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August 25, 2010

Pro Wahoo Tactics

Targeted or incidental, wahoo have an appeal all their own...

A 21-foot Boston Whaler was my introduction to the world of offshore fishing when I was a teenager. My friends and I learned to catch kingfish and cobia from the nearshore rigs, within sight of the beach. Then as we grew braver, we ventured farther from shore.

One calm day, we pushed the limit and motored far offshore in search of cobia or dolphin. When we found sargassum, we dropped a couple of flat lines for dolphin and a third line with a kingfish leader rigged with a large ribbonfish. We trolled until we started getting nervous about fuel and decided to make a couple of passes on a buoy we'd sighted before heading in.

On the first pass, the rod with the ribbonfish went off like nothing we had ever seen. I took the rod and saw a very small amount of line on the spool. Somehow the 30-pound-class tackle held, and we managed to get on top of the fish. I was nearing exhaustion when one of my buddies identified the fish as a wahoo. After a ridiculously long fight, our second try with the gaff nabbed our prize, a 60-pounder. Not only had we learned exactly how these magnificent fish got the name wahoo, but we were now big-game anglers. And I was hooked on a fish that has a hold on me to this day.

What Is in a Name?
Not too long ago, my good friend from Hawaii, Burt Moritz, e-mailed me some pictures of the ono that they had been catching. As I waited for the images to download, I wondered what new, exotic fish species I was about to see. Instead, I found some very nice wahoo. No matter what you call wahoo, to say that they are special fish is an understatement. These fast-growing brutes command respect from all who seek them, for not only are they the truest of sports in battle, but their flesh is of the most remarkable quality as table fare. They are found in the tropical and subtropical blue waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific and are caught year-round May through October, the peak season in most places.

Rigging for Wahoo
While wahoo can be caught by drifting live baits near structures such as weed lines, buoys and oil rigs, the most consistent strategy is trolling. And while many argue that the best way to get a big fish hooked up is to slow-troll large baits like blue runners, the most popular method is to fast-troll either skirted natural baits, such as cigar minnows or ballyhoo, or a vibrating hard bait at speeds of 7 to 8 knots, and sometimes even faster.

"One of the best days of wahoo fishing I ever saw was at the Flower Garden [Banks National Marine Sanctuary, in the Gulf of Mexico,] this past February," respected Gulf angler Trent Allen recently told me. "I think we had 17 or 18, and they were all caught by our trolling those old Bait'O Matic skirted baits. You know, the ones with slanted heads to make them dive. I think we were dragging them about 7 knots about 20 feet down."

Another favorite bait is a Rapala diving plug about a foot long, although any stout trolling plug will do as long as it will get below 10 feet and run straight at speeds of 6 to 8 knots. Darker colored baits like red-and-black, purple-and-black as well as combinations of blue and green, seem to get the most consistent results.