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How To Catch Wahoo (Huge Fishing Guide!)

A large 5 foot long wahoo caught off Florida's east coast.

Welcome to our comprehensive “How to Catch Florida Wahoo Fishing Guide!” Why are wahoo so sought after? Where can you find them? Are they good to eat? They can be hard to find, and you’ll need a boat in most cases. Are Wahoo worth catching? HARD FIGHTING fish that are absolutely HEAVENLY on a plate.

Wahoo is one of my top 3 eating fish in the world. Don’t forget to check out the little story at the bottom about when I first ate it at a restaurant on Maui! Florida has a ton of these fish swimming around out there.

This WAHOO GUIDE will help you know more about them and catch some for the dinner table. LET’S GO!

[Page Updated – 24 July 2022. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]

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HOW TO CATCH WAHOO – Guide

Gamefish Ratings (34 out of 40 stars!)

  • Size: 8/10 stars 
  • Fight: 8/10 stars 
  • Difficulty to Catch: 8/10 stars
  • Taste: 10/10 stars

INDEX to Sections in this Guide:


PRO TIP – Florida Wahoo are located all over the world in a thin band near the equator. So they have many other names. In the USA sometimes they are called just “hoo”. Here are some other aliases. In Hawaii the word “Ono” is used.

In Germany, Sweden, and Portugal they call them wahoo. In France,Poisson Bécune. In Spanish countries, Guaho. In Vietnam, Cá Thu Ngàng. This gamefish is often mistaken for barracuda, kingfish, mackerel. If you know anymore names for it, please let me know.

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Facts

Species Identification: Wahoo caught in Florida has the genus Acanthocybium. The species name is: Acanthocybium solandri. The family is Scombridae which covers the mackerel, tuna, and bonito families of fish.

Blazing fast fish that are capable of bursts of speed to close to 60 mph (97 kph)! An interesting characteristic is that while running they may change speed sharply and often. It’s quite a thrill to get one hooked!

Very sharp teeth and very strong fish make this an absolute blast to catch on the open water from a boat on the Florida Atlantic or Gulf Side.

Appearance

Huge wahoo over 5 feet long held by angler on deep sea fishing boat out in the Atlantic off Florida's east coast.
5-6 foot long wahoo caught from a boat while trolling. God, they’re beautiful fish!

They are silver overall with dark blue/grey bands running down the body to the tail. The bands are more blue on the dorsal (top) side and go grey on a light silver/white background toward the ventral side (belly).

Ono are shaped very much like barracuda, but their teeth are smaller and barracuda have a longer head.

The head of the ono you can see here is an amazing flow of blue, silver, and grey – almost like a watercolor painting. Incredible to see up close in person! These fish are very strong and are capable of super-fast bursts where they may run 100 yards or more all while changing direction.

Identifying Features

  • Silver and blue and camouflaged very well in ocean water from above and below
  • Torpedo like body resembling the barracuda shape
  • Blue bands on dorsal (top) gill plate to tail
  • Long first dorsal fin, but lower than the rear dorsal fin
  • Large mouth and many razor sharp teeth
  • Deeply forked tail
Small separator.

Similar Species: Kingfish (E. saurus) and Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) are similar but can be distinguished by the pattern present on the lateral sides of the wahoo.

IUCN Redlist Status: Least Concern (LC). Stable and large population worldwide. Last assessed in September 2010, Acanthocybium solandri were not found to be threatened at this time. Obviously, over a decade later, another assessment is necessary.

Weight: There have been some fishing tales making the rounds that wahoo of 200 lbs. are out there. Is that true? Possibly, my question would be why didn’t any of them go weight one and get it certified?

That’s quite a leap from the current world record. Wahoo you’ll catch in Florida are typically in the 30 to 50 inches range and under 30 kg (66 lbs.). Fish as long as 8 feet 2 inches (2.49 meters) and 183 lbs. (83 kg) have been recorded.

That’s massive, isn’t it? Can you imagine how a fish like that could pull on your line?

Range/Distribution: Anglers all over have the luxury of being able to find ono all over the world within a certain range of the equator. They love warm water and when the water is too hot, they’ll move toward lower water temperatures.

Wahoo world range map showing distribution within a range of the equator in tropical to temperate climates.
Wahoo world range map across the globe in warm water.

Habitat: Wahoo are pelagic fish and live within the water column from 16 yards (14.6 meters) deep up to the surface.

Wahoo school in numbers of up to 100 fish when smaller. Larger fish over 50 lbs. tend to be solitary hunters or in groups of just a few.

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Why Catch them?

Except for a wildly jumping marlin or other billfish, the strong fight put up by a hooked ono is the best thing an angler could experience on the water. THe power and speed of the fish is hard to fathom, and you’ll become an instant fan once hooked into one.

Wahoo is a common fish out where they are, but not common around shores. It’s very rare to catch one from the shore.

Though exceptional eating, one should be careful about eating them too often as they collect mercury from the smaller fish they eat.

They’re not as high in mercury as swordfish or other fish that live longer than they do, but they’re high enough in it to make eating it an experience you should plan for once every couple of months, not weekly or daily!

Why Catch Ono?

They’re very strong, very fast, and very good to eat!

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Where To Fish for Wahoo?

East Coast Ono can be found from the Florida Georgia border at Jacksonville all the way down to Key West all year round. Best months are during mid-summer with June, July, and August producing the most fish during full moons.

In the Keys off Key West, November to February produce a lot of fish especially around the reefs.

The fish are close in Miami where you can reach the warm Gulf stream in minutes, it’s only 3 miles offshore and deep enough for many pelagic fish.

Water around 150 to 450 feet deep (46–137 meters) and water temperature above 65°F (18°C) is best. Wahoo, like many pelagic fish like to spend time near structure so your sonar will help you out considerably while out on a boat.

The sweet spot seems to be around 30-40 fathoms (180-240 feet deep).

In the northern Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s west coast you can catch ono in February and March with some regularity. In the winter months on the Gulf side you should fish near deep-water oil and gas platforms to find fish.

How Far Offshore to Find them?

On Florida’s east coast, it’s easy. You can hit 150 feet almost immediately. Literally in minutes. On the Gulf Coast you’re looking at a couple hours to get out there to that kind of depth. You may find wahoo in shallower water around 100 feet. Always check structure even in 50 feet and deeper.

Can I Catch Wahoo on the Surface?

If you’re constantly looking for birds diving on bait while you ride out to your fishing area you can come upon a school of Ono feeding. This is an ideal time to throw a floating or diving lure out there and see what you can get. When they’re feeding on bait balls you can almost surely hook up.

I was on a small charter for grouper one morning and we pulled up on a bait ball being slaughtered. There were fish pieces everywhere. Captain yelled WAHOO! Only one guy had a rod ready to catch them and he had a 5 foot Ono hooked within seconds. It’s quite exciting to catch these fish on the surface. They have lots of energy!

Wahoo caught on deep sea fishing boat charter in Gulf of Mexico off Florida's west coast.
That’s a heavy fish! Wahoo lose their color when they die. This one appears mostly gone.

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Diet – What Do They Eat?

For live bait, any small marine bait fish or even a fish of some size can be great bait for a hungry ono. The following list isn’t comprehensive, they are also opportunistic feeders. squid and fish, including frigate mackerel, butterfish, porcupine fish, and round herring

  • round herring
  • frigate mackerel
  • squid
  • butterfish
  • porcupine fish
  • many other fish – opportunistic

Which predators target wahoo as prey?

Sharks, barracuda, tuna, kingfish, other mackerel all target younger wahoo as the opportunity presents itself.


How To Catch Them?

The easiest way to catch them consistently while wahoo fishing is to troll them with a handful of rods off the back of a boat. Lures used should be at varying depths from 150 feet to 450 feet deep.

The boat speed can vary between 10-18 knots per hour with turns designed to allow the lures to sink and then climb up or down as the boat accelerates after the turn.

This allows the lures to be seen by fish at many depth levels.

Trolling reels are expensive, as is the line and lures in some cases. You must use wire leader, their teeth are too sharp and will cut right through mono or fluorocarbon lines. You’ll also need a lot of line because you’ll probably be fishing 100 to 400 feet deep.

If catching fish on the surface, you can use a heavy weight (8000 rated) spinning reel and heavy-rated rod, and only when you see birds diving at a school of bait.

Otherwise the wahoo are likely in deeper water and trolling is much better. They like a fast presentation. They are very fast fish, as mentioned above.

Jig beneath structure. You already know that you can find mahi mahi there, but often there are wahoo underneath them in 100 feet or more of water. Throw some jigs down at that level and retrieve fast to see if you can get a strike.

Use cut-bait, like pieces of fish, or entire fish with the tail cut off… that makes it look like it was the victim of another fish attack. Wahoo love this!

How to Rig for Wahoo Fishing

A number 3 wire leader is pretty essential and will prevent breakoffs. Some guys prefer to go with very heavy mono or fluro but the break offs from the razor-sharp teeth are way too frequent. Plus, you don’t want fish swimming around for months with lures stuck in their mouths before they dissolve.

If you insist on not using wire leader, use a big swivel hook at the lure. This will at least take some of the biting and possibly you’ll still land it.

When trolling, just have a lot of line – as much as you can put on your reel to be honest. Heavy braided works well at 100 lb. test or more if you can find it. Here’s 300 yards of 100 lb. test braided from one of the top braided line companies.

You’ll want planers to get the lure down to the right depth for the fish to hit it. You will need to experiment with that. Wahoo generally hit on the fall or the climb.

Gear – The Essentials

Have a look at some of the gear below and you’ll begin to get an understanding of just how expensive outfitting your own boat would be for trolling for wahoo in deepwater.

It’s probably much better to pay $100 and find three other people to go with you and get a deep sea fishing charter boat to take you out on the water on the east coast somewhere and have a day of fishing. See how you enjoy it.

Heavy Trolling Rod with Roller Guides >

Penn Trolling Reel >

Lures

Color combinations like green and blue or pink and yellow get more strikes. Any crazy color combination you have should be tried as you never know what they’re striking that day. Yo-Zuri makes some great wahoo fishing lures, we added some to the links below.

Wahoo Trolling Lure #1 | Lure #2 | Lure #3 | Lure #4 >

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When Is the Best Time and Place to Fish?

In the Florida Keys during winter months, and around Miami – not far off shore you can find schools of wahoo.

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Wahoo Fishing World Record

Biggest wahoo ever caught worldwide landed in Mexico. 174 lbs.
Biggest wahoo ever caught.

The all-tackle world record for this fish was caught in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico by Sara Hayward as she was on a charter fishing boat. She caught the beast on 50 lb. test line and it took her 35 minutes to land the huge fish.

The record weight recorded is 174 lbs. This sign says 192 lbs. I’m not sure why the discrepancy.

Here’s something else… the world record fish may not in many cases actually be the biggest fish ever caught.

Why?

There are a lot of rules about how the catch was conducted which qualifies it as a world record. Stupid, if you ask me.

In this case, a 202 lb. wahoo was caught in 195 feet of water. Guys on the boat took turns fighting the fish to land it. That disqualified the world record because it is supposed to be just 1 person? Huh?

Seems like the world record fed has lost the plot. Here’s a photo of that massive fish.

Captain Romeros with his 202 lb. wahoo catch, the biggest ever landed but he fell foul of the IGFA rule book!
Captain Romeros with his true world record catch!

Florida Record

The all-tackle wahoo fishing record for Florida State was caught near Marathon Key in southern Florida. The fish weighed 139 lbs. and was caught by (nobody knows). I looked for 25 minutes to find the name of the person who landed the fish and nobody printed it online as far as I can find. If you know who it was and what date, let me know, would you?

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Wahoo Fishing Laws in Florida

Season – there is no closed season, open year round.

Gear Allowed – HOOK AND LINE fishing and spearing allowed with this species.

Size Limits – No minimum size restrictions.

Bag Limit – Limit of 2 per harvester (angler) per day for recreational anglers.

Other Restrictions – Fish may be gutted and gills removed but must otherwise remain in whole condition while transporting.

Florida Fishing License Requirements

Here is our page covering Florida Fishing Licenses.


Get the Florida Fishing App

If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.

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How to Cook Ono?

The fight is hard and fierce, but nothing compares to getting this fish on the dinner table. I had the best fish of my life while on my honeymoon in Kauai, Hawaii at a beachside restaurant.

The menu was amazing. Every entree was over $60 and this was almost 4 decades ago. I noticed “Ono with Walnut Sauce” on the menu. It was like $80. I said, what the heck.

I asked what it was. I was 21 years old and didn’t even know what Wahoo was. The chef came out and assured me it was delicous. I ordered it.

My wife had steak of some kind. When it came, and I had my first bite, I was in heaven. I just remember it was the most amazing fish I’d ever had in my life.

I’d like to go back there to that restaurant and see if they still serve it. It was a proprietary menu item the chef created on his own. I’ve never had something better.

I have had other fish years later that I thought compared. I love redfish, snook, sheepshead, and pompano in particular.

Those round out my top 5 eating fish in Florida. If you get a chance, get yourself a fresh ono (wahoo) and have it baked. Look up a recipe, and if you find one in a walnut sauce, do let me know!!!

NOTE – High levels of mercury make this a fish to eat only once every couple of months. Mercury harms the brain in high levels.

NOTE 2 – There is a worm found often in the stomach of wahoo called the “Giant stomach worm” (Hirudinella ventricosa). You can still eat the fish, this does not affect the flesh taste.


This is one fish that you’ll be targeting often if you have the resources. I know boat gas is expensive and it can take some time out on the water to find the fish, especially on the west coast. Definitely give it a try if you get the chance, I realize not everyone has a boat or funds to rent a charter, but make something happen and you’ll have a heck of a good time catching this fish. One of the most exciting fish in Florida!

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Other Resources

Image credits: Various government agencies and Diane Rome Peebles at FWC.com for her amazing fish art!

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