Wahoo Fishing Secrets
by Capt. Ron Schatman
(three time winner of the Bahamas Wahoo Championship)
Prior to the 1996 season, I decided not to use bait at all and strictly use artificial lures. This drastic change was not an easy transition for me. My success rate with double hooked baits was fantastic so why should I change. The year before my team even won the Bimini Wahoo Tournament.
In mid October of 1996 I took my first charter wahoo fishing out of Cat Cay, not telling my clients that what I was doing was not part of my normal program. We managed to boat 8 of 10 wahoo up to 60lbs that day. The numbers looked good to me, but I was not satisfied with the rig used in the lure. At high speed there was a problem with the skirt tangling or fowling on the back hook. I carefully looked at my problem and instead of hiding the back hook in the skirt, I dropped the entire rig back so the point of the back hook was 1/4 inch behind the skirt. That did the job.
As I have done with all the fisheries I have become involved with over 36 years, understanding the species sought, is top priority. Billfish, sharks, tuna, swordfish, dolphin, wahoo etc. are all unique to their environment. Each is sharing the same habitat. However, feeding habits of these species are all totally different. By asking the following questions about the target species, you will be able to focus on that species for more success in locating and catching them. This works with all species from small mouth bass to broadbill swordfish.
Let's start with the questions and see how it works to help understand the target species. Remember that your location in the world may give different answers to the same questions.
What is a wahoo?
When and where do they occur?
How and what do wahoo eat?
After several years of high-speed fishing I asked why do they eat so fast? While cruising down the edge at 15 knots, I watched flying fish skitter right on by. For sure bonito and tuna are even faster. A baitfish swimming at 30 knots to escape is no match for a hungry wahoo. A lure going up to 24 MPH turned out to be a natural speed to entice wahoo!
Successful wahoo fishing and the methods used will vary depending on the type of boat and the class of tackle used.
Outboard boats can fish at high speed only when sea conditions are flat to a light chop. In a following sea outboards will bog down to 6 or 7 knots one minute and then surf down sea at 20 knots or more. This unstable condition is a major drawback. A slower speed that allows your boat to maintain a steady trolling rate will not produce the number of wahoo strikes that high speed trolling does, however, you will catch wahoo. Slower speeds by the way are more effective when using natural bait rather then artificials.
Light to medium tackle also has drawbacks when attempting to high-speed troll. At 18 knots for instance I set my drags on 50w reels loaded with 80lb line at 22lbs. No failure ever occurs. You simple cannot apply the proper drag on 30lb or 50lb line to fish ultra high speed. Adjust speed to be compatible with your tackle class.
Perfecting a fishing method takes time. The average angler is limited to how much time he can spend actually fishing. Trial and error can take forever. A problem I see with many blue water fishermen in this day and age is confusion on what works best. The variety of tackle and techniques used to accomplish the same thing varies from one expert to another. The average angler may try a method related by a professional via magazine, video, seminars etc. If that angler uses that method with little success, the next time he may try another method. You must focus on a method and carefully tune in and develop it to your advantage. Know your limitations and pick techniques that you can master. A good example is the variety of ways to rig a ballyhoo. I use maybe 3 or 4 different rigs that work for various types of fisheries. Marlin, wahoo, grouper and dolphin all require different ballyhoo rigs. I don't need to rig a dolphin bait 10 different ways. Pick a rig style that you are comfortable with and master it for maximum success.
Rigging for wahoo is simple. I highly recommend my Double Hook Pro Rig with Wahoo King Lures. Short shank ring eye 10/0 to 12/0 hooks work best. The hook should be positioned as mentioned before with the point of the hook just behind the skirt to avoid fouling on the hook. If natural baits are used, the hook should be placed as far back in the bait as possible.
Anglers that can properly twist stainless or music wire leader should use at least #10 or heavier. Novice anglers will be glad to know that multi strand stainless cable works well and is much safer than leader wire that is improperly twisted. The sharp edge left by not properly breaking off the free end of the leader wire can be as dangerous as wahoo teeth. If cable is used, hard black heat shrink should cover the sleeve and protruding end of the cable. This practice will eliminate nasty cuts and stop the skirt from fouling on the rig.
To eliminate "Bite offs", I use only 3 feet of leader to my lure. A 20lb wahoo is about 4 feet long. When hooked the fish runs off with the lure against it's body. A lure on a longer leader will trail behind the fish and become a target for the next wahoo in line for lunch, usually resulting in the first fish being cut off at the leader. This can become costly. Last season I had only 3 or 4 bite offs out of some 500 wahoo bites.
The short leader has another advantage. We target the larger wahoo. When using wire leader, only one fish is caught on that leader and it is discarded. Any bend or kink in that leader may cause the lure not to pull perfectly strait if reused. When a fish is caught, the fish, lure and rig is put in the box and dealt with later. Another lure and rig is then returned to the water. This practice will allow you to get back to fishing quickly and the crew can remove the hooks after the fish is dead. A much safer practice.
A simple shock leader of 400lb mono 12-15 feet in length is used. A double ring ball bearing heavy-duty snap swivel at one end of the shock leader fastenes to the lure leader. Mono although vulnerable to wahoo teeth works best for your shock leader. Handling the fish at the boat, especially when so many multiple hook ups occur, is easier on mono. When tangles do occur from time to time, mono leaders most often come threw intact and may be reused. When tested, wire or cable shocks were a problem often resulting in lost fish in a tangle. Always the wire and cable had to be replaced.
Next an inline cigar lead is rigged with 2 feet of #19 stainless wire or stainless cable on either end of the lead to repel bite offs. A heavy-duty snap swivel that fastens to our shock leader is sleeved to one end and a loop to fasten to your rod at the other.
Trolling leads come in all sizes up to 3lbs. Selecting the size for your tackle will depend on sea condition and speed. As I mentioned before, I use a 50w reel with 80lb line. A 2lb lead allows me to troll in calm seas up to 20 knots. As the sea conditions build we slow our speed accordingly. Fishing in 3-5 foot seas during winter months at 14-16 knots is an average. Of course boat size may also be a consideration. Know your limitations.
When using lighter tackle, smaller leads should be used at slower speeds. Remember that the faster you go, the more drag it takes to keep the line from slipping off your reel. When a strike occurs at high speed the line is ripped off so fast it may break. I use just enough drag at high speed to keep the line from slipping off the reel.
Any time stainless cable is used, zinc plated or nickel-plated heavy wall copper sleeves must be used. I use nickel exclusively. Electrolysis will eat aluminum or unplated copper sleeves in only several days of trolling. Your rigs will then fall apart.
Occasionally when a lead bite does occur, the shock leader will run threw the wahoo's mouth. The leader will be parcially cut or shaved. Inspect the shocker and have back ups ready for replacement. These bites almost always occur when you have multiple strikes during a "frenzy bite" rather then catching single fish, as you troll along the edge.
Lead bites are quite common. Some fisherman even attach a hook to the lead and occasionally will catch a wahoo on that hook. This practice is plain stupid. I am waiting to here the story when the lead hook catches that fisherman in the arm or face with a foul hooked 60lb chainsaw on the lure end. How greedy for a fish can this guy be?
As you can see I have a safety first attitude. When someone gets hurt, the fun is over. Wahoo can inflict serious wounds. Most of the worst stories I've heard over the years about someone being bitten or snagged by trailing hooks when boating a fish involved wahoo.
Once the basic rigging of the terminal tackle is completed, you should mark your lines at staggered lengths. Trolling 3 lines at high speed is very productive and the chance of a tangle is almost eliminated.
The marking of your lines is simple to do with a good heavy duty waxed lace. To avoid any slipping of the lace on the line, the mark should be made by half-hitching for at least 2 inches on the line.
Placement of lines, all fished flat should be at lengths of 100 feet, 150 feet and 200 feet. One back up rod is usually marked with all three marks in case there is a problem with any of the three rods being fished.
The practice of marking lines allows you to return your bait to the water to the exact position without guessing or hesitation.
Trolling the Edge
Wahoo as we know are a school fish. They will congregate in places along the drop off to ambush schools of bait fish passing by. If bait is scarce the school will scatter out over a mile or more to feed randomly. This break up of the school is common. Days when there are heavy concentrations of bait on the edge, multiple strikes, including triples, are common. When the fish scatter out we see many more single or double strikes rather than triples. Our best day last season produced some 60 bites in 5 hours. we caught 40 wahoo that day and had 15 triple strikes.
Fishing along the drop is accomplished by tacking across the depths in an "S" pattern from the outer edge of the reef in 150 foot of water to 500 foot of water and back in to 150 feet. Some days the fish are in tight on the drop, others they may be just outside. The tacking method allows you to find where and how wahoo are located on a given day. Now and then I find the fish on the reef in 150 feet. all my strikes come only from that depth on that day. Had I worked deeper, I would have missed them altogether.
Proceeding down the edge at 14 knots or faster while tacking will enable you to cover about 10 miles of bank in an hour. We often travel 20 or more miles before finding a pack of hungry wahoo. Once a school is located, repeated passes threw the area will usually produce more fish. If no more bites occur, keep going until another school is found.
"Handling the Fish"
My system of boating wahoo is truly awesome. Fish up to 100lbs are pulled threw the open tuna door and slid into a deck box or lifted into the 320qt SSI cooler on deck. No gaff is ever used except for a foul hooked fish. Our SSI cooler will hold fish up to 60lbs in a salt water chill. The deck box, that is refrigerated, is only used for larger fish or when the other box is full.
When a wahoo is fought to the boat, the captain, must always keep at least one motor in gear. By staying tight on the fish, you avoid the chance of the fish shaking the hook at the boat. When my mate takes the leader especially on a big fish, I put both motors in gear to keep the fish from trying to turn or dive. As he pulls the fish up short, he will take a double wrap on the leader as he walks backward to the forward part of the cockpit actually dragging the wahoo threw the door. Surprisingly the Wahoo will lie still on deck. The mate will then grasp the tail with a gloved hand, choke up on the leader and lift the fish into the cooler. Someone onboard in assigned the job as box man. He makes sure the box is opened at the proper time and as soon as the fish is placed in the box he closes the lid and secures the latch. Handling these fish could not be done any faster or safer. I have never had anyone on board hurt using the routine. Every Wahoo that is gaffed will go ballistic, no exceptions, and blood everywhere.
During a bite we are able to boat fish and rebait in a few moments. Sometimes catching up to 20 or more in under a hour.
Occasionally a fish pulled threw the door will go balistic. When this happens my mate will choke up on the leader to a point where he can hold the fish's head away by keeping his arm fully extended until the fish stops.
Once the fish hits the box, the lure leader is unsnapped, a new lure is snapped on and returned to the water.
If a door is not used, then the gaff must be properly placed in the fish's head. Do not gaff the fish in the body. Wait for the right shot and take your time. A lost fish is better then a fishing buddy with a 20 inch long bite from a wahoo.
"Lures and Bait"
The fact that wahoo prefer lures that do not bubble or smoke makes me wonder why a lure like a jet that has holes to create a smoke trail in used for wahoo fishing. When I pull a Wahoo King Lure behind a 2lb trolling lead, it does not smoke. Any Wahoo King high speed lure or Wahoo King lure and bait combination will work for catching wahoo. If you plan to fish at speeds up to 13 knots, then bait seem to work best. From 14 knots or faster, lures are the ticket. I try to match lure size with the type of bait that is common to an area. Wahoo King Lures are about 13 inches in length. They work great. Color is your preference. I fish a mix when starting out on any given day. If I see any color doing better, I will double up. Most of the time wahoo will eat whatever is presented. The fact that they eat the trolling lead shows us that they are not as selective as we might think.
To conclude, working at high speed in a choppy sea can be tricky. Take your time and develop your skills. This fishery although not difficult to master requires experience to perfect. The results are very rewarding. By catches of dolphin, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, blue and white marlin are regularly recorded. Tackle failure at high speed is the main problem with beginning anglers. If your not sure about which piece of tackle to use, use the heavier one to start.
© 2001 Ace Fishing Lures, all rights reserved