Wahoo are highly migratory ocean game fish and visit the islands and seamounts that make up the Cayman Islands in the winter months. Although they are available all year round, their peak of abundance is from October to December and February to April. The Cayman Islands record wahoo of 146 lbs. was caught in June 2007 off East End, Grand Cayman. The only bigger wahoo caught in the Caribbean have come from the Bahamas, while the current all-tackle world record of 182 lbs. was caught recently in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The wahoo is a cosmopolitan species found in all tropical and subtropical waters around the planet. Growing to 200 lbs. and over 6 feet long, the wahoo is built for speed; long and slim, a stiff upright tail and long pointed jaws equipped with sharp teeth. They have color typical of ocean game fish, with blues, purples and bronze, but are characterized by vivid “tiger” stripes running down the body, particularly when excited. They are one of the most beautiful of fish and are a favourite of mine to paint.
Wahoo will form aggregations as juveniles up to 15 lbs., but typically become solitary as adults. Sometimes far offshore, I have come across a floating log, holding a school of young wahoo, and will chum them with cut bait, then dive in to watch the juveniles light up their vivid stripes as they feed. As many prey species find sanctuary in the open ocean under flotsam, I portray scenes of wahoo or dolphin fish and marlin with floating objects in the background as it is a natural situation and educates the viewer about the natural history of the species.
Wahoo have never been targeted as a commercial fishery resource, because though they have widespread distribution, nowhere are they abundant like other small mackerel species or some tuna species. They are a very fast growing species, up to 20 lbs. in the first year, and reproduce rapidly, like most oceanic fish species. Wahoo are currently fully exploited by recreational fisherman around the Caribbean and Central America. Some countries have daily bag limits, and in others they are conserved for recreational use only. I have released many wahoo under 10 lbs., and once I have caught a couple adults in a morning, I will then switch to another type of fishing.
In the Cayman Islands, anglers target the wahoo along the steep drop offs around the islands and on the 12-mile bank, 60-mile bank and Pickle bank. Individual crews have their preferred rigs, but trolling ballyhoo bait with a skirt on a wire line is a popular rig. Wahoo will bite any artificial lure that is moving fast, so many crews here troll at 11 to 14 knots and make use of the wahoo’s predatory nature and tremendous speed to generate the action. One word of caution; a wahoo’s teeth are so sharp, they can cause bad injuries even when dead. I have a terrible scar on my left foot caused when a dead wahoo’s open mouth came in contact with my bare foot in a rolling sea. Since then I have always worn boating shoes out on the water.
There are many good island recipes for wahoo, but this is a fish that I like to eat fresh, which is why one will do me for a while. The flesh is white and dense, and can become dry if overcooked, so I like to include a good buttery sauce when steaming or grilling fresh wahoo steaks.
Fish and dive responsibly, good luck, and tight lines.
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