Waterman's Journal

Feb 11, 2021

WAHOO FISHING TACTICS: East Coast vs. West Coast

There is no doubt that fishing techniques, styles, and preferred methods vary depending on a multitude of factors – be it per target species, conditions, or body of water. When it comes to targeting wahoo, however, there seems to be a solid debate between the east and west coast (United States) on the best tactics for catching these tasty speedsters; even more-so than for other any big game species such as tuna or marlin. And while we won’t settle the debate here once and for all, we have laid out some of the favored techniques and best practices when trying to put Mr. Ono on the dinner table, east coast versus west coast style.


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EAST COAST TACTICS: High-Speed Trolling

By Stephen Boyle

From the anticipation of the bite, to the screaming of drag, and all the preparation, planning, and teamwork it takes to put a beautiful striped missile on the deck, there’s a lot that goes into wahoo fishing in which even the most experienced wahoo fisherman still have plenty to learn. But, with a few basics to get started and an understanding of these incredible game fish, you too can get on them.

Wahoo can be caught all over the world, but one of my favorite places to target them is in The Bahamas.  They can be caught on live bait such as speedos, pilchards, blue runners, cigar minnows, ballyhoos, mullet and more.  They can also be caught on vertical jigs, and if you find structure floating there is a good chance by dropping a vertical jig down 100 feet or so, the wahoo you are looking for is down there.  They are also incidentally caught on a surface-presented kite bait and are a welcomed bycatch while targeting other species such as marlin. 

But, of all the methods of fishing wahoo, my favorite is high-speed trolling.

Stephen & Michelle Boyle's immaculate 39' Contender BOYLE'N POINT offers the speed and perfect fishing platform when targeting wahoo.Contender Boats-Pelagic-Wahoo

High-speed trolling has become very popular on the east coast of Florida and throughout the Caribbean. Most will troll for wahoo in the 13-17 knot range, while others will pace around 20.  The idea is to zig-zag from roughly 150-foot depth out to 500-feet essentially dragging your baits off the reef like a baitfish being flushed off the bank with the tide.  The tide is one of the most important factors, as well as the moon phase.  The outgoing tide is typically your best bet at getting a bite with the 3-4 days on the front and back of a full moon or new moon being the peak days to fish for wahoo.  October through March are the best times of year to target wahoo and the reason is because of the cool surface temperatures that time of year.

GEAR: You can get away with size 50 reels, but I prefer to fish 80-wides, as it is nothing for a big wahoo to scream out 1,200-feet of line on the initial run.  Typically running four lines at a time, I use wire on my two short reels and 80–100-pound mono on the other two. 

#1 is at 150-feet with a 48-ounce lead.

#2 is at 225-feet with a 32-ounce lead.

#3 is at 325-feet with a 24-ounce lead.

#4 is at 425-feet with a 16-ounce lead.

Michelle Boyle deploys one of four high-speed trolling outfits. Note the connections with the heavy lead to get the lure to desired depth.Wahoo-Fishing-Bahamas-Pelagic

SET-UP: From the mainline, tie a heavy snap swivel.  From there, you will have your lead, then you will have 25 to 30-feet of 300 pound shock leader which will attach to your lure.

LURES: Your lure will have a short wire leader due to the razor-sharp teeth of your wahoo assailant.  I can attest to the sharpness as I have had a ‘hoo slice my calf to the tune of about 20 stitches a few years back. I prefer Islander-style lures, Black Bart lures, and Livewire Tackle lures.  The colors used are a personal preference and all will work, but my favorites are blue/white, black/red, black/purple, and some kind of funky Rasta color.

Captain Tyler Kapela readies his choice for wahoo deployment.High Speed Trolling for wahoo-Bahamas-Pelagic Gear

ONCE HOOKED-UP:  Hooking the fish is when the real fun begins.  Once the line starts screaming off, DO NOT slow the boat down.  It is very common to get a double, triple, and even a quad hook-up as wahoo are known to school up on the moons.  After ten seconds or so start to pull back on the throttles and head the boat offshore into deeper water.  Going offshore will decrease the chance of a shark eating your fish as they like to roam the drop off in search of prey.  As the angler works the fish close to the boat you will need someone to wire in the 25-30 feet of shock leader and someone to gaff the fish once boat side.  Once the fish is in the fish bag or cooler, it is time to get the lines back out and do it again.

Score! You've got to love it when a plan all comes together.High Speed Trolling Wahoo-Pelagic-Bahamas

WARNING:  Once you feel the rush of landing a wahoo it can become addicting!  And, the best part might just be the amazing sushi, tacos, or entrees that can be made with a wahoo’s melt in your mouth fillets.

The author with the fruits of his labor on a recent adventure to Bimini, Bahamas.Wahoo-Bahamas-Pelagic Gear

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WEST COAST TACTICS: Jig-Casting for Seawolves

By Colin Sarfeh

When it comes to targeting wahoo in Pacific waters from San Diego south to the tip of Baja, Mexico and beyond, West Coast fishermen will almost unanimously agree that their preferred method to catch these striped speedsters is by throwing heavy iron jigs or specially made “wahoo bombs”. Fished at high-speeds on reels with typically no less than 4:1 gear ratio, these lures are historically designed to be gaudy with bright colors and reflective tinsel.

Preferred for their meat, wahoo have been long known as one of the best tasting fish in the sea; their thick and tender white flesh is comparable to that of a Mahi-Mahi.  Though their meat is favored by many, it is Ono’s gamefishing value that intrigues west coast fishermen the most.  The fact that these fish are one of the toughest species to land because of the speed and voracity in which they strike both bait and lure leaves anglers in shock and awe at first happenstance, particularly when caught cast-to-catch.

Kevin Mattson displays a cast-to-catch wahoo tricked by the "bomb".Wahoo Bombs-Long Range Fishing-Kevin Mattson

A wahoo bomb is essentially a doctored-up, metallic lead head, with a brightly colored skirt streaming off the head.  It is wired to a razor-sharp siwash hook that more often than not has a small spinner blade attached to add some flash and resistance. There are plenty of manufacturers out there that produce quality wahoo lures, but most iron/bomb anglers tend to choose Catchy Tackle’s Seastrike 33’s, Raider Lures, or Salas 6X Jr.’s as their weapons of choice, as well as an arsenal of pre-rigged wahoo bombs made by a multitude of manufacturers. All of these options are typically 10-ounces or greater and are available in the full spectrum of colors. Metallic and super reflective, any of the oranges, pinks, purples, greens, reds, blues, and so on will attract a ‘hoo, so long as it is fished at a blinding speed.

An ideal arsenal of wahoo weapons - heavy jigs with single siwash hook prove deadly against a hungry 'hoo.Wahoo Lures-Jigs-Bombs-Pelagic

The big debate these days when it comes to fishing iron jigs for toothy wahoo, is the use of wire. All wahoo bombs are built pre-rigged with a heavy wire leader. However, iron jigs are a different matter. More and more left-coasters are going with a finesse approach when targeting prolific pelagics such as  tuna and wahoo. Reel manufacturers are building smaller, more compact reels with unprecedented drag control for live-baiting big tuna, and on the wahoo side of things a lot of anglers are choosing extremely narrow reels for high-speed lure retrieves while going sans wire when the time comes to toss a jig.

A preferred outfit for jig casting to wahoo includes a 7- to 8-foot rod rated for 40 to 50-pound tackle with a matching high-speed reel. My personal rigs consist of 8-foot Seeker 6870 Black Steel or Super Series rods, Avet JX 6/4 or Accurate BX-500XN reels, and 65 lb. spectra backing with 40 to 50-pound monofilament. When searching for wahoo, boats will deploy a trolling spread, with the two outside offerings swimming close just beyond the prop-wash and the remaining positions not too far behind in the wake. Yo-Zuri Bonitas and Braid Marauders in purple/black, orange/black, ahi, mackerel, & “Tony the Tiger” patterns are good color options for trolling up a speedy, but most color options work great.

Wahoo caught on the troll with a marauder-style trolling lure in a blue baitfish pattern. Unlike with high-speed trolling, boats pulling marauders will troll between 7-10 knots with baits pulled close to the prop wash.Wahoo Marauder-Pelagic-Excel

While the angler(s) managing the trolling rods await a screaming reel and ensuing battle, the rest of the angling contingency anxiously awaits the opportunity to make the long cast and electric retrieve in hopes of connecting with a hungry ‘hoo schooled up with its now troll-hooked brethren. Once a trolling rod goes off, the captain will pull back the throttles sliding the boat into a drift, at which time jig fishermen can cast out their offering.  Fishing “the slide” can be super effective when targeting wahoo, but it is critical you wait to see which direction the trolled fish is fighting in order to cast away from the hooked fish on trolling gear. When possible, cast in the direction of the drift which puts the wind in your face pushing the boat away from your cast line to not run it over.

Once your jig or bomb is in the water, let the lure sink for a hard, 20-30 count, depending on the depth and current.  Always keep in contact with your lure by feeling the line, as frenzied wahoo will often pick you up on the sink, noted by a quick bump, a strong pull, or a distinctive stop in sinking.  If any of these happen, put your reel in gear and start winding like crazy until tension is on the line and you have connected with the fish; otherwise, you are more than likely to lose your expensive lure.

Some west-coasters like to get creative in making their own wahoo "bombs" like this torpedo-style sinker painted & decorated with a flashing tinsel skirt. The author found success aboard the long range fishing vessel EXCEL with the DIY lure creation.Wahoo Bomb For Casting-Pelagic-Excel SportfishingPelagic-Wahoo-Colin Sarfeh-Excel

If you do not get bit on the sink, and you have reached your desired depth, put your reel in gear and wind in the lure as fast as you possibly can.  Wahoo are one of the fastest fish in the sea with speeds reaching up to 60-mph, so even at your fastest grind, you cannot out-reel these speedsters.  When a wahoo does take your lure, it is distinct, fast, and ferocious.  Although, you will want to, DO NOT rear back to set the hook – wahoo will often grab your jig from the side, chomping down right in the middle of your lure like a dog with a bone while completely missing the hook.  If you try to set on the fish, you will most likely pull the lure out of the fish’ mouth without the hook ever penetrating flesh.  The proper tactic is to just keep reeling against the inertia of the fish until line starts screaming off your reel – at which point the battle really begins and hook has most likely set itself in or around the wahoo’s mouth.

With proper technique, the sharp siwash hook of an iron jig will find its way into the wahoo's jaw, as seen below.Wahoo-Gaff-Excel-Pelagic

Though, wahoo can produce angling adrenaline with their lightning speed, these fish, after a couple of blistering runs, usually come to the boat easily.  Unlike with tuna, where the end of the battle is often tougher than the initial strike, wahoo will usually lay up nicely for your gaff.  It is important here not to lift the fish’ head out of the water, as the hook may not be implanted properly in the wahoo’s bony mouth, even though you fought the fish all the way to the boat. Though unlikely, I have seen multiple fish simply drop the lure once boat side and swim away unharmed, not having been hooked at all.

That said, the window is very short from the time a fish is hooked on the troll – exciting other wahoo nearby – to when the pack fades out completely.  You may only get that one shot at hooking a ‘hoo, so it is important to stay calm and not get caught up in the excitement of the situation at hand.  In my opinion, wahoo are one of the most fun fish to catch using lure.  It takes a combination of angling savvy, determination, and sheer luck to land one on the jig – but, if you employ some of the tactics discussed here, your chances will be greatly increased.  Just remember – keep winding and DO NOT set on the bite. Not only will you have a better hook-up ratio, but you will also be hooked for life.  Trust me, you will not want to catch a wahoo any other way.

A crewman welcomes another ono aboard the world-famous EXCEL.Wahoo-Long Range Fishing-Pelagic-Excel Sportfishing

Images courtesy of Adrian Gray, Geoffrey Ragatz, Bill Roecker, & Excel Sportfishing.