Wahoo Fishing Tips And Tricks
If you’ve never seen smoke fly off the spool of a reel, chances are you’ve never been wahoo fishing.
Of course, the “smoke” is usually actually water vapor off the line, but with the spool spinning at up to 60 mph on the first run of a hooked “hoo”, the cloud that forms over the reel can be awesome.
Wahoo are in the mackerel family and similar to king mackerel in body shape, but the snout is more pointed and their coloration is silver-blue with dark stripes. Their mouths are larger than kings and their teeth are even more pronounced. Wahoo are made for shearing other fish in half.
They get much larger than kings, as well, with lengths approaching seven feet and weights to 180 pounds, though fish in the 20 to 60 pound class are much more common. The current IGFA all-tackle record is 184 pounds, caught out of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific Coast—the same species swims in the tropic portions of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans according to NOAA Fisheries.
They’re primarily a bluewater species, found outside or on the edge of the green-water zone that covers much of the continental shelf of the southeastern U.S. They’re basically a tropic species, rarely venturing into water colder than 70 degrees.
Wahoo live hard and die young and most have a short life span which is about five or six years but they can reproduce at about one year old. They’re primarily found at or near the surface, though they frequently relate to underwater structure at depths of 150 to 450 feet below.
There’s not a huge commercial harvest because there’s usually no quick way to catch a bunch of wahoo. NOAA Fisheries reports only about 59,000 pounds of Atlantic wahoo are harvested by commercial fishers annually. There is no size limit for recreational anglers in federal waters, but the bag limit is two per person per day.
Wahoo are usually an incidental catch for anglers trolling for marlin and tuna in blue water. High speed trolling is a common tactic, pulling trolling heads or solid composite lures at speeds to 18 knots (over 20 mph!) to draw the strikes, which as you can imagine tend to be impressive at that speed. They can also be caught free-lining or bump-trolling live baits like bullet bonito at times.
Captain Adam Peeples of One Shot Charters in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, fishes the waters off north Florida and Alabama almost daily year round, and regularly puts big wahoo in the boat. Here are some wahoo fishing tips he shared:
It’s often best to view wahoo as a bonus fish
“We usually set up and troll for them on our way out to swordfish and marlin grounds and on the way back. They can be hard to find if you go looking for them, and when conditions are wrong you could troll all day and burn a lot of fuel and never get one—or you could get a dozen—you never know,” Peeples said.
Peeples added that on one memorable December trip, he hit a huge school of wahoo on a break line, so many that they were skyrocketing like king mackerel, and could be caught by simply casting a jig at visible pods of fish swimming around the boat!
Find the right conditions and you find the wahoo
“We look for wahoo in water 70 degrees and over. There are often good numbers of them just outside that 70 degree break in February and March,” Peeples noted.. “Keep an eye on that temperature gauge in winter, and use the offshore temperature and current services to find where to look. Sometimes all it takes is half a degree, although it’s much easier if you have a bigger break, three degrees or so.”
(Writers note: Many pro skippers make use of Hilton’s RealTime Navigator to check not only water temperatures but offshore currents, upwellings and other offshore conditions that concentrate gamefish. Current breaks or color changes are also likely areas to investigate, both for wahoo and other bluewater species).
Fish the right depths
“We catch most in over 200 to 450 feet of water, often where there’s either a drop in the bottom, a reef or maybe oil industry structure, something to concentrate the bait. Trolling aimlessly out there rarely does any good for wahoo fishing,” Peeples said. “Out of Fort Walton Beach, we usually fish the edge of the shelf, the Knuckle and the Nipple.”
In general, bottom structures that may cause upwellings from current moving over them are likely spots for wahoo, sometimes in water as shallow as 100 feet, but usually deeper during the winter months when inshore water is too chilly for this tropic species.
Pull the right lures
“We pull ILand Ilander Lures a lot. You want a lure that tracks straight and stays in the water but just under the surface, catching air now and then. Adjust the line length until you get good action, and put a trolling lead on there to keep the lure in the water if you need to,” Peeples said.
“Other lures that expert ‘hoo’ anglers like include the Black Bart Wahoo Candy, Yo-Zuri Bonita, and Nomad Madmac. The lures must be rock hard to withstand the tremendous bite pressure and razor-like teeth of the wahoo, and also have to run true at speeds to 18 knots. Many lures won’t even stay in the water at that speed,” he noted.
“Wahoo have really sharp teeth, so you need 400 to 500 pound steel cable to the lure to prevent cutoffs. Some of the lures cost $40 or more so you don’t want a bunch of them cut off. The wire might cut down on marlin strikes but if you’re around wahoo, you need it,” Peeples explained. “You might get lucky now and then and land one on heavy mono, but if you’re wahoo fishing, go with cable or wire because those teeth are really sharp.”
Put out a spread
According to Peeples, he catches wahoo anywhere from way back on the riggers to right in the wake, so he usually puts out a spread covering the whole range.
“The most important thing is to have the lure running right, more than how far from the boat it is,” he said. “Our boat is your biggest fish attractor out there, and they’re not afraid to bite right at the transom, so don’t omit that short line.”
Don’t use tackle that’s too heavy
“We set up our trolling tackle to be a compromise so that it’s not so heavy it beats up the angler but it’s heavy enough to maybe land that occasional blue marlin that hits the lures,” Peeples explained.. “We use 30 wides for most everything, with 300 yards of 50 pound mono topshot, and hollow-core backing that allows me to put another 600 yards on the reel so I’m sitting around 900 yards. I can chase a marlin if I have to and keep up with her if I have to with that much line. We’ve landed plenty of blue marlin on that setup, and it’s just right for the wahoo fishing, too.”
Where you catch one there’s probably another
“If you catch one on a spot, there are probably some others around. They don’t school like kings but there might be three or four together so we make several passes over any area where we put a wahoo in the boat. If we pull for 30 minutes and don’t get bit again, we move on,” Peeples said.
Treat the fish right for best taste
“Killing the fish as soon as it’s onboard, bleeding it and getting it on ice are a big part of enjoying one of the best-tasting fish in the sea. “Bury the fish in ice,” Peeples said. “Don’t just flop it in there on top or half the fish won’t be preserved the way it should be.”
He also notes that on larger wahoo and other species, it’s a good idea to gut the fish and ice the body cavity, cooling it inside and out for best flavor.
Cooking Wahoo—Simple is Best
Wahoo flesh turns white when cooked, and is juicy, tender and delicious. Best way to cut it up is usually to steak it, cutting into one inch thick slices. For cooking, simpler is better: brush on a bit of melted butter, grill those slices until a fork goes through the meat easily, add a squeeze of lemon, then enjoy.
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