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Expert Advice on Wahoo Rigs

Expert Advice on Wahoo Rigs
Expert Advice on Wahoo Rigs

In the July ‘09 issue of Florida Sportsman, three wahoo experts divulge step-by-step instructions for building a favorite wahoo trolling rig—no downriggers or planers required. You can check out Pensacola-based Capt. Jeremy Williams' mono to single strand connection Yo-Zuri Bonita rig, Key West Capt. Brice Barr's livebait rig, and Jacksonville Capt. Steve Grant's high speed skirted lure rig, all with illustrations included. “Wahoo Three Ways” is another in our FS series, “How We Rig It.”

Captain Jeremy Williams' rig has a short wire connection so that you're able to handle the leader to position the wahoo for gaffing without having to handle the singlestrand wire, which can kink and break under the stress of a hot fish held by hand. Also, it gets any shiny snap swivel a long ways from the lure to reduce cut-offs from strikes from other wahoo.

“These rigs pull a lot better on a bent-butt rod, but if you don't have one, at least pin it to the transom on a flatline clip,” says Williams, above. “That will give it more depth, and you'll be able to pull it faster, and with wahoo, the faster the better.”

Captain Brice Barr, Double Down Sportfishing, Key West, who often locates schools of migrating wahoo at The End of the Bar and Western Dry Rocks off Key West, likes to troll live baits to bring up those wahoo. He'll also put the hook down and chunk bonito to draw the wahoo close to his anglers.

“This is an effective way to catch wahoo on anchor as well,” says Barr, pictured above. “They'll hang out around concentrations of bait for days and sometimes weeks in certain locations, and we can target them day after day, given good conditions. Fillet a couple of bonitos, skin them and chunk them. Cut them into 1-inch chunks, with no bones or blood line. (Fish are finicky eaters.) Begin trickling out the chunks and then freeline one, give a slight drop back, and the fight is on.”

Captain Steve Grant, manager of C&H Lures in Jacksonville, builds a high-speed wahoo rig to target the biggest of Florida's wahoo that prowl over deepwater structure off Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Fifty-, 60-, even 70-pounders are common both in the winter and the summer, if you're willing to make that run to the blue water.

“I like to use 900-pound cable between the hooks for various reasons,” says Grant, at left above. “It stiffens the rig substantially and I don't worry about getting bit off. I make the lure rig 5 to 6 feet long because when a fish strikes the lure, the lure slides up the leader and a second fish could cut you off, so the 5-foot leader keeps the lure close to the fish.”

All three rigs are displayed in detail in the July ‘09 issue of Florida Sportsman.

Crimpers, trolling weights, cable and swivels for building rigs.

Make the Connections

Mike Davis, recently one of the rigging gurus at Finest Kind Tackle in Stuart, now back in his hometown of Jacksonville, has spent plenty of time explaining the benefits of high-speed trolling to curious anglers. He has some additional rigging tips for anglers building their own wahoo rigs.

“Definitely don't be afraid to troll 4 to 6 knots for wahoo,” Davis says. “Wahoo will attack at those speeds as well. And if you ever get a hit but not a hookup while trolling a bait, keep going and drop back the baits and let it fall free, while controlling the line, of course, and the wahoo will circle back and pick up that bait, because that's exactly how they hunt. They hit the back end of their prey and circle back for the rest.”

If you'll be trolling with 30- and 50- pound mono on 30-wide and 50-wide conventionals—good-size tackle for recreational wahoo fishing--to keep rigging costs down you can select one hook size that will fit even a range of lure sizes. Davis advises choosing a mid-size stainless steel hook like a 9/0, either in straight J-hook style or the more technical, costlier Southern tuna-style hook. To size the hook for stiffy single hook rigs, the hook gap should be larger by about one size than the width of the smallest lure head itself, so that it easily fits over the lure head. That size hook will also work on larger lures, and on double-hook rigs on larger lures for marlin. If you move up substantially in lure size, you may need to move up one hook size.

Use about 4 feet of rigging cable. The 275-pound-test stainless-steel cable is a popular and good choice for big wahoo. Thread on a crimp, and connect the hook with an offshore loop (simply a double overhand, then the tag end through the hook eye) before you crimp it. Bring the crimp down over the loose cable end.

“No chafing gear is needed if you use that offshore loop,” says Davis, “and it also takes the stress off the crimp.”

Use copper crimps. Aluminum against stainless steel cable can create galvanic corrosion which weakens and ultimately destroys your rigs. (Aluminum crimps are fine with monofilament, as long as you don't mash the crimp's sharp edge--a cutting edge--down onto the mono, but instead leave a flare in the crimp's ends to keep them from cutting the mono.) No need to leave a flare in the crimp's end with stainless cable.

Finished rigs ready to troll.

Measuring exactly where you'll want your hook point to ride is a give and take process. Give yourself time to thread spacers on the cable, and time to take them off before you find exactly where the hook point rides in the skirt.

“If the hook point is not in the skirt,” Davis reminds us, “it's not IGFA legal.”

Tie an offshore loop knot at the leading end of the cable, which also lowers the profile of the connection to minimize cutoffs, Davis adds. As we all know, the more swivels, the more flash, and the more you're catching the fish's eye but not the fish.

The monofilament main line gets doubled by a Bimini, and you can tie on a ball bearing snap swivel on the double line with an offshore knot. While heavy polyethelyne lines (braided lines) will require a shock cord of 200- or 300-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, monofilament main line has enough stretch in it to absorb the shock of a wahoo hit.

On the deck, heavy trolling weights are safely kept in a basket within reach of anglers deploying the rigs.

Trolling at slower speeds, (you may not even need 24-ounce or heavier trolling weights on 400-pound stainless steel cable), you know you'll want to try at least one lure down a few feet deeper with that weight. You'll need heavier-duty crimpers for the nickel-plated copper crimps for the heavy gauge cable. “You could pull your car out of the mud with one of these cables,” Davis says. Crimp a heavy ball bearing snap swivel at the cable's trailing end to snap on the lure, and you're ready to go.

“You should never have to worry about your terminal connections,” says Davis. “There are too many other variables out there that we have to contend with. Have confidence in your connections, and fish them hard.”

First Published Florida Sportsman July 2009

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