By Jeff Dennis
When the calendar reaches May, it signals to bluewater anglers along the Southeastern Atlantic coast that migratory dolphin are passing through. Desirable for both their fighting spirit and their excellent table fare, dolphin provide motivation for saltwater anglers to troll for them all of May and through the dog days of summer.
A typical fish day begins by leaving the dock in the darkness of pre-dawn hours, in hopes of casting fishing lines into the deep blue sea not long after sunrise, giving the crew several hours of morning to fish. A Shimano TLD 30 reel and a stout stand-up rod is a classic offshore tackle combo that can handle any size dolphin.
A dolphin can be found almost anywhere in the bluewater, but savvy anglers know to search for them in areas that have some surface debris like a weedline or flotsam and jetsam. Even a single piece of driftwood can hold multiple dolphin under it, and their bright green and yellow colors make them a handsome fish to photograph.
Color changes in the ocean signal temperature variations where warm water eddies break off from the Gulf Stream, attracting both baitfish and gamefish. Observant anglers are sure to mark these areas using GPS electronics, allowing the captain to bring the boat back through the strike zone again and again.
Dolphin are voracious and will feed on just about anything, and they are thought to be one of the fastest growing fish in the ocean. The smallest mahi are known as peanut dolphin and are usually returned to the ocean to maintain a sustainable fishery of these pelagic natural resources.
Dolphin that weigh in the teens are usually kept in the fish box. Mahi weighing 30, 40, 50-pounds and larger not only challenge the angler and the tackle, but they are commonly weighed-in at fishing tournaments up and down the coast. The large males have a blunt forehead, earning them the nickname bull dolphin, and are impressive to see.
Trolling for dolphin at slow speeds, around 8-knots, is the most common method of fishing, with ballyhoo baits rigged on circle hooks and a skirt that adds a flash of color to the presentation. Multiple lines are behind the boat in the water and the crew positions them so that they will not tangle, but once a fish is hooked up then the chance of crossing lines increases.
The dolphin fishing in May can be hot and multiple fish can be hooked up all at once, causing bedlam in the transom of the boat. It’s a frenetic fire drill of sorts when a school of dolphin attack the baits, providing the kind of action that makes offshore fishing addictive.
The heyday of the mahi bite in May offers conservationists a great opportunity to participate in the Dolphinfish Research Program. These hearty fish can live with a plastic dart tag that is applied by participating anglers during the catch and release process.
Any tagged dolphin that is recaptured at a later date, and reported to the database, adds information about the life history of these speedy fish, including growth rates and distance traveled. Scientific researchers also utilize satellite tags on dolphin in order to get real time data on their oceanic habits.
Since billfish love to eat dolphin, it’s not unusual to encounter a blue marlin when fishing in May. Marlin love to bat fishing lures around with their bill, the same way they chase down and disorient a dolphin they want to eat, and it’s magical when anglers encounter marlin and mahi together offshore.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019.
Photo By Jeff Dennis
Freshly caught mahi-mahi with brilliant colors