It’s summertime in the Florida Keys and mahi-mahi, “dolphin”, season is heating up! Don’t think these fish are just for rod and reel--taking them on spear will leave you wanting more. Let’s get you set up with the right gear and knowledge for a successful day of hunting offshore!
To begin, load up and hit the water early in the morning, if you can! Grab a few spinner rods with J-hooks and a light to mid-sized conventional rod if you have one. No need to go crazy on tackle, you’ll be jumping in the water with your gun! Live bait is always good if you have access to it, but, to keep things simple, frozen squid and ballyhoo will do just fine. Make sure to bring your mask, fins, snorkel, and speargun. No need for tanks or scuba gear, dolphin are generally found shallower in the water column and no tanks will be needed to hunt them. Your speargun must have a lanyard at the very least--having an attached reel will be best. Larger dolphin are strong and will take line if you do not get a good shot. Float lines are great to have onboard if you see a larger bull dolphin in the school, but they do get tangled more easily with people fishing on the boat. A flopper tip on your spear shaft will work fine, however, if you have a breakaway tip, that will be best for pelagic fish.
Once you’re all geared up, it’s time to hit the water. It’s good to have a plan, but hunting offshore is much different than the reef. You’ll want to get into the Gulfstream, searching in water depths from 250’-1000’+. Each day is different and fish will move around, so it never hurts to ask other anglers and see what depths have been holding fish.
Once you get off the reef edge and into deeper water, you’ll want everyone aboard looking for signs. Birds, weedlines and matts, floating debris, and edges in the water are all good signs. Do not pass up anything--even a lobster ball with attached line will act as an oasis in the blue desert, holding bait the fish feed on. If you see frigate birds circling above and diving, it is likely they are on bait with fish below.
When you do come across birds, weeds, or some floating debris, take your time and don’t jump the gun by getting in the water. Dolphin are similar to jacks--they stick together. You need to get a fish hooked up first, which will help bring the school closer to the boat where you can shoot them.
Once you have a fish hooked and near the boat, leave him there and start throwing chunks of bait in the water. As long as your fish is fighting, the others should stick around. Once you have the school of fish eating aggressively, you can slide in the water and hunt. They won’t pay much attention to you as long as they are hungry and eating your bait.
If at any point your hooked-up fish gets tired, you’ll need to catch another and pull the tired one into the boat. It is important to always have a fighting fish in the water to help keep the school around. Have someone run the boat and keep you near the area you originally found the fish. Make sure the bait is plentiful--if the bait stops, so will the fishing.
Dive with a buddy and back each other up. You are not diving deep, but you are shooting potentially large and strong fish. Keep it simple. Everything happens fast when you’re in a good school of dolphin!
Offshore dolphin fishing in the Florida Keys attracts people from all over the world. If you enjoy diving and spearfishing, then hunting dolphin in crystal clear offshore water is a must do! Remember to take your time and get set up properly--an organized crew will always put more fish on the boat than a disorganized one.Enjoy the hunt and, as always, dive safe!
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