Milder temps, calm conditions have made offshore trips doable so far this winter
Like so many other Bayou State waterfowl hunters, Tyler Hatrel endured a less-than-stellar duck season this year.
But every cloud has a silver lining: The milder winter that helped make ducks a dud has been a boon offshore so far, and Hatrel and his buddies have been taking out their frustrations by mopping up on wahoo out of Fourchon.
“If we can get out there, right now they’re hot and heavy,” said Hatrel, 24, of Metairie. “And the awesome thing about this year is they haven’t really been picky on what baits you’re pulling. Whenever we’re out there, they’ve been destroying everything we’re putting out.”
And getting out there has definitely been easier this year for Hatrel, a financial advisor for Edward Jones — his dad recently purchased a 34-foot Freeman, the Free & Easy, that arrived just before duck season ended.
“We’ve had some days that were not rough at all, so we were blessed with that,” he said. “Every single time we’ve been out there starting Jan. 10, we’ve had to stop catching wahoo because we couldn’t fit anymore in the boat.”
Typically, Hatrel said late-January, February and early-March are prime times to target wahoo off Louisiana’s coast. They head for an area roughly 80 to 90 miles south/southwest of Fourchon.
“We’re fishing underwater dome structures. The whole point of what we’re looking for is significant depth changes, so the area we’ve been fishing is somewhere just over 300 feet, and the reef jumps up to 180 feet,” he said. “So that’s where the bait is getting held up, and that’s why wahoo are holding there.”
Hatrel said they’ve had success trolling up to about four shaky baits, like a Mann’s Stretch 30, at about 6 or 8 knots.
“Sometimes we’ll pull more than that, but in most cases every single rod can go off and it gets out of hand,” he said. “You can’t actually expect to reel in four fish at a time — all hell breaks loose with that many fish on at one time.
“It’s kind of counterproductive at that point.”
Reels of choice include Penn 50-wides or 30-wides, or Shimano Tiagra 50-wides or 30-wides, he said. Line is typically 60- to 100-test mono, with a single-strand steel leader 9 to 14 inches long.
Sizes have been consistently in the 30- to 60-pound range, with the season’s best so far a 67-incher that was estimated between 75 and 85 pounds.
“You’re looking at 40- to 60-inch fish,” he said. “If we can get out there, we go to the same two or three areas, and we would expect to get on them.
“The main problem in the wintertime is getting out because it’s normally windy and nasty in January and February. But we’ve had a very mild winter, which is what had all the duck hunters having fits.”
Hatrel said the wahoo bite seemed a little earlier this year than usual, but expected it would last for several more weeks.
“Normally it’s not until February that they start heating up, and we were smashing them in January,” he said. “It’s early now, so I’m imagining they’ll still be out there for a while.”