As we glided the warm Gulf Stream waters on the Western edge of the Bahamas, the lack of weeds and debris lines were quite evident. The East wind all but blew the lifegiving weed lines to the West along the Florida Straits, the Florida Keys and the South Florida coast. In constant search of anything--a log, a bucket or even a coil of rope or a dipping bird--eventually, on the horizon, I spot something on the water with a single tern.
I approach cautiously, my client with fly rod in hand, and a fly mimicking a small jack. As I near, I see the telltale sign of a bull dolphin working a rope, tail biting at the tiny jacks and triggerfish. I position the boat for the cast and glide with engines off. A long cast and perfect presentation lands the fly with a delicate “plop” on the surface.
“Strip, strip, strip fast!!” I yell as my last words and the fish simultaneously connects with the fly. An explosion of activity, with aerial summersaults and jumps, to loosen the fly imbedded in the upper jaw of an iridescent neon yellow, green, blue and white. The battle is on. The reel screams as backing flows from the reel. A few more jumps and the tug-of-war begins, leading the fish into succumbing to its captor. One lunge towards the boat, and its game on again. With every near pass of the boat, the fish comes alive, again and again, until exhausted, it surrenders to our gaff.
This is fly fishing for mahi, dolphin or dorado. The names are as varied as the distant lands it inhabits. This trip took us from my home in Islamorada to a quick customs stop in Cat Island and back to the Western Edge of the Bahamas Bank where I like to search and hunt for Mahi, without the large numbers of boats near home. I have fished these waters often resulting in good sized fish on either fly, light or conventional tackle.
The trip is long and many hours but well worth it in hopes of catching large bulls and having an ocean all to yourself. The entire trip takes over 12-14 hours if your on a one day schedule. Many ask me why, the long trip when you have World Class Mahi fishing off your home base? Larger Fish and solitude, two things I cherish when I charter. In addition the fishing for Blue Marlin is great from April through the summer.
In my quest for a fly adventure to the Bahama offshore bank I prepare a day or two in advance with sufficient pitch baits for mahi and blues. For my “flyfish” only clients, Im pulling hookless teasers on 50W outfits in case they get hit by a blue. I usually run 2 teasers made up of big mahi bellies sewn and crimped to 100# leader. I troll these quite fast from my tower. The angler ready with fly line stripped into a bucket and rod in the port corner holder. Once I see the fish rise and hit the teaser I real in the other one into the outrigger and tease the fish up into fly casting distance. Once my angler is ready, I place the boat in neutral and snap the teaser away from the fish and the angler casts simultaneously where the teaser last was and begins to strip line. Most often we hook up, sometimes we don’t. We do this while searching for isolated fish on debris or weed lines. If on debris or weed, I pull in my teasers and sight fish and position the boat for my anglers cast. Precision and stealth are needed here.
I learned this technique fishing in Mexico on cruisers and later using Pangas for my clients. The Pangas proved to be more effective in coming up on the fish than the bigger sportfishermen probably due to their smaller size or less engine noise.
Today we use a center console that is larger but similar design to the Pangas. The casting platform is 360 degree platform vs a 180 degree pit making the center console the most versatile boat I have ever used for flyfishing pelagics from marlin to mahi to tripletail.
The choice of flys is up to the individual. I recommend jelly flies imitating glass minnows, hair flys like Deceivers in white and blue, red and white and red and black. Poppers in blue and white imitating juvenile flying fish, green yellow and red imitating mahi fry, large Shrimp flies and even light jigs dressed in yellow bucktail.
Leaders I recommend a standard IGFA regulation fly leaded with 10 or 12 line class a double line onto a 12 inch butt section of 40 pound flourocarbon.
Fly line is an individual choice. I happen to have always fished with Clear flyline in a WTF Floating line. I always use 80# braid backing to the capacity of the reel minus the flyline and leader section.
Fly tackle is very individualistic. My all time Mahi fly setup is a Biscayne Billy Baroo 3 piece 10 Wt that has handled all the way from small billfish to any sized Mahi. The largest I have ever caught on this rod and 10 pound tippet class line was a Bull Mahi that tipped the scales at 67.4 pounds in Costa Rica. Another rod I have experimented with shown on some pictures on this article is a 4 piece 10WT by Shu-Fly Tackle with a large or small butt. I keep the Shu Fly set up for my clients to use on the boat.
Fly reels are another matter. What you want is good arbor size, line capacity and drag and that they be impervious to saltwater!
I have used a Penn International 2.5G for over 20 years and still love it! Another reel I use on the boat for my clients is the Shu Fly Max Drag 9/10. Some people elect to use 12WT rod reel line which is overkill on even the huge mahi, while some use 8-9 WT’s that I believe are great for small to midsized fish but a bit shy when a really big fish or billfish presents itself in the spread.
My advice to people wanting to flyfish mahi. Learn the roll cast well, the double haul and learn PRECISION! Small flys and sharp sharp premium Umpqua hooks! And practice, practice, practice before you go!
We get clients that want to fish light tackle also, of which we employ the standard trolling method with hooked baits and a well full of pilchards and jacks to sight cast to the fish. We employ practically a similar technique when light tackle fishing for these fish.
The Bahamian one day trips are long, for experienced and avid anglers in quest of nice big mahi in waters seldom shared by another boat. I have fished these waters often from the 1970’s in search of mahi and my favorite alltime big game fish, The Blue Marlin. The days are unlike the norm, fishing two countries in one day at times, the same current of water, with a personality its own depending on which side of the stream you’re on.
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