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FALL'S BALLISTIC MISSLES

Hot spots and hot tactics for fooling the fuselage-fast masters of all mackerel. Offshore Pursuits and tactics for high-speed trolling for 'hoos.
By Capt. John Unkart

When early morning crisp air indicates fall is replacing summer, many thoughts turn to sending flights of arrows toward deer, checking stands and dusting off decoys. Fishing season began for the offshore afflicted way back in April for mako, followed by a summer of chasing tuna and billfish in the canyons. Now, with impending hunting seasons, offshore thoughts diminish with each passing day. Off the Jersey and Delmarva coastlines, some of the best inshore and offshore fishing of the year can be found: a tough decision for sportsmen. Here's a thought: get in one last offshore trip to tangle with a fierce pelagic. The freezer may be full of tuna steaks and mahi filets, but now is the time to concentrate on wahoo and add this connoisseur's delight to the upcoming winter menu.

Wahoo are occasionally caught during summer. But they invade the 20-30 fathom lumps for a couple weeks in fall, following retreating warm water full of baitfish. Anywhere from the 20-fathom line out can be productive. The Fingers (38-13 74-33) are a good choice to start trolling and considering current fuel prices, a welcome run at only 27 miles or so from the Ocean City Inlet. Anglers running out of Indian River or Cape May might want to start at the Elephant Trunk (38 35.4 74 05) or Massey's Canyon (38-22.5 74-23.5). If there is no action there, work towards the Chicken Bone (38-14 74-26.7) or Hambone (38-11.9 74-24.5) lumps. The South Sausage (38-02 74-30) or Hot Dog (38-07 74-17) are other good wahoo locations.

Anglers who've experienced catching wahoo often tag this fish the fastest swimmer in the ocean. When going supersonic, it is able to fold the dorsal fin into a slot in the back, making it even more streamline. The wahoo joins a select group of fish that's capable of stripping line near 60 miles-per-hour. However, the strike of these lean, sleek speedsters sets them apart from sailfish or blue marlin since they give new meaning to fast food. They like to eat on the run! Examination of stomach content has identified flying fish, ballyhoo, squid, small tuna, and bonito as the most common meals. A common feeding tactic when attacking larger fish is to shear off the tail, then return to finish off the prey. Anglers should use this to their advantage. When trolled, rigged bait is struck and does not come tight, immediately free spool. If it is not picked up, place erratic movement into the bait to entice a second bite.

Wahoo are not school fish, but roam as loners. Yet, they appear to gather and feed together in the fall, providing anglers the perfect opportunity to target the species. Most fish average 25 to 40 pounds with an occasional 60 to 80 coming to the scale. Thirty-pound class tackle is adequate for subduing these predators, however too much initial drag can result in line separation during that first blistering run. Strike drag settings should be on the light side.

Unless you rig specifically for wahoo, chances of success may be slim. Wahoo teeth are of major concern. Razor sharpness is capable of cutting through monofilament effortlessly, making wire leader a requirement. Use a six-foot piece of 80-pound Malin coffee colored, stainless steel, single-strand hard wire for leader material. Avoid stranded wire leader. The large diameter and visibility factor of stranded wire, especially coated stranded wire, reduces chances of catching tuna that might still be hanging around the lumps. Stranded wire is convenient and does not kink, but the payoff of using single-strand wire results in additional bites. Remember, if single-strand wire kinks, create a new leader. Single-strand life expectancy is often one and done. Use a haywire twist and attach a 100-pound SPRO swivel to one end of the leader. To this, the wind-on or standard leader may be attached by knot or crimp. Wahoo attack just about any size or type of bait. However, keep color in mind when rigging the business end. Seven out of ten wahoo I catch will attack a black/purple or black/red combo. Ilanders are my first choice, followed by sea witches for skirting medium or large ballyhoo. The use of a small/medium black bird in front of the bait attracts attention and can be productive. Try pulling this rig in the center of the spread behind the flat lines in what I call the "sweet spot."

However, for consistent success, think deep. These rods produce more fish than any other spread position. Use a planer or Z-Wing to set bait down between 20 to 30 feet. Occasionally, baits positioned just above the thermocline are the ticket to success. Try to identify fish on sonar. The previous recommended bait types should be used on planer rods. In addition, lures such as a Yo-Zuri Bonita are a good choices for deep lines.

Troll as fast as the natural presentation of bait permits, normally 6.5 to seven knots. It is impossible to outrun a wahoo that has launched an attack. Serious wahoo anglers often run a four-rod spread using two-pound inline sinkers with a rigged Ilander/ballyhoo combination and troll at nine or ten knots to cover territory looking for congregations. It is common to hear of fishboxes containing a half dozen or more wahoo this time of year. Get your fair share; spend a day working the inner lumps for one of fall's fast predators and hang on tight during that first run.

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