September 15, 2021
Mahi-mahi is also commonly known as dolphinfish, dorado, or just plain mahi. It's unmistakably identifiable with its beautiful bright blue, gold, and yellow colors and the distinct bony crest on the front of its head. It's a schooling fish that can be found worldwide in tropical or subtropical offshore waters but is known to come close to the shore.
Mahi prefer temperatures of around 27 degrees Celsius but have been known to dwell in waters as low as 20 degrees. It's usually fished between depths of 37 to 85 meters deep and is a popular target species among inshore anglers. With its lean and mildly sweet flavor, it makes for popular table fare for a variety of cuisines. Its characteristic taste is mostly attributed to its diet of shellfish, crustaceans, Sargassum weed, vegetation, small fish, and other smaller sea creatures.
Although it's one of the ocean's fastest-growing fish that can reach full maturity in as little as five months, it likewise has a short lifespan of only four to five years. Younger individuals often swim with larger schools nearer to the coastline, while older mahi will usually prefer deeper waters with a smaller group or a single partner. This fish is fast – easily reaching speeds of around 50 to 57 knots in open waters, which makes it a targeted, highly-coveted sport fish and one for the angler’s bucket list.
Anglers can catch the dolphinfish mainly by trolling or baitcasting. Aside from being wickedly fast, the mahi exhibits exceptional strength and is known for stunning aerial displays, so anglers should be well prepared for a fight. Having reserve rods and reels is a necessity in this case, as the dorado's strength and speed can easily snap your rig. Most of the gear that you already have for saltwater inshore and offshore fishing should be up to the task.
Typically, a 7-foot heavy action rod with a 30 to 50-pound braided line and up to 1 oz lure weights is a good rig for casting or trolling. You can also have a 50-pound barrel swivel, coupled with 3-foot fluorocarbon leader sizes from 30 to 80 pounds with 6/0 to 9/0 circle hooks.
However, trolling tackle used for sailfish and wahoo usually work as well when going after mahi, such as a size 16 to 20 overhead reel with 20-pound test monofilament. This setup will also prepare you for any other strong fish you may encounter while out in deeper waters.
If using live bait, a common and proven favorite of anglers is ballyhoo. However, squid or any other kind of fish that’s been cut up into smaller chunks should work well. When it comes to artificial lures, topwater poppers, diving plugs, soft plastic jigs, and artificial squid are commonly used. These are usually rigged on spreader bars and daisy chains.
The mahi is attracted to structure and floating objects, so finding these is critical before you drop your lines in the water. This fish's preferred habitat includes mats of floating seaweed (usually Sargassum), logs, debris, and even commercial fishing gear floats, just to name a few. When you spot any kind of structure with baitfish simmering around, it would be wise to troll, drift, or cast in that particular spot.
Once you happen upon a floating structure, tip your jigs with ballyhoo or squid, cast it nearby, and let it sink to the dorado's known spot in the water column. You should also have a bucket of chum or throw in some of your cut-up ballyhoo near the area to pique the fish's interest which is often known as “bailing” for mahi-mahi. This is also a reason why spreader bars and daisy chains are used – to call the attention of schooling dorado.
Another location that isn’t too popular but has the potential to be equally effective is trolling the rip currents. If the currents are situated near weedlines, then you have stumbled upon a two-in-one goldmine.
Now, when trolling for mahi, you should try to maintain a speed between 2 and 9 knots, and some experimentation is needed before you find the right speed for your spot. Stay consistent with trial and error until a fish takes your hook. It’s important to maintain a steady speed – so don’t keep changing up. A good average speed to keep around weedlines would be around 6 to 7 knots.
Keeping things simple while trolling for mahi will help you avoid tangled lines and other inconveniences. Remember that the dolphinfish are fast and aggressive, and can easily tangle up two lines from your spread. A typical trolling spread may consist of two rods with ballyhoo on the outer edges of the rig with two artificial lures in the center. Therefore a spread of about 3 to 4 rods should work if you’re experienced or with a buddy. But if you’re new or if you’re flying solo, you may want to cut this down to a more manageable level.
Once you hook a dorado, immediately set the boat’s gear to neutral so you can fight the fish better. To avoid tangled lines, you can reel in your other rods from the spread. Moreover, since mahi tend to school, you can pretty much bet that others will be around the area, especially after you hook one and pull it into your boat. If you reeled in your other lines, you can throw them back out again and wait for the other members in the school to bite.
Alternatively, after you’ve hooked one mahi, you can immediately start up the boat once again and resume trolling, leaving the lines in the water to attract its companions, careful to maintain the same speed as you previously had before.
Using topwater lures such as poppers can likewise be effective against mahi, since it calls attention to itself quite readily. However, you’ll need to work the popper more aggressively than usual to cause a stir on the surface. Once you catch the mahi’s attention, start casting or chumming some live bait. You’ll essentially be using the popper just to lure them toward you but you won't actually use it to hook the fish.
The mahi-mahi’s beautiful colors and high-rated table fare make it a favorite among anglers which makes it one of the most coveted bucket list catches. Did we miss any of your favorite techniques? If so, let us know, and we hope these techniques for catching mahi helped you out for your next trip.