General Information on dolphin fishing offshore of the Florida Keys
Whether you refer to them as mahi mahi, dolphin fish, dorado, or any other name they are considered by many fisherman to be the ultimate sport fish and may very well be the most popular species targeted while offshore fishing. Islamorada Florida has some of the best dolphin fishing in the world and although they can be caught here in the keys anytime of year, late spring and summer is the peak time for chasing mahi out in the gulf stream offshore of the Florida Keys.
There are basically 2 ways you can get in on the action. Either choose from the countless offshore charter captains or do it yourself on your own boat or a rental boat. Either way your best shot at a successful day of dolphin fishing offshore of the Florida Keys should take place anytime from early May through the summer.
Techniques can include trolling, casting, sight fishing, and running and gunning with a combination of any or all of these usually leading to a successful day. Generally trolling outfits from the 30 to 50 pound range and spinning tackle from 15 to 30 pounds will be appropriate for fishing offshore of Islamorada. Live bait, dead bait, lures, and jigs all have their place with each having advantages and drawbacks depending on your style or the style of the captain you fish with.
A typical dolphin fishing charter offshore of Islamorada in the Florida Keys
Fishing charters will vary depending on several factors such as the captain, the boat, the weather, and how the fishing has been leading up to your trip, but a typical day should go something like this.
Most offshore charter captains in Islamorada will start the day with a quick stop on the bait patch. Although live bait isn’t always necessary, it’s a great thing to have especially if the fish happen to be finicky that day. After a quick stop for a few dozen pilchards, cigar minnows, ballyhoo, or whatever else your captain prefers you should be headed offshore to find the gulf stream. The distance to the blue water of the gulf stream varies from day to day, but is usually in the range of 10 to 15 miles from shore off of Islamorada. Most charter captains in the Florida Keys will run offshore from the bait patch until they reach the gulf stream current or see some signs of life. Your captain often may find fish while running out so it’s always good to be ready to jump into action at a moments notice.
When he feels that your “in the zone” the captain will usually pull the throttles back and start trolling while looking for signs of life. Now even though you are now trolling either lures or dead baits and you could get a bite at any minute, the true purpose of slowing down and trolling is usually to start hunting. A good crew will spend a lot of time looking through binoculars and paying great attention to whats around them. Floating pieces of debris in the water, sargassum weed lines and most of all birds are all big indicators that your crew will be looking for. All kinds of birds can put you on fish, but when fishing for dolphin offshore of the Florida Keys single frigate birds and small groups of terns will usually be some of the best indicators of dolphin in the area. Especially if they seem to be moving from northeast to south west into the current. Big flocks of birds can also put you on dolphin, but often the bigger flocks are on schools of skipjack tuna and you’ll eat up a lot of your time chasing them around so it can be best to stick to the smaller groups of birds. Like anything else in fishing there are plenty of exceptions so trust your crew to find the right signs to put you on the fish.
Once your Captain finds the fish and puts you on the meat the action can be fast and furious so be ready and try to pay attention to the crew. Sometimes you’ll get the first bite or 2 on the trolling rods and then start casting to the rest of the school with spinning rods, other times the crew will clear the trolling gear and start right off with the spinning tackle. Either way if there’s a big school of fish be ready for some fast action. If your baiting the fish with either live bait or cut bait it will usually involve casting the bait out and leaving the bail of the spinning reel open. When you get a bite you’ll want to let the fish eat the bait by dropping back to him for at least a few seconds, longer if your using live bait. once the fish has had the bait for a few seconds close your bail and wind fast until you come tight on the fish. Try to avoid setting the hook excessively hard, usually just coming tight on the fish and giving a steady lift to the rod is all that’s needed. Dolphin have a way of jumping over and around lines so be ready to move! Paying attention to what your fish is doing and following him over, under, or around your buddies line will help avoid tangles and make the process much easier and more efficient for your crew. One more important tip, try to avoid winding against the drag on a spinning reel. Basically this means just winding uncontrollably even when your not gaining line. You’ll be using relatively light spinning tackle in some cases so try to play the fish out easily and pay attention to whats going on with your drag so your not winding at the same time the fish is taking line. Doing this creates a lot of twist in your line and makes it hard to cast to the next fish until that line has been stretched out.
After you get done with a school of dolphin or mahi mahi sit back and relax and try to rest up for the next school while your charter crew cleans up and reorganizes all the tackle. Sometimes it will be one school after another for an easy limit of fish and other times the schools can be far and few between and the captain will have to work very hard to find every fish. Be ready for other opportunities as well. There are several different types of by catch on a typical dolphin fishing charter in the Florida Keys including shots at wahoo and billfish including sailfish and the occasional blue or white marlin while trolling as well as tripletail around floating objects and there’s also a good chance of black fin tuna.
Once your back at the dock it’s time for a few ice cold beverages to help stay cool in the hot sun while your captain cleans your catch. Don’t forget to leave a big tip and come back soon!