Mahi can be caught in a variety of places by many methods. Dolphin fishing is often described as hours of boredom followed by minutes of high-adrenaline action.
Start out by trolling rigged ballyhoo (skirted and/or unskirted), artificial lures, islanders, or just about anything colorful. Troll near weed lines, rips, or other debris. Once the first dolphin is hooked, bring it to the boat but leave it in the water (use your best judgement – obviously, if it’s a trophy fish, get it in the boat ASAP). This should attract other dolphin to school around the boat.
Follow this up by casting live bait into the school. Keep the school interested by continually chumming with live baits and or cut bait.
Look for birds and take note of their behavior. Some bird behavior can be a great indicator that there are fish in the area. Recognizing specific bird behavior can take time and experience, but here are some general tips:
- Frigate birds circling high can indicate that baitfish are deep, scattered, or just gone. You are either early, or late to the party.
- Frigate birds diving means game on. There are definitely bait fish in the area, and likely dolphin (or another predator) are forcing them to the surface. Fish immediately! The biggest dolphin of my life have been caught under a single diving frigate, and never anywhere else. My theory is that big dolphin push the baitfish right up to the surface and make them available to the birds, which frantically hit the water in a feeding frenzy.
- Frigate birds “cruising” (heading in a specific direction for a prolonged period) usually means there are not bait fish in the area, or they are too deep for the bird to see them. Usually, this means the area isn’t great for fishing. However, following the bird may lead you to the fish, but this can also be a dead-end, or a very long process.
- Seagulls frantically hitting the water and moving quickly in a direction is usually an indicator of Tuna, Bonito, or other fast predators in the area. Depending on your boats maximum speed, you may not be able to keep up with the flock – but if you can get in front of them and strategically troll your baits under them, you might hook up with some tuna.
- Seagulls “floating” on the surface and congregating in an area, usually indicates there are fish in the area, but most likely not directly under the birds. The birds have probably already gotten their fill and are taking a break.
It’s important to note, that the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Birds are sometimes hard to read, misleading, or just plain liars. These tips have proven true for me in many cases, but sometimes not.
Dolphin are ravenous and many times will eat whatever you throw at them. However, just as frequently, they will turn away from the same baits that worked just yesterday.
- When trolling, fresh rigged ballyhoo with a feather or skirt usually do the trick for me. Vary the skirt colors, or run multiple colors in your spread. Mix with plastics and lures to attract maximum attention.
- When casting, sometimes cut bait (Bonita chunks, silversides, squid, shrimp, really anything) will work as good as any bait. Sometimes, however, dolphin will only eat frisky live bait. Live ballyhoo, pilchards, or mullet will likely do the trick if a fish is otherwise uninterested.
- For artificial trolling lures, I have had success with crappy generic lures, but usually run islanders or rattle jets.
When trolling, I usually run 4-5 rods from the FVMAHI.com. Two of those rods are 40# class, two are 80# class, and one 100# class. My heavier gear is overkill for dolphin, but I like to target a variety of species that may call for heavier gear, and the spread works well for me. Make sure you use braid for your mainline, but include a fairly long (30 – 50 foot) mono or fluorocarbon leader. This added stretch can keep fish hooked when they jump or do other violent maneuvers close to the boat.
For casting, I use a mix of 20# and 40# braid mainlines and 40# fluorocarbon leaders, rigged with a 6/0 or 7/0 hook tied directly to the leader. Circle hook versus J-hook is a totally different discussion, but I prefer J-hooks. As my technique has gotten better over the years, I have found that it doesn’t make a difference in terms of the health of the fish.
I run a squid chain teaser usually, which helps attract fish. You want the teaser to skip or splash as you troll, and to ultimately mimic a school of frenzied baitfish. Some folks like to run a dredge teaser – I have found that this is effective for sailfish, wahoo, and other fast/deep pelagics, but splashing works best for Dolphin.