The wahoo game is changing.
The Red Rooster III trolled south at 7 knots in 74-degree deep-blue, Pacific water with the sultry late-October sun beating down on its bow. I wasn't used to this kind of heat so late in the year, but being 500 miles south of San Diego, there was no escape from the midday sauna.
I was on my first long-range fishing adventure and the target species on this 10-day excursion were yellowfin tuna. We found 'em. In three days at Alijos Rocks the Rooster's 22 anglers filled their catch limits.
With the yellowfin quota achieved, Capt. Andy Cates steered us towards "The Ridge," a spot known for bruiser mossback yellowtail, behemoth grouper and more importantly, the ocean's sea wolves -- wahoo. Fishermen anxiously lined the rails of the 105-foot vessel armed with jig-casting rods as we approached the banks and high spots that make up The Ridge's 55-mile stretch.
A trolling reel screamed on the stern, signaling a wahoo strike. As the boat slid into a drift, the railbirds commenced to casting and grinding their jigs in with gusto. Three guys around me called out hookups and began torching the flat-calm Pacific. The guy next to me chased his fish to the bow, his line roostertailing across the surface. I was so enthralled by the chaos that for one brief moment I failed to concentrate on the task of catching my first wahoo. My heavy iron jig was stopped mid-crank. Line briefly poured off my reel, but in a flash it was over - there was nothing I could do but reel in my weightless line only to discover a missing jig and a frayed leader.
That was a few years ago. I did end up catching my wahoo a few stops later but like many anglers, it is the memory of that first encounter that keeps me going back for more.
Preferred for their meat, wahoo have been long known as one of the best-tasting fish in the sea but it is the ono's fight that intrigues West Coast fishermen the most.
A warm-water speed demon preferring ocean temperatures of 70-degrees or more, these fish will typically bite any fast moving bait or lure. When it comes to angling for wahoo, West Coast fishermen will almost unanimously agree that their favored method to catch wahoo is by throwing heavy iron jigs or specially made wahoo "bombs" on high-speeds reels with a gear ratio of at least 4:1.
A wahoo bomb is essentially a doctored-up, metallic lead head, with brightly colored tinsel streaming off the head. It is wired to a razor-sharp Siwash Hook that more often than not has a small spinner blade to add some flash, and more importantly, create tension to keep the bomb subsurface as it's retrieved.
Most anglers tend to fish Catchy Seastrike 33's, Raider Lures, or Salas 6X Jr.'s as well as an arsenal of pre-rigged wahoo bombs. All of these options are typically 10 ounces or greater, and available in a full spectrum of colors. Metallic and shiny, any of the oranges, pinks, purples, greens, reds and blues will attract a 'hoo, so long as it is fished at a blinding speed.
The big debate these days is to wire, or not to wire? All wahoo bombs are pre-rigged with a heavy wire leader but iron jigs are a different matter. More and more West Coast guys are going minimal, especially when fishing for big tuna and wahoo. Reel companies are building smaller, more compact reels with unprecedented drag control for bait-fishing big tuna and on the wahoo side of things, a lot of anglers are choosing to go sans wire when the time comes to jig. Everyone has their own method.
The preferred jig-casting outfit includes a 7- to 8-foot rod rated for 40- to 50-pound tackle with a matching high-speed reel. My personal rigs is either a 7-foot Seeker 6470 Black Steel or Super Series rod with an Avet JX 6/4 or an Accurate BX-500XN reel filled with 65-pound Spectra backing and a top shot of 50-pound monofilament.
To locate wahoo, captains will typically troll heavy marauders at high speeds around reefs, banks, and high spots, or near floating debris. Yo-Zuri Bonitas and Braid Marauders are good options for trolling up a speedy.
Once a trolling rod goes off, the captain will slide the boat to a halt, at which time the jig fishermen cast out their offerings. Fishing "the slide" can be super effective when targeting wahoo - just make sure to wait to cast until the captain gives the green light and cast away from the hooked troll fish. Cast in the direction of the drift (with the wind in your face, you're in the right place) and always watch your jig when rearing back to cast... it would be a devastating injury if you were to hook a fellow angler.
Once your jig or bomb is in the water, let it sink for 20 to 30 seconds, depending on the depth and current. Always keep in contact with your lure by "feeling" the line. Frenzied wahoo will often pick you up on the sink, noted by a quick bump, a strong pull, or a distinctive stop.