If you’re like us, you’re game to throw a line after just about anything that swims. If you’re in a for a throw down challenge, get yourself on the slate against the wahoo.
While “Wahooooo!!” may be the sound that comes out of your mouth when landing one of these beauties, Wahoo truly is the popular name for Acanthocybium Solandri. These awesome fish go by other handles too: Ono in Hawaii, Springer in Brazil, Queenfish in the Caribbean, and Peto in the Bahamas.
What Is a Wahoo?
While often mistaken for a King Mackerel, they’re a fish of a different color completely. Well, maybe they’re similar in color, but that’s about it. They have numerous dark vertical bands that extend to below the lateral line. Boasting a long nose about half the length of its entire head and vertical caudal fins, this fish grows upwards of 100 pounds.
They carry a very mild flavor, even after extended freezing, in their snow white meat, which lacks heavy blood lines.
You can find them in waters from Virginia to South America, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean, and other areas around the world. They tend to especially love the blue water zones of the Gulf of Mexico.
None of that is necessarily what makes this mackerel special. Anglers agree that they are the biggest, meanest, and fastest mackerel in American waters, reaching speeds of up to 60 mph. Their extremely sharp canine teeth can often make landing them way more difficult than finding them. They are an extremely streamlined predator with razor sharp teeth that cut up their prey in a scissor-like fashion. They’ve got a lot of fight.
They are also fantastic jumpers. They will leap high in the air while chasing bait fish. That said, be on the lookout as you’re pulling your empty lure up.
They’ve been known to launch a last minute attack as it comes out of the water, and have been known to go sailing right into the face of a fisherman with their sharp teeth.
How to Find Wahoo
According to Captain Sean Bloomfield, the premier wahoo fisheries exist in San Salvador and Cat Island, Bahamas, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and Northeast Florida. Hit these places up through the wintertime, and you’re bound to get into some of these giant beasts.
Wahoo are primarily structure-oriented fish that like more aggressive bottom formations, pronounced ledges, wrecks, rips, and color changes. You could also find them stacked up underneath floating debris and weed lines, sometimes in waters deeper than 1,000 feet. They typically bite below the surface and can be located along drop-offs at around 120 to 350 feet of water. You’ll find them along a ledge with current coming over it, which pushes water up and compresses bait in the water column. They’ll sit on one side and feed.
The most active time to catch these monsters is right before daybreak, their prime feeding period.
They’ll usually start the reels a-screaming as soon as the sun appears on the horizon. Their major feeding takes place just prior to sunrise to early post-dawn. “Wahoo go wild during this time,” remarks Captain Charles Ebanks. “The bite might last only 30 to 45 minutes, but it’s aggressive as hell.” That makes running almost 100 miles off shore in the dark well worth it!
Don’t discount the moon or tides, either. Fishing on a full moon works pretty well, but the best times to get into these fish are the few days before and after one. Fishing prior to and into a tide change can really find them biting. Under stable weather, lack of action during an early-morning falling tide usually means a good bite during the afternoon incoming tide, and vice versa.
In addition, pay attention to your barometer. As the pressure starts dropping, such as before a cold front of a storm, it can trigger a bite. They tend to shut down once the pressure shoots up, like when after the front arrives.
How to Catch Wahoo Trolling
Trolling at around 14 knots is where most find they tend to have success, and Ballyhood Lures actually advises you can catch bigger wahoo with faster speed. They recommend hi-speed trolling of between 14 and 20 knots. Captain Ron Schatman, winner of a dozen major Bahamas wahoo tournaments over five years agrees.
“In 1995, I went from pulling baits at 14 knots to pulling lures at 18 knots,” he shared with Sport Fishing. “From there, it all fell into place.”
You’ll do well to stagger your trolling baits at different depths and distances. They tend to cruise below the surface, attacking fish from below, so you’ll want to set out lines 20 to 35 feet below the surface. They like to chop their prey in half, eat one end, then circle back and eat the other. They’ll often bite a ballyhoo off just behind the hook. If you’re able to act fast and give it a drop-back, they’ll often turn around looking for more. When you see your rod tip take a sudden dip, then spring back up, let the reel go into freespool, allowing the bait to sink for a few seconds. Then jig the line once or twice. “Beyond question, the best part of wahoo fishing is hearing that reel scream,” claims Ryan Grotta, owner of G-Fly Lures in Boca Raton, Florida.
These guys really have tough mouths, so you won’t want to slow boat speed down once one strikes. The captain can help the angler keep things tight by bumping the boat in and out of gear, which also helps plane the fish to the surface. Once his head breaks water, step up your cranking to keep him on top which will help to tire him out quickly. Wind it steadily into gaff range until the gaffer is able to lift it over the gunwales and into the fish box.
How to Catch Wahoo – Gear
Standard offshore trolling tackle works well for these guys, using 100 pound braided line or 400-pound cable. If you’re casting for them, medium conventional tackle with 80 pound braid will do the trick. You can use three ounce egg sinkers for extra weight with a 50-ounce trolling sinker rigged to your line to keep the lure running at the right depth. The single most important thing to take away is that you must use a wire leader! Those razor sharp teeth will cut straight through anything else. It’s also important to use cable around the sinker, since they’ll sometimes hit the sinker.
Wahoo tend to like specific color patterns, namely red/black and purple/black, though that isn’t always the case. Some anglers have good luck using a variety of color schemes, depending on the mood of the fish. Rig large ballyhoo behind colorful rubber skirts, and they’ll go on the attack, though that could get expensive pretty quickly. Try Rapalas or any other swimming plugs that can be trolled rapidly like Braid Maurader or the Yo-Zuri Bonita.
Having a two speed reel that you can crank to high gear once the fish is brought to the surface is ideal.
While they don’t travel in schools, per se, they do tend to hang out in the same areas, so once you’ve caught one wahoo, continue working the same area until you’ve covered it before moving on.
And watch your fingers and ankles!