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Planers for Wahoo

Try strip baits on light leaders for wahoo.

Spool of 60-pound leader material, No. 4 planer, strip bait with three sea witches and No. 6 planer for wahoo fishing. The No. 4 and No. 6 planers are popular sizes for trolling directly from offshore rods.

By Willie Howard

In the clear Gulf Stream water that sweeps along the coast of South Florida, wahoo aficionados use the scaled-down planer method to entice more strikes than they might otherwise get with the heavy lures and steel cable leaders used in high-speed trolling.

Tony DiGiulian, an instructor at the IGFA School of Sportfishing, caught 43 wahoo off Broward County between June and September in 2013 by trolling strip baits and double hooked ballyhoo behind planers.

DiGiulian and fellow instructor Mike Theis of Custom Rod & Reel in Lighthouse Point shared some of the finer points of planer trolling during a recent School of Sportfishing seminar at the IGFA in Dania Beach.

Their strip bait rig consists of a pair of 6/0 hooks affixed to 6 inches of No. 6 wire and a swivel. A 5/0 front hook can be attached to a 6/0 trailing hook for easy rigging. The hook size can vary somewhat to match the size of the bonito strips.

The shock leader is tied directly to the swivel on the strip bait rig, and it's usually light. An 80-foot length of 60-pound-test is typical, though experienced planer trollers might scale down to 40-pound leader to get more bites.

Planer-trolling veterans prepare several yo-yo spools holding shock leader of various lengths and strengths. Shock leaders typically range from 30 to 100 feet.

The more wary the wahoo, the longer and lighter the shock leader. No bites with 30 feet of 80-pound leader behind the planer? Try 100 feet of 60-pound leader. Keeping the wire trace short on the strip bait also increases the chance of a bite. DiGiulian says he gets twice as many hits using 6 inches of wire than he does with a foot.

The bonito strip need not be large. DiGiulian likes to push the hook points through the meat side of the strip bait first. Bend the belly strip before inserting the second hook so the strip lies flat with both hooks inserted.

Theis likes to garnish his strip baits with three layers of skirts: a Mylar skirt directly over the belly strip and hooks, followed by a soft-plastic octopus. He tops his strip-bait rig with a flashy “ghost” sea witch tied by Stan Ruer.

Troll planers at staggered depths and distances behind the boat to avoid tangles in turns. For example, a heavier No. 6 planer could be pulled 75 feet behind the boat, while a lighter No. 4 planer is towed 150 feet back. Keep the boat moving when planers are deployed to avoid snagging the reef.

Troll 3 to 5 knots into the current and 5 to 8 knots with the current. That's slow compared to the 12 to 17 knots typical of high-speed wahoo trolling.

Try trolling from just before dawn until 10 a.m. on the days before full moons, especially in August and September. Theis likes to troll early on a building moon and in the late afternoon on the days following a full moon.

An outgoing tide is considered best for wahoo. In the waters off South Florida, anglers typically troll in 100 to 300 feet, towing their offerings over natural ledges and artificial reefs.

Rods for planer trolling should be 50- to 80-pound class, said John Lott of Lott Brothers, a North Palm Beach tackle shop that builds custom rods. Lott recommends aluminum-butt rods to handle the additional strain of towing a planer.

Trolling rods should be spooled with braided line. But watch the drag carefully, Lott said. Too much drag with braided line could break the rod. FS

End Game

When a wahoo hits, the planer pops to the surface and the teamwork begins. An angler wearing gloves must finish the fight, pulling the leader in hand over hand, while the person at the helm keeps the boat moving forward. Another angler should ready the gaff. Theis recommends turning the boat slightly to the side where the wahoo is coming in.

Keep the final retrieve smooth and steady. A pause that causes the line to go slack might give a wahoo the split second it needs to bite through the leader and say adios.

Note the depth of wahoo hits and continue to fish in that depth. Jot down other details of wahoo catches in a logbook and study your notes over time to discover bite trends

First published Florida Sportsman September 2014

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