How To Catch Mahi Mahi (Dorado, Dolphinfish) - Tips & Techniques
A Guide On How To Catch Mahi Mahi
Before we get into "How To Catch Mahi Mahi," it would be to our benefit to briefly go over what a Mahi Mahi is. Mahi Mahi go by a bunch of other names. Mahi Mahi are also known as the Dorado or Dolphinfish and can be found all around the world in tropical and subtropical waters. The Mahi Mahi is known for its vivid blue, green, and yellow glow. They will change color in the water based on their intensity and instinct. They are like a swimming “mood ring”. Mahi Mahi have a long dorsal fin that extends from their head to their tail.
Mahi Mahi are the fastest growing fish in the sea. Female Mahi Mahi also known as cow Mahi Mahi have a rounded head and will typically grow to about 30-40lbs. Male Mahi Mahi or Bull Mahi Mahi, have a larger squared head and can grow well over 50 pounds. The IGFA world record Mahi Mahi was caught in Costa Rica in 1976 and weighed a whopping 87 pounds! There have also been stories of people catching Mahi Mahi that weighed in at over 100 pounds.
Mahi Mahi have a lifespan between 4 and 5 years. Cow Mahi will spawn three times per year and can produce up to 1,000,000 eggs each time. Mahi Mahi are not endangered to say the least!
Mahi Mahi have become well-known as great table fare and are a sought after by both recreational and commercial fishermen. Mahi Mahi are some of the most aggressive and exciting gamefish to target. They often travel in schools, and can be caught many different ways. You can go trolling for Mahi Mahi, you can drift weed lines for Mahi Mahi, and you can even be fishing for other species and catch Mahi Mahi! Throughout the rest of this article I am going to go into great detail on how to catch Mahi Mahi. Hopefully, this article on how to catch Mahi Mahi will be extremely helpful to you. Let’s get started.
Where To Catch Mahi Mahi
As stated earlier, Mahi Mahi are a common fish that can be found in temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters. More specifically, they will typically be found in waters with the temperatures between 20°C/68°F and 28°C/83 °F. Some of the most popular places where anglers go to catch Mahi Mahi are the Florida Keys, the Atlantic Coast of Florida, Costa Rica, Panama, Hawaii, and Baha California.
Mahi Mahi are surface dwellers, meaning they typically swim close to the surface of the water. They are mostly found in waters over 150’ though are frequently caught in both shallower and deeper waters. Since they are mostly cruising close to the surface there are many things as anglers that we can be on the lookout for when we are fishing for Mahi Mahi.
What To Look For When Fishing For Mahi Mahi
Though Mahi Mahi are not exactly predictable, there are many things to look out for when you are fishing for them. Below are a few things to look out for the next time you’re fishing for Mahi Mahi.
Mahi Mahi Near Weedlines
Weedlines are probably the most obvious and easy thing spot while fishing for Mahi Mahi . The weed lines to look out for are made up of a type of sea weed called Sargassum. Sargassum is an orangish brown color and it will clump together offshore and create what we call a “weedline.”
Sometimes offshore weed lines can extend for miles and they create a natural habitat for bait fish, Mahi Mahi, and other offshore game fish. Often times they can be more patchy, but ideally you want to find a defined line of Sargassum. The reason being is that it is much easier to troll for Mahi Mahi when the weedline is defined (we will get more into this later).
Mahi Mahi Near Floating Structure
Another thing to look out for while fishing for Mahi Mahi is floating pieces of structure. While you are driving around offshore you occasionally will spot a piece of structure off in the distance. Floating structure has the potential to turn into your best day of Mahi Mahi fishing ever.
When I say structure, I mean ANYTHING! I’m talking driftwood, balloons, tangled buoys, refrigerator doors, etc. It does not matter. If you see something floating around in the deeps, it is definitely worth checking it out to see if there are any Mahi Mahi hanging out nearby.
Mahi Mahi In Strong Currents And Temperature Breaks
Mahi Mahi will often swim in the offshore currents and temperature breaks. Currents like the Gulf Stream are currents that typically contain warmer water than the water surrounding it. Mahi Mahi and other offshore gamefish will swim in these currents which make them ideal to fish. Mahi Mahi like warm water and are drawn to temperature breaks.
Other places you can normally find offshore currents are on top of different humps offshore. For example, when the ocean floor goes from over 1000 feet deep to only 400 feet in a relatively small area it will create a strong current. Between the humps and the currents Mahi Mahi will likely be nearby.
Mahi Mahi Under Sea Birds
When you are fishing offshore for Mahi Mahi you will likely see birds flying overhead. Birds are a good indication that there is a bait. If there is a lot of bait in one are there is a good chance that Mahi Mahi and other offshore gamefish are nearby. It may be worth checking out when you are fishing for Mahi Mahi.
Best Techniques For Catch Mahi Mahi
How To Catch Mahi Mahi While Trolling
Trolling for Mahi Mahi is probably the most popular technique used to catch them. It is the most popular because it tends to be the most effective way as well. There are many different ways to troll for Mahi Mahi and as you do it more and more you will likely tweak things according to what you think is best. This article will lay out a one particular preference that has been proven to work time and time again.
Where To Troll For Mahi Mahi
For more information you can go back and reread the “What To Look For When Fishing For Mahi Mahi” section, but you can troll for Mahi Mahi in many different places.
First, you can troll weedlines for Mahi Mahi. When you are trolling weedlines for Mahi Mahi you ideally want the weed line to be very defined. If the weedline is defined you will get caught up on way less Sargassum and you will not have to reset your spread as often.
Second, you can troll around floating structure. Sometimes, Mahi Mahi can be found under floating structure and you wont necessarily see them right away. This is why it can be effective to troll past floating structure.
Finally, troll in the rip currents. Trolling currents can be an effective way to catch Mahi Mahi. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there will be currents w/ weedlines in it. If this is the case you’re in a good spot. Take your time and work the weed lines and current for Mahi Mahi.
How fast should you troll for Mahi Mahi?
When you are trolling for Mahi Mahi it is important to make sure you find the right speed. Mahi Mahi are aggressive fish and will eat fast as well. Professionals tell you to troll for Mahi Mahi between 2 and 9 knots. Try varying speeds until you get a bite, but more importantly be consistent and make sure you keep the boat moving at a steady pace.
Mahi Mahi Trolling Spread
There is not a science to trolling for Mahi Mahi, but there are proven tactics. I tend to keep it simple when it comes to trolling for Mahi Mahi. You do not need a bunch of fancy lures, though they will work they are not necessary to catch Mahi Mahi.
A good spread for Mahi Mahi is to have 3 – 4 rods out. If you are experienced and have outriggers you can do more. A good spread is to have two rigged ballyhoo on the outside with one or two artificial trolling lures down the center (See “Best Trolling Lures & Baits For Mahi Mahi” for more information). Pink or blue are popular lure colors when targeting Mahi Mahi. If you are new to trolling, start with 2 – 3 rods.
What to do when you hook-up to a Mahi Mahi
When you hook into one or more Mahi Mahi you will want to put your boat in neutral and start fighting the fish. If you have multiple people on the boat have them reel in the other lines so you don’t have a mess on your hand.
As you are fighting the fish be ready! Mahi Mahi are extremely exciting fish and will often give you an aerial show by jumping out of the water. If the Mahi Mahi is a "gaffer" sized Mahi Mahi have someone get ready with the gaff. Mahi Mahi often travel in schools and will follow around the fish that is on your line. When you get the fish boat side and you see other Mahi Mahi close by it is good to put that rod in a rod holder and leave the fish in the water. Doing this will keep the other Mahi Mahi near the boat in the water. This will often lead to an opportunity to catch a bunch of Mahi Mahi in a very short amount of time.
The Schoolie Dolphin Frenzy
If you find yourself in what I like to call “the schoolie dolphin frenzy,” stay calm! Schoolie Dolphin Frenzies can be the most exciting and fun fishing or the worst fishing you will ever experience. It is not a matter of whether or not it will be chaotic it is a matter of whether or not you will organize and control the chaos.
If the Mahi Mahi you catch are not gaffer Mahi Mahi you will likely have a shot to load up on smaller fish if done right. In order to control the chaos you need to make sure you have the following ready:
- Light Tackle Spinning Set-Ups with Bucktail Jigs – It is vital to have 3 – 4 light-tackle set-ups rigged and ready for catching Mahi Mahi. The best set-up is our Osprey Saltwater Series 4000 – 5000 with 20# – 30# Distance Braided Line on a 7’ or 7’6” 8-17lb or 10-20lb spinning rod. On the end you will want to use our Infinity 100% Fluorocarbon Leader in 30# – 50# test. Make your leader is about 3 feet long and use a single uni-knot to tie a 1.5 - 2 oz pink or blue bucktail jig on the end.
- Fish Rags – Having some rags on board is important. In order to not have Mahi Mahi blood everywhere you will need to control the fish. Having your own personal “fish rag” is the best way to do this. Mahi Mahi are slippery and when let loose on the deck can be nearly impossible to grab ahold of. A rag will make this much easier. If you are able to lift the fish directly into your cooler to contain it, you are in good shape. This is ideal! Get back to fishing! You’ll want to be able to catch the Mahi Mahi, put it in the cooler and take the hook out WHILE it is in the cooler. If you can’t get the hook out, simply cut the line and grab a back-up set-up. This method will ensure less mess and more fish.
- Pliers – Having your own set of pliers is also important. You do not want to be looking for your pliers while you are in a Schoolie Dolphin Frenzy.
- A Net – Though sometime the schoolies are light enough to lift into the boat with your rod, sometime they are a little to big for that, but too small for a gaff. By using a new you will be able to contain the fish and ensure landing the fish.
- Chunk Bait – Have ready chunk bait. The ideal chunk bait is cut ballyhoo. While you are trolling pre-cut about 20 pieces of ballyhoo to chum out when the Mahi Mahi are boat side. You can try and tip your bucktail jig with a chunk of bait, but sometimes the Mahi Mahi will be uninterested. If they are uninterested in the chunk bait try casting your bucktail out and reel in with a fast retrieve. Sometime all it takes is a few violet twitches to get the Mahi Mahi fired up!
Pro Tip: Clean as you go. Do not let Mahi Mahi blood dry out on your deck. If possible, spray down your boat as you’re catching Mahi Mahi. Mahi Mahi blood stains and can be very difficult to clean.
Other Ways To Catch Mahi Mahi
If you do not have your trolling gear with you, another method used to catch Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) is drifting with chunk bait or live bait around weedlines. Sometimes the weedlines will be patchy making it difficult to troll. If this is the case, you can drift around them with baits out. If Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) are around, they should be able to track down your baits.
How To Catch Mahi Mahi Off Floating Structure
If you stumble upon a piece of floating structure and you see the blue glow of Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) underneath get your jigs ready! Tip your jig with a piece of ballyhoo or squid and cast it near the debris and let it sink down toward the Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish). You should also throw out chunks of ballyhoo to help chum up the Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish). If the they seem uninterested in the ballyhoo chunks, you can also try casting your jig head out with nothing on it to entice a reaction strike from the Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish).
Best Bait For Mahi Mahi Fishing
As stated in the beginning of this article, Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) are carnivorous and eat a wide variety of smaller fish. The best bait to chunk with is ballyhoo. If you can’t find ballyhoo squid could work too. Before you go out make sure you have a few packs of unrigged ballyhoo. You can purchase these at most local tackle shops in areas where Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) are regularly targeted. Though some of the largest Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) have been caught on small baits a typically rule of thumb is a larger bait will catch a larger Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish). Below are a few baits that are effective for trolling for Mahi Mahi.
- Rigged Ballyhoo – Rigged Ballyhoo are a favorite for catching Mahi Mahi. When you are trolling with rigged ballyhoo the ballyhoo will skip across the surface of the water. If you want, you can try skirted ballyhoo as well to catch Mahi Mahi.
- Bubblers – Light-weight surface bubblers are good because they tend to stay weed free. Also, if they catch some weeds you can easily shake them off the lure. Recommended colors for Mahi Mahi are pink or blue.
- Bullet Heads – Bullet head trolling lures are a little bit heavier and will stay sub-surface.
There are many other trolling lures that work well for Mahi Mahi and the best way to find your favorite is by trial and error.