Anglers snagging into a wahoo, always remember the lightening fast runs and unexpected stamina from extended fights. One would wonder why the wahoo was not called king mackerel originally for its imperial temperament.
"Wahoos don't run in packs normally," said Captain Eric Heiden of Heidenseek Charters. "They're loners, prowlers - big, mean, and fast."
In 1976, Heiden and fishing partner Robbie Best were fishing out of Belle Isle Marina at Georgetown and landed the state-record wahoo, 92 pounds, 6 ounces. Interestingly, the pair they'd landed the largest king mackerel in the world before David Cupka of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources identified the fish as a wahoo.
The record held for six years until a boat out of Charleston bumped the Georgetown team out of the top slot in the record book.
Since 1976, Heiden and his fishing teams have been on a mission to break the record. The 1976 record fish was the first wahoo the Heidenseek team had caught. The experience encouraged the team to develop special wahoo tactics and techniques.
Heiden landed the record fish 6 miles east of the Richmond wreck in 90-foot of water after a 90-minutes fight.
Today the Heidenseek team especially targets wahoo instead of king mackerels, tunas or billfish.
After 30 years of field trials, Heiden understands the habits and character of wahoos. Most importantly, he and his crew know how to catch them.
First mate Robbie Best and Heiden are students of the sport, developing a tailored fishing technique through combining tactics from other anglers to form their own successful fish-catching package.
"The lure catches the fish in the end, but the way you present the lure to the fish is just as important," Heiden said.
He mainly fishes with four lures made by Ilander, including Iland large, Iland Jr. Lures, Sailures, and Ilander Trackers. Top wahoo colors are black/red with black head and blue/white with dark blue heads. The Iland Trackers only come in chrome, but are effective for wahoo, especially when fished with a down-rigger or subsurface dragging.
All lures are rigged with large ballyhoo, as well. Additionally, rigs contain a trailer or stinger hook placed in the tail of the ballyhoo. The stinger usually ends up catching the fish.
The Heidenseek's wahoo-rig trolling configurations consists of five lines, one outrigger with two lines attached, one down-rigger, and two flat lines. The two flat lines are sent back 35 yards and splash at the surface with flat head lures or cedar plugs. The center or short-rigger line swims in the center 75 yards back with 2 or 3 ounces of weight to allow the lure to ride just below the surface. The down-rigger line swims 25- to 30-feet down with a bullet nose or flat nose lure. The long center rigger ("Big Momma") or slingshot line is usually the "money rod," placing the bait 900- to1,000-feet back.
The Heidenseek trolls at 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 knots.
The strategy is to grasp the wahoo's attention with the three close surface lines, and surprise him with the down-rigger line or the slingshot. The sling-shot rig imitates a lonesome baitfish trying to catch up to the rest of the school.
Time on the water is always important to being a successful angler and wahoo anglers are no different. Heiden often utilizes a speed-trolling technique that many anglers may use but not to the extent he does.
He drops a couple of lines out with artificial-only lures several miles before the anticipated destination at cruising speed. Since wahoo are known for their high rates of speed, pulling lures at 20 to 30 knots isn't unusual. Heiden's high-speed technique isn't always as productive as slower trolling speeds, but one hookup going to or from a fishing location provides validation.
As for location, the Heidenseek team studies "the fisherman bible" - Chip Berry's Maps Unique Bathymetric/Hard-bottom Charts - to find the best locations.
Heiden prefers to fish irregular, hard-bottom areas and wrecks adjacent to the break from 90 to 145 feet in depth. Wahoos prefer the warm waters of the Gulf Stream but will venture toward shore during summer months as long as the water temperature is favorable.
Wahoo tend to frequent waters where the water temperatures are 80 degrees and higher.
Heiden targets wahoo during the summer as close the Richmond Wreck, which is only 16 miles from the Georgetown Jetties. Overall, the best wahoo areas for Heiden are along the Winyah Scarp, but more specifically, the regions 3 miles to the north and south of the Georgetown Hole.
Heiden and his crowd are not the only successful wahoo anglers in South Carolina.
Captain Dick Vance of Hot Shot Charters of Charleston may not have landed a state- record wahoo, but his catch numbers speak for themselves. In 2005 the Hot Shot crew landed 87 wahoo, averaging five per trip, with many weighing more than 75 pounds.
Hot Shot Charters has fished the waters off Charleston for more than 20 years.
"Based on years of experience. we're able to read the waters and determine the best places to fish during different times of the year," Vance said.
During the early part of the 2005 season, Hot Shot was averaging five wahoo per trip. Vance's wahoo encounters generally occur with yellowfin tuna trips, as wahoos tend to frequent the same areas as yellowfins.
During the early part of the season, Vance and crew seek warm spinouts from the Gulf Stream into shallower waters and near structure.
Wahoos and yellowfin tuna catch numbers tend to parallel each other during the early part of the season, so Vance always fishes multiple rigs to entice both species for a mixed bag at the end of the day.
Vance's tackle package for wahoos include stout rod-and-reel combinations, such as a heavy rod and a Shimano 50 LRS spooled with 50-pound Momoi Diamond fishing line. Terminal tackle consists of a No. 2 planer pulling a black-and-red Ilander 30 feet from the stern.
Wahoos tend to prefer baits and lures slightly away from the boat, and deep baits tend to draw more strikes. In addition, Vance uses a shotgun line 500 feet or more behind the exhausts. The shotgun line is usually rigged with his lures of choice to entice yellowfins and big wahoo.
The "Squitch," made by Lehi Baits (www.lehibaits.com) is the bait of choice for Vance and his crew. Squitches, he said, are just as good and are a quarter of the cost of some of the more expensive lures.
Most captains use wire leaders with down-riggers because wahoo have a set of razor-sharp teeth that easily cut through monofilament leaders. Top-side leaders for yellowfins are usually fluorocarbon because these tunas are finicky and spook easily from wire leaders, whereas the 'hoos don't care about anything except getting the bait in their gullets.
Recreational anglers currently may keep two wahoo per day per trip, according to federal regulations.
Vance and Heiden dock their boats approximately 75 miles apart, but they fish the same rich waters of the Atlantic. Vance concentrates his fishing for wahoo near the Georgetown Hole, Southwest Banks, and other areas along the break, just as Heiden.
Finding the right combination of lures and techniques at the optimum location are essential to successfully land big wahoos. Wahoo fishing is similar to any other form of fishing.
But time on the water and extensive angling experience usually pay offs in the end.