Captain Sheriff', A Galilee, Rhode Island charter captain, shares his tips on fishing for Mahi/Dolphin while visiting his home waters of the Florida Keys.
Captain Sheriff, A Galilee, Rhode Island charter fishing captain, has fished the Florida Keys for several years. Mahi's or otherwise known as Dolphin are a very fast growing fish. Dolphin grow at the rate of a few inches per month and then max out at about 5 feet in length in a couple of years and then die. Dolphin are very aggressive eaters and they eat mostly trigger fish, decapods, squid, and flying fish. More females than males are caught in the fishery. Smaller fish of both sexes spend more time around floating objects and seaweed rips, while the larger males spend more time in open water traveling between female-dominated schools near floating cover. Schooling dolphin average under 3 pounds with the larger fish at approximately 20 pounds. The large males can exceed 50 pounds. In addition to a great fighting fish, Dolphin are classified as good eating which is another reason why they are targeted by anglers.
Before venturing out to the fishing grounds for Dolphin, it is a good idea to catch live bait. The bait of choice for most species of fish on the reef and offshore is Ballyhoo. Ballyhoo live on the reefs and they need to lured in by chumming the water so you can get them close enough to cast net them or catch them on ultra-light tackle with tiny hooks. The key is to find a good looking shallow patch reef, anchor on the outside edge of the reef so that the wind and or current will take your chum over the reef . . Finding Dolphin typically involves finding floating debris in the water although large bull Dolphins can be loners traveling the open sea. A good starting point is usually just outside the deep reef line in the 120 - 200 foot depth. During the winter months in Florida, the Gulf Stream can be right on the edge of the reef or just a few miles away. This scenario, coupled with the right wind conditions, can make fishing very favorable as it can also create weed line formations along the current edge. Anglers should look for signs of feeding fish. One key sign is a frigate bird circling overhead or diving to the surface. Keep an eye on other sea birds working the weed line or debris. Finding sea birds can be a major key to locating fish. If you have wrecks on your chart or GPS, troll over that area as well. The wreck below the surface holds several species of fish and bait.
Trolling is the typical way to begin your search and fishing presentation. I prefer spinning tackle with 25 -30 lb test line for Dolphin, Sailfish and small Blackfin Tuna.
Ballyhoo is the choice of bait to troll. Squid type jigs trolled are another option as well. It is a good idea to troll with both since there may be school size dolphin which may only tear up your Ballyhoo. The same baits will also produce Tuna, Sailfish and Marlin. Keep an eye on your baits for Sailfish or Marlin trailing them.
When you hookup with a school size Dolphin, stop the boat and keep it hooked and in the water so the remaining school will stay by the boat. If there are school Dolphin around the boat, fish with some chunk bait such as squid and or chunks of Ballyhoo to catch more Dolphin in the school. If you have live Ballyhoo available, cast it out as live bait with no weight A big Dolphin is usually lurking around and large Dolphin cannot resist a live Ballyhoo. On the video attached, that is exactly what happened. You will see that we are catching school Dolphin when I threw out a live Ballyhoo and hooked up with a 35 pound Bull Dolphin. We also won a local tournament that way several years ago. On this particular day, we had two double Sailfish hookups. After that action, we decided to work a nearby weed line for Dolphin when we hooked up after only 10 minutes of trolling. We landed five Dolphin and had a brief encounter with a Marlin that spooled the light tackle spinning reel.