If you have the need for speed, the wahoo is your breed. Estimates of the striped rocket’s velocity go off the page, but most think that a mile a minute is not stretching the truth. Sixty mph may make it the fastest of all fish, though blue marlin fans might argue the point.
Acanthocybium solandri, like the related and also very speedy king mackerel, can exude a slime that makes its body extra slippery during moments of fear or aggression, allowing it to make better use of its muscle power. The fish is shaped like a missile to start with, and can fold its dorsal fin into a slot down the back, adding to the streamlining when it goes supersonic. There have been cases of a single wahoo eating three trolled live baits so fast that the anglers each thought they had a separate fish. Faster than a speeding bullet? An S on its chest? Not quite, but wahoo are definitely quick.
And, they carry awesome choppers. Imagine a kingfish with an excess of testosterone and you get the picture; while kings have impressive teeth, the jaws of a wahoo are like an animated shearing machine. They’re wider, longer and have more and bigger teeth than a king’s. And, wahoo get very large, averaging about twice the size of kings typically caught by sportsmen. Six-footers are not unheard of, and the world record stands at 158 pounds, 8 ounces.
The snout is longer and more pointed than the king mackerel, and the tail has little fork or arch. The main distinguishing feature between these look-alikes, though, is color; wahoo typically have striking iridescent blue and silver vertical bands on the back, extending below the lateral line, compared to the usually gray-green back of the kingfish. They have no gill rakers, the “strainers” found under the gill plate in king mackerel and most other fish, but do share the horizontal keels on the side of the tail and the small finlets behind the dorsal and anal fins with others of the mackerel clan.
Very little is known about their growth, maximum age or spawning behavior; there has never been a targeted commercial fishery for them, and so no money has been spent on research-an unfortunate tendency among federal fishery managers. Wahoo are abundant enough to be a specifically targeted sport species in only a few areas; most are incidental catches hooked by anglers after billfish. It’s likely, but not scientifically confirmed, that their spawning patterns follow that of the king mackerel, with broadcasting of eggs in the open sea during summer aggregations.
They’re not found in large schools as a rule, though off the east side of the Abacos and the north coast of Cuba there are large numbers in winter, and there also seems to be a winter concentration about 50 miles off St. Augustine. The west coast of Panama to Baja California is a summer hotspot, and the all-tackle record came from this area. Most other IGFA line-class records have come from the indigo depths off San Salvador in the Bahamas.
They are pelagic fish living off the continental shelf as a rule, and rarely found in “green” waters near shore. The single species is found worldwide in temperate seas, as far north as New Jersey on the Atlantic Coast and south throughout the Caribbean. They appear to migrate north in summer, south in winter with the other pelagics.
They can and do jump, frequently when feeding. A favorite tactic is a rush from below, with such power that they skyrocket 10 feet into the air, the prey in their jaws. They are less likely to jump when hooked; when they’re spooked, they stay in the water and turn on the afterburners. Flyingfish, ballyhoo, squid, tuna, and bonito are among the most common stomach contents according to biologists. A common feeding tactic when taking larger fish is to shear off the tail, then return to gulp down the head as the bleeding fish spirals downward, a habit which causes some anglers to use double-hook rigs on trolled baits to catch the tail-eaters.
Unlike that of most mackerels, wahoo flesh is white and delightfully flavored. It’s still a good idea to remove the dark lateral line from the steaks, however.
(Thanks to researchers at the IGFA and the National Marine Fisheries Service for some of the information included here.)