Louisiana Sportsman Magazine Louisiana Sportsman featured stories Louisiana Sportsman Magazine
Our Other 'Hoos
The Lump isn't the only place that holds line-stripping wahoo this time of year.

by JOHN McQUEEN

Even the big rig in South Timbalier 130 will deliver some wahoo this time of year.
Even the big rig in South Timbalier 130 will deliver some wahoo this time of year.

Anybody who has wet a line past the breakers of our state’s barrier islands knows that the stakes go way up regarding the health of most all fish on the food chain. Safety in numbers is the motto for many kinds of baitfish, but speed is what most anglers find much different among the dozens of species seen on most excursions where water clarity is measured in feet rather than inches.

In a world where speed is at a premium, no fish can get up and go better than the wahoo. Capable of sprints of up to 60 m.p.h., the wahoo is one of the most popular species in the offshore fishing world, and possesses an average speed that allows for trolling at velocities approaching the cruising speed of many sportfishers working the area.

Venice anglers with their proximity to deep water certainly take their share of the mostly bluewater member of the mackerel family, but several offshore fishermen in the Grand Isle/Fourchon area claim that their region supports fishing every bit as good as its neighbor to the east.

“The wahoo fishing in the area just to the west of ‘The Hole' is very good in the spring,” says Myron Fischer, owner of Different Drummer Sport Fishing Charters. “We've had some outstanding trips at the platforms and floaters out there, good numbers of really big fish.”

The area Fischer works out of Grand Isle is the Mississippi Canyon blocks and the southernmost Grand Isle blocks, starting with Grand Isle 82 (incidentally where the Louisiana state record yellowfin tuna was caught last spring) and then on a roughly north to south line to 305, 397, 482 and then the adjacent floating platforms. These platforms stand in water 200 feet (82) to 700 feet (397), and generally provide enough area to fish on a given day.

Spring is the time for big fish when the season's often ill winds allow trips. Fischer says that he has taken 100+-pound fish at 397 and 482 in recent years.

Strategy for working these platforms is not as simple as circling the rig a few times before moving on to the next platform, but it's not far from that. Fischer says that he spends 75 percent of the time on the upcurrent side of the platform, not coincidentally where the bait will be.

“They're such an aggressive fish that normally you'll know they're present in the first one or two passes,” says Fischer. “Of course, you don't want to make just one pass because your baits might be put out right where the fish just left. We'll normally give it more than a couple of times, but generally you'll know if there are fish around very quickly.”

The wahoo fishing across the coast seems to get a bump in April.
The wahoo fishing across the coast seems to get a bump in April.

Though platforms make up the bulk of the area around which Fischer trolls baits behind his 53-foot Hatteras, he actually ranks them third behind buoys and floating debris when speaking of his favorite structure for wahoo.

“Oil rigs are great artificial reefs, but they aren't natural. Buoys tend to hold fish better I think because they are a more naturally occurring structure,” says Fischer. “Now, a floating piece of debris like a tree is the best. It's an ideal object for the fish to relate to, and sometimes you can see the fish hanging motionless underneath the debris like a barracuda.”

Capt. Chris Moran of Cajun Made Charters targets wahoo as soon as he finds the kind of water he likes. Rigs in as little as 150 feet can hold the tiger-striped battlers when the water gets a blue color to it.

“They're not a green water fish. They're sight-feeders, and you need that pretty water to be real productive, but they can be caught in water shallower than most people think,” said Moran, who runs a 27-foot Gravois out of Port Fourchon.

Moran says last year the entire month of April was outstanding for wahoo, and provided a nice bonus for his charters in the first week of red snapper season.

“Snapper season is usually pretty good in the first few weeks, so it really did well to round out the trip with a bunch of wahoo after we finished our limit,” said Moran.

Wahoo tend to travel in packs, and veteran skippers say it is best not to immediately clear the lines following a hook-up. Moran says doubles and even triples are not uncommon when the fish are really aggressive.

“You can reel (the baits) in a little to help give the guy on the reel room to work, but I'll try and leave the baits out so that you can get two or three at a time,” says Moran.

Given the poor hook-up to landing ratio anglers are faced with when fishing for wahoo, it may be a good idea to be greedy. Fischer, however, has a bit different view on fish that are lost and a specific bait that gives him a leg up on the fish notoriously crafty in shaking the hook.

“I’m not a hook engineer so I don't really have an answer as to how it works, but the Yo-Zuri Bonito hooks are outstanding,” says Fischer of the double factory hooks. “When you get a strike on these baits, they stick.”

Yo-Zuri Bonitos are the hands-down favorite of Fischer, and not just because of their ability to put strikes in the fishbox. The hard plastic baits don't have a bill, which can restrict the speed at which a lure can be pulled.

“One of the best things about the Yo-Zuris is that I can run them as fast as I run my marlin baits (8.5 knots),” he said. “I can run them short down the middle and not worry about them fouling. On the other hand, I can fish them as slow as four knots as well.”

The advances in artificial bait technology have put the odds in the angler’s favor not only in the way the lures attract fish, but also how much heat can be put on a fish set on seeing just how fast it can go.

“It used to be that you couldn’t fish ‘shaky baits' with more than 10 or 12 pounds of drag,” said Fischer. “Technology has allowed us to use much more drag and still have fish stay hooked. I can put 16 pounds of drag on the Yo-Zuri bait and be confident that that fish is going to stay on there.”

Fischer rigs his “shaky baits” on a 6-foot piece of No. 9 piano (single strand) wire with a haywire/barrel twist at both ends. An Offshore Angler 135-pound barrel snap completes this very simple rig.

A wahoo’s teeth can be unmerciful on the finish of a trolling plug.
A wahoo’s teeth can be unmerciful on the finish of a trolling plug.

Regarding color, Fischer has found that shades of pink, red, orange and chartreuse out-perform darker colors, which he has found work better for tuna.

Fischer also finds that natural baits take their share of wahoo. Rigged ballyhoo with a blue/white Ilander head and skirt do an outstanding job of attracting fish, and the artificial accompaniment serves as a preserver of the expensive store-bought bait.

“An Ilander allows you to fish the bait a little faster, and it will last longer than if it were on its own,” he said. “Instead of changing the bait every 15 or 20 minutes, you can get an hour out of them.”

When adding up the tactical advantages that the wahoo has over the fisherman, you sometimes wonder how any fish are brought to gaff. One fascinating aspect of the physiological make-up of the fish is the fact that both of its jaws are able to be manipulated. Many anglers believe that wahoo will latch onto a hard bait such as Stretch 30s or Rapalas sideways, run for a bit and simply turn loose of the baits by opening their jaws.

As fast as 'hoos move, what is more astonishing is the fish's amazing ability to do almost a complete 180-degree turn following its smoking first run. This can create slack line no matter how fast the angler winds, and if hooks are not securely in the fish's tough jaws, baits can simply drop out of their mouths or be extricated with a quick head shake.

“A lot of people just give up on a fish when they see that much slack line,” says Fischer. “That results in some lost fish, but I think a lot of the fish that we lose are the little ‘snakes' that just don't get hooked that well to begin with.”

One of the things that give the wahoo such a devoted following is the unforgettable first run. Though smaller fish are usually done for after the initial blast, fish over 60 pounds provide an initial thrill that brings customers back time and again.

“If you've got your back turned on a trolling spread and don't see what took the bait, you honestly can’t tell the difference between a big wahoo’s first run and that of a marlin,” says Fischer. “For the first 10 to 20 seconds, the line just pours off the reel.”

While fishermen certainly enjoy the largest member of the mackerel family for their spirited fight highlighted by an astonishing first run and “U-Turn” ability, its delicious white flesh that many feel has no equal is what anglers think about the most when the prospects of landing a wahoo comes into play. For those familiar with Spanish or king mackerel who have never seen wahoo flesh, it's quite a pleasant surprise to view the rich, white flesh coming off of the backbone.

Ike Ryan’s wahoo isn’t going to break any records, but it will be unbeatable on the grill.
Ike Ryan’s wahoo isn’t going to break any records, but it will be unbeatable on the grill.

Wahoo not only have speed on their side but a set of teeth that are along the lines of a mackerel, but in terms of what they can do with them, put their close relatives to shame. Many offshore anglers have favorite hard baits that have been “seasoned” by a hooter's choppers and now stand in retirement as a treasured keepsake of past catches. Repeated scratches turn into whole sections of the finish being taken off and exposing the white plastic body.

Hard baits are not the only things under assault from the wahoo. Veteran anglers know what they can do to stout single-strand wire.

After a tremendous strike on a chrome/blue Mann's Stretch 30 during a recent trip, the heavy stand-up tuna rod snapped back to attention as quickly as it went down. Retrieval of the line and inspection of the leader confirmed the break-off and absence of a full foot of leader.

Despite its propensity to kink and the unforgiving nature of it on beginners to the rigging process, piano wire is the only way to go for Fischer.

“There's no question in my mind that you will get more hits with single-strand wire,” he said. “Sure, it will kink up, but it has so many other characteristics like less visibility and less friction going for it. And when it does act up, that's usually about the time to change it.”

Cable leaders are certainly easier to handle, and Moran says that he uses them more for piece of mind.

“Single-strand will probably get more strikes, but the problem with it is that when it kinks up in the heat of the moment it will break off on a big fish,” he said.