Ask me what the story is with wicked wahoo, and I’ll swear that no game fish is more cherished. Few species in any of the world’s oceans generate the excitement level of big wahoo. Are they the hardest fighting of all game fish—far from it. Do they exhibit defying aerial leaps rivaling their billed buddies—rarely. Yet, ferocious ‘hoos are the most elusive of all pelagic predators and continue to drive determined anglers mad, while at the same time surprising unsuspecting fishermen when they least expect it. Throw in the fact that just when you think you have their feeding pattern figured out, they stop biting or disappear altogether and completely throw you off their trail, and it’s easy to see why these masters of deception rank so high on every blue water anglers hit list. That’s the real deal with these specialized aquatic killers, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
In case you didn’t already know, wahoo are the most ferocious, fastest and largest mackerel found anywhere in the Atlantic, reaching triple-digit weights exceeding the massive 100-pound mark. Of course, the fish we encounter off Florida rank as somewhat juveniles ranging in size from 30 to 50-pounds, with a few larger specimens thrown in annually to keep things interesting.
…wahoo are typically lone hunters, only briefly converging on rich feeding grounds to satisfy their insatiable appetite.
Perfectly evolved with saw-like jaws complimenting hydrodynamic streamlined bodies propelled by hypersonic tails, wahoo are extremely effective hunters reaching blistering bursts of speed surpassing the 50 mph mark. These revered game fish seem to be mysteriously elite, especially to those who have only heard or read about them. Natural born killers with a camouflage coat that helps melt the fish into their surroundings, wahoo devour nearly any protein-rich meal they can catch with a sweet tooth for juvenile yellowfin tuna, bullet blackfin and, of course, flavorful bonito. Wahoo also savagely attack blue runner, ballyhoo, goggle-eye, Spanish mackerel, dolphin and even slow-trolled bluefish.
When it comes to pursuing these merciless maulers with artificial offerings—the focus of this particular editorial—any fast moving lure mimicking favored prey will typically get clobbered.
Like dolphin, wahoo grow rapidly and can reach 30-inches in length by their first birthday. By four-years old, they may be more than five-feet long and are a serious force to be reckoned with on nearly any class of tackle. However, unlike their neon green cousins and yellow-finned friends that regularly exhibit schooling behavior, wahoo are typically lone hunters, only briefly converging on rich feeding grounds to satisfy their insatiable appetite. For this reason once a prolific feeding zone is determined, catching two or three fish in the same general area isn’t uncommon.
Sure there are peak seasons and optimal fishing times, but anyone who invests enough hours in clean blue water knows that wahoo are available from sunup to sundown around the entire perimeter of the state and during every month of the year. For this reason wahoo wizards need to stay sharp in order to maximize every available encounter. With these hard-hitting fighters, a single fish can transform you from Capt. Zero to Capt. Hero.
1. Fish The Moon, Fish The Tides
Whenever possible, focus your wahoo efforts just prior to or just after full moon phases. This applies from January through December. Typically along the eastern seaboard, outgoing tides provide the greatest odds of success, especially in the southeastern portions of the state where heavy concentrations of forage fish are flushed off near-shore reefs. However make no mistake; as previously mentioned wahoo are notorious for surprising unsuspecting anglers when they least expect it. And since everyone doesn’t have the privilege of hitting the water when ideal conditions are forecasted, I say fish when you can fish. Making mental notes of the prevailing conditions when wahoo are encountered will help for future outings but whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of skipping a fishing trip when the lunar or tidal phase doesn’t appear favorable. I don’t care how good you think you are; you’ll never catch wahoo on the couch.
2. Location, Location, Location
This key phrase has been repeated countless times, and for good reason. Successful wahoo fishing is about location. Regardless if you’re heading 50-miles off Jacksonville, way out into the Gulf of Mexico or just a couple of miles outside Miami, carefully study your surroundings. Near-shore or offshore, look for water temperature and color changes, floating debris, bird activity, bait concentrations—all are solid indications that the target species may be patrolling the neighborhood.
3. Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight
Trolling wahoo is no place for light tackle. These fish are big, mean, super fast and ferocious. While high-capacity reels matched to 30lb. class spin or conventional rods may be adequate when live bait fishing, 50lb. class equipment with bent-butt rods are much more appropriate for trolling duties. Solid connections, fresh monofilament, and nothing less then high-grade terminal tackle are required to consistently get the job done.
4. Stick With Singles
For trolling enthusiasts, especially those with a preference for pulling Yo-Zuri Bonita, Braid Marauder or Rapala Magnum type plugs, after a strike hooks must remain where they belong—lodged tightly in a wahoo’s tough skinned jaw. For this reason experienced wahoo whackers prefer single hooks that dangle from ball-bearing swivels rather than clumsy trebles or large claw-style hooks. The swivels allow the large single hooks to rotate and do an excellent job at avoiding pulled hooks.
5. Drag Race
Wahoo attack artificial baits—both skirted and plug style lures—with the pedal to the metal in an attempt to sever the bait on the initial strike. As you’re trolling, routinely check your drag to ensure it is set on the heavy side, which will allow the lure to slip past the fish’s teeth and effectively set into its jaw.
6. Rig It Right, Fish It Right
Forget the 16 to 20-knot idea. Super fast trolling speeds like that are best suited for Bahamian waters where big barracuda will tear your lures to shreds trolling any slower. Here in our neck of the woods around the great state of Florida, trolling deep-diving plugs at 12 to 14-knots is perfect. Fifty-pound monofilament running line crimped to a heavy-duty snap-swivel attached to 36-inches of multi-strand cable crimped directly to the lure is all that is needed.
The moniker K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. If you are just beginning to explore wahoo fishing, don’t drive your crew crazy trying complicated rigging techniques or fishing more lines than you can comfortably handle. A pair of trolling outfits is sufficient for achieving success.
8. Never Stop The Boat
Way too often wahoo come unbuttoned due to pulled hooks. One reason for this is because inexperienced skippers pull the throttles back and decelerate to a complete stop after a fish has been hooked. Remember that you are fishing heavy lures with fairly cumbersome tackle. Wahoo are notorious head-shakers and are masters of escape. Along with proper fish-fighting skills, keeping the boat in gear will help prevent the build-up of slack line and will assist in avoiding unnesseccary tangles.
9. Don’t Be A Failure
While schoolie dolphin may give you a second chance and snake kings are often thicker than molasses, wahoo typically provide a solitary shot at success. The last thing you want is to flat-out miss a strike or worse yet, lose a valuable fish due to a bad connection, improperly set drag, poor gaff shot, or any of the other multitude of errors that could result in tackle or angler failure. Successful wahoo fishing requires you check and double-check all of your connections while making sure your crew is fully aware of what’s expected from them when that 50-pound plus monster slams a lure.
You want to catch wahoo? I will tell you how. Don’t give up, that’s how! Way too often way too many anglers attempt to target these precious predators and give up way too soon. Your trolling efforts shouldn’t be limited to the first or last 60-minutes of daylight. Start early, before the sun even creeps its fiery head over the horizon, and stick with it. The same applies during the afternoon bite. Start at 6:00 p.m. and troll well into dark.