With a sleek, streamlined body the wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the sea. No other fish can strip line from a reel so fast that the spool becomes a blur and hot enough to burn your hand.
Exhibiting beautiful, vertical blue bars over a slender, steely silver body wahoo are a very handsome fish. Part of the Scombridae family, the wahoo is a close relative of the mackerel. Wahoo have the potential to grow as big as 100kg, although a fish over 50kg are all too rare these days, in fact most fish encountered are in the 10 and 25kg bracket.
A true pelagic wanderer wahoo cruise the open ocean favouring water between 23 and 30˚C. Being a sight hunter they prefer to ride the clean blue oceanic currents beyond the 100-metre line. Occasionally they will follow the current into shallow waters and hold up around distinct structure like islands and reef pinnacles.
Wahoo are prolific in tropical, and subtropical waters to a lesser degree right around the world. They are common from Mexico to Kenya, Hawaii to the Solomons. In Australia they are common from northern New South Wales all the way up to Cape York on the East Coast. They are also present in offshore waters along the entire West Coast. The current basically dictates wahoo’s movements, and they will follow the warm current as far south as it goes. At times this means they will be found down past Sydney on the East Coast or Perth in the west. Remote locations such as the Rowley Shoals or the atolls in the Coral Sea offer exceptional wahoo fishing.
Precious little is known about the wahoo’s life cycle. It is believed that wahoo, like most other offshore pelagics, grow quickly in their first year, possibly as much as 8kg. By the end of their second year they are believed to reach maturity. At 4 years of age wahoo could weigh as much as 20kg. The total life span of a wahoo is fairly short and is thought to be less than 8 years.
They are opportunistic hunters and will happily prey on just about anything that comes along including small tuna, mackerel, squid and dolphinfish, and especially flying fish. With a single row of razor sharp teeth wahoo attack method with a sudden burst of speed they hit their prey. Then lashing out with those razor blade teeth disable it. Wahoo usually aim for the back end of their prey, to deliberately maim it. Often they will slice it completely in two, on the initial attack then simply returning to pick up the pieces.
The most reliable place to find wahoo is around structures. Distinct submarine features such as seamounts, underwater ridges, plateaus, major reef complexes and pinnacles are all potential wahoo grounds. The other essential ingredient is the current. When the current hits the structure it boils up, creating an upwelling, which wahoo adore. It goes without saying that the water should be a rich purple/blue colour and crystal clear. Wahoo hate dirty cold water almost as much as anglers do!
The outside edge of the Great Barrier Reef is a good example of prime wahoo country. There is serious structure in the form of the outside edge of the barrier reef, which can rise up vertically as much as a kilometre. On top of this there is a strong warm blue tropical current pushing down along it and then finally there is a consistent food source inside the reef, which is pushed out every ebb tide through the channels that break up the barrier reef.
Another place to find wahoo is around flotsam. A log drifting out in the middle of nowhere covered attracts an entire ecosystem from the barnacles and crabs that live on it to the baitfish and ultimately the predators. It is no coincidence that the wahoo’s favourite meal, the flying fish, congregates to lay their eggs on flotsam. Man-made structure be it FADs (fish aggregating devices) or floats on a fish trap are also very productive in tropical areas.
Seabirds can also point you towards feeding wahoo. If you see a frigate bird or a couple of terns hovering about then there is a good chance they might be over a pelagic predator. Even if it isn’t a wahoo then the other predators action may also attract a wahoo, either way you should always check out any birds. A sure sign for wahoo is when you see a patch of flying fish taking off. Rating at the top of the wahoo menu flying fish taking off could indicate feeding wahoo so definitely work the area.
Unlike many other pelagic gamefish that migrate vertically through the water column, wahoo tend to spend a majority of their time on the surface. Couple this with the fact that they are extremely aggressive in nature and you have the perfect candidate for lure fishing. Trolling in particular is deadly because it allows you to cover a lot of ground relatively quickly and very effectively.
Wahoo aren’t really fussy and will eat just about anything that comes along, although big minnow lures like Laser Pro 190s and high speed lures like the Max 190 and Max 130 bibless minnows will do the trick. A lot of wahoo are taken on skirted trolling lures, not because they are the best option but because they are simply by-catch to the target species billfish. The fact that the wahoo’s razor sharp teeth decimate these expensive lures makes then a less attractive option for most anglers.
Relying on speed to catch prey, rather than stealth, wahoo can be caught on lures trolled at more than 15 knots at times, although most anglers prefer to troll between 4 and 6 knots when towing minnows and 6 to 9 knots when using skirted lures and bibless minnows.
Wahoo can turn up anywhere, so when travelling between known wahoo haunts
It is a good idea to tow some high speed skirted lures to increases your chances. The best lures are heavily weighted ones that have little action, such as bullets or christmas trees. The best colours are usually dark blue and purple over a shiny silver skirt.
When fishing around distinct structures, such as seamounts or pinnacles, it is best to run a combination of minnows and skirted lures in the spread. If you are really serious about catching wahoo it would be wise to replace most of the skirted lures with minnows like the Laser Pro 190 or Max 190.
Wahoo love commotion so with this in mind, always run a deep diving lure in close so runs below the prop wash. The rest of the lures should be spread out and they don’t have to be tight together like a spread of lures set up for billfish.
Wahoo often school up, especially over structure, so never stop when you get a bite instead keep trolling so you can try and score a double or possibly even a triple hook up. Even when you do stop crank the other lures in a few metres then stop them abruptly—if there are any other wahoo about then this trick will still get you a second shot.
Alternatively, have a metal jig like a Halco Twisty Jig or Outcast set up on another rod and as soon as you get a bite cast the jig into the wake. Let it sink for a while and then wind it in at full speed. When using this technique be sure to keep a good grip on your rod because when a wahoo strikes it does so at an incredible speed and, even when you are expecting it, it can still shock you.
Casting lures especially the famous Roosta Poppers is a lot of fun too with some incredibly explosive strikes. While the bites are awesome the hook ups can be harder but no one seems to care!
The hard bony mouth of a wahoo is notoriously difficult to bury a hook into and that is why so many fail to hook-up when they strike a lure. The standard approach is to use heavy drags to help drive the hook home, but a new approach that is proving effective is to run very light drags, only a couple of kilograms in weight. Once the fish turns and runs the drag is pushed up to the strike button and the fish is struck. It makes sense, because with the fish heading in the opposite direction the chance of securing a solid hook-up is very high.
Wahoo will also berley can attract wahoo, but rarely does it seem to hold them for any length of time. Wahoo are active hunters and prefer to run down their prey. If you do want to use berley, oily fish such as tuna is the best. Adding a bottle of tuna oil to form a surface slick will enhance the trail further. Cubing isn’t generally recognised as a good method because the cubes sink quickly into the depths down beyond the realm of the wahoo.
On the table, wahoo are sensational especially grilled on the BBQ and washed down a cold beer!