Courtesy Fred Myers
It’s the perfect end-of-summer day for running at sea and exploring deep reefs in search of bottom-hugging flounder. So St. Augustine anglers Jon Herring, 58, and Fred Miles, 57, took the opportunity to escape the ancient city. They parked their 21-foot Contender on a reef 17 miles offshore in 73 feet of water, where “living bottom” reefs are known to hold flatfish.
Their gear is just right, with a cooler full of whole mullet bait from which strips can be cut and sent deep into the flounder.
That’s when a giant wow suddenly appeared 15 feet from their boat.
“I yelled ‘Wow, look at the size of that one,'” said Herring, whose bright blue flanks were clearly visible in the clear water as the ‘lit’ fish passed them. “I didn’t even want to try to catch fish because we didn’t have wire to keep the wire from getting cut. But Fred said, ‘Give me a bait’ and he hung it on his heaviest fishing gear – it was still very Light – then flip it to a hovering wow.”
The herring said the big wah ate the 9-inch mullet immediately and immediately cut off the 80-pound test fluorocarbon leader attached to the bait. But the fish did not leave. It just circled the boat over the reef looking for another meal.
Miles manipulated another mullet and threw it at ho ho with the same result. He loaded up the bait again and again and threw it at the still-circling wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wah But it continued to circle their boat.
“We only had one bait left, which was about a 12-inch live cod that we caught earlier with off-the-bar bait and threw it into the live well,” Herring explained. “Fred hooked it up its nose with a 7/0 round hook and then tossed it to whoohoo as it swam 15 feet past us.”
Woohoo takes the hook, and the round hook does the job by barbs on the side of the mouth – its metal handle prevents Wohoo’s sharp teeth from severing the line again.
The mid-sized flounder pole was bent tight, the 40-pound test braid was ripped from his Daiwa “Saltist” Class 30 horizontal wind reel, and the wow man started to accelerate and run away.
Herring quickly pulled up the Contender’s Spot Lock bow-mounted motor, cranking the big engine and chasing the car wow.
“The fish threw almost all the line on the reel, and it took a while for it to catch the fish and get close to it again,” said Herring, who is in charge of boat control. “Wow it stayed close to the ground until we got close to it, then it went down about 30 feet and ran again and we pretty much got it under control.”
The experienced angler hit the boat, rod and hook just right, and about 20 minutes later, the wow came to the surface, jumped and ready to board. But they don’t have a big hook, just a small homemade one designed to handle smaller fish like flounder. It’s made from an old golf club handle with an approximately 8/0 hook on one end (no barbs) for small fish loading and unloading tasks.
“That little yarn was what we had, so I used it to ho ho near the tail, on the other end of those razor teeth,” Herring said. “Then I forced it into the boat and Fred dropped the rod and caught the fish as well, and we put it on the deck.
“Then we started jumping around like a few kids, laughing and yelling, slapping backs and smiling.”
They loaded the fish into the cooler, but couldn’t fit the several-foot-long tail. So they rearranged the ice as best they could, then ran back ashore to weigh it and cool it properly before it went bad in the Florida August sun.
Back at St. Augustine’s Kamachi Bay Yacht Harbor, the fish weighed 86.7 pounds — a huge wow even for St. Augustine, which gives up giant wows every winter, some weighing over 100 pounds.
But it is rare to catch wah wah in the ancient city in summer, especially such a big fish. But Northeast Florida experiences “temperature inversions” every late summer, where cool water rushes in, which may be why Florida’s huge wow is so close to the coast during August’s heat, Herring said.
When asked how he caught such a huge wow on such a light flounder tackle, Miles was the truth.
“The braided cord is a great equalizer,” he said of catching the wow. “There’s still a lot of luck.”