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Damon McKnight

Capt. Damon runs Super Strike Charters in Venice, LA. He has been a full-time captain for 16 years. In June 2009, he was appointed to serve on the Gulf of Mexico fishery management Council and has become very active in fishery management decisions.

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January 04, 2012

Wahoo Fishing off the Coast of La.

by Damon McKnight

Its Wahoo Time!

The winter months (Jan.-March) are the most productive months to fish for Wahoo off the coast of La. The avg. size wahoo caught is between 45-65lbs. However, you can expect to catch a few in the 80-100lb. range, and if it is your lucky day, you'll get one or more over a hundred. This is the time of year for catching big Wahoo, and not only are they a lot of fun to catch, they are the reason why some of us become highly addicted to offshore fishing. There is nothing like the first strike from a 50+lb. Wahoo, which can make a reel scream at a level that you didn't think was possible while peeling out an unbelievable amount of line in a matter of seconds. This is why you couldn't sleep the night before and when it is finally time to head out the excitement is overwhelming. This is what its all about…

Tackle Preparation
The first thing that you want to do before a day of Wahoo fishing is get the tackle ready. On a good day of wahoo fishing they can literally clean you out of all the tackle you have to catch wahoo. If your using lures then you need to have at least 3 or more of what you believe to be the most preferred color, or have had good results in your area. In our area the color is Pink, anything pink seems to be preferred most days. However, they will change on you and some years some of the better colors have been blue/silver, black/silver, purple, orange/black, green/red and just plain old white. Some of the fish patterns that work well are Mullet, Mackerel, and Bonita patterns. The diving plug brands that I like to use are Bomber, Manns (Stretch 30), Rapala (the old and new version which is the x-rap), Braid, and Yozuri. The Braid Marauder and Wahoo Bombs are very productive but are also expensive so be ready to lose a few. The mullet Rapala (cd-18) has produced the larger wahoo while the pink Stretch 30 usually produces quantity. Surface baits such as Islander, Pakula, and Joe Yee also have very good results. The surface baits usually work better during the summer months but always have at least 2 or 3 Islanders (blue/white) in your bag ready to go. They work great on a downrigger or rigged with bally-hoo. Once you've got the lures your going to use, your now going to have to rig them so that you get the most strikes and the least amount of break-offs. You can buy a lot of this stuff pre-rigged, but you need to be able to rig yourself because you will need to change some things once your offshore. I rig all of my diving lures with wire. I almost always use Malin stainless steel wire in the 80lb., 93lb., and 108lb. class. Most day's 93lb. wire works the best. If I know the bite is going to be very good and the fish are on the larger size I may bump up to 108 just for the extra margin of error. To the bait of choice I use a haywire twist straight to the eye provided and use a 200lb. barrel swivel (Sampo, Owner, Sea Striker) with a haywire twist on the other end. Some people prefer using crimps and cable but it stands out more and will rust. The cons of wire are that it will break easier and if the hooked fish is able to get a loop in it, which sometimes happens, when it comes tight, it will break some times. The pros are that it doesn't rust as easy as cable and it usually produces better results because of the diameter.. Live Bait is probably the King of getting finicky wahoo to bite. Mullets or big Hard Tails work the best. During the winter months live bait can be hard to come by, but if you can find it, your success rate will be much higher. A live bait rig is about a 4ft. wire attached to an owner live bait hook (5/0) then attach either one or two stinger treble hooks to the live bait hook with 2-3 inches of wire in between each hook. When your ready to rig your live bait you put the j-hook in the head or mouth then attach 1 stinger treble to the mid-section, and 1 stinger to the tail section. If your live bait is small you can get by with a two hook system, using one j-hook in the head and 1 treble in the mid-section. Be-careful with this rig because this is the one that sticks fingers and hands most often. Usually the live bait is not cooperating as your inserting the hooks into his skin and they will wiggle and squirm, so be sure to keep a tight grip on the bait to prevent getting a hook in your handOne of the most important pieces to your lure arsenal is how you store them. Between all the treble hooks, wire, huge J Hooks, and rough seas you can end up with a giant mess on your hands. The last thing you want to have to do is untangle your lures during a hot wahoo bite or any other time for that matter. Most days there isn't enough time for that and the bite will be over. You need to be able to get to your bait of choice quickly and get the line back out into the water. The most simple and easy way to organize your diving plugs is by using a 5 gallon bucket and PVC Pipe. You can get a 5 gallon bucket anywhere. You also need to cut enough 3 inch pvc and 2 inch pvc in 1ft. sections to fill the five gallon bucket to create a tight fit. Just like that you created a Wahoo tackle box. Once you have the bucket ready to go you can drop your diving baits in it. You want to roll the wire up in a circle so that it rests tightly at the top of the pvc. This way you can pull them out of the pvc pipe quickly without tangling it. You will also want to drill some holes in the bottom of the bucket so that it will drain. At the end of the day you can put your lures back in the bucket and wash them all down inside of it. Allow everything to dry before storing it, and your good to go for the next trip.

The type of rods and reels to use is really personal preference. Most people aren't going to have a rod n reel for each species of fish they plan to catch. It is however important to use a high quality reel that can handle a fish that is running 30 mph or faster and burning your drag and can hold at least 400 yards of braid or mono. A real with 6:1 gear ratio is definitely a plus. I personally use Torsa 40's spooled with 400 yards of 100lb. braid with an 80lb. mono top shot matched with medium weight custom stand-up rods (60-80lbs.). This set-up works great for me and how I like to fish. Some people use heavy weight rods and reels (50 tiagras and 80-130lb. stand up rods) while others go much lighter. The initial strike is going to be fast and hard so you just have to be sure that you have the right tackle and can handle a fish like this. A must have is a good 6ft. or 8ft. gaff, depending on leader length and a long pair of pliers or de-hooker to remove the lure. You absolutely do not want to stick your hands anywhere near the mouth of a wahoo because of all the razor sharp teeth. If we hook a wahoo on a live bait rig, that rig is history. Unclip the wire from the snap swivel and put the fish in the box. You can cut them out later if you want.

Where to find Wahoo.
Wahoo are a pelagic fish and they tend to move around a lot. During the winter months we get a huge migration of wahoo of off the La. coast. They are here in all sizes, but mostly size Large. They are here to spawn and to feed. The main species of fish that they are feeding on are mullets, menhaden, bonita, blackfin tuna, and hardtails. It is not unusual to find flying fish, trigger fish, small amberjack, and mackerel in their bellies either. Most of the time if you can find large concentrations of bait fish, your going to find wahoo. Other days you may not see a single bait fish on the surface, so your going to be looking for any type of structure in 200ft. or better. Usually a depth of 200ft. to 400ft (max) during the winter months. In our area the structures that produce the most wahoo are oil rigs. But during the winter months you really need to be in an area that is holding bait fish. Whether around a rig or in open water, bait fish, usually on the surface are a good sign that there may be wahoo close by. Water clarity is a must. Wahoo feed by sight so if the water is too dirty, your chances go way down of having a successful day. Green water is usually the minimum when it comes to water that wahoo prefer to concentrate in, so the cleaner the water, the better the bite is usually. Some days the surface water is dirty green or brown, however, 5-10ft. below could be cobalt blue. So you really need to pay attention to your prop wash to see if your kicking up any clean water. You can also use the sea surface charts to determine where the warmer water is. Usually the warmer the water, the cleaner it will be.


Trolling Techniques
I like to use 4 lines while trolling for Wahoo during the winter. Depending on the bite, the majority of the time I will use two bombers and two Braid marauders. Some days I run the marauders on the short lines and others I will pull the bombers on the short lines. It all depends on how the fish are feeding. If it is on and the fish are basically hitting everything you've got…then it doesn't matter, just get the line out. But, it is usually not that easy. Most of the time there will be some trial and error for sure. Some days they may only hit one color whether it be short or long, if this is the case, put the color they want out or something very similar, most of the time it will work. Most days they want the long lines so put what you think will work best out long first. A good fish finder can make a big difference in how you run your lines. I like to have my lines in the water and pulling (9 knots) before I get to the spot that I think the wahoo are, I usually put them out about 200 yards short, just to be sure everything is set and ready. The first pass is usually the best so be ready. During the first pass you want to locate the fish on the fish finder before you have the baits over them. If they are marking 60ft. or less, more than likely your going to get a strike. If you make your pass and have no luck, go one more time from the other direction. Sometimes they may only strike if the bait is swimming in from one direction. Usually it is from the up-current side and one corner of the area your fishing, but not always. If still no luck you may want to change your speed or lure choice. The speed at which you pull your lures is not always the same. You will have to adjust to current and wave height and style of lure. If you pull thru an area and get a strike and catch a wahoo, then you can't seem to get another one on, move on to the next location and come back to where you had strikes earlier in the day. I have seen a 1 or 2 fish spot in the morning, turn into a 9-15 fish spot in the afternoon. There is going to be a prime feeding time for wahoo so you have to be there at the right time. Another thing to remember is that fishing pressure will affect the bite. If you have 5 or 6 boats trolling the same area that you know are holding wahoo you may not get a strike. Best bet is to come back later after all the other boats have left and try again. If you are getting strikes and catching fish on artificial bait, and for no reason at all the bite stops quickly, or it has gotten crowded around the area holding fish, this is when you want to break out the live bait. This should add a few more fish to the box before leaving a certain area. Artificial will usually put more numbers of fish in the box but live-bait will produce fish when the bite isn't very strong or there is too much pressure.

How to keep a Wahoo hooked –up
This is probably the hardest part of the Wahoo fishing experience. Strikes are usually easy to get, finding them can be tough at times but not usually, during the right time of the year. Keeping them on the hook after the initial strike is the most critical part of wahoo fishing and can be downright frustrating at times. Anyone with any experience knows that you have about a 50 percent chance of actually getting that fish in the boat. The absolute most important thing to do once you get a strike is to stay at trolling speed and do not take the rod out of the rod holder. You want to be sure the fish is hooked and to give him a chance to come back after the bait if he misses it the first couple of times. I will usually let them run down to a certain depth on the spool or until they slow down some from the initial strike before I come off the gas. The angler should then put the rod in his hands as your pulling off the throttles to take up any slack in the line, although you shouldn't get any, and to make sure the rod stays bent. After the boat has slowed down enough to take in some line, you want to slowly work the fish to the boat while keeping the rod bent at all times. Wahoo have a hard bony beak type head and jaw, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. They tend to pop their mouths a lot once hooked, and turn and run in the opposite direction after the first strike creating a lot of slack in the line. This is why sometimes the Capt. of the boat needs to throttle up to help the angler keep the slack out of the line. Even with a high gear ratio reel and extra fast cranker, the angler can't keep up with the fish. When this happens give it some juice and take the slack out with the engines. You of course need to be sure the boat is angled correctly to do this. Keeping the slack out of the line is everything when it comes to wahoo fishing. If you have multiple hook-ups, only work the boat if you can, you just have to hope for the best in this situation. Keep in mind that when it comes to wahoo fishing 2 out of 4 ain't bad. I can't even say how many wahoo we have lost over the years but it is definitely more than we caught, especially in the early years. The captain is going to play a big role in helping the angler land big wahoo because he will have to keep the boat positioned correctly. The bigger wahoo have a tendency to circle once on the surface and make there way back towards the props and under the boat, it is up to the captain to keep this 6ft. long fish from getting back there. Other days when the wind and current are working against you it is that much harder.

These are some of the little but important things I do to increase my success while wahoo fishing.
1. Make sure the drags are set correctly and your fishing line is in good shape. You definitely don't want to put any more drag than what you need.
2. Sharpen your hooks. Wahoo hit the bait lightning fast and a lot of the time they miss. The hooks sometimes end up in the belly, side, or anywhere but the mouth of the fish. The sharper the hooks the better the chances that your going to get him somewhere else. I have caught a lot of foul hooked wahoo.
3. You may need to change the hooks out on some brands of lures. Although most of the more popular brands have put stronger treble hooks on, you definitely need to check. Always have an extra box of treble hooks on the boat and some split-ring pliers. You will have to change hooks out at some point and it could be on the only remaining lure you have in the box or bucket.
4. Try and troll your lures in a side sea on rough days. When your trolling into a head-sea most of the time you can't get the speed you need for success and if you are trolling in a following-sea your going at different speeds in-between waves. Keeping a constant speed with as little variation usually has better results.


Right time-of-year and weather are the two most important factors when it comes to fishing Wahoo, or any other species for that matter. If you time it right you can be very successful and turn a dream fishing trip into reality. The key times of the year for big Wahoo are November-March (January-March being the best). Then again in June-July, which are mostly smaller wahoo (20-40lbs.) fished on grass and current lines. The weather during the winter months can be downright brutal. You want to fish in between the cold fronts. Luckily January and February are usually fairly mild as compared to the other three. Fog can be a problem in our area as well so if you are planning on navigating yourself, be sure your vessel is equipped with a good GPS and Radar, that you know how to use.

I am including a few pics. From the fishing bucket, certain lures we use, and a few wahoo we have caught along the way.

Thanks

Capt. Damon Mcknight
Super Strike Charters






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