For all the modern obsession with high-speed trolling for wahoo, it’s worth reminding readers that a cadre of livebait anglers in South Florida long ago figured out some clever ways to catch the big ‘hoos on light tackle using techniques very similar to those espoused by the kingfish tournament fleet.
Their system, which we covered in the late 1990s, relied on one or more downriggers and a supply of hearty, local baitfish such as goggle-eye or blue runner. Wahoo do much of their feeding deep in the water column, often around bottom structure and associated clouds of baitfish. The downrigger is a convenient and reliable tool for targeting specific depth ranges where fish are marked on the sounder, or where crews have been historically successful. Between Key Largo and Jupiter, Florida, the 180- to 300-foot zone has long been productive for wahoo. In this range, there is usually adequate current to keep baits trailing straight behind a downrigger release clip while drift-fishing, though many anglers prefer to slow-troll, keeping the boat at 1 or 2 knots, not much more.
If you have ample downrigger cable, and wish to maximize your coverage of the water column, it can pay to deploy more than one bait on a downrigger. The secret is a stacker, a free-sliding Black’s-style release clip tethered to a clamp-style release, which holds the cable and positions the release where desired. You can buy devices like this at retailers, or build your own using light wire or monofilament to connect the two pieces. Note that you’ll have to cut off and later recrimp the swivel at the bottom of the downrigger cable, to pass through the bore of the Black’s clips.
After dropping the bait in your wake, let out a desired set-back distance of line, then take the line and twist it about 20 times, before putting the loop over the pin of the release clip. As you release the downrigger ball, it will take your line down; be sure your fishing reel is in controlled freespool, clicker on (helps to have a second angler) to avoid backlash.
On one downrigger, you might fish a bait nearly on bottom; with a second downrigger, you might “stack” two baits at 50 and 100 feet. Be sure to stagger baits at different depths and lengths, to avoid tangles.
Rigging live baits for this technique, it’s obvious that wire leader is desirable, but you should also consider using a stinger rig–say 4 or 5 inches of No. 6 wire twisted to the eye of the lead hook, and attached to a trailing hook, which you’ll bury in the dorsal surface of the bait. The lead hook should be placed up through the top lip, to ensure the bait is pulled straight ahead, minimizing the likelihood that the bait will steer toward another one in your spread.
The basic approach is to slow-troll a zigzag or S-pattern, with the current. Focus on areas of contour breaks, or surface features such as color changes and weedlines.