Targeting Wahoo Under a Summertime Full Moon

A summertime full moon spells hot action with the ocean tigers.

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Gaffed wahoo
Plenty of wahoo are lost boatside, so don’t stop to admire a gaffed one until you bring it on board. Paul Doughty

Anglers in South Florida are blessed to count wahoo among their potential targets year-round. But veteran offshore captains who pursue the striped torpedoes specifically know there are peak periods when the action goes from decent to superb. One such pro, Capt. Chris Lemieux, says fishing before and after the full moons in July and August produces the most memorable catches.

“Generally, it’s the best time for bigger fish,” says Lemieux, who runs charters out of Boynton Beach, Florida. “We catch a lot of wahoo during the winter and spring, but mostly smaller ones in the 12- to 25-pound range. During the summer, our average fish are definitely a lot bigger. That’s when we catch those 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-pounders, even the occasional 80- to 100-pounder. It’s definitely a great time of year.”

Some anglers swear the best wahoo bite is three days before the full moon. Others insist they catch the most and biggest wahoo following the full moon. Lemieux says it varies.

Proper Timing

“I’ve had some cases where the week before the moon is on fire, and I’ve had some where the week before stunk but the week after is on fire. You’ve just got to go,” Lemieux explains. “It’ll be slow before the full moon, then two or three days coming off the moon you’re suddenly getting chewed up.”

There is no scientific reason for the summer full-moon bite, but it happens every year. “If you’re serious about catching wahoo that time of year, you’ve just got to put your time in three or four days before and three or four days after.”

Wahoo caught around bonito
Wahoo concentrate where forage fish are thick. Stay with the bait and chances are good you’ll connect. Steve Waters

Bait Is Key

Little tunny (commonly called bonito) are plentiful during the summer, and big wahoo feast on them. For that reason, Capt. Stan Hunt fishes where bait is plentiful. “There might not be a wahoo there at that moment, but stay with the bait,” he urges. 

Some anglers slow-troll live bonito weighing 3 to 15 pounds. But Hunt, Lemieux and other top wahoo captains favor a Sea Witch with a bonito strip or something bigger, such as ballyhoo or swimming mullet. Hunt removes most of the meat from a bonito fillet, then carves tapered 8-inch strips that come alive when he trolls them. The Sea Witch-bonito-strip combos, which he fishes on the surface and 40 to 50 feet down off planers, also catch sailfish, dolphin, tuna, kingfish and more bonito, which become tomorrow’s baits.

“A Sea Witch-strip combo has caught them for years, and it’s going to keep catching them for years to come,” says Lemieux, who fishes that combo on his short planer line. The long line, which might employ a planer or a 24- to 32-ounce trolling sinker to get the bait down, will have a ballyhoo with a Sea Witch or a plain swimming mullet.

He counts to 20—one-one thousand, two-one thousand—when deploying the short line, which will have a No. 6 planer digging close to his transom. The long line gets a count of 35 or 40, but everything is subject to change.

“There are some days when I’ll mark fish deeper and I’ll dump the bait back 50 feet. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and I keep everything short because I’m getting bites higher in the water column,” Lemieux says. “If there’s a strong north tide, the fish hang a little deeper to try to stay out of the current, so I’ll drop baits back a little farther on my planers to get them down a
little deeper.”

He also fishes a flat line 100 yards behind his boat, which produces a lot of bites because there’s no turbulence or noise from his boat’s twin outboards, and a short flat line. “If I’m not getting bites and I know there are fish in the area, I’ll put them out farther, bring them in closer, just try to change things and make something happen.”

Tides and Depth 

Fishing depths vary, and Hunt says the tide plays a role in his decision-making because it determines where the bait will gather. On the last day of an incoming tide, bait will be close to an inlet. During a low tide, Hunt fishes around wrecks and other baitfish attractors in 200 to 400 feet.

Hunt famously caught a 74.2-pound wahoo trolling in just 95 feet off Pompano Beach to win a South Florida tournament and the nearly $100,000 payoff. With a high tide at 7 a.m. when the tourney started, he knew wahoo would be shallow, feeding on bonito. “In the summertime, your big wahoo are nailing bonito and little tuna, and we saw a lot of bonito chasing flying fish and ballyhoo in 60 to 100 feet.”

Lemieux follows a similar doctrine. He trolls as shallow as 80 feet on out to 400 feet, depending on the water quality and where the bait is. “If the water looks like pea soup in 300 feet, I keep going until I find blue water. Sometimes it’s out in 400 or 500 feet. It’s all situational and always changes. I’ll zigzag in and out, looking for nice water and current.”

Battle Plan

When he hooks a wahoo, Lemieux maintains his speed. “Don’t ever stop the boat,” he says. “It’s the absolute worst thing, and I see people do it all the time. They slow the boat way down or even stop. You’ve just got to keep the boat going.

“If it’s a really big wahoo and it pulls really hard, just back off the drag some and let the fish run and tire itself out. Keep the boat going at a good clip and, once the fish slows down, bump the drag back up and start reeling.” When a fish hits the short planer line, Lemieux leaves the other three lines in the water. But if the wahoo is on the long planer line, he reels in the short planer to avoid tangles. 

Wahoo caught trolling
Sea Witches work well, but jet heads and other fast-trolling lures also do a number on wahoo. Kevin Dodge

Gearing Up

During the week of a full moon in the summer, Lemieux trolls two planers and two flat lines for wahoo. He uses Avet 30 reels spooled with 80-pound line attached straight to each planer, and runs 80 to 100 feet of 60-pound fluorocarbon from the rear of the planer  to the bait.

“For the most part, I fish straight 60-pound fluoro all the way to the hook,” Lemieux says, adding that you can simply tie a uni, improved clinch or fisherman’s knot to a long-shank 9/0 or 10/0 hook. “You’ll get cut off every once in a while, but you’ll definitely get way more bites.”

Daiwa Saltiga 50 reels with 25- or 30-pound monofilament are his choice for the flat lines. He ties a Bimini twist or spider hitch, and attaches a 30-foot top shot of 40-pound fluorocarbon with 18 to 24 inches of titanium wire. “You get bit off a lot more on the flat lines because they’re not as tight as the planer lines,” Lemieux claims.

Bringing wahoo on board
Razor-sharp teeth on a wahoo demand attention and careful handling. Zach Stovall

Hunt uses 2 feet of 30-pound titanium leader because “it’s smaller in diameter, so fish don’t see it as much, and it doesn’t shine like stainless-steel wire.” He places a single hook well back in the bonito strip or ballyhoo because it enables baits to swim better. And before he deploys a bait, Hunt puts it in the water close to the boat to make sure it swims properly and doesn’t spin. 

Hunt uses some flashy Mylar to make his own Sea Witches, which he then pairs with bonito strips or whole ballyhoo. His favorite color scheme is blue-and-white. On overcast days, however, he often opts for purple-and-black and straight black. Lemieux prefers Sea Witches in pink-and-white, blue-and-white, black-and-red and straight blue, all with a little Mylar.

He starts fishing with a pink-and-white on the long planer and a blue-and-white or solid white on the short planer. “If you keep getting more bites on one particular Sea Witch color scheme, just switch all to that one to increase your chances.” 

Wahoo trolling rig
Four lines presented at staggered depths and distances is all you need. Steve Sanford

Basic Wahoo Trolling Spread

A spread of just four lines is effective for wahoo, given the baits are properly presented at staggered depths and distances from the transom. Flat lines, one short and one long, deployed from rods on opposite gunwales cover the top of the water. A pair of planers, inexpensive but highly effective alternatives to downriggers, pull the other two baits down 30, 40 feet or more. If the deeper baits trigger more strikes, consider adding trolling weights to one or both flat lines to increase your chances.

Trolling Must-Haves

  • Pink-White Sea Witch – Capt. Lemieux’s fave
  • No. 6 Planer – Perfect size for wahoo
  • Purple-Black Sea Witch – Preferred by Capt. Hunt
  • Titanium Wire – Thinner and less visible than stainless wire

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