By Jeff Dennis
Offshore fishing from the Mid-Atlantic Coast peaks in summer, but don’t overlook the winter wahoo fishery that hits high-gear in early spring. Wahoo are shaped like a silver torpedo and these strong fighting fish can be found in a range of depths using specialty gear like planers and trolling weights.
Saltwater anglers that feel the need for speed head to the bluewater rigged up for high-speed trolling tactics that are particularly effective with wahoo. Wahoo have a penchant for the chase and a large plastic lure works well, but remember to rig a wire leader to counter the slashing action from this toothy gamefish.
High-speed trolling at 10-knots means keeping fewer lures in the water in order to avoid crossed up lines. Staggering the lures at different lengths behind the boat helps with maneuverability. Once a wahoo is caught, tactics can be changed to a slow-speed trolling in order to get more lines out to cover the water column looking for any wahoo that might be schooling nearby.
Anglers look for temperature breaks in the ocean that can attract everything from baitfish to blue marlin. These areas have a color change in the water that is visible to the eye once located. Modern electronics and satellite imagery are often useful to anglers seeking these productive areas in the open ocean. Wahoo can also be found holding on bottom structures such as ledges.
Large sportfishing boats using heavy rods and reels are able to fish for wahoo on days when the ocean is a little rough. Smaller center console boats are also effective when the weather patterns lull and the trip to and from the fishing grounds is flat calm. After all, not all wahoo are going to be monsters and lighter tackle can handle an average 40-pounder. The heavier range of wahoo is closer to 80-pounds and will test any tackle.
Saltwater anglers love a little competition and fishing tournaments provide that outlet. In South Carolina, the S.C. Wahoo Series capitalizes on the strength of the wahoo fishery and their 2019 tourney dates run from February 8 through April 27. The S.C. tourney is modeled after the more established Northeast Florida Wahoo Shootout.
The popular tournament in South Carolina started in 2012 with 60 boats and is growing rapidly thanks in part to the sustainability of the wahoo fishery, registering 136 boats in 2019. Fishing teams are given any three days to fish they want, so they can choose the best weather. Teams can weigh one wahoo per day and the championship is decided by the heaviest two-fish aggregate weight.
Capt. Marc Pincus founded the S.C. Wahoo Series. “We went from having one weigh-in scale located in Hilton Head, to having three official scales up and down the S.C. coast,” said Pincus. “The wind can howl in March, which is the reason we let the anglers choose their fish days. We are grateful for a strong wahoo bite in 2019.”
The S.C. wahoo series tournament dates end in April, but these offshore meat fish continue to show up in the offshore mixed bag all year long. King mackerel tournament enthusiasts can attest that wahoo often appear at the docks due to the similarity of the fishing tactics. And since wahoo offer excellent table fare, picking up a HOO during a day of offshore fishing is like putting icing on a cake.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019.
Photo courtesy S.C. Wahoo Series
Angler Ian Burch hoists his 79.5-pound wahoo for Team Nervous Water