The Dolphin (Mahi-Mahi)
By Buck Davidson
A sheet of ordinary plywood seldom generates much excitement; unless, of course, you happen to be aboard an offshore sportsfishermen trolling in Florida waters. Charter boat captains head for that floating plywood like moths to a candle - all in search of the delectable bundles of turquoise dynamite known as dolphin.
Easily the most brilliantly-colored fish to inhabit Floridas waters, dolphin have become widely known by their Hawaiian name of mahi-mahi; this to avoid confusing them with the marine mammals of "Flipper " fame. They are caught nearly year-round in the Keys and south Florida, venturing north to Suncoast waters during the summer months. Dolphin are a very structure-oriented gamefish, ordinarily hanging around weedlines or various pieces of flotsam - Ive taken lots of dolphin off of nothing more than 3 pieces of 2x4 about 2 ft. long nailed into a triangular shape. A barrel, drum or the aforementioned plywood drifting around the Gulf Stream will often hold hundreds of these critters. Simply troll by the structure and wait for them to find you. If theyre about, they will slam whatever you happen to be dragging at the time with a ferocious strike.
Once the first fish is boated, return to the floating structure and either chum or toss in your baited lines (ballyhoo makes great cut bait). Make sure your drag is up to snuff - dolphin are F-A-S-T. About 50 knots worth. Try to leave at least one hooked fish in the water during the "bite" - this seems to encourage the others in the school to stick around. The dolphin youll catch here will probably be in the 10 pounds and under range - known as "chicken" dolphin by the locals. Larger dolphin, especially the 30 pound - plus "bulls", usually travel in pairs, but may be lurking close to a school of smaller fish.
Dolphin are apparently not very long-lived, but grow very fast - reaching at least eighty pounds. They feed on squid and flying fish - your artificials should mimic these baits for best results. They can turn finicky about color - green, pink, white and combinations of these three are dependable producers. Trolling tackle in the 30-50 pound class with spinning tackle testing 15-20 pounds should get you set up nicely. As far as table fare goes, dolphin rate right there at the top - a delectable flavor that is best when grilled fresh out of the water. The bag and size limit changes occasionally, so be sure to check them before you go fishing (click here). Any dolphin under about 18-20 inches long should probably be released, since the meat yield is low. When youre offshore, check those weedlines and troll that flotsam, cause you just never know.