Big D Talks Tackle for Wahoo
Having seen the photos of the wahoo at Alijos the other day, it seemed like a good time to post this blog on rigging up right for Wahoo. Before diving in to the tackle, though, let’s say a few words about the fish that puts so many folks in a frenzy. Many people don’t know that wahoo is actually the largest member of the mackerel family (they taste a bit better than the average mackerel, though). They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, traveling at speeds up to 48 mph (behind the sailfish and marlin). The record wahoo, caught off of Cabo San Lucas in 2005, is 184 lbs. But, anything above 60 lbs is considered a very good sized wahoo. They are a very fast-growing fish, often gaining two pounds or more per month. They live up to roughly nine years, but the average fish lives less than two years. They tend to be solitary creatures, but sometimes travel in small, loose schools (which makes difficult to catch in large numbers). Generally, the San Diego fishing fleet catches wahoo in warmer waters further south. The “ridge” and Alijos Rocks are often good for wahoo in the late summer and fall months. And on longer 12-18 day trips, there is often good fishing on wahoo at Hurricane Bank, Clarion, and other areas south of Cabo San Lucas. In warm-water years, like this one, the Royal Polaris and other boats have caught straggler wahoo north of Cedros, Guadalupe, and all the way up near San Diego. Last, and probably the main reason people love wahoo so much, is that they make for a great meal. Unlike many other fish, almost 70% of a wahoo makes it into the filet bag!
Let’s talk about how to rig up for wahoo, starting with the troll. You want to have a 50-size real, at minimum, with spectra topped off with 100 or 130 lb mono. The top shot should be longer than your normal bait rod top shot– at least 50 yards to give enough stretch. Some people troll directly with spectra, which has no stretch at all. A wahoo can yank a rold out of someone’s hands. If you consider that the boat, when trolling for wahoo, is moving at an average speed of 8-9 knots, and a wahoo is moving the other direction at about 35 mph or more, with about 28-35 pounds of drag, it is just too much to hold without stretch. Wire leaders should be more than 275 pound 7-strand or 49-strand. Be sure NOT to use mono-coated wire because mono will make wire kink up a lot faster. A few trolling lures you may want to consider using: Yozuri bonita; Catchy magnum jet; heavy japanese head trolling lure; megabait trolling lure; old mako marauders; dynatrol. When picking colors for trolling lures, people tend to buy colors for themselves, not for the fish. The preferred color is definitely orange and black. But, in my experience, it only catches more fish because there are more people using it. In other words, proportionately, it doesn’t do any better than a lot of other good colors. You might want to consider doing something different than everyone else. I would personally pick dorado color (green with black dots and a hint of yellow with a white belly. Think about it: what looks more like a bait fish? It gets bit at least as well as the orange and black.
Let’s talk very quickly about trolling spots at the stern rail, which can cause quite a fuss. Most boats troll the outside spots close (about 45 feet) and the inside spots loner (about 75 feet). People tend to think the outside gets bit better. That’s not my experience, though. I think the inside gets bit just as well as the outside. Also, on distance, note that a dynatrol should be trolled much further back (about 100-120 feet). Remember that, for trolling lures and jigs, the hooks come out of the packages dull. Given that wahoo have very hard mouths, you may want to consider sharpening the hooks.
Let’s move now to the iron (jigs): For a rod, you want something 6 1/2 to 8 feet. Seeker, calstar, shimano all make great rods for wahoo. If you’re using a single-speed reel, consider the yellowtail special, trinidad 40, talica 12, boss 665h, or anything of equivalent size. You want something high speed (fast winding). You should have a reel that works at least at a 4:1 ratio, preferably 6:1. My recommendation is that you use 50 pound test instead of 40. 50 has less stretch than 40, and here, unlike for trolling, you want less stretch to improve the penetration of the jig hook into the hard, bony wahoo mouth. A high percentage of the time, the jig is on the outside of the wahoo’s mouth going in, which makes penetration even more difficult. This gets to an interesting point about wahoo jigs, which is that they should always have single hooks, never treble hooks. Why? Again, it’s about penetration. You want to focus all the energy into a single point to get into the wahoo’s mouth.
What types of jigs should you use? Consider the gold raider, the salas 6x jr. in assorted colors, the tady, and the sumo, amongst others. There are numerous pre-wired boms: the yamate bomb, catchy newell head, burns, cherry; and any old homemade bomb with a 4-8 oz chrome torpedo sinker. People often ask whether it’s better to use a bomb or a jig. My experience is that you get more bites with a jig, but you land more fish with a bomb because the wahoo try to swallow the bombs instead of slashing across it, the way they do with a jig. People also want to know whether to use wire or no wire. Most crew members will advocate for no wire because you get far more bites that way. You will definitely have a lighter tackle box and a lighter wallet if you go the no-wire route. But, you will also have a more productive wahoo count.
Let’s talk a bit about how to fish the iron for wahoo. You want to cast out a decent distance, and let it sink about 15-20 seconds so that you can cover more area in the water. Have the patience to wait for the sink. You have to reel fast when you’re fishing wahoo. It’s not a slow-wind fish. A fast wind approximates a fast bait, and that turns the wahoo into a more aggressive predator. They don’t want the next fish over to get the bait. Remember that when you’re fishing iron for wahoo, stop reeling when you get close to the boat. I’ve seen then jump on board and as high as two stories. They have razor-sharp teeth, and when they’re chasing a jig, they’re mouths are open.
When you get a bit fishing iron, it is critical that you do not try to set the hook. You have to continue winding without any pause. You have to grind the reel hard to work the hook into their mouths. Because wahoo tend to like to cut prey in half, they are slashing across your iron oftentimes and if you set the hoook, you will create a split second of slack that allows the wahoo to drop the jig. Keep winding until the line is whizzing off your reel. Then… prepare to put on your pumas.
When fishing wahoo with bait, use 27-40 pound wire for sardine or other small bait, and 60 pound wire for mackerel. You should use 90-175 pound wire for salamis and other large bait. For hooks, use a 2/0 or 3/o 91540 mustad or designer hooks 3/0 or 4/0 tokar (eagle claw); guerrilla hook (owner); gamatizu fly liner. All these hooks are thin-wire hooks. You would not want to use them for big tuna because they’d straighten, but for wahoo, they help because it’s thinner and can get into the mouth easier. For mackerel, you should use 5/0 – 7/0 depending the size of the mackerel. 91540, tokar 5/0 or 6/0 medium gauge, or owner guerrilla 5/0 – 6/0. For salamis, 7/0 – 8/0 7691 mustad or any designer hook.
When fishing bait, set drag for the lower of the mono and wire. For instance, if it’s for 27 pound wire and 40 pound mono, set drag based on the 27 pound wire. Don’t worry about getting spooled because of the light drag. They’ll take a lot of line at first, but they tire out easily and allow for an easy battle. I’ve seen people have success with wahoo using bass gear. Remember that you are fly-lining for wahoo… don’t use a sinker.
You should consider 90 pound fluorocarbon leader with a jig or bait. The difference between using fluorocarbon and mono is that the fluorocarbon is far more durable. Really, though, it’s mostly an angler’s choice. I’ve seen a lot of success with fluorocarbon over the last several years. Fish see different than we do, and the flourocarbon sends off different UV ray reflection. It’s almost invisible to fish. You will lose more fish with flourocarbon than wire, but you’ll get more bites with the fluorocarbon.
Good luck… let me know what works for you!