This fishing isn’t for the faint of heart, but catching one fish will likely have you shouting WAHOO!
Craig James | February 7, 2019
I don’t believe there’s a fish in the ocean with a more appropriate name than the wahoo. These toothy missiles of the sea cause blood to boil and line to strip when they strike, leaving anglers with few words to describe what they have witnessed, other than wahoo!
Ross Ferrell, of Folkston, lives for the rush of wahoo fishing and says the deep blue waters off the coast of Georgia offer up some of the finest fishing around.
“You simply can’t beat the wahoo fishery we have here in Georgia,” said Ross. “There are a pile of 30- to 40-lb. fish to catch and plenty of big 50-lb.-plus fish out there. And when it comes down to dinner time, it’s hard to beat a wahoo,” said Ross.
Ross has been hard core into the wahoo game for the last three years and likes to fish wahoo tournaments any chance he gets.
Ross went on to say that February and March are going to be the best months of the year to target wahoo off our coast.
Ross does all of his wahoo fishing roughly 60 miles off the coast of St. Simons Island around the “Ledge.”
For those who may not know, the Ledge is the area in the Atlantic Ocean where the depth drops abruptly 20 feet or so. The Ledge starts in about 180 feet of water and drops into 200 feet.
“What makes these colder months of the year so special is the area of warm water offshore gets a whole lot smaller,” said Ross.
It takes Ross around two hours to make the run to the Ledge with his boat, the Carmen Marie II, his 31-foot Cape Horn. It’s equipped with two 300-hp Suzuki engines that makes for a smooth ride, even in rougher waters.
Once you make the run out to the Ledge, that’s only the beginning of the search for wahoo.
“We start our planning days out, looking at water temperatures and rip currents online,” said Ross. “What you need to look for are areas with pockets of water in the 68- to 70-degree range. Sometimes a pocket of water with a 1 degree difference can make all the difference in the world.”
Ross says to catch wahoo, there are a few different methods.
“You will catch some jigging or slow trolling ballyhoo like you would for dolphin or tuna, but the best method I’ve found is high-speed trolling artificials,” said Ross.
Ross likes to troll beginning in 130 or 140 feet of water working east toward the Ledge, trolling between 12 to 15 knots. Ross says it really depends on how they want the presentation that day. Sometimes the fish will run down your jig at speeds of 18 knots or greater.
“One trick is to continuously vary your trolling speed throughout the day. By speeding up and slowing down, you cause your bait to rise and fall in the water column,” said Ross.
For trolling, Ross uses Shimano Tiagra and Penn International 50 wide series reels on bent butt rods loaded with 1,200 yards of 130-lb. braided line.
He will use a 24- to 64-oz. weight, which is enough weight to keep his lure running in 2 to 8 feet of water. He’ll then use 30 feet of 250- to 300-lb. monofilament shock leader.
His lure choice is a Livewire Tackle Hollow Point jig in red and black, orange and black or white and blue. He prefers to use a double hook inline setup with a 480-lb. cable on the bait.
“You have to have that shock leader and heavy cable,” said Ross. “Oftentimes, you’re trolling 15 knots, and that fish will slam your lure at 30 miles an hour headed the opposite direction. In what seems like seconds, a wahoo can strip hundreds of yards of line, and that’s where the 130-lb. braid and 50 wide series reels come into play,” said Ross.
Ross uses this method of fishing exclusively to target wahoo, covering 150 miles or more a day by high-speed trolling.
“Wahoo fishing isn’t for the faint of heart. A good day is putting a fish in the boat, a great day would be two fish, and our best day ever was four. I can tell you right now that it doesn’t take but one fish to make the trip worthwhile,” said Ross.
When trolling, Ross mentioned that east to west or west to east is the way to troll, and to always avoid north to south trolling as it isn’t nearly as productive for some unknown reason.
“Why that is I can’t tell you, but ask anyone—they just don’t seem to respond to trolling when running north to south,” said Ross.
Ross will troll four rods at a time, saying that any more than that will cause you to spend the majority of your day untangling lines as opposed to unhooking fish.
By staggering the distances on each rod, lines don’t tangle as easy, particularly when turning the boat. He will usually run one rod at 100 feet, another at 200, his third at 300, and his final rod at 400 feet. He likes to offer up different colored jigs on each rod to try and figure out what the fish are into on that day.
As stated earlier, Ross will begin trolling on the inside edge of the Ledge and work east to deeper water and then turn around and work back the opposite way, being sure to mark any caught or missed fish as he goes on his Raymarine electronics.
“Like any other type of fishing, there are areas out here in the ocean that will produce almost every time conditions are right,” said Ross. “When you have a good day on the water in a particular area, you can almost always go back there in similar conditions and find some fish. That’s the biggest plus to high-speed trolling, you get to cover 100-plus miles a day out on the big blue, enabling you to start figuring out the hotspots along the Ledge.”
Once a rod loads up with a wahoo, the battle is on, and Ross says whatever you do, don’t let off the gas.
“When a wahoo strikes at full speed, the hook almost always tears a pretty good-sized hole in the fish’s mouth,” said Ross. “That’s why we never let up pressure and keep the boat moving while we fight. Any slack in the line and that fish is gone.”
The average fight with a 40- or 50-lb. wahoo can last from 10 to 30 minutes or more and can involve several runs of hundreds of yards.
When you get this fish boatside, that’s when things get really tense.
“We have three men working the fish boatside,” said Ross. “One on the rod, another with gloves (working) on the last 30 feet of line below the weight, and one to gaff the fish. It’s important to pay attention to what you’re doing as you bring the fish in the boat, as you’re dealing with a mouthful of teeth and some super sharp hooks.”
When you’re out 50 miles or farther into the ocean, safety is very important. Make sure your boat is in good working order, that you have proper safety equipment, and that you are tuned in to the day’s weather
“When we leave the dock, the water this time of year is 50 to 55 degrees,” said Ross. “If you were to go in that, it wouldn’t take long for hypothermia to set in. One key piece of equipment I love having on the boat with me is my Garmin Inreach. It enables me to text my wife if I’m running late, or if there was an emergency, we can let someone know quick regardless of cell signal.”
For the final and perhaps most important tip for successful wahoo fishing, Ross had this for our readers: “You have to love it. It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart, but when you hook one fish, you’re hooked for life. There’s not a fish in the ocean like them.”
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