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Speed and tenacity make ono great gamefish

By Staff | Apr 29, 2010

This 58.4-pound ono by Tim Grant was the biggest caught last year by the Lahaina Harbor charter boats. He was fishing aboard the Start Me Up La Dat with Captains Ryan Fiedorowicz and Mike Tappero. This 5’3” long fish was the 11th largest ono weighed since 1984 and the biggest in the past two years.

The ono are starting to show up daily in the harbor, signaling the beginning of the summer “sausage” season. This is giving the boats a welcomed change from all the mahi that have been caught the past few months.

Wahoo, better known in Hawaiian waters as ono, are the biggest, fastest and meanest mackerel in America. What exactly is a wahoo? It is a unique member of the tuna family called Scombridae. A “tribe” line of the tunas and mackerels is called seerfish; that tribe contains the 18 species of Scomberomorus (king and Spanish mackerels) around the world, with the unique wahoo in its only species, Acanthocybium solandri.

Even the names, both common and scientific, are interesting. In 1769, the crew on James Cook’s Endeavour, north of Tahiti, caught the first of these speedsters to be recorded in the Western world. It was scientifically named (Solandri) to honor the great Swedish scientist on board the Endeavour, Dr. D.C. Solander.

The name “wahoo” logically dates from the early whalers and missionary settlers seeing and utilizing the fine edible species in the Hawaiian Islands. Then and now, Oahu, which they pronounced and sometimes spelled “Wahoo,” was an important base. The Hawaiians had long recognized the quality of wahoo with their name, “ono,” meaning delicious or tasty.

Wahoo are distinctive. They are much bigger than king mackerel, sleeker, more powerful, with a long face, well-defined lateral line that dips noticeably near the middle, with a back that is brilliant deep blue, metallic or electric blue. Bright blue vertical bands or “tiger stripes” flow down its sides onto its silver belly.

They have big, close-set, razor-sharp, serrated-edged teeth, consisting of 45-65 on the upper jaw and 32-50 on the lower jaw. Their teeth are suited to their predatory nature and can slice through 130-pound monofilament like butter.

Wahoo are found worldwide in tropical and warm temperate seas, are open ocean swimmers, and during their seasonal migration they come into Hawaii’s waters. Most often the peak ono season is between late spring and early fall, and they are normally found in abundance during the summer. They tend to be a loner or travel in small groups of 2-6 fish.

The wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the Pacific. It can reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour. It is renowned as one of the world’s great light gamefish. They run fast, straight and hard, and may peel off several hundred yards of line in seconds.

Unlike king mackerel, they don’t burn out; a fight with a big wahoo can last 30 minutes to an hour. Wahoo don’t sound deeply and fight a lot like a non-jumper billfish. An ono will occasionally jump on the strike, shaking its head violently when hooked to free itself like a billfish.

Wahoo feed in the upper layers of the deep ocean on squid and pelagic fish, including small mackerel, tuna, flying fish, puffers and whatever appears desirable, since few fish can escape.

Wahoo start breeding at one year old, with the female carrying between a 500,000 to 45 million eggs. Babies are two-thirds fish and one-third alligator. They grow fast, attaining a length of three-and-a-half feet the first year. Two- and three-year-olds are five feet long. They live at least five years and probably more.

A 183-pounder was almost seven feet long. A 58-pound fish caught this year was 5’3” long, with a 71.7-pound fish 5’6” long. Not only do they get long, they get girthy.

The current IGFA all-tackle record is by a woman at 184 pounds, on 80-pound test, from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in 2005. The Hawaii state record is 133 pounds 3 ounces in 2000 off Pohoiki, Hawaii. The Lahaina Harbor record is 78 pounds aboard the Charger back in 1984 with Capt. Mike Kearns and crewman Shadow.