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November 08, 2007

The Cay Sal Connection

The legal way to hunt wahoo in the remote Bahamas... from a center console

Hours into a trek along the Bahama Bank, Capt. Joey Jordan finally throttled back, set lines and then goosed the Sea Vee 340 to 16 mph. As the deep-V hull attempted to plane, we could see our Ilander lures bobbing and skittering behind the boat.

Slam! First one, then a second wire-line rod bowed to the water. Jordan slowly decelerated and went to work with fellow captain Billy Carson to reel in two 25-pound wahoo. Jordan climbed onto the transom bulkhead, gaffed and swung each fish into the box.
Baits out again. Zigzagging the reef. Bam! Both wires down. One mono rod down. Lines screeched. All three wahoo came aboard: five 25-pound-class fish in less than an hour.
Cay Sal, the most remote area of the Bahamas, carries that kind of reputation. But not only do anglers routinely catch multiple wahoo in rapid succession, they catch giants - over 100 pounds. That's enough to make some folks act like criminals.
Fish the Plan
Sport Fishing's idea to run 34-foot center-console boats to the uninhabited Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas in winter must have seemed perplexing to Ariel Pared, co-owner of Sea Vee Boats. What a logistical nightmare!
To fish the bank legally means running from south Florida to Bimini (45 miles), checking in at Bahamian Customs and then heading southwest 140 miles (just 30 miles north of Cuba).
The Cay Sal Bank, a cluster of 100 small islands over a vast shallow zone littered with blue holes, offers fine fishing, but there are no fuel docks, no hotels, no stores. At the end of the day, boats either run back to Bimini - another 140 miles - or up to Miami, a mere 95-mile jaunt. Total mileage, depending on the route: 280 to 325 miles.
Big sport-fish boats make the trip - often remaining for several days at the bank - but 34-foot center consoles? And in winter's often turbulent seas? 
That kind of hardship makes some anglers bend the rules. South Florida   captains frequently chatter about who's fishing the bank illegally, running from the Keys to Cay Sal without checking in at customs. Doing so means risking fines, imprisonment and the loss of your boat.

But the lure of giant wahoo over 100 pounds and the thought of so many fish migrating past the steep bank walls from November through March simply proved too much for our crew. Pared and his cohorts guaranteed they would find a legal way.

By the Book
Had we taken this trip in 2007 rather than November 2006, Pared's plan would have been simple: The company's new 39-foot, quadruple-outboard-powered center consoles carry 570 gallons of fuel. But the smaller 34-footers carry 350 - plenty for most offshore adventures, but not quite enough for our plan. 
Clocking about 1 mile per gallon at 32 to 35 mph, the Sea Vee 340s offer a range of 350 miles. But factor in a few hours trolling at Cay Sal, and suddenly you've burned 100 gallons more.

To make the numbers work, we decided to stay overnight at Big John's in Bimini, fuel up, run to Cay Sal the next day, troll for several hours, then run back to Miami. Total fuel needed for that approach: 335 gallons. If we stowed some extra fuel, we could top out at about 385 gallons and give ourselves a 50-gallon cushion.
Pared loaded containers filled with 36 extra gallons of fuel aboard his 340 and 36 more aboard our buddy boat - a 340 cuddy - belonging to Carson, who owns Billy's Outboard Service in North Miami.
Because we couldn't see heading to Bimini without doing a little fishing in the local vicinity, we included an extra day to deep-drop for black snapper and troll for grouper and later wahoo off the island's north end. The two-day adventure offered us a variety of fishing experiences and some time to relax between runs - the perfect Cay Sal plan.