A Florida angler set a tournament record and earned a $65,000 payout with a 104-pound wahoo on the final day of the MidAtlantic, the venerable five-day tournament with a reputation for last-minute dramatics. This year’s edition, which kicked off Aug. 22, played true to pattern, with the top three wahoo catches coming in the final hours of fishing on Aug. 26.
Charlie Phelan, of Plantation, Florida, was trolling aboard the Special Situation with Capt. Tucker Colquhoun a 100 miles off Ocean City, Maryland, one of two ports (along with Cape May, New Jersey) that hosts the 31-year-old tournament. After sitting out the first two days due to weather, Special Situation had ventured far out into the Atlantic to find a patch of blue water that had the clarity and temperature the anglers were looking for. But due to a lack of practice time, they weren’t hooking up as much as they had hoped.
“We were a little rusty,” Phelan says. “So we just kind of figured the last day we were going to put our best foot forward, stick to our spot, and maybe we’ll get lucky and drive over a big one.” They were hoping for a white marlin, having tied for third in a previous MidAtlantic Tournament in the white marlin category, but Phelan was also well aware that a wahoo could put them in the money. “We actually won the wahoo category in this tournament a few years back with the smallest wahoo I believe I’ve ever caught,” he says, with a laugh. “The White Marlin Open and the MidAtlantic are one-fish tournaments, so we were just pulling our normal spread and hoping for the one fish at that point.”
White Marlin Spread Produces Wahoo
The trolling configuration they use is a pretty standard white marlin setup: “Two flat lines, two long lines and a couple of short lines for a random blue marlin or wahoo that might come along,” Phelan says. Around noon, the anglers saw a flash cross behind the boat from the starboard side and pass through the prop wash to blast one of the short lines, which was baited with a green Black Bart lure. “He just drilled it,” Phelan recalls. “He saw it from a mile away, it seemed like, and he came in and ate it.”
As wahoo are known to do sometimes, this one breached immediately after striking. “He jumped 15 feet out of the water, shaking his head like crazy, and took off on a good run,” Phelan says. “We were like, man, that’s a good wahoo.”
Phelan got in the chair and started putting pressure on the fish, which stripped 100 yards of line before he was able to turn him back toward the boat. A couple more runs and 15 minutes later, Phelan had the fish close enough for the mate, Alan Wooten, to grab the leader.
Tournament Winning Wahoo Catch
Once the wahoo was in the boat, everyone knew they had a contender.
“We were really surprised how big he was lying on the deck,” Phelan says. “We’ve got a pretty beamy boat, and he was taking up a lot of that room. We’re thinking we’ve got a money fish here. Usually they look bigger when they’re out in the water, but this one looked bigger when we got him on the deck, so we were pretty happy.”
Going into day five, the three wahoo atop the leader board weighed 43, 29 and 28 pounds. Phelan knew he had those fish beat, but he worried that someone else was also having a banner finale. As it turned out, a couple of other anglers did post strong finishes: At the weigh-in that night, all three of the Day 4 leaders got pushed down the board, but neither of the newcomers—a 72-pound wahoo caught by Keith Boyd aboard Craftsmanship, or a 46-pounder caught by Mike Penza on Oil Slick—were big enough to top Phelan’s catch. The 104-pound wahoo took the first prize of $65,729 and set a tournament record, eclipsing a 97-pound wahoo caught in 2009 by Bill Gallo aboard the Joanna.
Setting a tournament record—his first in eight years of tournament angling—is a good feeling. “We were Florida kids, and our dad got us into sport fishing when we were young, so it’s something we’ve enjoyed through our lives,” Phelan says of he and his brother, John Phelan, who owns Special Situation. “It’s definitely a lifetime fish to get a hundred-pound wahoo. I’ve been all over the Bahamas and caught plenty of 50- and 60-pound wahoo, but nothing like this.”
Even more memorable, perhaps, was seeing one of the ocean’s fastest fish strike with all the leaping, head-shaking explosiveness they’re famous for but don’t always display.
“I thought it was probably one of the best fights I’ve seen in a long time when he came and hit that bait,” Phelan says. “When he breached, it was like a movie, the way he was skying out of the water with the lure in his mouth. It was about the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time on the water.”