Intently staring at my goggle eye struggling on the surface, I felt one with my environment…like I was hypnotically coercing fish to strike my kite baits. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes you’re in the zone, and I was there.
The sun had barely peaked its fiery head over the horizon, and we were aboard our Mercury-powered SeaVee just a few miles north of the inlet on a distinct edge in 190 feet of water. I’ll never forget it. Conditions were ideal with overcast skies and a steady easterly breeze. The defined rip, scattered weed and screaming birds overhead made the stretch between Deerfield Pier and Boca Inlet look and feel very fishy. As I suspected, the signs rarely deceive. By the time the Furuno read 150 feet we had already boxed two solid smokers, were tight to a third fish, and well on our way to an action packed morning.
If you have ever landed a big wahoo on inferior tackle, then I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the experience because it will likely never happen again!
We were fishing the downside of the moon, a peak period when local anglers target Florida’s favorite pelagic predators. While kings are always welcomed, mackerel were not our primary target. We were chasing wahoo.
Historically, the black and white Hillsboro Lighthouse has been a famed port for those in search of stripes. Centrally located between Palm Beach and Miami, and within close proximity of the bait rich Gulf Stream, the region’s rapidly sloping shelf complimented by broken reef formations and an array of artificial wreck systems yields more quality wahoo than nearly any other port in the region. Clearly this isn’t Grand Bahama, but it isn’t bad!
Timing is everything, and this early morning endeavor proved no different as a massive torpedo skied on my long bait in the low light conditions. The vicious attack happened so fast I wasn’t sure if I really saw the six foot long fish clear the water by ten feet, or if it was just another case of ocean delirium. That all changed the instant my line ripped out of the kite clip and screamed north at a lightning fast rate of speed. Now there was no mistaking what had just happened.
Wahoo are notoriously elusive, which is one reason the fish are so highly prized. Bury the gaff into a fattie in the 40- to 50-pound class and you have beaten the odds. Kill two or more in a single day and consider yourself ultra lucky. Still, there are factors that lean the odds in our favor, and we can certainly use the help because just when we think we’re hot on their tails, wahoo are masters of throwing us off the trail.
Understanding the bathymetry outside Hillsboro Inlet is relatively easy as prominent reef lines and high profile shipwrecks span for miles up and down the coast, and all are clearly displayed on today’s sophisticated electronics.
Skilled wahoo hunters use these obstructions in conjunction with ideal depths. My heaviest local wahoo to date slammed a high speed lure outside a wreck in 90 feet, but 90-percent of encounters occur between 130 and 200 feet where underwater obstructions create upwellings that congregate and push tiny baitfish toward the surface. Now in open water, they become easy prey for bonito and blackfin tuna—wahoo’s favored forage.
We don’t fish structure because structure attracts and holds wahoo…we fish structure because structure attracts and holds wahoo’s favorite food. Yes, these eating machines will crush herring, scad, runners and the usual hook baits, but wahoo have a thirst for bigger baits. If you see juvenile tuna on the surface or on your sounder, you can be sure that hunting wahoo aren’t far off.
Tackle is critical when chasing wahoo and I bet the ratio of big wahoo lost due to tackle failure versus the number of fish landed is around 50/50. This is a terrible percentage and needs to change. A medium action spinning outfit with 200 yards of K-Mart line isn’t going to cut it. A wahoo as long as you are tall can easily dump a few hundred feet of line, then make a quick u-turn and race back at the boat faster than you can say, “Holy $#!t.” At this point, the fish may only be feet from the transom and you just got smoked! If you have ever landed a big wahoo on inferior tackle, then I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the experience because it will likely never happen again!
Really, 400 or more yards of fresh 20 lb. or 30 lb. mono is the way to go when targeting these ferocious fish with live bait. You’ll appreciate the extra capacity when you need it most. And don’t think for a second the waters outside Hillsboro Inlet aren’t visited by truly impressive wahoo. There are more than a few locals who would be happy to show you what an 80-pounder looks like.
While there are many aspects to consider, you must fish the conditions to find any level of consistency. Outgoing tide is the right tide as it flushes baitfish and forage off the shallow reefs and directly into the path of wahoo cruising up and down the coast.
If there is too much weed and you can’t keep the grass off your lures, slow troll instead or kill the engines and start drifting and dreaming.
The days leading up to and immediately following the full moon are ideal, but I always say fish when you can fish. You certainly can’t catch wahoo at the dock.
Wahoo fishing doesn’t have to be difficult, but you do have to be smart and make sure your presentations are perfect and every connection is bulletproof. In my book, every Hillsboro ‘hoo is special and none more so than the ones caught while specifically targeting them.