THE OTHER MACK­EREL

THE WA­HOO REIGNS AS THE MOST GLAM­OROUS MEM­BER OF A HIGH-PRO­FILE PIS­CA­TO­RIAL FAM­ILY

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - By JOHN BROWN­LEE

One of the most beau­ti­ful fish in the ocean, wa­hoo move fast, strike hard and are de­li­cious on the ta­ble. What’s not to like?

Of all the scom­brid fish species in the sea (mack­erel, bonito and tuna), I posit the the­ory that the mys­te­ri­ous wa­hoo is the coolest of them all. To be sure, their close cousins, king mack­erel, get more at­ten­tion as the quarry in many a big-dol­lar fish­ing tour­na­ment.

And their more dis­tant rel­a­tives, yel­lowfin and bluefin tuna, serve as un­lucky tar­gets of re­lent­less fish­ing pres­sure world­wide thanks to their brute strength, which at­tracts recre­ational at­ten­tion, and their high value and de­li­cious flesh, which brings both recre­ational and com­mer­cial pur­suers.

Much is known about the other fam­ily mem­bers due to their dol­lar value, but wa­hoo are dif­fer­ent, like your weird cousin ev­ery­body mostly likes but no­body re­ally un­der­stands. Wa­hoo rarely school, but they do ag­gre­gate around struc­ture at times. For most an­glers they re­main an in­ci­den­tal catch, some­thing you hook and land from time to time while trolling for some­thing else.

Wa­hoo have all of the ad­mirable at­tributes of their bet­ter-known rel­a­tives and more. King­fish have a sleek, tor­pedo-like ap­pear­ance and shine like a sil­ver dag­ger, and most tuna look pow­er­ful and pol­ished. But the wa­hoo? It’s flat-out beau­ti­ful, es­pe­cially when a spec­i­men ap­pears out of the deep, freshly lit up like a blue-and-sil­ver neon sign. There’s no pret­tier fish in that pre­cise mo­ment.

Big and Strong

Wa­hoo reach close to 200 pounds. The all-tackle In­ter­na­tional Game Fish As­so­ci­a­tion world record sits at 184 pounds — a mon­ster fish caught off Cabo San Lu­cas, Mex­ico, in 2005 — but tales abound of long­line-caught wa­hoo weigh­ing more than two bills. Though these striped beau­ties def­i­nitely get big, most of the ones caught are of the smaller va­ri­ety, per­haps 30 to 60 pounds on av­er­age. I’ve caught lots of wa­hoo, but I have never en­coun­tered one over 100 pounds.

One time, though, I thought I had. Many years ago, Bill Buck­land, owner of the Fish­er­man’s Cen­ter in Riviera Beach, Florida, took a wa­hoo fish­ing trip with me aboard my boat to Walker’s Cay, the north­ern­most is­land in the Ba­hamas. Our chef friend Mike De­briere came along. We trolled the drop-off along Matanilla Reef north of Walker’s on a cold win­ter morn­ing. The most con­sis­tent way to tar­get wa­hoo is by high-speed trolling us­ing wire lines and large leads to get baits down sev­eral feet be­neath the sur­face. That’s just what we did.

As we zigzagged on and off the reef, the reel sang out, and the monel wire ripped off the line at a fu­ri­ous pace. De­briere grabbed the rod and set the hook; we knew it had to be a big fish, as his ef­forts to slow it proved fruit­less. Although the ini­tial run of a wa­hoo starts with a pow­er­ful run and blaz­ing speed, the fish typ­i­cally tires quickly, and De­briere made steady progress in short or­der.

Gaffing a Prize

The blue and sil­ver prize ma­te­ri­al­ized in the cobalt wa­ters be­neath my boat, and Buck­land gaffed the mon­ster and swung it aboard. As we stared wide-eyed, we were cer­tain we had bro­ken the elu­sive 100-pound bar­rier at last. Ea­ger to share tales of my fish­ing prow­ess, I called Walker’s res­i­dent and char­ter skip­per Billy Black on his Hat­teras, Duchess, to let him know of our tri­umph.

“Wha­daya think it weighs?” Black asked non­cha­lantly.

“Gotta be a hun­dred-plus!” I ex­claimed. “We’ll see,” came the re­ply.

We fished the rest of the day and caught a cou­ple of smaller fish, but noth­ing near that first beast’s size. When we rolled into the ma­rina that af­ter­noon, Black was stand­ing on the dock be­hind our slip. We heaved the be­he­moth onto the dock.

Black looked at me and said, “Seventy-five.”

“No way,” I coun­tered. “It’s a lot big­ger than that.”

We loaded the fish into a wheel­bar­row and rolled it to the gantry on the cen­ter dock. The dock­mas­ter ar­rived with the scale. When we hoisted the fish into the tail rope, the scale read ex­actly 75 pounds.

“You boys ain’t seen a lot of 100-pound wa­hoos, have ya?” Black asked with a smile.

Buck­land, De­briere and I looked at one an­other and had to laugh. No, ac­tu­ally, we had not. And as it turned out, this wouldn’t be our day to see one, ei­ther.

Tar­get for Suc­cess

That 75-pounder re­mains the big­gest wa­hoo ever landed on my boat, but we’re still look­ing for the triple-digit fish. If you want to tar­get them your­self, there are spe­cific places to try. These fish con­gre­gate in cer­tain ar­eas at cer­tain times of the year. In the win­ter months they stack up along reefs in the western Ba­hamas, like our fish from Walker’s Cay. Most run much smaller, but at times you can get a lot of bites by work­ing the tides.

A tide fall­ing off ei­ther the Lit­tle or the Great Ba­hama banks into the deep wa­ters of the Straits of Florida can turn that bite on. By far the most ef­fec­tive method of fish­ing in­volves high-speed trolling. Rigged nat­u­ral baits or bizarre-look­ing Junkanoo lures trolled be­tween 12 and 16 knots on wire line with heavy leads of 16 ounces or more def­i­nitely pro­duce strikes. The leads are at­tached to the end of the wire, fol­lowed by 30 to 50 feet of monofil­a­ment. A few inches of wire or air­craft-ca­ble leader are used ahead of the lure to counter the wa­hoo’s ra­zor-sharp teeth. Once the lead pops up, you must hand-line the fish in the rest of the way.

This method, though pro­duc­tive, does have draw­backs. You have to use heavy tackle to han­dle the strain of pulling all that wire, lead and leader through the wa­ter. So when you hook a 30-pound wa­hoo, it’s not a ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing fight. And it’s dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble to fish ac­cord­ing to IGFA rules when rigged this way. There’s noth­ing that says you have to be Igfa-com­pli­ant, but I think fish­ing is more fun when you are.

How­ever, there are al­ter­na­tives. Try live­bait­ing in ar­eas where wa­hoo are known to hang out. They love large-bod­ied baits, and the red­tail scad, known col­lo­qui­ally as the “speedo,” is a peren­nial fa­vorite. Try dan­gling a cou­ple of speedos un­der a kite us­ing a tan­dem-hook wire rig — you can use what­ever size tackle you like.

You can also use a con­ven­tional trolling spread with a sin­gle nat­u­ral bait run far be­hind the boat on a shot­gun line. Wa­hoo seem to pre­fer darker-col­ored lures, so black and pur­ple, red and black, or green and black Iland Hawai­ian Eyes rigged in front of large dou­ble-hook bal­ly­hoos on wire of­ten elicit a strike.

Wa­hoo Haunts

Other places to tar­get these elu­sive fish in­clude ar­eas around Grand Cay­man is­land in the Caribbean, along the Pa­cific coasts of Panama and Costa Rica, in Hawaii and, of course, in Cabo San Lu­cas, at the tip of the Baja Cal­i­for­nia Penin­sula.

If you want truly large wa­hoo, one place reigns supreme: San Sal­vador, in the east­cen­tral Ba­hamas. Two large seamounts rise from the ocean floor north of the is­land, and huge wa­hoo gather there in win­ter, pre­sum­ably to spawn. More 100-plus-pound wa­hoo have come from San Sal­vador than any­where.

These fish dis­ap­pear in the sum­mer, and where they go is a mys­tery. The pre­vail­ing be­lief is that they head to­ward the cen­ter of the At­lantic to feed, a lo­ca­tion where en­coun­ters with peo­ple would be rare.

Wa­hoo swim in trop­i­cal and warm, tem­per­ate wa­ters world­wide, so you never know where you’ll raise one. When you do, view it as a pleas­ant sur­prise, a treat to top off an al­ready great day on the wa­ter. The wa­hoo is one of the fastest fish in the ocean, able to swim at speeds ap­proach­ing 50 mph, so when they strike, you’ll know it. They are also de­li­cious, and one of the most beau­ti­ful fish in the world. Who could ask for any­thing more?

The au­thor is still wait­ing for the first 100-plus-pounder to come aboard his boat.

Wa­hoo are flat-out beau­ti­ful fish that are taken most con­sis­tently by high-speed trolling.

The striped beau­ties are known for the speed and strength of their first run. Trolling lures (right).

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