Category: High Risk
ANYBODY who has ever caught a wahoo is likely to remember the sheer speed of that first dazzling run and the sound of fishing line cutting through the water with a rooster tail behind it. Wahoo are indeed one of the fastest fish in the ocean, having been clocked at an incredible 75kmh.
As a fighting and table fish wahoo are at the top of the list. My first-ever gamefishing trip was to Rowley Shoals in the late 70s when the fishing was almost untouched up there. Wahoo and yellowfin tuna abounded in these rich warm waters against the coral reef and we caught many wahoo including a personal best of around 30kg which still stands for me.
It’s probably fair to say that these days the majority of wahoo tend to fall to marlin lure fishermen as a bycatch. As such they are not always welcome because they make a hell of a mess of the skirts on expensive trolling lures.
Wahoo are most commonly encountered around the Rowleys and the waters off Exmouth, though a number turn up each year off Perth. It is not uncommon to see wahoo cruising alone or in small groups on the surface around flotsam, cray floats or FADs, so keep your eyes peeled. A couple of years back a pair of wahoo swam up to the side of a boat at the Rottnest FADs and they were estimated at 50 kilos-plus.
The pointed snout is the easiest way to identify wahoo. As well, the tail is much less crescent-shaped than those of its cousin the mackerel and it has a longer and higher dorsal fin.
Wahoo can grow huge, with fish up to 83kg recorded. The largest caught in Australian waters was 46kg, which is still a very big fish. Any wahoo over 20 kilos is considered a good fish along the West Australian coast.
Exmouth has traditionally been the focal point of southern distribution off our coastline, but with more lure fishing for marlin in Perth waters in recent years wahoo have been found to be regular visitors even when water temperatures are less than ideal. The northern distribution is right across the Northern Territory down into northern New South Wales.
There would appear to be little or no threat to the population of wahoo off the WA coast. In fact they are seen as very resilient.
Breeding and migration
Very little is known about the breeding of wahoo except that females are very fecund (they lay lots of eggs), they spawn over a lengthy period and growth rates are fast. Wahoo swim singly or in small, loose aggregations rather than large schools. Migrations are thought to be extensive; wahoo range over the tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Tackle and bait
Given that wahoo are generally found in the same waters as yellowfin and marlin, targeting them with light lines is not a good idea. As a bycatch encountered when mackerel fishing, 6-10kg line will do just fine, but out wide 15kg-plus is the norm – though this really doesn’t give the poor old wahoo much of a chance to show its turn of speed. Trolling lures, especially high speed metal heads, are the favoured way to target wahoo.
Jet heads and other heavy trolling lures in red/black, orange/black and pink/white colour combinations are proven winners. Long range fleets operating out of California have developed casting/trolling jigs which carry spinner blades that attract wahoo very successfully. These lures are rigged on wire in deference to the wahoo’s razor-sharp teeth. Rigged baits such as garfish will catch wahoo and swimming baits seem to be preferred to skipping baits.
As I indicated previously my preferred way to target wahoo would be trolling high-speed lures that hang in the water at ten knots-plus. Wahoo tend to either like the lure right in the prop wash or the one way out the back, so a pattern of five lures (in the aforementioned hot colour combinations) with four positioned in and around the prop wash and the fifth 50 to 70 metres back makes a good starting point. If there’s room for a Halco Giant Trembler drop one of those in the lure pattern as well for fish that are swimming a bit deeper.
Any current line in 50 metres or more could be worth a look or simply troll around crab and cray floats or a FAD. Once you have located wahoo, note the location and keep working the area because there’s a good chance you will find some more. They don’t form big schools away from coral reefs but a good spot could still produce three or four fish so it’s worth the effort.
Long range American charter boats frequently encounter wahoo in the open ocean and target them effectively using jigs of various types, but these techniques have not as yet been used to any extent in WA. No doubt that will come.
Hutchins & Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Compiled with the assistance of the Marine Research branch of Fisheries WA.