Wahoo in the Gulf

Panhandle anglers are discovering wahoo, once a lucky accident, can now be targeted successfully.

The 50-pound wahoo obviously didn’t care that the high-speed lures behind the Flying Fish were set out for blue marlin.

A black-and-red lure, rigged with a ballyhoo is deadly for wahoo.

His smashing strike demanded the full experience of the billfish team in the cockpit, and as angler Robby Peacock worked to keep the rodtip high, the wahoo did its best to strip the 80-wide reel. Peacock knew this fish would make the leader board of the Pensacola Oyster Bar Blue Marlin Classic.

Fellow angler Paul Lucas rushed to clear lines. Captain Brad Stabler, working the deck, could only hold his breath. In his mind, he could see the razor teeth of the wahoo shredding the 300-pound monofilament leader in front of the lure. He, like Peacock, knew that if the fish gained any slack in the line, the leader would be extremely vulnerable.

Capt. Robert Markham drove the 39-foot Egg Harbor boat hard from the flying bridge, maneuvering to keep the fierce rocket behind the boat. The twin diesels alternately roared and then backed down as Markham kept the fighting chair pointed to the battle zone.

At one point, Stabler stepped in front of Peacock motioning him to lift the rodtip higher. Peacock understood and leaned farther back in the fighting chair. His experience told him this gave the mate a better view and the high rodtip would better absorb the power of the massive runs of the wahoo.

As the fish neared the stern its vivid vertical stripes and hydrodynamic outline stood out in the clear blue water. Stabler leaned over the gunnel, grabbed the leader, and in one swift motion, gaffed and lifted the quivering ‘hoo onto the deck of the Flying Fish.

The stern, gladiator-like expression on Peacock’s face quickly changed to a big grin as he yelled to no one in particular, “All right, Money-hoo!” He was certain the fish would take a spot on the billfish tournament leader board.

This incident aboard the Flying Fish was a perfect example of the wahoo phenomenon that’s hitting Pensacola, Destin and Panama City. The majority of wahoo are caught by king mackerel fishermen working in less than 100 fathoms and billfish anglers trolling baits farther offshore. All are pleasantly surprised when a wahoo charges their baits.

It is indeed strange that such a welcome fish has seldom been targeted by Panhandle anglers. That’s changing rapidly.

For the past few years, more and more wahoo have been caught by Panhandle fishermen. Almost to a man, charterboat captains give the credit to the net ban. All relate stories of an increase in baitfish at the base of the food chain. In the past two years, more wahoo and blackfin tuna have been caught off the Florida Panhandle than ever before. Captains swear that the fish are finding the schools of bait previously wiped out by commercial netting. It is this bait that is holding them in the area.

Better fishing techniques coupled with improved baits are also luring more wahoo to the back of the boat. In the past, wahoo were just a rare blessing. Today, 60-pounders show up each week, while an occasional larger wahoo causes commotion on any dock.

The wahoo, like its cousins the tuna, mackerels, and bonito, is built for speed. But trying to compare a wahoo to one of the mackerels is like trying to compare a fighter plane to a passenger plane. A wahoo is the epitome of hydrodynamic perfection.

Capt. Phil Fessendon decided to see just how fast he could troll a bait and still entice a wahoo. He set the boat at a running speed of 24 knots. Suddenly, a 15-pound wahoo slammed one of the baits. At that speed, even the stretch of the monofilament line did not act as an effective shock absorber. It snatched the wahoo out of the water and flipped him twice, head over tail. Fessendon smiled as he said, “I hope wahoo can gum their prey. When we got the bait back to the boat, his teeth were still on it.”

The Flying Fish was 85 miles offshore when the leader board wahoo slammed the high-speed lure. But, the majority of Panhandle wahoo are caught much closer to home.

During the spring, the Loop Current tends to form eddies which are pushed by southeast winds to within 50 miles of the Panhandle coast. When this occurs, wahoo will be close behind the baitfish moving toward shore. During late May and early June, more wahoo move across the 100-fathom line and follow the baitfish into the 60- to 100-foot depths. Throughout the summer, wahoo surprise king mackerel fishermen with smashing strikes and reel-burning runs over inshore structure.

In the fall, as the water hits the 69-degree mark, wahoo, along with dolphin and king mackerel, seem to disappear.

The 50-pound wahoo obviously didn’t care that the high-speed lures behind the Flying Fish were set out for blue marlin.

High-speed lures–a sure recipe for excitement.

His smashing strike demanded the full experience of the billfish team in the cockpit, and as angler Robby Peacock worked to keep the rodtip high, the wahoo did its best to strip the 80-wide reel. Peacock knew this fish would make the leader board of the Pensacola Oyster Bar Blue Marlin Classic.

Fellow angler Paul Lucas rushed to clear lines. Captain Brad Stabler, working the deck, could only hold his breath. In his mind, he could see the razor teeth of the wahoo shredding the 300-pound monofilament leader in front of the lure. He, like Peacock, knew that if the fish gained any slack in the line, the leader would be extremely vulnerable.

Capt. Robert Markham drove the 39-foot Egg Harbor boat hard from the flying bridge, maneuvering to keep the fierce rocket behind the boat. The twin diesels alternately roared and then backed down as Markham kept the fighting chair pointed to the battle zone.

At one point, Stabler stepped in front of Peacock motioning him to lift the rodtip higher. Peacock understood and leaned farther back in the fighting chair. His experience told him this gave the mate a better view and the high rodtip would better absorb the power of the massive runs of the wahoo.

As the fish neared the stern its vivid vertical stripes and hydrodynamic outline stood out in the clear blue water. Stabler leaned over the gunnel, grabbed the leader, and in one swift motion, gaffed and lifted the quivering ‘hoo onto the deck of the Flying Fish.

The stern, gladiator-like expression on Peacock’s face quickly changed to a big grin as he yelled to no one in particular, “All right, Money-hoo!” He was certain the fish would take a spot on the billfish tournament leader board.

This incident aboard the Flying Fish was a perfect example of the wahoo phenomenon that’s hitting Pensacola, Destin and Panama City. The majority of wahoo are caught by king mackerel fishermen working in less than 100 fathoms and billfish anglers trolling baits farther offshore. All are pleasantly surprised when a wahoo charges their baits.

It is indeed strange that such a welcome fish has seldom been targeted by Panhandle anglers. That’s changing rapidly.

For the past few years, more and more wahoo have been caught by Panhandle fishermen. Almost to a man, charterboat captains give the credit to the net ban. All relate stories of an increase in baitfish at the base of the food chain. In the past two years, more wahoo and blackfin tuna have been caught off the Florida Panhandle than ever before. Captains swear that the fish are finding the schools of bait previously wiped out by commercial netting. It is this bait that is holding them in the area.

Better fishing techniques coupled with improved baits are also luring more wahoo to the back of the boat. In the past, wahoo were just a rare blessing. Today, 60-pounders show up each week, while an occasional larger wahoo causes commotion on any dock.

The wahoo, like its cousins the tuna, mackerels, and bonito, is built for speed. But trying to compare a wahoo to one of the mackerels is like trying to compare a fighter plane to a passenger plane. A wahoo is the epitome of hydrodynamic perfection.

Capt. Phil Fessendon decided to see just how fast he could troll a bait and still entice a wahoo. He set the boat at a running speed of 24 knots. Suddenly, a 15-pound wahoo slammed one of the baits. At that speed, even the stretch of the monofilament line did not act as an effective shock absorber. It snatched the wahoo out of the water and flipped him twice, head over tail. Fessendon smiled as he said, “I hope wahoo can gum their prey. When we got the bait back to the boat, his teeth were still on it.”

The Flying Fish was 85 miles offshore when the leader board wahoo slammed the high-speed lure. But, the majority of Panhandle wahoo are caught much closer to home.

During the spring, the Loop Current tends to form eddies which are pushed by southeast winds to within 50 miles of the Panhandle coast. When this occurs, wahoo will be close behind the baitfish moving toward shore. During late May and early June, more wahoo move across the 100-fathom line and follow the baitfish into the 60- to 100-foot depths. Throughout the summer, wahoo surprise king mackerel fishermen with smashing strikes and reel-burning runs over inshore structure.

In the fall, as the water hits the 69-degree mark, wahoo, along with dolphin and king mackerel, seem to disappear.

FS

  • Questioning

    I thought the mullet were the target for gillnetters and did not know wahoo were in the bays and rivers