The first pelagic fish which I ever caught was a 49-pound wahoo—one pound shy of a trophy for this species. I caught it by casting a sardine pinned in the nose using a circle hook tied directly to a fluorocarbon (monofilament) leader. The fish was landed in a few seconds after ramming the side of the boat and knocking itself unconscious. Here is a photo of my first wahoo, after the boat returned to dock.
The experience of catching a large wahoo, just shy of a trophy, in less than a minute without cranking my reel handle, established expectations in my mind concerning this species—which could not possibly be further from the truth.
Wahoo of any size are among the most frustrating, confounding species to catch using a hand-held rod and reel. The issue stems from the interaction of the irrepressible fish, and the ignorant and/or selfish anglers on the boat.
First, there is the fish. Capable of bursts over 60 MPH and jumps 15 feet above the water traversing 100 feet laterally, equipped with a large mouth armed with one of the sharpest cutting tools in the animal kingdom, the Wahoo is unparalleled as a predator. On several occasions I saw a fish being landed by an angler devoured by a Wahoo from the rear, in a single bite, leaving only a head on the hook. When a Wahoo is landed, a bat with lead weight in the tip is used to subdue the fish—which is then placed into the fish well to prevent anyone from lacerating themselves on its “teeth.”
Second, there are the anglers. Everyone wants to catch a “hoo,” as it is longingly called. Anglers are competitive. Therefore, wahoo fishing is invariably marked by chaos!
There is a fundamental order in which anglers are SUPPOSED to fish for Wahoo, in order to maximize the number of fish caught by the boat.
- First, cast artificial lures attached to one’s line using a 12” steel leader. The idea is the fish will be very excited when first spotting the “bait” which, thanks to their great speed, will cause Wahoo to make errors of commission—attacking the lures. The steel leader makes it more likely that that a Wahoo will be landed.
- When lures with leaders stop attracting instant attention, anglers switch to tying their lure directly to the monofilament fishing line on the reel. The steel leader stifles the action of the lure, whereas a direct-tied lure does a better job of imitating a swimming baitfish. Unfortunately, the number of times the wahoo swallows the entire lure, and thus severs the fishing line, is greatly increased. In my worst experience in this phase of Wahoo fishing, on one stop I lost NINE lures (each costing $21 plus tax) on nine consecutive casts!
- When artificial bait stops working, anglers switch to using live bait on hooks armed by a steel leader. Finally, anglers switch to using live bait on hooks directly tied on the main line.
Can you guess what many anglers do? Yep, they begin by using live bait without leaders. The selfish greed of the commons hampers the catching for all. However, it is this greed which gives the Wahoo the advantage they need to survive into the future.
After years of experience, and few Wahoo to show for my efforts, I decided to focus on artificial lures, because I could cast them away from the boat and the frantically “fishing” anglers. I never saw a trophy Wahoo caught in chaotic fishing. Rather, the largest Wahoo I ever saw (90-pounds, and 80-pounds) were caught on the troll. I began to believe that large, experienced Wahoo, like large Yellowfin Tuna, stay away from the youngsters, surveying the “battle ground” from a distance. I wanted to catch a Trophy, so I reasoned that I had to fish away from the boat, unlike the other anglers.
We were at a productive Wahoo stop.
- I selected the *ideal* lure pattern for Wahoo where I usually fished: black (the best seen “color” in water, it absorbs all light), and iridescent pink (an exaggerated color of blood).
- My friend Chris, who had many large jig-caught fish to his credit, taught me how to file the hook using only two swipes of a triangular file—so that the hook will penetrate the mouth of a Wahoo. Many Wahoo are lost because the fish simply clamped onto the lure and played tug-of-war (a very strange behavior which I still don’t understand): the hook wasn’t set because it wasn’t sufficiently sharp.
The herd had been reduced, but Wahoo were still biting bait and lures of persistent anglers. My friend Jim was fighting a powerful Wahoo about three-quarters up the port side.
I selected my lure, examined the hook, and swiped it with my file twice. I checked the point of the hook on my thumbnail—sharp as a razor. I tied the jig on my line using a perfect Single San Diego knot with six wraps. Jim was still fighting his Wahoo.
I dropped my line to wet it (this aids in casting), slowly brought it back in (don’t want to be clobbered by a Wahoo chasing my lure), and flipped my lure about 60 feet away from the boat, 30 feet aft of Jim.
Perhaps two seconds after my lure hit the water Jim’s line went slack, and I received a giant hit. Perhaps the hoo was playing tug-of-war with Jim’s jig.
- Jim exclaimed: “Hey Planet, that’s my Hoo!”
- I replied: “Sorry Jim, I guess it preferred my lure!”
It was a difficult, but not a long fight: Jim already tired the fish, and I used heavy drag on a Japanese reel designed to catch Wahoo. It took me half-way around the boat before it gave up the fight. Cameron (a beloved Captain in the San Diego Fishing Fleet) gaffed “my” hoo. It weighed 62 pounds—a trophy, the largest I’ve yet landed. In the photo I’m wearing a nitrile glove (indicating “gnarly”) because I had a hook injury that I wanted to keep clean so it wouldn’t become infected. Note that the hook of my lure penetrated the mouth of the Wahoo.
My Big Wahoo
Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.
April 28, 2021