Although wahoo bite year-round in South Florida, now is the prime time to catch one of the speedy, good-tasting fish.
The week around the full moon in August, which was Thursday, is when wahoo bite best.
“Generally, it’s the best time for bigger fish,” said captain Chris Lemieux, who runs charters out of Boynton Beach. “We catch a lot of wahoo during the winter and spring, but we catch the smaller ones: The 12- to 25-pound range.
“During the summer, our average ones are definitely a lot bigger. That’s when you’re going to catch your 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-pounders. It’s definitely a great time of year.”
There is no scientific reason for the August full moon bite, but it happens every year. Bonito are plentiful during the summer, and big wahoo feast on the little tunny, as they are properly known.
For that reason, captain Stan Hunt fishes where bait is plentiful. “There might not be a wahoo there this minute,” Hunt said, “but stay in the bait.”
Some anglers slow-troll live bonito weighing 3 to 15 pounds. For Hunt, Lemieux and other top wahoo captains, their favorite offering is a Sea Witch with a bonito strip, as well as bigger baits such as ballyhoo and swimming mullet.
Hunt removes most of the meat from a bonito fillet, then carves 8-inch tapered strips that come alive when he trolls them. The Sea Witch-bonito strip combos, which Hunt fishes on the surface and 40-50 feet down on planers, also catch sailfish, dolphin, tuna, kingfish and more bonito, which become tomorrow’s baits.
Trolling those baits at 7 to 9 knots allows Lemieux to cover much more water than live-baiting with speedos and bullet bonitos.
“A Sea Witch-strip combo has caught them for years and it’s going to catch them for years to come,” said Lemieux, who fishes that combo on his short planer line. The long line, which might employ a planer or occasionally a 24- to 32-ounce lead to get the bait down, will have a ballyhoo with a Sea Witch or a plain swimming mullet.
He counts to 20 when deploying the short line, which has a No. 6 planer that digs close and tight to his center console. The long planer/trolling lead line gets a count of 35 or 40, but everything is subject to change.
“There are some days I’ll be marking fish deeper and I’ll dump the bait back 50 feet or vice versa, keep everything short because I’m getting bites higher in the water column,” Lemieux said. “If there’s a lot of north tide, the fish hang a little deeper to try to stay out of the current, so I’ll drop it back a little further on my planers to get my baits a little deeper.”
He also fishes a flat line 100 yards behind his boat, which produces a lot of bites because there’s no turbulence or noise from his boat’s twin outboards, and a short flat line. “If I’m not getting bites and I know there are fish in the area, I’ll put them out further, bring them in closer, just try to change things and make something happen.”
Fishing depths also vary. Hunt says the tide plays a role in his decision-making because it determines where the bait will be. On the last of an incoming tide, bait will be close to an inlet. On a low tide, Hunt fishes around wrecks and other baitfish attractors in 200-400 feet.
Lemieux trolls as shallow as 80 feet on out to 400 feet depending on where the bait is and the water quality. “If the water looks like pea soup in 300 feet, keep going until you find blue water. Sometimes it’s out in 400 or 500. It’s all situational. It always changes. I’ll zig-zag in and out, looking for nice water, looking for current.”
When he hooks a wahoo, he maintains his speed.
“Don’t stop the boat,” Lemieux said. “The absolute worst thing, and I see people do it all the time, is slow the boat way down or stop. You’ve just got to keep the boat going.
“If it’s a really big fish and pulling really hard, just back the drag off the reel, let the fish tire himself out and run a little bit, keep the boat going at a good clip and then once the fish slows down and stops pulling really hard, bump the drag back up and start reeling.”
If a fish hits the short planer line, he’ll leave the other three lines in the water. If the wahoo is on the long planer line, he reels in the short planer to avoid tangles.
After boating a 50-plus-pound wahoo, you might reel in all of the lines because your fish box will be as full as the moon.