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Wahoo: Catch’em on Your Boat

December 26, 2016
school of wahoo fish

For the first time in Southern California’s recent history there have been serious runs of wahoo, not just the occasional odd catch. Last summer one of our customers tried to register his 84-pound wahoo as a state record, but the California Fish and Wildlife would not register it because the state did not have a wahoo category. When asked why they said, “Because there are no
wahoo in California waters.”

Well, we know differently now. More importantly, what’s the secret to catching them locally?

For many years wahoo have traditionally been caught only by long-range anglers. On those trips the angler is accompanied by an experienced captain, experienced deck hands, and a fair amount of experienced anglers, most of which have fished for wahoo before, some of them many times before. As a result after all that fishing time the best techniques and lures for wahoo have been developed. Even then they are not all that consistent. For example on some trips all the wahoo caught on wahoo bombs are caught on red, orange, or purple and you can’t buy a bite on green or blue. If that happened to be your first wahoo trip you would naturally come back thinking you now know the best colors for wahoo. On the next trip it is just as likely that the hot colors for the bombs will be blues and greens. This is all figured out early in each trip because fishing on a long range boat has the benefit of letting you see the relative success of the various colors, lures and techniques that are being used on the boat all at the same time. What is working on that trip quickly becomes obvious.

For many years wahoo have traditionally been caught only by long-range anglers. On those trips the angler is accompanied by an experienced captain, experienced deck hands, and a fair amount of experienced anglers, most of which have fished for wahoo before, some of them many times before. As a result after all that fishing time the best techniques and lures for wahoo have been developed. Even then they are not all that consistent. For example on some trips all the wahoo caught on wahoo bombs are caught on red, orange, or purple and you can’t buy a bite on green or blue. If that happened to be your first wahoo trip you would naturally come back thinking you now know the best colors for wahoo. On the next trip it is just as likely that the hot colors for the bombs will be blues and greens. This is all figured out early in each trip because fishing on a long range boat has the benefit of letting you see the relative success of the various colors, lures and techniques that are being used on the boat all at the same time. What is working on that trip quickly becomes obvious.

Local anglers fishing on their private boats can try only a few variables at any one time. And anglers who haven’t pursued wahoo before don’t have the benefit of experienced wahoo anglers on board. This means that whatever lures or rigs they happen to be using at the time when they finally hookup a wahoo will be presumed to be the best choice. It might be a good choice, but only a lot more time on the water will determine the best choice on any given day.

Even so, private boaters who have had their first success become determined to repeat it with the exact same lures and techniques. Learning new techniques, especially on a new fish, is great fun and very rewarding, but be careful about deciding what works best too quickly. You can limit your new education by making hard decisions with only a small amount of actual experience. In the last two years we have had many private boaters in the shop that have just had their first successful day catching wahoo. They are sure they now know the best color and the best technique for catching wahoo. It is whatever worked that day. Before getting too locked in on what you have learned so far, take a look at the range of lures that have been successful and in what conditions they work.

Wahoo bombs and chrome jigs get a lot of attention on the long range trips as they should, but they are usually not so successful on private boats. On a long-range trip the boat stops and chums constantly to hold the wahoo under the boat. While wahoo are being held there they can be fished with bait or cast to with lures. Wahoo Bombs and chrome jigs are some of the preferred lures in this circumstance. Unfortunately a private boater does not usually have the volume of bait to hold a school of wahoo under the boat for very long so the casting lures do not get much action. Even when fishing in Mexico the panga captains stop the boat just long enough to pursue a sighted wahoo and then they go back to trolling. As a result trolling is the basic fish finding and fish catching technique in wahoo fishing.

So what do you troll? In the seventies we trolled a lot of large albacore feathers and even the smaller marlin lures. The fish ate them, and still do, but after one or two wahoo hit the lures with the soft plastic skirts that were used then the skirts were cut to pieces or even cut off from the wahoo’s sharp teeth. Later tougher Mylar skirts were developed and today they are used on most wahoo lures, regardless of the style or size.

Today the best trolling choices include Yozuri Bonitas, Braid Marauders, Rapala X-Rap Magnums, and to some extent Halco Tremblers.

And don’t forget the marlin style lures. They are what we used originally and they still work well. Manufacturers try to create various head shapes on the marlin style lures to improve their appeal to wahoo. In the early seventies we used Sevenstrand Knuckle Heads and Kona heads because they had a swimming action that attracted more wahoo. Today some of the best local marlin style lures include the Tormenter Pearl Diver (it has a slanted head for more swimming action), the Tormenter Super Smoker (it is made with a jet head to create more eye-catching commotion) and the Ballyhood Cowbell which is marketed as a wahoo lure because of the radical shape of the head and the commotion it makes.

With colors it is the same as before. Numerous colors will work, but the trick is to try different colors to see what is working on that trip.

Rigging is the last part of the discussion, but a critical part.  Since some of the lures you may be trolling could cost up to seventy bucks the lures are usually rigged with wire to withstand those sharp wahoo teeth. It gets expensive to lose a lot of wahoo baits.

Bait hooks are also wire rigged, but there are options. Years ago thin cable, sixty to ninety pounds, was used because it was durable and flexible. Anglers soon learned that as crazy and aggressive as wahoo are they can see the cable and can be reluctant to bite. Anglers changed to single strand wire. It is thinner. Sixty-nine-pound single wire is common but when the fish still didn’t seem interested in the bait, anglers would go to even thinner single wire, usually forty-four-pound.

Things are changing a little. Some anglers have found that hooks rigged with fluorocarbon will get bit a lot better than wire. This may seem obvious, but there risk of getting bit off seems great. The big news is that anglers are finding that the increase in lost fish is more than compensated for by the increase in caught fish.

So what will work best on your next trip?
The only way to know is to go fishing!

Sincerely,
Dave Myers

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