Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
There are but a handful of saltwater fish that get me wound all up, and tops on that list is a wahoo. It revs my engine like no other. I am so lucky to be have the resources to get out to where they lurk, which is primarily in the Gulf Stream located a good 60-80 miles off our coast. They are fast, furious, and when excited, actually glow like nobody’s business. Bright neon purple and blue stripes, top speeds nearing 60 mph and a mouth that can open impossibly wide, lined with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth make these fish the nearly perfect predator. Even better is what is under the skin. Their flesh is simply put, incredible.
Wahoo can be caught year-round with prime months in the spring and fall. There is no size limit and anglers are allowed to keep two fish per day. With that said, one typical size wahoo, around 30-40 lbs., provides a whole lot of meat. They can grow to over 100 pounds. One that size can feed a small army.
How to catch wahoo
As I mentioned, wahoo can chase down any bait or lure going at any speed with ease. Trolling using skirted ballyhoo is the common method and, for whatever reason, skirts either blue and white. Purple and black or black and red get the most attention. Using a wire leader is a must when rigging because their teeth are akin to razor blades. I prefer wire leaders in the 110 lb. test range with hook sizes ranging in size from 7/0 to 10/0. The larger the ballyhoo, the larger the hook and vice versa with smaller hooks for smaller ballyhoo. Trolling speed can be between 6-8 knots using rigged baits while high-speed artificial lures are often trolled up to 20 knots. If you have never tried this high-speed approach, it still amazes me that any fish could catch that lure. Wahoo could probably catch it going twice that fast. Rigging for this technique is too complicated for this short column, but YouTube has plenty of instructional videos on high-speeding for wahoo.
Sashimi, grilled even fried, wahoo are the bomb
On just about every wahoo trip, I try to remember to bring a bottle of light soy sauce, and before the fish has had time to expire, I cut a small chunk of the fish, slice it wafer thin and dip it in the soy. OMG, if you think tuna sashimi is good, wahoo is even better and being that fresh, it literally melts in your mouth. Wahoo may not be in every fish market but starting around the first part of spring, it often makes its way to local markets. Broiled on low with nothing but some melted butter and seasoned with my one and only seafood spice, Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic, I nestle the filet pieces in a bed of yellow saffron rice. Taking it up a notch, I top that with a spoonful of black beans and dollop of sour cream. The combination of fish, rice, beans and sour cream will have you thinking heaven is close by. Wahoo!
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen
Macadamia nut-crusted wahoo
4 (8-ounce) wahoo fillets
1 1/4 cups roasted macadamia nuts, ground
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Lemon butter sauce (recipe below)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup butter, melted (for fish)
2 tablespoons butter (for onions)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 handful capers
1 lemon, sliced
Kosher salt and pepper
Directions  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the nuts, panko, flour and melted butter. Set aside.  Place a piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and brush it with the oil. Place the wahoo on the foil, sprinkling each fillet with salt and pepper on both sides. Bake for 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and brush each fillet with coconut milk.  Divide the nut mixture among the tops of the 4 fillets, patting the mixture to the fillets. Return to the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown (5-10 minutes).  While the fish cooks, heat an oiled skillet to medium. Add the onion, season with a little salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have wilted (about 5 minutes). Stir in water and cook for another minute. Add tablespoons of butter, capers and lemon slices. Stir as the butter melts. Top each wahoo fillet with mixture. Optional: Smother with lemon butter sauce (3 tablespoons melted butter, 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley).
Cyrus: The grape varietal of this special blend from Alexander Valley Vineyards is Cabernet Sauvignon (62%), Cabernet Franc (18%), Merlot (17%), Malbec (2%) and Petit Verdot (1%). The wine has been named Best in Show three times at the Hilton Head Wine and Food Festival. This year’s festival is March 9-15.