Wahoo can be caught all year in South Florida, but the days leading up to and after the full moon in August is the absolute best time to not only hook one of the tasty speed demons, but also catch a big one.
How big? Captain Chris Lemieux of Boynton Beach caught a personal-best 85-pound wahoo fishing in a tournament with his buddy, Chris Meek, a few years ago. But he recently surpassed that with an 87-pounder.
Lemieux was guiding a group of 12- to 14-year-olds during his annual weeklong “Kid Camp” and had started the trip by trolling for wahoo. But that produced only bonito, a hard-fighting member of the tuna tribe whose strong-tasting flesh is better suited for making trolling baits than making dinner.
The kids asked if they could use the live pilchards that Lemieux had netted that morning to catch blackfin tuna, which often hang out with bonito.
“We’re sitting there catching bonitos like crazy, and one of the kids said, ‘Oh, man, my bonito got eaten in half.’ So I just assumed a barracuda or a shark ate it,” Lemieux said. “I look over the side and there’s this giant, massive wahoo just circling the boat. I said, ‘Reel it up, reel it up!’ As he’s reeling it up, the fish swipes at the remaining half and kind of hits it a little bit.
“I reached over and grabbed a rod that had just a monofilament rig on it, a live-bait rod. I tied a titanium wire rig on it real quick and just cut a chunk of the bonito and cast it out. The wahoo ate it right next to the boat.”
As wahoo typically do, the big fish made a “blistering” first run, dumping all the 25-pound monofilament line on the conventional reel and getting into the braided line backing.
After seeing the size of the wahoo, none of the kids wanted to fight it. So Lemieux handed the fishing rod to his mate, Kole Hawk, then started the twin Mercury outboard motors on his 27 Conch center console and chased the fish offshore.
“We caught him real quick, in like 15 minutes,” Lemieux said. “It was a really, really cool experience with the kids.”
With a full moon on Aug. 30, local anglers have a great opportunity to experience a catch like that in the days leading up to and after that date. Lemieux said he catches wahoo the best two or three days before and two or three days after the full moon in August.
Lemieux, who can be booked for charters at 561-767-6211, said trolling a bonito strip, which is about an 8-inch-long piece of bonito belly, or dead ballyhoo behind a colorful Sea Witch lure is the most effective way to hook the prized gamefish. But bigger baits can produce bigger fish this month.
“This time of year, just because there are bigger fish around generally, you could fish a bigger bait like a bullet bonito or a swimming mullet,” Lemieux said. “The average size wahoo is bigger this time of year and they’re eating bonitos and bigger stuff. We’re not catching little 13- to 20-pound wahoos that are eating little baby flying fish and little baby ballyhoos.
“I love catching them on live bait but just to target them on live bait is very hard. To truly catch them consistently, you have to troll, just because you’re covering so much ground.
“We don’t have a specific area where they congregate. They will congregate around certain wrecks and stuff like that, but there are so many other predators like barracudas and sharks and amberjacks. Trying to sit there and target a wahoo on certain wrecks is very, very hard because you’re going to get so many other bites when you’re live-baiting.”
Lemieux prefers to troll for wahoo on an outgoing tide because the current pushes ballyhoo, flying fish, pilchards and blue runners out of local inlets. Small bonito will feed on those baitfish and wahoo will eat those bonito.
He’ll troll in 100 to 150 or 200 feet at the start of the outgoing tide. Later in the tide, he’ll catch wahoo deeper, in 300 to 400 feet.
“Once you get a bite, just kind of stay in that area,” Lemieux said. “They’re usually not by themselves, they’re usually in packs. So I’ll stay in the area for a little while and hopefully get another bite.”
But as the youngsters on Lemieux’s boat discovered, this time of year is when one wahoo bite can be all you need.