Chasing down the speedsters

[Originally published in the January 2021 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

By Mark de la Hey

THERE are a few unique things about wahoo. First, they are regarded as the fastest fish in the sea; hook one and you will very quickly see why! Another feature of this speedster is that both its top and bottom jaws are hinged which can make things difficult when you are trying to stay hooked up!
Wahoo are generally open ocean creatures that follow the warm currents, feeding on flying fish and a variety of pelagic fish, so for most anglers the only time you would encounter one of these creatures is when you are trolling in the deep for marlin or tuna. They love a Kona or Rapala trolled at high speed, but even more than that, they love live bonnies. The only challenge is, once you catch a bonnie, where would you even start looking for a wahoo?
Up and down our coast you do from time to time find them on the deeper pinnacles, but never really consistently or in great numbers, so using a live bonnie in these areas comes with an element of luck if you are lucky enough to hook even one.
However, there is one special place along our KwaZulu-Natal coastline where wahoo turn up in great numbers year in and year out, without fail and pretty much in the middle of winter. In places like this you can spend the time to catch a live bonnie and actually target these elusive fish with good success — although there’s obviously plenty of failure too!
Aliwal Shoal is a truly amazing place; it’s known as one of the best scuba diving destinations in South Africa and hosts some fantastic gamefishing throughout the year. From early May until the end of August the main wahoo migration also seems to take place there. Large shoals of big adult fish visit the area as well as massive shoals of small bonito which is exactly what we need to catch to catch them!

This can be the most frustrating part of all. If a bonnie doesn’t want to bite, it just wont bite! You can spend hours and hours trying to catch one and while you are reeling it in it gets smashed off by a wahoo! This will be enough to make you want to go home, but don’t — just keep your eyes on the prize!
There a few different ways to catch bonnies. To start with you can spin for them with small spoons when you see the flicking on the surface. This can be one of the most effective methods if you have the right spoon; there are a few that work really well:
• The Sebiel fast cast 0.5 oz  — these spoons are nice and heavy and you can throw them a mile. More importantly, they do get eaten! All the colours work well, but the Natural Shiner and the True Shad are my go-to colours.
• The Bite Me spoon — this one is legendary, catching almost anything that swims as well as the coveted bonito in a time of need! They come in various colours, but the redeye in 20g is undoubtedly the best.
• The famous Halco Twisty — either in 20g or 30g size, this spoon has caught most species in the sea, including the bonito.  It’s basically foolproof — throw, drop your tip, and wind!
Now it’s not every day that the bonnies oblige and eat the spoon, so what then?
There are many things that work, including the Pulsator daisy chain, but on the tough days even these don’t always work. One thing that has worked on 95% of those tough occasions, though, is the 2.5cm Yamashita skirt. It’s hard to believe that the bonnies can even find this tiny skirt in the ocean, but don’t fear, they will find it time after time!
Rigging a 2.5cm skirt can be challenging, but the most successful way I have found is with 16 lb Siglon fluorocarbon, a Mustad Hoodlum no 2 hook, and a no 8 power swivel.
Use a 1m piece of fluoro between the hook and the swivel, go light on the drag and you will be okay. The only down side of this set up is that the bigger tuna often have a go at this tiny skirt which invariably ends in tears!
Fishing the skirt is really easy; let it out about 50 metres and troll it at about 6km/h in the area where the bonnies are. Wait for the reel to go, and go easy on it when you are winding it in!

There have been and will be many more debates on this subject, but ultimately over many years and countless hours this is what it boils down to. The trace I find most effective when fishing for wahoo is as follows: 1.5m no. 7 lead wire with a BKK 1/0 single lead hook, and no. 7 wire again between with no. 1 BKK Fang treble that should be placed halfway down your live bonnie.
Nice and simple, it has proved to be the most successful trace over hundreds of hours of fishing.

The most important thing is not to troll too slowly with a bonnie; if you go too slow it will die, so about 8km/h is ideal with either one or two motors. Also don’t be scared to fish the bonnie close to the boat. Wahoo are really inquisitive and aren’t shy to eat a bonnie close to the boat, and remember that the closer the bite is to the boat, the less complications there are on the hook up!
While trolling the bonnie we use a feather-light drag that just stops the line from peeling out while trolling.
The reason we place a single treble halfway down the bonnie is that on most occasions the wahoo will cut the bonnie in half, then swing around and swallow the rest. On the first bite we pick up the rod and, as it hits, free spool the bonnie. Then, as the wahoo turns for the second half of the bonnie, drop the rod, let it start running and slowly tighten up — then hold on for your life! Obviously anything can happen here, but in most cases this is what happens and if you get it right it results in a solid hook up!

I like a medium length rod and the Penn Ally 7ft MH is my favourite; it has plenty of back bone but a nice soft tip that is forgiving when the fish darts off at the boat. Any strong lever drag reel is essential, but with out a doubt the Penn Torque 40 is my baby — smooth as can be and plenty of power, it’s all that you could ask for and more.
Other than that, plenty of time on the water will get you in the groove. Once you find that groove don’t forget it, and when it’s quiet, stick stay and make it pay!

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