Mahi Mahi, Everyone’s Favorite
Dorado, mahi mahi, green hornets, or whatever you want to call ‘em, dolphin are everyone’s favorite offshore species in the Keys. They put on a great show, are great to eat, and most importantly they are voracious eating machines. I’ve actually seen a small dolphin, as soon as she was released, hit the water, chase down and eat a pilchard. As they move into our waters off the middle to lower keys, it starts with a trickle of large to mid-sized fish as the waters start to warm up from May through July . As we move into summer weather, the large fish start to become hard to find, but huge schools of lifter-sized fish will be here in force.
There are a myriad of ways to target dolphin with a lure and ballyhoo combo or a naked rigged ballyhoo which is one of the most popular tactic, and probably accounts for more large dolphin than any other. The only drawback to trolling ballyhoo is contending with scattered grass that will constantly collect on the typical downturned hook rig. A quick search on the ol’ internet on how to rig a weedless ballyhoo will save you a lot of time ungrassing your lures all day.
When buying ballyhoo, spend a few minutes making sure they have no air or ice in the bag. Most good tackle shops can get you fresh ballys, all you have to do is ask. To prep baits, fresh or frozen, fill a bucket with half salt water, two big handfuls of salt, a handful of baking soda, and top it off with ice. Stir up the mix and put the baits in for 30 minutes or so. The worst thing that can happen to a natural bait is to let it sit in fresh water (melted ice water in your cooler) as this will wash out the brine and break down the baits. They will turn to mush pretty quickly. I found that a stainless steel steam tray works great in a 50 quart cooler but there are bait trays custom built to fit almost any cooler.
As far as what dolphin will eat, well the biggest one I’ve ever seen in person had a 5 pound dolphin in its belly so don’t get too hung up on any particular bait.
Lure and Skirt Colors
When it comes to colors for the lures or skirts, if you asked ten fisherman what they like, I bet six will say blue and white. This can get pretty technical, but I believe it has to do with the contrast with the sky more than anything, so on overcast days I use darker colors than bright sunny days. You can get as fancy as you like in regards to baits and rigging, but as long as a mahi sees your lure or bait,it will try to eat it.
Birds Birds Birds
I’m not saying every mahi swimming in the ocean has a bird following them around but if like me you’re not wanting to troll all day, then birds are the ticket. I can’t tell you how many days the little white tuna birds have saved the day for me and my crew. Running in from a pretty slow day, I was in about 300 ft of water and saw two tuna birds hovering in one spot. Just as I turned the boat towards them they continued on. I was just about to turn back to my track line towards home when I noticed something in the water which turned out to be a tree trunk with big roots. Those two little birds turned us onto a fishing oasis. Not only did we catch mahi and wahoo in a conventional manner with ballyhoo and jigs, my anglers also caught mahi with their fly rods.
Frigate birds are what most anglers dream of seeing, but just finding them is only part of it. You need to learn to read them before swinging in for the action. I’ll normally spend a few minutes jogging parallel to them to try and get an idea of speed and direction so I can get baits in front of the fish without running over them. Once you get hooked to a mahi remember, if they have friends with them, keeping one in the water is a great trick, but I find that having a bag full of cut bait to throw out as freebies really helps keep them around the boat too, but don’t overdo it with freebies. Use just enough to hold their attention.
Always keep an eye out for anything unusual. The smallest of wind breaks or current edges can be the key to locating the mother lode. One of the biggest tips I can give for fishing structure offshore is to never give up on it until you’ve dropped a jig deep or trolled a lip plug around it a few times. Some days they just won’t come to the surface.
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