Wahoo! Anglers celebrate catching fast, toothy, tasty fish

Pam and Bruce Boring of Key Colony Beach hold up Bruce’s 26.7-pound wahoo caught on Miss Kethleen during the recent Bimini Wahoo Smackdown.
Pam and Bruce Boring of Key Colony Beach hold up Bruce’s 26.7-pound wahoo caught on Miss Kethleen during the recent Bimini Wahoo Smackdown. Miami Herald Staff

Ah, the vagaries of fishing for wahoo.

The crew of a recreational boat out for fun catches a 122-pounder, believed to be a record for the Bimini Islands. But the next two days, a fleet of some 30 tournament boats (plus several other unregistered vessels) trolls nearly every square inch of the Great Bahama Bank and beyond, and the largest fish they can manage doesn’t even go 50 pounds.

That’s what happened in last month’s Wahoo Smackdown out of the Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina.

Michael Ghanem’s Enigma was “screaming down the edge at 18 knots” when they hooked the 122-pounder on an electric reel, captain Brian Greik said, referring to the Bahama Bank some 20 miles south of Bimini. Two days later, captain Jimmy Wickett’s tournament team on Cash Out was doing practically the same thing about 100 miles south of Bimini on Cay Sal Bank when they caught the 47.3-pounder. They never caught another fish that day, and, at first, thought their wahoo was too small to weigh. Their prize money for first place barely paid the fuel bill.

What the heck happened?

“If they have a great day of fishing one day and not the next, it’s because of the weather,” said captain Ron Schatman of North Miami Beach, arguably the region’s most successful wahoo tournament fisherman. “My son Jeffrey was there [in early November] and caught 18 wahoo up to 50 pounds. The weather has been mildly unstable and these bigger fish shut down.”

Schatman said he doesn’t believe in charting moon phases to target wahoo and added that tide doesn’t matter just so long as it’s coming in or going out — “the water’s moving.”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist,” he said. “It’s the easiest fishing there is because you always know where they live. If they don’t bite in the morning, they’ll bite in the afternoon.”

For decades, sport fishermen have known that the speedy, silver-and-zebra-striped toothy predators can be caught just about anywhere along the shallow banks that surround the islands of the Bahamas by high-speed trolling with lures that swim just beneath the surface. The same technique is employed along the dark-blue current edge of the Gulf Stream along Florida’s southeast coast.

By “high-speed,” boats may motor as fast as 18 knots, but Schatman said the speed will be governed by the performance of the lure, which should swim just inches beneath the surface and not bubble, “smoke” or leap out of the water in the boat’s wake.

Lures are kept at the proper depth by a cigar-shaped lead attached to heavy cable secured to the fishing line, typically 80-pound-test monofilament. Schatman’s lure-making company, R & S Custom Baits, produces those trolling leads in sizes ranging from 16 ounces to 64 ounces. But Schatman shakes his head at the notion of using a lead that heavy just to be able to run a 13-pound lure.

“People request it,” he said. “It’s OK with me because we’re selling tackle. I’ve never even used a 3-pound lure. I can do 18 knots with an Ilander and a 1-pound lead.”

Schatman prefers light, streamlined lures with double 12/0 hooks, the lower hook positioned just behind the end of the lure’s trolling skirt to prevent fouling and to ensure a secure hook-up. Wahoo tend to strike the tail end of their prey, wounding it so they can zoom back in for the final kill. With the species’ notorious dentition, the captain doesn’t fool around with light wire leader; he uses three feet of 480-pound cable. Reel drags should be set just tight enough to keep the line from coming off the spool.

As for lure color, the universal strategy applies: troll a variety and see what the fish bites, then switch over to that color. However, for overcast days, Schatman prefers pink and yellow for better visibility, and darker colors on sunny days.

Schatman doesn’t understand why wahoo fishermen tend to zig-zag their boats back and forth along the edge of the Bahama Bank. Since the fish lurk on the deep side of that edge, boats should track as true to that depth as possible, he said. Fish too shallow and you end up with barracuda and bonitos.

“I go in as straight a line as I can go along the edge,” he said. “I want to stay over the drop-off in 200 to 400 feet of water.”

Schatman said once you get a bite, you should slow down and circle back to that area because there is almost sure to be another wahoo looking to eat.

He said Wahoo season is entering its peak now.

“It’s just getting rolling,” he said. “It starts to taper in February, but we have knocked the crap out of them in March.”

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