Even though high speed trolling is touted as the top method for targeting wahoo, for many anglers it's not all about going fast. Some don’t want to pay the gas bill to speed troll all day or don’t have the proper gear to handle it and others just want a more leisurely day on the water. For those fishermen, knowledge of various wahoo baits, rigging and related fishing techniques can prove extraordinarily successful when executed correctly.
The real key to fishing baits for wahoo is to first know that there are fish in a given area. Knowing this allows you to put baits down where this super predator is hanging out, instead of soaking baits in a patch of water that is not holding fish. Wahoo and especially big wahoo often suspend in the water column under bonito and other fish that are schooling or balled up. You can find wahoo in water as shallow as 90 feet or less, if there is a good food source. Locating bait fish schools or having solid knowledge about areas where bait tends to aggregate gives you a huge head start. This is where your electronics come in real handy. A fish finder is, imho, the most relevant piece of hardware on your boat. Locate the bait and chances are good you will locate predators.
Wahoo are feeding machines and will not wander far from food. Having an understanding of baitfish behavior is important for any kind of fishing, but with wahoo, it is critical. Structure holds the building blocks of oceanic life or provides protection, so that is where the bait will be. This could be reefs, steep islands, offshore banks, seamounts, oil platforms, wrecks, weed lines, current lines and upwellings. Anything the holds or traps bait in the offshore realm can attract wahoo. When you find wahoo bunched up on structure or along weed lines and tidal rips, deploying wahoo baits is lethal.
The bait schools typically hang on the up-current sides of structure and that is where you will want to concentrate your initial fishing efforts. Use your sounder to find the bait and then commence fishing.
One caveat; just finding the bait may not guarantee action. Wahoo are finicky and usually eat when the tides are moving. Even way offshore, where tides seem insignificant, there’s still something about a transition period that triggers a wahoo bite, so it pays to know when such periods will occur. Tides are especially crucial when fishing for wahoo close to shore. There are also peak activity periods just prior to sunrise to early post-dawn. Wahoo have a habit of feeding during this time. The bite might last only 30 to 45 minutes, but it’s aggressive as hell. The moon phase plays a role too. The bigger or darker the moon, the more water that moves on the transition.
Capitalize on these transition periods and if you can get the tides, sunrise and the moon to all line up, boom. Once the bite ceases, don't hesitate to move to another area and fish a later tidal change. This is a great way to crush the wahoo again.
The type of wahoo bait you use depends, to a large extent, on what you can readily catch or buy in your local area. When it comes to wahoo baits, both live and dead baits will produce.
Some solid live wahoo bait suggestions include scad (speedos), frigate mackerel, small little tunny, bonito, albacore, skipjack, hardtail (blue runner), goggle eyes, pogies (menhaden), pilchards, croakers, pinfish (perch), cigar minnows, ballyhoos, mullet and even shrimp work well at times. Baits that swim with vigor will prove to be better options.
For dead wahoo baits, skirt them up for the dance with a sea witch or a lure skirt. You want something hardy like a strip bait. Bonito strips are excellent, as is dolphin belly. Strip baits are a standard on most charter boats for a reason. It's easy to load a small cooler with a ton of baits. Plus, a simple hook rig and sea witch or compact skirt is all it takes. If you are not familiar with how to cut strip baits or rig single and double hook strips, check out our Rigging Strip Baits Videos. Ballyhoo and flying fish, rigged properly and skirted, also pay dividends.
As for bait size, it depends on what you can get. Some fishermen like big baits that will draw these fish into your spread. Some prefer a more manageable hand sized bait that the wahoo can easily gobble. Don't worry too much about size. Just get good quality baits.
Wahoo Bait Rigs
There are an infinite number of ways to rig wahoo baits. With live baits, you can put a live bait hook through the roof of the fishes mouth, put one thru the nose, bridle the bait, hook it in the back, add a stinger hook or two or any other combination of ways that work. So, you can get deep into rigging wahoo baits. How big your bait is does factor into your choices. Since wahoo have a tendency to slash the back half of a bait, the larger the bait, the greater the need for a stinger rig.
The most important thing you can should consider is what works for you. What is comfortable. Find a way that works for you and practice it over and over. Perfect that method and then start to incorporate new bait rigging techniques. Much of it comes down to tackle preferences and level of meticulousness. Keep in mind, well rigged baits will perform better.
In general, wahoo bait rigs are typically a simple affair to assemble. While bait rigging for wahoo is not exactly rocket science, there are some subtle tricks you can employ to maximize your chances of success. Take some time to learn about bridling, stinger rigs, how to properly nose hook a bait or hook a strip bait so it swims well.
Stinger rigs are always a good option for wahoo fishing. This should be a standard bait rig in your tool box. You start with a lead hook, often a J-hook, and add one or more treble stinger hooks. The J-hook will go through the top of the mouth, nose or be bridled. The treble hook is usually embedded below and between the baits dorsal fin and tail fin or allowed to swing freely. The size of wire used often varies with water clarity. Try J-hooks in 6/0 or 7/0 size (upsize your hooks if your bait is bigger), short shank treble hooks in No. 2 to 4 attached to the fish about 5-6 inches back, depending on bait size. A good wire size is No. 6, 8 or 10. Water clarity and aggressiveness of the bite will determine your wire size.
Dead baits like bonito strips and ballyhoo are especially productive. Taking a double hook ballyhoo and skirting it with an Ilander lure is a great choice. The double hook ballyhoo is relatively easy to rig yourself (watch our Ballyhoo Rigging videos) or you can buy the pre-rigged. The original Ilander lure, express, sea searcher or mistress make outstanding add ons to the ballyhoo. For strip baits, a sea witch or compact skirt really add dimension to the bait.
To learn more about rigging strip baits, ballyhoo or other baits, check out our Bait Rigging Videos
Wahoo Bait Presentations
The art of the bait presentation is just that, an art. If you are not getting your baits in front of the fish, you are not getting action. Wahoo as a species is known to suspend in the water column, well below bait schools. You can drag lures or baits near the surface all day and get zero bites, if the fish are holding at depth.
It is so critical when wahoo fishing is to get your baits below the surface. Getting your baits just four or five feet below the surface is so important. Getting baits down 20 to 40 feet is the real difference maker. How you manage to present baits down in the water column and in particular how deep your are able to those presentations is a matter of using downriggers, planers, trolling leads or wire line. Wire line and trolling leads will only get you down a few feet, at best. To reach depths of 30 to 40 feet, you need to avail yourself to the incredible usefulness of fishing planers and downriggers.
To learn more about fishing trolling planers, watch our Saltwater Fishing Techniques videos.
How many baits you decide to put out comes down to how many you can manage. A lot of fishermen utilize a simple and efficient three rod spread. You can do this by running two lines from the gunnel with planers and one down the middle way back. If you are more experienced and can handle more, you can run as many as eight lines. Heck, you can simply cast out a single bait and let it swim freely or harness it to a kite. The method behind how you move you baits around or cover ground is up to you. Slow trolling, bump trolling and drifting are a few highly effective fishing tactics that are widely used.
It's important to note that trolling live bait is not the same as trolling dead baits and lures. Live baits would quickly die if pulled at similar speeds. Not to mention, look very unnatural. The trick to pulling live baits is only going as fast as the baits can keep up to the boat.
What's the difference between Slow Trolling and High Speed Trolling? Speed of course. High-speed trolling speeds range from 14 to 20 knots and slow trolling 6 to 10 knots. You just cannot pull skirted dead baits much faster and if you are fishing planers, you really cannot go very fast. A slow and consistent troll is needed to take advantage of the scent and natural swimming action of the fresh baitfish.
Consider live baits like a juvenile bonito, frigate mackerel, scad, live blue runner, goggle-eye, pilchards or mullet for slow trolling. These baits should be deployed with a double-hook stinger rig.
A typical slow trolling spread may include 1-2 planer rods, a flat line if you are only pulling one planer, 2 short rigger rods and 2 long rigger rods. A shotgun lure is often times run way back. With the planer rods, No. 8 or No. 16 planers are common. The size of you planer is determined by the temperature. When it is hotter, the deeper you should fish, because the wahoo will suspend at greater depth. The deeper the fish, the bigger or heavier your planer. I suggest your planer to be run about 75 feet back. You want it to be running below the prop wash. The flat line should be set about 100 feet, the left short rigger 150 feet, the right short rigger 200 feet, the left long rigger 250 feet and the right long rigger 200 feet. These numbers are not set in stone and you should experiment with what works for your boat. A good rule of thumb is to try and get all your baits in clean water, away from the prop wash. This will give the wahoo a clear channel to see and attack your presentations. Your shotgun bait can be back there 350 or more.
Bump Trolling is a productive tactic to use around offshore structure like oil rigs. Once the baits have been deployed, put the boat in gear and idle forward for a minute or so, then take it out of gear. This is a great way to cover the vertical water spectrum, plus it keeps them out of the props. You cover a lot of water and various depths with this trolling technique.
Try to use baits that naturally want to swim down when bump trolling. For those baits that don't want to swim down, you may have to use a ball sinker to keep the smaller bait swimming deep and stop them rolling on the surface. Slide the ball sinker onto your shock leader, so it rests down on the swivel, that connects to your wire trace leader, well away from the bait and hook.
Drifting Baits is another great way to target wahoo is to load up with threadfins, pilchards or cigar sardines, and run offshore to a weedline, rip, edge or color change in the blue water realm, shut down and drift with the current while chumming. You can chum with live or dead baits. Hook a similar sized bait as the ones you’re chumming with behind the boat. Let the bait fall naturally with the chunks you are tossing out.
When you’re drifting, your boat becomes a large floating object that will often hold baitfish, so it’s attractive to the inquisitive wahoo. When they encounter the chum, wahoo will regularly swim right up to the boat, where you can then sight cast to them with a live or dead bait.
Wahoo bait fishing is a useful tool to understand. It is far more economical and at times more productive. Establish solid sources for bait or learn areas where you can easily go catch your own. Rigs are not the difficult to learn. The presentation is where the learning curve gets a bit steeper.
In The Spread Fishing