Wide Open Winter Wahoo

Bobby Byrd & John Cochrane
Wide Open Winter Wahoo
Wahoo on deck with Wahoo hunter in mouth.

Fishing offshore of Texas during the winter can be very challenging, but the wahoo bite on the deep rocks this time of year can make it all worth while. Don't get us wrong, you have to watch the weather. If you don't - and get caught by a cold front, we promise you'll be sorry, so don't take chances. However, when you have a window of good weather for at least 24 hours, a quick run to catch wahoo is a lot of fun. The bite can be wide open this time of year and many of the fish are 50+ pounds. Wahoo congregate on deep rocks just inside the 100 fathom curve and can be found along the edges of these rocks. Many of these rocks are surrounded by 400-500 feet of water, but rise dramatically up towards the surface. Most of the rocks we are familiar with are located starting just west the Flower Garden Banks and then eastward along the Continental shelf off Louisiana. This means a 100+ mile offshore run in the winter time, so a good weather window and a fast, seaworthy boat is desirable.

When planning a winter wahoo trip, it's a good idea to head out as early as possible. The best bite is early in the morning, just after daybreak, so you really need to leave the dock the night before. Be careful running too hard in the dark. The Gulf is full of debris at times and a hitting a log or getting a rope in the wheel can ruin the trip. Radar is also a good idea for nighttime running, especially in the winter when fog can be a problem. Check your Coast Guard emergency equipment onboard and make sure it is up to date. It's not summer anymore, the water is cold and you are going to be a long way offshore. In addition to the required Coast Guard equipment, we recommend having a good emergency life raft and GPIRB onboard anytime you venture this far offshore. Also, don't forget warm clothes, a change of clothes (in case you get wet), plenty of towels, food and fuel. Know your fuel consumption at cruising and trolling speed to avoid running low and hoping for a tow.

Wahoo like the edges of these rocks in anywhere from 150 220 ft. of water. Watch for deep bait as you troll, making note of which side of the rock you are on. The current on top may not be the same as below, so it is important to locate which side the bait is stacking up on and concentrate your efforts there. Avoid trolling over the top of shallower rocks or the barracudas can be a nuisance. Most fishermen also avoid using live bait on the rocks for similar reasons with barracudas, but mainly because the sharks can get pretty bad. Trolling speed can vary depending on what you are pulling. With swimming baits your speed is limited by the lure, but jets and conventional lures can be pulled at higher speeds to entice a bite. We wouldn't get too carried away with speed, anything over 9 knots is pretty fast and it sure burns a lot more fuel. Many anglers like to add a heavy trolling weight to get these lures deeper in the water. They can be bought at your local tackle shop and work great to get your lures down where wahoo like it.

The wahoo's first run is legendary and they can really scream off a lot of line. Make sure your drags are smooth to prevent line breakage and use safety lines to keep your rods in the boat. One thing to remember, when you get a bite - don't stop the boat - at least not right away. Put an angler on that rod and make a circle while fighting the first fish. This keeps your other baits working to get another bite. Wahoo tend to hang out in packs, so this technique for multiple strikes pays off a lot of the time. Chris Gonzales, owner of Islanders Custom Tackle in Galveston, uses a variation of this technique. Once the first wahoo is on, he likes to cast surface poppers or casting irons to draw that second or third strike. This technique takes a little more skill, but works great and the surface bite is very exciting to watch. Remember to keep your line tight. Wahoo like to shake their heads a lot and any slack in the line may allow the lure to come off.

There are a variety of lures used for wahoo. Some of the most popular are the swimmers or "wigglers", which swim below the surface. Yozuri Bonitas, Strike Pro Wahoo Hunters and Braid Marauders are among our favorites along with the big Rapala Magnums. These lures work best using very strong single hooks with heavy duty ball bearing swivels. It is important to make sure any lures you buy have heavy duty components and a wire harness through the lure body connecting everything together. Wahoo are ferocious eaters with razor sharp teeth that can tear up a lure like a chain saw. Make sure you use stainless cable or wire for leader or you'll be buying more lures back at the tackle shop. We suggest rigging with 400 lb. 49 strand cable and see how it works for you. Other popular lures include all types of jets, weighted conventional lures and the tried and true "everything eats me" blue and white Islander in front of a ballyhoo, yes, wahoo love them too. Ballyhoo trolled with skirts or just "naked" can work very well also. Ruben Villareal at Fishing Tackle Unlimited in Houston suggests staying with dark lure colors like Black/Purple, Black/Red and even black on black. Ruben also has a new wahoo teaser made with a chain of wahoo hunters varying in size. The last one is the biggest and has hooks in it. As far as rods are concerned a 6' or shorter stand-up rod seems to be the most popular in the 30-80 lb. range. We suggest an all roller rod of this size with a 30 class reel and 50 lb. test monofilament line.

There's one thing you should think about when you're out there and the wahoo bite is wide open. Even though right now there is no limit on wahoo, try to conserve our resource by only keeping a reasonable amount of fish that you are going to eat. It's tempting to load the boat with everything that bites, and sometimes that can be 20-30 fish. Have a great time, catch some nice fish, but leave some out there for the rest of us. It's only a matter of time when the powers that be will start putting limits on wahoo, so let's not help them rush to make that decision by stacking them on the dock like cord wood. Keep what you need, release the rest, have a great trip!

For more information about winter wahoo fishing, big game fishing in the Gulf or rigging you boat, come by Tops-N-Towers or see us at the Houston Fishing Show Mar. 5-9, 2008. We're always happy to answer your questions. You can also give us a call at Byrd & Cochrane, an authorized broker for Fox Yacht Sales. Come by our Fox Yacht Sales office at Tops-N-Towers and check out the line up of Cabo Yachts as well as Riviera Yachts, made in Australia. Fox also has an extensive inventory of brokerage boats and we will be glad to help you find a boat or sell yours. We specialize in sportfishing boats and motor yachts. Come by and get a great deal on your next boat. For more information call our office at 281-291-0656 or check out our website at www.byrd-cochrane.com or www.foxyachtsales.com