With a venue name like the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, there’s really no questioning the ultimate catch. Blue marlin are the top billfish prize in the Gulf and teams bet on boating the heaviest one to earn the largest payout. The three game fish categories—tuna, dolphin and wahoo—are typically by-catch in the pursuit of blues. Boats that focus on the alternates can earn hefty five-figure payouts, though. Three offshore enthusiasts shared their tactics for one of the trio, wahoo.

“High-speed trolling has always been the favorite method for targeting wahoo,” says Shalimar angler John Dunphy. “You can cover more ground at higher speeds, but we’re getting bit just as much going slower. The lures we like to use don’t track as well faster and we burn a lot of extra fuel. So we typically troll at 9 to 12 knots.”

The usual wahoo spread on Dunphy’s 37 SeaVee center console is a pair of 80 bent butt rods on the corners, two 50 outfits on the outriggers and another 50 on the centerline shotgun position. The reels are typically spooled with monofilament since the tackle doubles for marlin duty. Heavier braid line will run deeper and the thinner line allows downsizing rods for easier handling if the focus is strictly on wahoo.

Dunphy uses traditional offerings like Islander skirted bullet lures ahead of a ballyhoo. He has also had consistent success with Mann’s Stretch 40 lipped plugs, Nomad DTX 220 Minnows and trembler models like the Yo-Zuri Bonito and Nomad Madmacs mostly in purple, black and burgundy shades, run off the corners near the prop wash.

“We’ve caught a lot of wahoo on the shotgun rod way back, though,” he explains. “My first tip for boats with outboard power is never stop, always keep the boat moving or the fish will come off. I turn into the fish to keep pressure on as it gets close, with the gaff man in the corner. Give ‘em slack and they’ll come un-buttoned with their violent thrashing. The other tip is be sure to take the plastic tubing off the hooks before the lure goes in the water,” he adds with a laugh.

Mark Kennedy and Steve Ennis are no strangers to the winner’s circle in Gulf king mackerel tournaments. But the pair has hoisted plenty of monster wahoo at the scales as well. In the last decade plus, they’ve weighed 10 wahoo over 90 pounds, with three over the century mark, fishing aboard Kennedy’s 39 Yellowfin with triple Yamaha outboards.

“For wahoo we focus on concentrated areas like the Gulf rigs, sea mounts, salt domes or other natural bottom,” Ennis says. “We’re fishing for them the same way we do kings. We’ll slowly do three or four laps around a spot and if they’re not there, we pull ‘em in and go on to the next.” The tackle used is typically 30-pound class outfits with #8 wire leaders. Baits are live hard tails or smaller bonita.

“For wahoo we fish deeper and cleaner water than we do for kings,” Kennedy adds. “The usual depths are 200 to 400 feet. January to the end of May are the prime windows for wahoo, but some good ones are always caught during the summer, too. In the winter months, the best opportunities extend from south of Pensacola across to Grand Isle.”

In the ECBC wahoo division, entry levels are split 50/30/20 between three qualifying entries. The five optional jackpots ($500, $750, $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000) are divided 60/25/15 for the top three fish. Add it up and that’s some serious coin for the winners, plus the prize catch is extra sweet on the grill.