Jigging (and Trolling) Beneath Debris
Fishermen know to check floating debris for dolphin, but most leave wahoo 60 feet beneath. Hunt is most successful when he marks wahoo — often 50 feet or more away from the debris, but he says, “If you’re catching dolphin, or if you see any life — tripletails, triggerfish or even a lot of bait — go ahead and drop down.” A fast-retrieve reel is essential: 6-to-1 or faster. Hunt drops a 4- to 6-ounce diamond jig rigged with a double-strength Mustad 3407 hook. The length of the jig helps protect his 60-pound fluorocarbon leader from teeth. He shies away from Butterfly-style jigs — with assist hooks at the top, he’s bitten off more often. “Let it down until you can’t stand it, 500 feet or more, and then reel it in as fast as you can.” The bite comes on either the drop or the retrieve.
McElveen also catches wahoo beneath debris, but he finds trolling a couple of diving plugs or No. 3 spoons easier for his often inexperienced charter guests. “Troll the spoon on a planer about 50 feet down, around 8 or 9 knots,” McElveen says. He uses 50 feet of 80-pound monofilament between the planer and the spoon. “A snap swivel at the spoon helps keep wahoo from biting off, and also prevents the line from twisting as the spoon spins.”
Chunking Up ’Hoos
“When we’re kite-fishing for sailfish, wahoo will swim right up to the back of the boat,” McElveen says. Sometimes — though not often — they’ll eat typical Keys sailfish baits like goggle eyes, pilchards and threadfin herring, but “wahoo usually go for the chunks over anything,” he says.
McElveen prefers speedo (redtail scad) cross-sections cut about an inch wide. “They look more natural than pieces of bonita,” he says, “like something that’s been bitten in half, not just a chunk of meat.” He stuffs a No. 2 treble hook into the side of a chunk, so it’s completely hidden yet pulls out easily. “You want the bait to come right off the hook when they eat,” he says. “You’ll get a lot more hookups.”
He throws three chunks in the water together and then immediately tosses the hooked bait atop. “Wahoo get a taste of those first three chunks and have to eat the fourth,” he says, making them less leery of the short piece of No. 3 wire and 40-pound monofilament leader.
Live Speedos on the Kite
When wahoo are mixed with kingfish, McElveen entices big fish to bite live speedo kite baits. “The speedos zip all over the place,” McElveen says. “If they see something, they go crazy, which really seems to trigger the wahoo and big kingfish to bite.”
McElveen prefers to anchor atop a wreck or prominent reef outcropping between 130 and 200 feet deep. He says a pair of three-foot lengths of No. 3 wire twisted together is harder for wahoo to bite through than a single heavier strand. This attaches to 10 feet of 40-pound monofilament as a leader. He bridles a 5/0 live bait hook through a speedo’s back when he can anchor or bridles the baits in the nose when he can’t. Another short length of doubled wire leads to a 2/0 treble‑hook stinger, hooked behind the dorsal.
With one speedo each on two kites held near the surface and far from the boat, McElveen works close in with speedo chunks and live pilchards hooked in the belly to make them swim down. “Be patient,” McElveen says. “Let all those chunks and pilchards do their thing. You might sit for an hour or more without much action, but then they school up, and it’s game on.”
Slow-Troll a Live little tunny
Often, when little tunny (commonly called “bonito” in Florida) are plentiful, so too are wahoo. Jeffrey Walls, manager at RJ Boyle Studios (rjboylestudios.com) in Hillsboro, Florida, trolls atop wrecks to catch small “bullet” bonito, and then immediately bridles those as bait and slow-trolls straight offshore. “You want to stay close to that wreck so you have a ready supply of bait,” Walls says. “That’s where the wahoo and big kingfish are likely to be anyway.”
Walls targets these baits atop wrecks and along current edges. He makes his little tunny rig by tying pink or blue-and-white Sea Witch hair through oversize-eye 1/0 hooks, tying five of these quills to 30-pound monofilament about a foot apart and trailed by a 2½-inch Clarkspoon. “Troll that around 5 or 6 knots behind a No. 2 planer or about a 16-ounce trolling lead,” he says.
Once caught, little tunny are very fragile baits. “I like to put one on a downrigger, about 70 feet down, and then fish two more from the outriggers,” Walls says. “Three baits is about the right number to handle and get them out trolling quickly.”
Walls’ rig uses 3 feet of 50-pound titanium wire tied to a Mustad Big Gun 6/0 hook, and then another 6 or 8 inches of wire — depending upon the size of the bait — leads to a Mustad 2/0 extra-strong short-shank treble hook. Walls bridles the bait through the front of the eye socket. “If you go through the nose, they bleed out and die,” he says. For the same reason, he leaves his stinger hook loose, simply trailing toward the bonito’s tail while it swims.
“Let the bait pick the trolling speed,” he says, since little tunny have to swim to breath but will also drown if pulled too quickly. “They aren’t like goggle eyes that will keep themselves alive. You have to keep water moving over their gills. Kick one engine in and out of gear just to keep the lines tight.”
While high-speed trolling is becoming more common, other techniques offer a different experience. “When you’re trolling at 15 knots and hook up, sure, they take a bunch of line,” Walls says. “But when you’re sitting still, live-baiting without a big lead on the line, and a wahoo takes your bait, those sudden bursts of speed are intense.”
Which leads to the inevitable cry, wa-HOO!