode Island Wahoo Fishing
Dangelo was working a 10-degree temperature break in Block Canyon, about 85 miles off Point Judith, Rhode Island, where Maridee Sport Fishing Charters and Tackle Shop is based. It was around 7:30 a.m., and his clients had already boated a handful of nice mahi mahi to start the day. All of his lures were surface runners, except for one: Trailing 30 feet behind the boat was a 9-ounce Nomad DTX that dives about 10 feet below the surface.
“That plug pulls pretty hard, so the rod was bent over just from the drag,” Dangelo recounts. “As I was watching it, the rod went slack, like the lure had got immediately cut off.”
The day before, The Maridee had caught a mako shark on the Nomad. “I told the guys either a mako or wahoo just bit us right off,” Dangelo says. “Definitely something with a lot of teeth.”
As he was reeling in the line, the adjacent rod got hit. About 30 seconds later that rod also went slack. He reeled that line in and was showing his clients how it too was chewed up. Just then, the spreader bar in the outrigger went off, the third hit in 90 seconds. Angler Harry Rutland took the rod, and about 15 minutes later they had a big wahoo in the boat.
“We took a couple of pictures, and as I’m putting all the lines back out I told the guys, ‘OK, now I’m not so upset that we lost that $50 Nomad lure, because we got a beautiful wahoo on the deck,’” Dangelo says.
Catching a wahoo is a fairly rare occurrence for the Dangelo family, who usually troll mono rather than wire leaders because their main focus is tuna. Dangelo’s grandfather started the business, naming The Maridee after AJ’s grandmother, Mary Dangelo; his father, Andy, has been running charters for 50 years, and AJ started going out on the boat at age 7. In all that time, AJ estimates, the family has caught less than a dozen wahoo.
Add the fish’s weight — 91 pounds, after gutting — and the catch looks even more special. Rhode Island does not include wahoo on its state record list, nor are they qualifying species for the Game Fish Award Program. However, the species is granted state recognition as a notable catch. The largest on record is an 80-pound, 6.5-foot wahoo caught in August 2002.
Check Your Fish’s Stomach for Lures
As AJ gutted the big wahoo and prepared to pack it in ice, the story took another twist.
“I reached my hands into the guts, to start extracting them, and I could feel something really hard,” Dangelo says. “I could tell right away that it wasn’t something natural in there. That’s when I told the guys, ‘You better get the video going, because no one’s gonna believe this.’”
As the camera rolled, Dangelo sliced open the fish’s stomach and pulled something out.
“The Nomad plug that got bit off the first line was in his stomach,” Dangelo says with a laugh. “It’s crazy. We thought it was gone for good, but it came back to us. Now it’s our lucky plug.”
He figures the wahoo likely hit all three lines in quick succession — pop, pop, pop — before running out of luck on the third strike, which hooked the fish in the corner of its mouth. “He couldn’t bite that one off,” Dangelo says.
Unofficial Rhode Island Wahoo Record
Because the wahoo was not weighed on a certified scale, it won’t replace the 80-pounder on the notable catch list. Dangelo says that’s fine with him.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, but it seems like it matters to a lot of people who follow us,” he says. “They’re kind of bummed out that we’re not gonna be in the record book.”
The Maridee is already associated with one state record: AJ’s father captained the 1993 charter on which angler W. Alessi of Boston caught a 718-pound, 10.5-foot mako shark that is still the Rhode Island record. “It would’ve been cool to have two records caught on our boat,” AJ says, “but we know the wahoo was a big one, and that’s good enough for us.”
Northeast Wahoo Fishing Will Get Better
It also seems likely that there will be more chances at a record fish. As water temperatures rise due to climate change, wahoo and other warm-water pelagics are showing up with increasing regularity in the Northeast, and captains like Dangelo are starting to figure out their patterns. Every time he’s caught one, Dangelo notes, it has been on an extreme temperature break like the one he encountered in Block Canyon, where surface water temperatures dropped from 75 degrees where they caught the wahoo to 65 degrees a half mile to the east.
“We don’t see 10-degree breaks like that one too often, but we’ve caught most of our wahoo on a big temperature break. So I think in the future, if I’m in that same position, I might be trolling a couple of rigs that are actually set up for wahoo, with the proper leaders so we can hopefully land a few more of them.”
The chance, three-bite encounter with the 91-pounder has made him want to target the species in the future. “Absolutely,” he says. “I’ve got the wahoo fever now.”