I do not know a single person who has forgotten the first time that a wahoo hit their high-speed trolling lure. The heavy lure, the heavy trolling weight, and the sound of the heavy drag ripping off at a blistering pace is a high that lives in my head rent-free. This high will burn a hole through your wallet faster than a hot ember as you start to accumulate literal pounds of heavy high-speed trolling (hst) tackle, all designed to keep a lure in the water while the boat is moving anywhere from 14-20 knots.
There are 4 key components of a basic hst setup:
1. The lure - lures that are designed for hst are heavy, hydro-dynamic, and our personal favorite lures tend to be much longer than your average trolling lures. We did some extensive research on what lures work the best and these are the ones that are consistently in the top 5: the zeppelin, black bart’s project, c&h lure’s mr. big, and black bart’s cay sal. it is not to say that you cannot catch fish on other lures, but we can almost guarantee that if you are in an area with feeding wahoo, that these lures will produce.
2. Shock leader - the shock leader is typically 20 to 30 feet of heavy 250 lb+ monofilament line that stands between the hst lure and hst bullet weight. This leader helps absorb the shock of a wahoo that smashes your bait at 15 knots.
3. Bullet weight - hst bullet weights help keep the bait down below the waterline while the boat is pulling the lure. The most common sizes are between 32oz to 60oz. we generally will use 32oz on our farthest back lures, 48oz on our mid lure, and 60oz on our closest lure. hst weights are typically a streamlined shape with a wire running through the belly of the weight. We prefer to use weights that are free spinning around the cable that is running through the weight and not directly molded onto the cable. Our personal favorite are the diamond tackle trolling weights. On the front end of the weight, there is a crimped connection loop that will attach to the mainline swivel and on the back end of the weight there is a ball-bearing swivel that will attach to the connection loop that has been crimped onto the shock leader. (see below picture for reference.)
4. Rod and reel – for hst you need to have a stout 50-80+ pound class rod and reel. When selecting the reel, it is crucial to have a machined body reel like the Shimano Tiagra due to the stress that hst at heavy drags will put on the reel. A quick google search of reel blowups/breakdowns of graphite-bodied reels while hst such as the Shimano TLD series will produce more results than you would care to read. That is why we do not recommend using a graphite-bodied reel for hst.
Deploying a basic two-rod hst spread – *without line marks indicating length of line deployed*
Put the boat in gear and bump the speed up to 6-7 mph, keep the wheel straight or put the boat on autopilot
Grab the lure and make sure the skirt is combed over the hooks as well as the hook set sitting flush against the head of the lure with no skirt in the way
Slowly let the lure into the water and keep tension on the line as it falls back behind the engines
Pan out the entire shock leader by hand to ensure that it does not have any kinks, knots, or tangles in the line while you are deploying the bait
Once all the shock leader has been panned out, keep the drag engaged enough that you can still pull line out, but do not put the reel in free spool
Lower the hst weight into the water gently and check that everything is looking straight as an arrow, then start to back the drag off. If you drop the trolling weight too quickly, the weight will fall below the lure and may cause a tangle of the lure with the shock leader. so be careful when dropping the lure back.
Once you have reached a comfortable drop back pace of the line coming off the reel, use a watch or phone to count to 40 seconds for the farthest back lure and 20 seconds for the closer one
Once the lures are deployed, engage the throttle to speed up to hst speeds of 14-18 kts
Watch the reels for “creep” which is line slowly coming off the reel as the boat picks up speed. whenever the line starts creeping, slowly tighten the drag until the line is no longer creeping off the reel. this is the spot where you should keep your drags for the duration of hst.
Your lures should be staying underwater without any skipping while high speed trolling. if the lures are skipping, then you should either slow down (but not less than 14kts) or let more line out on both reels until it stops skipping.
When you get a bite while hst, it is extremely important that you do not immediately slow the boat down. the line is going to peel off at an astronomical rate, so just keep the boat in gear going forward until one of the crew members is at the reel and ready to start reeling. keep the rod in the rod holder and once the crew member is ready, slowly start to back the throttles down and have them keep the line tight on the fish. you can back down to an idle forward speed as long as the angler is putting adequate pressure on the fish. When a wahoo hits at high speeds, the hooks rip an incredible hole into the wahoo’s jaws and with any slack, the fish could make a single head shake and lose the hook. It is not uncommon for wahoo to spit the hook upon immediately hitting the deck after being gaffed, or worse yet right before the gaff shot.
As the angler is gaining line back on the fish and the weight is coming into view, have the angler pick the rod up out of the rod holder and start to move up on the gunnels of the boat (if you have a center console). Then a wireman should grab a hold of the hst weight when it comes out of the water and start to wire in the shock leader. the fish should start to come up the side of the boat for a perfect gaff shot.
Once the fish is in the boat, hold off on the high-fives, pictures, etc. and get the lures back in the water to go over the same spot that you just hooked the last fish on. Wahoo tend to travel in packs, so where there is one, there is bound to be a few more that are willing and ready to take your bait.