As summer approaches, the fishing focus tends to be on heading to the deep water off the Upper Keys in hopes of filling the fish box with slammers, gaffers and schoolie mahi fish. Yes, mahi madness runs rampant in South Florida. There is no doubt this is the most common, most sought after, pelagic gamefish. You can be back at the dock and have six sailfish flags flying, a rack of snappers and mahi hanging, and 10 people will come ask you all about the dolphin; “How deep?”
The dolphin migrate through year-round, but the peak of their migration pattern tends to be mid-May through August. There are no rules on this pattern and some years are better than others, last year being a bit slow, but I have high hopes for this season. We have had some good mahi catches in April and early May already. Typically, we start trolling somewhere about 350-400’ with some ballyhoos in the outriggers and some feathers on the flats. With a few spinners set up for casting and pitching to schooled-up fish, we begin to look for sargasm--the more lined up the better. Also, birds are good indicators, and the ultimate find is debris, like a piece of plywood or an old tree stump; anything to hold baitfish while keeping the mahis close by. Frigate birds, gannets, and yellow beaks will lead you to “the magical piece of debris” as my neighbor, Captain Skip Bradeen, calls it.
If you do find a decent piece of debris, look for triple tails to cast to. Also, a jig tipped with wire, or trolling a feather on wire leader, will often get you a wahoo bite. Mahis can be anywhere from the reef’s edge to the Bahamas, so covering some ground until you find the zone is imperative. On slower days with no mahi, try the offshore humps for blackfin and skipjack tuna. The butterfly jigs, trolling feather, or small ballyhoos are all effective for the football tunas.
We’ve also been known to make a swordfish drop or two since we often end up near the drop zone after looking for dolphin all morning. Have a bail and lead ready in case you decide to go that route.
Deep-dropping is another great option for summertime fishing when covering much ocean. Send down squid or cut bait on electric reels with multi-hook chicken rigs. The deep water brings tiles, groupers, snappers and barrels, all of them most delicious fish. And, it makes for a great variety to go along with or without your dolphin catch.
We get our share of beautiful days in summer, so take advantage. Get out there and cover some ground, have fun, and catch ‘em up!
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