Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Florida Keys Fishing - Mahi Mahi

Now I am no expert when it comes to fishing in the Florida keys for mahi mahi, I am sure that there are a lot of anglers out there that could kick my butt up and down every day. But as I have preached, I have learned from a couple of the best fishermen (captains) in Florida, especially my uncle. He has been fishing the Florida keys for many years, and he has went through many types of trial and error when it comes to try catching some yummy dolphin fish. Before I get into some techniques on how to catch dolphin, let me give you a little bit of information about them, the more you know about them the more of them you can catch, which means the better you will be eating, their meat is very nutritious, and on top of that very delicious, with 1,000’s of mahi mahi recipes out there it’s hard to go wrong when eating dolphin.

Facts About Dolphin

We are not talking about flipper when it comes to saltwater fishing, we are talking about mahi mahi, also known as Dorado (Coryphaena hippurus). They are highly colorful, and they love to jump when you have one hooked and running, they are mostly found traveling in schools, from a few pairs to a dozen or more. The larger dolphin fish are often found swimming singly or in a pair, but they can also be found swimming under school. The smaller dolphin have a nickname of “schoolies”, and the larger ones are called “bull dolphin”. The water temperature where you will find them will be between 78 degrees and 85 degrees, so yes they are a tropical fish that love to swim around in warm waters. There is no closed season when fishing for dolphin, and there is no minimum or maximum regulation size limits. The maximum daily bag limit for them is 10. Now that we got a little bit of facts straight about these highly sought out saltwater Florida game fish, let me tell you about a fishing trip that I had with my uncle, where we caught a couple of nice keepers and maxed out on the daily bag limit.

Dolphin fishing in Florida is very big in the Gulf of Mexico, and even more in the Florida keys. My uncle has a nice sized fishing boat at his vacation house in Marathon Key, and he goes down there to fish all of the time, this particular trip it was my uncle, my sister and her friend. We got up early in the morning, about 5:30 am, right before sunset. Loaded up the boat with some trolling rods and reels, along with about 5 or 6 spinning fishing rods, we wanted to have every kind of fishing rod available, you never know what kind of spot you will find in the Florida Keys. We had about 6 trolling rods, and we put all of them out at once, this is possible because of the outriggers that were equipped on the boat. What we used for bait, was some frozen ballyhoo on a medium sized hook, on top of just the ballyhoo we have had some colorful feathers attached to the hook and ballyhoo, rigged with a 60# test metal leader line, about 3’. Now we used the trolling reels and rods because that is the easiest way to cover a lot of ground (or ocean), when fishing for dolphin, and the more ground that you cover the better chances you have of landing one.

Fishing For Dolphin

Now some anglers will go out miles to catch some dolphin, when you are fishing in the Florida Keys this is still necessary, but not so much as to having to go out 40 or 50 miles, as you would have to do if you were fishing for dolphin a little more up the Florida coast. In our case we went out about 8 miles before we decided to drop the lines back and start trolling, we troll at a speed from 8-12 knots, this is a good speed, as it will be no problem for a gamefish such as a dolphin fish to hit the bait, seeing that they swim at about 40 miles per hour. We had 6 lines out at once, and then just headed out further as we were trolling. There are a couple of things that will help you out, without help and no direction, your chances are very slim in landing some dolphin, even though you may covers many many miles. The things that will help you are birds, especially birds that are circling and diving, when they do this it means that there are some bait fish that are nervous as hell being chased by some big game fish, and in a lot of cases this is mahi mahi fish that are very hungry. So if you see some diving birds troll right towards them, there is a very good chance that you will have a fish hooked if you do. The next thing that you need to be looking for are weed lines, big thick long streams of weed lines, this provides shade for the dolphin fish, and they will usually be hanging out about 30 yards from them, they provide great shade from the sunlight, and with the brightness of the ballyhoo feather they will quickly see the bait and come running after it. The next thing that you will be looking for are big boards floating in the water, this is another thing that gives the fish a great place to hide from the sunlight.

So we were trolling for about an hour, and then one of the trolling reels went off, and it went off fast. We immediately stopped the boat, just in about 15 seconds the dolphin had probably ran off about 50-100 yards already, then the fight begins. After about 15 minutes of fighting the fish was starting to get close, just had to keep repeating the fight procedure, which is lift the rod up, slowly lift down and reel, keep repeating this, if the fish runs then let him run he will get tired sooner or later. Anyways back to my fight with this feisty saltwater game fish, once the fish got close he started to jump. Then after about 30 minutes of fighting we finally got the dolphin up to the boat, and it was huge, the biggest one that I have ever seen. My buddy John had got the gaff ready to get the beast into the boat, then after a couple of tries of swinging the fish towards the boat he got the fish, gaffed him right under the gill and lifted it into the boat. There’s no official weight, but the rough guess from my uncle was it weighed about 50 pounds or more, by far the biggest I have ever caught, we quickly bled him and through him on some ice. In future posts I will go into further detail about fishing the Florida Keys for dolphin, as to tackle size and exact instructions on how to properly rig a ballyhoo to make it efficient. I am just too tired now, need to get ready for my upcoming vacation, and yes, I will be going back to some saltwater fishing in the Florida Keys, until next time my friends.

I was just about to post this and thought that I left out a good chunk of information on how to catch schoolies. After I landed the big one, we were trolling for about 3 hours with not even a single strike, and then finally I was up on the tower and I had seen some birds diving. This was a very good sign and we headed right for them, remember, where there are birds, there are fish. So sure enough right after we passed the birds we had a hit on the line, so we immediately stopped the boat and my buddy John grabbed the rod, he reeled it all the way up to the boat and there was a little schooly on the line, about 5 pounds or so, we left him in the water and set the rod in a fish holder, this will keep the fish alive in the water swimming around like crazy, which will attract many more of the dolphin in the school. We made haste to throw some chum in the water to keep the school near, and tossed in a couple of spinning rods, this is what we have been waiting for. We used some chopped up squid on some medium sized hooks, and then we were reeling up dolphin left and right. We quickly filled up the cooler and we got are daily bag limit :) Though none of these dolphin were even close to the bullhead we got earlier in the day, still a lot little dolphin add up and make a great meal for several people, altogether we had about 100 pounds of dolphin at the end of the day, plus we got lots of snapper and some grunts too, gotta take a break from trolling and do some bottom fishing for a bit. :) Just remember if you hook a small dolphin, leave it in the water because there are several more around, remember what I said in the beginning of the post, small dolphin travel in schools, throw some bait in the water along with some chum, and the school will follow especially when they see one of their little buddies panicking.

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