One day recently, I headed out for a dive and quick fish on the north wall with my son Alex, in my 26 foot open fisherman, “Makaira”. We sped across the green water of North Sound, and in minutes were moored up at Hammerhead Hill, one of my favourite dive sites.
After a tremendous dive, we stowed the dive gear, and Alex pointed the bow east toward Rum Point, as I set out the lines for wahoo.
I took over the driving once all was set and as we rounded the point just off the drop off, the wire line rod bent flat to the gunwale and line started pouring off the old Penn reel, telling me we had hooked a really nice wahoo.
Alex turned to look at me his eyes wide; “Dad, I think you better take this one!” I took the rod, and backed the drag off further, and felt I was getting the fish under control and then the wire bust! I was shaking, this fish was a monster…. and now was gone, probably the biggest wahoo I have ever encountered…gone!
Wahoos are highly migratory ocean game fish and visit the islands and seamounts that make up the Cayman Islands in the winter months. Though they are available all year round their peak of abundance is in October to December and in February to April.
The Cayman Islands record wahoo of 146 pounds was caught in June 2007 off East End, Grand Cayman. The only bigger wahoos caught in the Caribbean have come from the Bahamas, while the current all-tackle world record, of 182 pounds was caught off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The wahoo is a cosmopolitan species found in all tropical and subtropical waters around the planet. It is built for speed; long and slim with a stiff upright tail and long pointed jaws equipped with sharp teeth. It has colours typical of ocean game fish, with blues, purples and bronze but is characterized by vivid “tiger” stripes running down the body, particularly when excited. It is one of the most beautiful of fish and is a favourite of mine to paint.
Wahoos will form aggregation as juveniles up to 15 pounds, 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.
In Cayman we seldom encounter wahoo along the drop off while diving, so most encounters are while out fishing. Some anglers and crews seeking marlin or tuna often speak the word “wahoo” with dislike and annoyance. To those seeking action and food on lighter tackle, however, the cry of wahoo is one of excitement, joy and object achieved.
Even the names, both common and scientific are interesting. The crew on James Cook’s “Endeavour” north of Tahiti caught the first of these speedsters to be recorded in the western world and scientifically named; Acanthocybium solandri.
The fish carries the Latin adaptation of Solander, commemorating the Daniel Solander, the great Swedish scientist on this ship. The name wahoo logically dates from early whalers and missionary settlers seeing and utilizing the fine edible species in the Hawaiian Islands; then and now Oahu, which they pronounced and sometimes spelt “wahoo” was an important base.
The Hawaiians had long recognized the quality of wahoo with their name “Ono” meaning “good”. Can you imagine how prolific the wahoo were around the Cayman Islands when Chris Columbus first got here?
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 twenty pounds in the first year, and reproduce rapidly, like most oceanic fish species.
Wahoos are currently fully exploited by recreational fisherman around the Caribbean and Central America, and some countries have daily bag limits, and in others they are conserved for recreational use only. It is better to self-regulate rather than have a government or local Fisheries Division regulate your activities because you have over exploited a resource.
The Cayman Islands Angling Club keeps records of notable wahoo catches, and has a category for wahoos caught on different IGFA line classes over the years in Cayman. In addition there is the annual Barcadere Marina wahoo tournament usually held in February or March each year and wahoos are included in all other local tournaments as one of the featured fish.
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 they preferred rigs but trolling a ballyhoo bait with a skirt on a wire line is a popular rig, Wahoos will bite any artificial lure that is moving fast, so many crews here troll at 11 to 14 knots and make use of the wahoos 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 it 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.
Most restaurants in Cayman will offer wahoo on the menu at this time of year, and they do a good job of preparation. Groupers are overfished generally and restaurants here have taken grouper off the menu so go with the wahoo as the best alternative.
I am still shaking when I think of the big wahoo we lost the other day. This is what keeps us going back to sea.
Fish and dive responsibly. It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet.