The fish slammed the bait like a torpedo. Wire line melted from the 9/0 reel as anglers scrambled to haul in surface lines.


The Ferraris of the fish set, wahoo just might own all underwater speed records for gamefish. Fishermen lucky enough to find one are in for the ride of their lives.

But for Eric Peterson and Greg Rigg, luck has been trimmed to an insignificant factor. Peterson, who makes custom rods at Lott Bros., and Rigg, who works at Bob Schneider Lures & Pro Tackle, have combined their talents for the ultimate wahoo package: a 60-pound wire line rod and a double-hook horse ballyhoo rig topped with a red-and-black Lil' Willie or a blue-and-white Ilander.

While some anglers may feel that wire line eliminates the sport in sportfishing, it does tend to be the magic ingredient for wahoo fishing and many charter captains swear by it as their bread-and-butter rod. The wire runs about 30 feet below the surface but has a lower frequency vibration than the hum of a downrigger cable.

"They see the surface baits, but they hit the bigger, sweeter horse ballyhoo below," Rigg said. "Chances are they would pick that over a small bait up top."

August through November is an especially good time to be hunting the speedy mackerel cousin as they migrate south. The fish are mostly loners, but may be found in loose schools, mainly between depths of 90 to 300 feet, off Palm Beach and Jupiter inlets.

Peterson and Rigg began targeting wahoo several years ago after they decided to put wire line on an old 9/0 rod and reel combination. They put a Lil' Willie from Schneider's on a horse ballyhoo and promptly caught a 28- pounder.

"We were three jumping idiots in the boat," Rigg said, laughing. Peterson crafted a 61/2-foot wire line rod with a swivel tip and Aftco hardened roller guides. On a 6/0 Penn reel with a customized drag, he spooled 60-pound test Monel wire. The Monel is preferred to soft stainless wire, he said, because it is softer, lays in the spool better and doesn't kink as easily.

He uses either a 32- or 48-ounce weight attached to the wire with a ball- bearing swivel. The weight is hooked by snap swivel to 30 feet of 200-pound test monofilament. The mono is attached to 8 feet of No. 8 or No. 9 wire leader.

For a while the pair tried using mullet for bait, but switched to horse ballyhoo after a few failed hookups. However, the most important factor in rigging the baits is to make sure there is a hook near the back of the bait.

"Nine times out of 10, a wahoo hits the back of the bait," Peterson said.

The pair is now testing two rigs to see which catches more fish.

Peterson's rig consists of two hooks: a 3412 10/0 needle eye hook near the front of the bait and a 3407 10/0 in back. Peterson opens the eye of the back hook and places a 3/0 swivel on it.

To rig the bait, he threads the front hook into it through the gills and out the abdomen, similar to a standard ballyhoo trolling rig. Next, he inserts a rigging needle through the anal slit and pulls the swivel and second hook up into the bait. He pulls the swivel through the exit hole made by the first hook and places it over the point of that hook. He takes a circle of plastic cut from a coffee can lid and slides that over the point of the front hook on which to hold the swivel.

Peterson also breaks the ballyhoo's backbone to make it swim more naturally through the water.

Rigg uses a 3412 10/0 hook up front and a 7982HS 8/0 double hook on back. The first hook is threaded through the bait's gills. Rigg attaches a length of brass plumbing chain to the eye of the double hook. On the other end of the chain, he fastens a No. 4 McMahon snap. Using a rigging needle, he threads the chain through the anal slit and up through the bait. The snap protrudes from the bait's gills just enough to be fastened to the haywire twist above the front hook.

The baits are then fitted with either the Lil' Willie or the Ilander. At a trolling speed of 1,500 to 1,700 rpm (5 to 7 knots), the baits are dropped back about 200 to 300 feet; the bait with the heavier lead is back farthest. Besides ballyhoo, the pair has tried red-and-white Rapala Magnums and Exterminators.

It is important to keep all slack out of the wire line or it will kink, Peterson said. After a hookup, the captain must remember to keep the boat moving forward. Also, the angler should resist the urge to set up on the fish.

On a recent trip out of Palm Beach inlet, the wire lines were in the water less than 15 minutes before dolphin hit. A schoolie dolphin took a surface bait while its bigger 12-pound brother hit the wire line bait.

The wire line frequently catches dolphin, kingfish and sharks, Peterson said. But it has caught an average of one wahoo a trip, ranging from 25 to 54 pounds.

"It's the elusive fish, the one everyone wants to catch," Rigg said. "They're just so cool. They pound their head from side to side and you really can feel it. It's just a fun fish."