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Wahoo send anglers to the ER

Their Hawaiian name, ‘ono’, means ‘delicious’

At 200 miles west of Baja’s Bahia Magdalena, the waters around the tiny, steep and barren volcanic Alijos Rocks is a wahoo haven in December.
At 200 miles west of Baja’s Bahia Magdalena, the waters around the tiny, steep and barren volcanic Alijos Rocks is a wahoo haven in December.

Dock Totals 11/28 – 12/4: 826 anglers aboard 49 half-day to three-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 466 bluefin tuna (up to 70 pounds), 16 bonito, 1 cabezon, 829 calico bass (480 released), 11 lingcod, 146 lobster (104 released), 2,617 rockfish, 56 sand bass, 115 sculpin, 36 sheephead, 965 whitefish, and 21 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Wahoo and ono may sound like opposite exclamations to most folks, but in offshore fishing communities those words mean the same thing: the speedy and tasty relative of mackerel that haunt high spots along the popular long-range fishing routes along the southern half of the Baja Peninsula targeted by the San Diego-based fleet. Found in globally in tropical and subtropical waters, wahoo can reach speeds up to 60 mph, making them one of the fastest pelagic species in the world. Only black marlin (up to 80 mph), sailfish (up to 70 mph), and striped marlin (up to 65 mph) are speedier than wahoo. Exciting to catch, ‘wahoo!’ and ‘oh no!’ are terms often associated with wahoo fishing.

Wahoo have a tremendously fast growth rate, with females reaching sexual maturity in one year at 3.3 feet and nearing 20 pounds. Male wahoo grow slightly slower than females, reaching 2.8 feet in length in a year. At their maximum age of 9 years, wahoo can reach 200 pounds and over 6 feet in length. Unlike sailfish that can grow much larger in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, wahoo tend to grow large wherever they are found. The all-tackle world record wahoo at 184 pounds was caught by Sara Hayward in 2005 near Cabo San Lucas, though three of the top five fish were caught in the Atlantic. Though it did not qualify for the world record because three anglers took turns landing it, a 202-pound wahoo was caught in 2016 off Florida.

Wahoo’s speed and toothy line-cutting mouth makes them formidable targets for recreational anglers. Slender as they are, wahoo do not have the deep-bodied fight to the gaff as do tuna or jacks. Once gaining on a wahoo and fought close to the boat, wahoo tend to thrash at the surface instead of a deep sluggish ‘death circle’ of most pelagic species targeted in our area. They will often leap clear of the water during a strike and have been known to clear 30 feet of air when doing so. More dangerously, wahoo have been recorded leaping into boats while chasing a bait or lure.

Many wahoo are lost at the final stage of the fight, when while thrashing, their razor-sharp teeth nicks the leader and the fish escapes. The second most common way to lose a wahoo is at the strike when the lure is engulfed, allowing the teeth to find the line. Wahoo teeth are not huge, but they are serrated and extremely sharp and have sent many anglers to the ER for stitches. Wire or very heavy monofilament leaders are often used when targeting wahoo.

I have found that wahoo can be ‘line shy’ when it comes to wire or heavy monofilament leaders. While fishing for them out of La Paz in the fall back in 2005 to 2008 when living there, I usually trolled Rapala CD 18s to CD 22s at ten to twelve knots on straight 30 pound line and generally would get more fish than others trolling more expensive wahoo lures, like Marauders, on heavier line, leaders, or wire. My secret? Simply removing the forward hook on the Rapala. Unless completely swallowed, this allows a little more room between the hooked fish’s teeth and the line. Still, due to the light line, we would lose about 50% of the fish we hooked, but we would get bit more often than our friends using heavier leaders or wire. That Marauders were scarcer and closer to $50 each, and that I could get the big Rapalas at around $12 at any Walmart also influenced my lure choice when targeting wahoo. I would buy them by the dozens when stateside. Maybe due to reflecting an excited squid-like tint, purple seemed to be the most productive color. One thing is certain for everyone targeting wahoo by trolling or casting lures: You are going to lose some lures.

Wahoo fishing is exciting enough to think that the origin of their name came from the cries of the first rod and reel anglers catching them, but in truth, it is due to misspelling by some of the first European mappers in the Pacific. Their Hawaiian name, ‘ono’, means ‘delicious’ and that is appropriate as wahoo are indeed highly-sought table fare. But the common English name came from the misspelling of Oahu on some early maps of the Hawaiian Islands, where wahoo are prolific year-round.

Wahoo tend to be solitary cruisers and typically feed on other finfish and squid. They rarely travel in schools, and their teeth are sharp enough that wahoo, unlike most gamefish except sharks, can remove chunks and feed on fish larger than themselves. Popular lures used when casting include surface irons and wahoo bombs, which are heavy-headed feathers that can be casted or trolled. Retrieval and trolling speeds when specifically targeting wahoo are generally fast, both to entice a strike and avoid slower species.

Wahoo are not listed as endangered or threatened, as they do not school like tunas, they are not heavily targeted by commercial fleets and are usually caught as bycatch in low numbers. Though wahoo do not live very long, females will release millions of eggs per year, and along with sparce commercial targeting, their fast maturing ensures population stability. Wahoo tend to hang around high spots with steep drop-offs and ledges in 150 to 500 feet of water, where the highest concentrations of prey, smaller fish and squid, are found. During fall months, when warm tropical water pushes north into the semi-tropics, wahoo are caught by the San Diego fleet off the southern half of Baja, specifically from a few miles outside of Bahia Magdalena to 200 miles west of the peninsula at Alijos Rocks.

This past week, the Polaris Supreme called in with 83 wahoo fishing Alijos Rocks during the first couple days of their 9-day trip. That is phenomenal wahoo fishing. Catching wahoo in our region will normally require a long trip south either on a sportfishing vessel out of San Diego or a panga trip out of a southern Baja fishing town. That said, there have been wahoo caught as close to San Diego as the Coronado Islands when extraordinarily warm water pushes north during El Niño years.

If you haven’t eaten wahoo, or ono, and don’t want to spend the Benjamin’s on a long-range trip or travel to Baja, fresh wahoo filleted or whole can often be found at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, Catalina Offshore, or Haworth’s. Wahoo fillets or steaks run around $15 per pound, and whole fish can be bought for $5 per pound. However it gets from the ocean to the table, wahoo is an excellent choice for dinner.

Fish Plants: 12/11 - Lake Wohlford, trout (4,000), 12/13 – Lake Jennings, trout (2,000), 12/16 – Lake Poway, trout (1,500)

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At 200 miles west of Baja’s Bahia Magdalena, the waters around the tiny, steep and barren volcanic Alijos Rocks is a wahoo haven in December.
At 200 miles west of Baja’s Bahia Magdalena, the waters around the tiny, steep and barren volcanic Alijos Rocks is a wahoo haven in December.

Dock Totals 11/28 – 12/4: 826 anglers aboard 49 half-day to three-day trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 466 bluefin tuna (up to 70 pounds), 16 bonito, 1 cabezon, 829 calico bass (480 released), 11 lingcod, 146 lobster (104 released), 2,617 rockfish, 56 sand bass, 115 sculpin, 36 sheephead, 965 whitefish, and 21 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Wahoo and ono may sound like opposite exclamations to most folks, but in offshore fishing communities those words mean the same thing: the speedy and tasty relative of mackerel that haunt high spots along the popular long-range fishing routes along the southern half of the Baja Peninsula targeted by the San Diego-based fleet. Found in globally in tropical and subtropical waters, wahoo can reach speeds up to 60 mph, making them one of the fastest pelagic species in the world. Only black marlin (up to 80 mph), sailfish (up to 70 mph), and striped marlin (up to 65 mph) are speedier than wahoo. Exciting to catch, ‘wahoo!’ and ‘oh no!’ are terms often associated with wahoo fishing.

Wahoo have a tremendously fast growth rate, with females reaching sexual maturity in one year at 3.3 feet and nearing 20 pounds. Male wahoo grow slightly slower than females, reaching 2.8 feet in length in a year. At their maximum age of 9 years, wahoo can reach 200 pounds and over 6 feet in length. Unlike sailfish that can grow much larger in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, wahoo tend to grow large wherever they are found. The all-tackle world record wahoo at 184 pounds was caught by Sara Hayward in 2005 near Cabo San Lucas, though three of the top five fish were caught in the Atlantic. Though it did not qualify for the world record because three anglers took turns landing it, a 202-pound wahoo was caught in 2016 off Florida.

Wahoo’s speed and toothy line-cutting mouth makes them formidable targets for recreational anglers. Slender as they are, wahoo do not have the deep-bodied fight to the gaff as do tuna or jacks. Once gaining on a wahoo and fought close to the boat, wahoo tend to thrash at the surface instead of a deep sluggish ‘death circle’ of most pelagic species targeted in our area. They will often leap clear of the water during a strike and have been known to clear 30 feet of air when doing so. More dangerously, wahoo have been recorded leaping into boats while chasing a bait or lure.

Many wahoo are lost at the final stage of the fight, when while thrashing, their razor-sharp teeth nicks the leader and the fish escapes. The second most common way to lose a wahoo is at the strike when the lure is engulfed, allowing the teeth to find the line. Wahoo teeth are not huge, but they are serrated and extremely sharp and have sent many anglers to the ER for stitches. Wire or very heavy monofilament leaders are often used when targeting wahoo.

I have found that wahoo can be ‘line shy’ when it comes to wire or heavy monofilament leaders. While fishing for them out of La Paz in the fall back in 2005 to 2008 when living there, I usually trolled Rapala CD 18s to CD 22s at ten to twelve knots on straight 30 pound line and generally would get more fish than others trolling more expensive wahoo lures, like Marauders, on heavier line, leaders, or wire. My secret? Simply removing the forward hook on the Rapala. Unless completely swallowed, this allows a little more room between the hooked fish’s teeth and the line. Still, due to the light line, we would lose about 50% of the fish we hooked, but we would get bit more often than our friends using heavier leaders or wire. That Marauders were scarcer and closer to $50 each, and that I could get the big Rapalas at around $12 at any Walmart also influenced my lure choice when targeting wahoo. I would buy them by the dozens when stateside. Maybe due to reflecting an excited squid-like tint, purple seemed to be the most productive color. One thing is certain for everyone targeting wahoo by trolling or casting lures: You are going to lose some lures.

Wahoo fishing is exciting enough to think that the origin of their name came from the cries of the first rod and reel anglers catching them, but in truth, it is due to misspelling by some of the first European mappers in the Pacific. Their Hawaiian name, ‘ono’, means ‘delicious’ and that is appropriate as wahoo are indeed highly-sought table fare. But the common English name came from the misspelling of Oahu on some early maps of the Hawaiian Islands, where wahoo are prolific year-round.

Wahoo tend to be solitary cruisers and typically feed on other finfish and squid. They rarely travel in schools, and their teeth are sharp enough that wahoo, unlike most gamefish except sharks, can remove chunks and feed on fish larger than themselves. Popular lures used when casting include surface irons and wahoo bombs, which are heavy-headed feathers that can be casted or trolled. Retrieval and trolling speeds when specifically targeting wahoo are generally fast, both to entice a strike and avoid slower species.

Wahoo are not listed as endangered or threatened, as they do not school like tunas, they are not heavily targeted by commercial fleets and are usually caught as bycatch in low numbers. Though wahoo do not live very long, females will release millions of eggs per year, and along with sparce commercial targeting, their fast maturing ensures population stability. Wahoo tend to hang around high spots with steep drop-offs and ledges in 150 to 500 feet of water, where the highest concentrations of prey, smaller fish and squid, are found. During fall months, when warm tropical water pushes north into the semi-tropics, wahoo are caught by the San Diego fleet off the southern half of Baja, specifically from a few miles outside of Bahia Magdalena to 200 miles west of the peninsula at Alijos Rocks.

This past week, the Polaris Supreme called in with 83 wahoo fishing Alijos Rocks during the first couple days of their 9-day trip. That is phenomenal wahoo fishing. Catching wahoo in our region will normally require a long trip south either on a sportfishing vessel out of San Diego or a panga trip out of a southern Baja fishing town. That said, there have been wahoo caught as close to San Diego as the Coronado Islands when extraordinarily warm water pushes north during El Niño years.

If you haven’t eaten wahoo, or ono, and don’t want to spend the Benjamin’s on a long-range trip or travel to Baja, fresh wahoo filleted or whole can often be found at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, Catalina Offshore, or Haworth’s. Wahoo fillets or steaks run around $15 per pound, and whole fish can be bought for $5 per pound. However it gets from the ocean to the table, wahoo is an excellent choice for dinner.

Fish Plants: 12/11 - Lake Wohlford, trout (4,000), 12/13 – Lake Jennings, trout (2,000), 12/16 – Lake Poway, trout (1,500)

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