Along the Emerald Coast we have some of the best wahoo and dolphin fishing compared to anywhere in the world. One of the best parts about our fishery is the time span we have to go after them. Wahoo are almost year round and the best times are mid-April through Mid-November. Dolphin normally arrive early May and last until early November.
Both are exciting to catch and known as great fighters. Our wahoo range to just over 100lbs and clock speeds like no other fish. I have seen wahoo take in excess of 400 to 500 yards of line on their initial run within seconds of the time they strike. Placing your thumb on the spool in hopes of slowing one down will only cause a blister to form on your thumb. Dolphin, while not producing the speed of a wahoo, have power and acrobatics. I have had dolphin jump up to 10 times in an initial showdown and have seen them jump in excess of 20ft out of the water in a attempt to throw the hook. The aerial show dolphin put on is unmatched and the beauty of a wahoo or dolphin displaying all their colors is an unmatched beauty. Needless to say, both make for an excellent dinner on the grill at the end of the day.
Where to Catch Wahoo and Dolphin
While most wahoo and dolphin are targeted 20 plus miles offshore, there are plenty that stray much closer to the beach. You will find most charter boats drop two high speed lures over when just leaving the pass. Wahoo and dolphin can catch a lure moving at 15 or so knots. Most charter boats will drag Black Bart San Sal Candy lures, Yo-Zuri Bonita’s, Panhandler lures or most any lure designed to be dragged at high speed. In general high speed lures have a center hole and somewhat bullet shaped. These shapes stay in the water at these speeds and don’t spend the entire time skipping on the surface. While wahoo and dolphin can catch the lure when going 15 knots the best speed is around 12 knots when doing this type of fishing.
Locating any offshore species can be time consuming and expensive with the cost of fuel; there are no willow trees or stumps to fish near. While we all have hopes of running upon the perfect weed line or rip, not doing a little homework can lead to wasted time and fuel. You don’t need to run out 20 miles and aimlessly start trolling.
There are good places to start that everyone has access to. Many charts show the breaks and ledges, like the southwest edge, nipple, spur, 131 hole, squiggles and flats. Using Google Earth and studying the bottom contours is a great place to do some homework and does not have any cost involved, other than dragging you away from the TV. You’ll find edges, breaks, and rocks in water from 180’ to 300’ deep.
Google Earth has a neat feature now. If you look at Google Earth and really start to zoom in on our area you will see two lines start to appear along the coast from 180’ to 300’. All the area inside these lines is hi-definition bottom. You’ll be able to see all the rocks and ledges in this area. When you first open Google Earth you need to make a couple changes to the settings. First, go to view and turn on the status bar and on the bottom right you’ll now see the GPS number and water depth for where you cursor is pointing. Now click on the Google Earth icon on status bar and click preferences and change the GPS format from degrees, minutes, seconds to degrees, decimal minutes. You’re ready to start looking for spots! You’ll have a hand for a cursor at this point and it is a little hard to hover over the exact number you want but zoom up the ruller to give you a bull’s eye cursor that is very accurate. I’ve checked known numbers for rocks and they are within 20ft. You can even use Google Earth to organize all your places. Much of your fishing will be done outside of the hi-definition bottom area; the breaks and ledges outside of this area are so big they show up fine in regular definition.
I use Google Earth to map out areas to troll. Under the Ruler option you can map a path. In this case (see picture), I want to work the southwest edge working back and forth across the edge. Each time you click a spot write down the GPS number on the bottom right of the screen. Here I have made about 20 points to troll from one spot to the next. When fishing edges in this manner you can also find good numbers to fish at later time for grouper, amberjack, scamp and snappers just by watching your bottom machine and marking some structure while you troll for wahoo and dolphin.
There are other options that require pay for fishing locations. In the long run, this can save hundreds of dollars (if not thousands) in fuel cost. We all want to find that crystal blue water, current change area, and temperature breaks, but there is no cheap and easy way to do this. There are several companies that offer these services. Two of my favorites are Hilton’s Offshore and Roffer’s. Hilton’s has a yearly service fee of $200 and Roffer’s charges $65 for a one time analysis.
Here are images from Hilton’s Offshore. The first shows water temps and the second shows chlorophyll. Once you are a subscriber you’ll have a live cursor so you can get the exact GPS numbers to the lines of changes in temps or chlorophyll. Any place you have a change in temp is a place to find fish. The same is true for chlorophyll. A change normally means some sort of upwelling from the bottom which brings nutrients to the surface for bait fish to feed on, which in turn attracts game fish.
In this next example, you’ll see what you would get in a one time report either faxed or emailed to you from Roffer’s service. You will get a written, detailed analysis with an image.
Either is a good service, and both have unique data. Whatever you chose, they can save you endless dollars in wasted time and fuel. You only have to be 5 miles off in the wrong direction to catch very little, and these services can make a huge difference.
Rods, Reels and Line
Most anglers prefer 2-speed reels, but single speed reels will get you by. Most commonly used are Shimano Tiagra TI50WLRSA and TI30WLRSA reels (far left and right in picture) or Shimano Terez bent butt rods. The bent butt option gives the angler much more leverage than the standard straight butt options. Other good options are Shimano Talica 2 speed reels on Shimano Terez Rods (second from left) and for a less expensive option there is the Shimano Tyranos on Teramar Rod (second from right) or a Shimano TLD reel (not pictured).
The latter three options also make good bottom fishing tackle if you want dual purpose tackle. The nice thing about the Shimano Tiagras is that their bodies are made from milled aluminum and not a stamped metal or graphite so they can incorporate much more drag into the reel, increasing its capabilities for the size. Today’s 30 and 50 class reels paired with braided line technologies has almost done away for 80 class size reels. You can spool a Tiagra 50 with 500yds of 80lb Power Pro line and top shop with 150yds 80lb mono effectively turning it into a 80 class outfit. Tiagra 30s can be spooled with 500yds of 65lb Power Pro braided line and top shop with 150yds of 60lb mono turning them into a 50lb outfit.
Many may ask why use a top shot of mono and not just fill completely with braid? Braid has no stretch and this leaves little room for angler error. Having the mono top shot helps by adding some stretch when the fish strikes or the angler makes a mistake. I prefer to fill the reel with both high vis yellow braid and hi vis yellow mono. This helps in being able to track lines behind the boat and decrease tangles. Your leaders will be long enough that this Hi Vis line won’t decrease the number of bites you get. To splice the mono to the braid we use a Spider hitch or Bimini knot in the braid to create a double line and then use a Yucatan knot to splice the two lines together. It’ll do you good to spend some time practicing these knots when you are home instead of watching the TV set all night. Good knots and a well maintained reel can make a lot of difference when battling powerful fish.
Lures, Rigs and Leaders
We rig out rods with a wind-on leader 20ft long. What is a wind-on leader? By IGFA rules you are allowed on tackle over 20lb a total leader and double line length of 40ft. We tie a double line using a Australian Braid to form double line at end of our main line that is 6ft and this give us a loop at the end of the line to attach the wind-on leader. The wind-on leader comes with a loop of braided line attached to the leader to make the attachment to the main line. IGFA allows a total leader length of 30ft. So using a 6ft double line, a 20ft wind-on leader 150lb to 300lb and just a short 10ft leader on the actual rigs keeps us under the IFGA maximum and gives a slight margin of error in our rig making.
If you just make you leaders the allowed maximum of 30ft the swivel of the leader would get to the tip of the rod and the fish would be still 30ft from the boat and you would have to hand line him that last 30ft. Using a wind-on leader we can reel most of the leader onto the reel and have much more control of the fish and never have to hand line the fish when he is near the boat.
While I am always experimenting with new lures and types of fishing With just a few staples I can go anywhere in the world and have a good chance at getting bites and catching fish.
I never leave the dock without some trusted favorites. Must haves are Red/White Islander, Blue/White Islander, Dolphin Colored Soft Head, Black/Orange Soft Head rigged so they can be run naked or with Ballyhoo. Red/White Cedar Plug and Plain Cedar Plug (the plain cedar plug turns blood red when wet) rigged on wire.
A couple assorted Yo-Zuri Bonita lures, Pink one for sure and a couple Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows rigged on wire.
The choice is to rig with #12 Marlin wire or 300lb mono. I prefer wire to mono as when rigging Ballyhoo you can use a needle eye hook rather than a ring eye hook. I think the needle eye fits inside the ballyhoo better and runs better. This has been debated by deckhands along the dock for years and if you chose mono you’ll be fine. In either case you need the strength on the wire or the abrasion resistance of the bigger mono to hold up to the teeth of wahoo and bigger dolphin. Hooks should be 7/0 to 10/0 depending on the size of your bait.
Most of the trolling lures you are going to use will be rigged with ballyhoo. Choosing good ballyhoo will help with how long your baits will last. Look for packs with clear eyes and no blood in the packs. The day before I am heading out I put several packs of Ballyhoo in the fridge before heading to work. When I come home they are normally thawed. When I open the pack I break the bills off, break the backbone and squeeze out the poop. This helps the ballyhoo troll better and helps them from washing out so fast and needing to be replaced. I then lay them out on a metal bait tray that holds in the cold and liberally coat both sides of the ballyhoo with Bionic Brine. You can substitute a mixture of table salt and baking soda but the Bionic Brine does the best. After words place the bait tray in a cooler full of ice to preserve. I normally do two or three 12 packs of medium ballyhoo for a days fishing. I hate to run out of bait when the fish are biting!!! Having good bait and sharp hooks will greatly pay for themselves.
Gaffs, Outriggers and Downriggers
Having the right gaff helps when you get the fish to the boat. Most people use a gaff that is too short. In a big boat, like a 60ft sport fishing boat, you need enough gaff to reach the water and 3ft out away from the boat. In a 20ft center console you need enough gaff so you can reach 2ft past the motors in case you need to help the angler clear the line from the motors if he makes a last minute dash. As for hook size, at least 4 inches.
Outriggers and downriggers are definitely not required but they do help in spreading out baits so you get far less tangles when making turns. The outriggers get baits away form the boat into clean water when fish are finicky. Downriggers help in the heat when fish are running deep and bites are hard to come by. Both are good options if your budget can afford them.
Fighting harnesses are really nice and sure save your back if you have a smaller boat and do not have a fighting chair. With a good shoulder or kidney harness, the right rod belt and a pair of drop straps even if you get tired you can just sit back and relax and let go of the rod and all is well. Braid Fishing and Aftco both make very nice models.
Having the right gloves like the Aftco wiring gloves to handle the leaders when wiring a fish next to the boat and handling the fish once he is in the boat will save you. I cant tell you how many times in have cut my hands when not wearing the proper gloves.
This article was written by Half Hitch fishing expert, Tim Broom. Get the PDF here! GCSSS-wahoo-dolphin.pdf