• Published:April 22, 2020
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Howling like a wildcat with a butt-full of turpentine, the 50-wide Shimano Tiagra might as well have been flashing a 3-foot neon sign spelling out in all caps, "THAT'S A WAHOO!"

My buddy David Glenn hopped up on the seat to bring down the still-singing rod from the rocket launcher on the hardtop, and prepared to start pulling on a heavy fish in the sloppy, February chop.

The fish had eaten a large, double-hooked swimming mullet, rigged with a 2-ounce black-and-red SeaWitch with a blaze-orange head on No. 9 wire. It was the first big wahoo that ate a bait I had rigged, and it all happened in my home waters off Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 90-feet of water on Pelican Flats. The fish ended up weighing 57 pounds; and although I’ve caught much bigger wahoo since then, that’s the one I’ll never forget.

One look at a wahoo tells you that this fish is built for speed. Shaped like an torpedo, with a pointed, lean, narrow body and large sickle-like tail, wahoo are one of the fastest fish in the ocean. With their narrow bars emblazoned on silver skin as camouflage, they blend into the deep blue perfectly. This incredible super-hero combination of blinding speed and near invisibility, make the wahoo a fierce predator.

A wahoo hurtles in with its razor-sharp jaws agape, snapping the tail off of its prey before the baitfish even knows there is a predator in the vicinity. Ridges of sharpened bone act as teeth and the wahoo’s scissor-like jaw structure leaves wounds that rival those left by a surgeon’s scalpel. I’d wager that there are few naturally edges that any sharper. Wahoo literally swim straight through their target -- sometimes soaring into the sky if the bait is on the surface -- a true testament to the ridiculous speeds that they can achieve during an attack.

The wahoo is a scombrid fish and similar to members of the mackerel family, like kingfish and Spanish mackerel. However, wahoo do not share the oily, grey flesh found in their cousins. Instead, wahoo have a delicate white meat that is delicious raw, grilled, broiled or fried. But beware! The lack of oil means you can overcook wahoo quickly and turn a moist, flavorful piece of fish into a dry hockey puck in a matter of seconds. This is one fish that you want to pull off the fire before you think it’s done.
"I've caught a ton of wahoo trolling at 5 or 6 knots. This keeps pulled hooks to a minimum, but doesn't eliminate them."
-- Dave Ferrell

Wahoo tend to congregate around prominent bottom structures such as banks, wrecks or canyons. You’ll also encounter them around floating debris and weed lines. Any floating object that holds bait can attract wahoo. Current lines or temperature changes where bait congregates also mark prime wahoo territory.

The best areas are banks and seamounts that have a nice current coming across them. Current is key for wahoo fishermen. Wahoo will lay up on one side of the structure so crisscross the structure at different angles until you find the one they prefer. Wahoo keep their nose into the current on the back side of the structure, but I’ve caught them out in front as well.

With all that dental work, wire leaders are a must when targeting wahoo, and if you are in areas where the fish frequently exceed the 50-pound mark, you should stick with No. 9 or above. Most of the fish I catch are smaller so I can get away with using No. 7 wire, which breaks at 49 pounds. A great big one wahoo might kink that wire, but I think I make up for it by getting more bites out of the smaller ones. You can also use 19- or 27-strand wire or cable and crimps. This supple cable can withstand the wahoo’s teeth yet is still light enough to hook a sailfish.

When using baits, a double-hook rig does an admirable job of snagging these tail-biters, but if you really want to get a shot at all of them, adding a trailing treble hook to the second hook can result in a lot more catches. Use an extra stout No. 2 or No. 3 treble hook on another section of wire as a stinger. You will be surprised how big a fish those little hooks can hang onto! One of the simplest and most effective trolling rigs for wahoo consists of a large octopus skirt stuffed with four, 4-oz sinkers and a double-hook rig on a cable leader. I like a purple skirt but I imagine black would work just as good. Wahoo will pounce on this rig when pulled better on the faster end, from 10 to 12 knots.    


Dropping a wahoo off the gaff can result in gruesome injuries to the lower legs and feet. Try to gaff wahoo in the head or the forward part of the body. This not only saves the precious meat, but gets its sharp end pointing up to the sky. If the fish comes off the gaff it will fall to the deck tail first instead of head first, which just might save a toe or two. Use a gaff with a small gape when sticking a wahoo. It’s easy to pick up the big gaff and completely miss the narrow body when you are used to hitting dolphin or tuna.

You don’t have to troll at 14 knots to catch a wahoo. High-speed trolling for them is very effective, especially if you are not sure where the fish are staging and you need to cover ground. However, once you find the fish, it is still in your best interest to slow down to the slowest speed that will trigger a bite. I’ve caught a ton of wahoo trolling at 5 or 6 knots. This keeps pulled hooks to a minimum, but doesn’t eliminate them. You will miss wahoo strikes with swimming plugs, lures or baits, those pointy mouths are hard to sink a hook into, especially at high speeds.

Keep the boat moving ahead when you’ve got one on. The fish’s hard mouth can shake a hook if there’s any slack in the line. But don’t over do it. It’s no fun to try to reel in a 50-pound fish at 12 knots. Use just enough throttle to keep things tight and tell the angler to be prepared to reel vigorously and alert the captain at the first sign of the tension backing off.