A school of Yellowtail Snapper. Some of the other fish we catch in the Florida Keys areTuna, Wahoo, Blue & White Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Sharks, Kingfish, Mutton Snapper, King Mackerel, Grouper, Cobia, Tarpon and more.

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How-To Series


Courtesy of
Waldo "Double Treble" Tejera.
Islamorada Sport Fishing Online contributing writer.

Please visit Waldo's website at:
For all things windows!

ďDolphin Fishing 101Ē

     Now that winter is gone and spring has arrived my fishing strategies begin to change.  Now Iíll be targeting primarily Dolphin and other summertime species.  Dolphin are easier to find and catch than most people think.  Bringing some dolphin home for dinner is more about being at the right time and the right place than being a real skillful angler or having really lively baits.  Dolphin are not usually shy of boats, will take most real and artificial baits, offer an unbeatable light tackle challenge, and best of all, are delicious.

The hardest thing is really finding them.

     When I set out for Dolphin I start early.  Theyíll be a lot of boats competing with me and I want first shot at whatever fish are out there.  Whoever has first shot will find the fish less weary and ready to feed.  If youíre late in the game chances are the fish youíll find will have already had baits thrown at them and weíll be a bit more shy of taking your bait.

     Iíll try and pick up some live bait if I have time.  Iíll have some fresh dead bait such as ballyhoo, squid, mullet, pilchards, etc. for tossing over to schooling fish. Weíll have the cut bait in two small containers to save time when the fish are around the boat.  Dolphin are always on the move and they wonít wait for you to cut the bait so time is of the essence.  Iíll have 3 rods set for trolling, a couple of light spinning outfits with jigs, and a couple of other rods rigged with a 2/0-4/0 long shank hook for casting out the cut or live bait to the fish around the boat.

     Once Iím in deeper water (120í) Iíll start looking for signs indicating the presence of fish.  Youíve all heard about the importance of weedlines, boards, birds, etc.  Weíll youíre going to hear it again.  I will not start trolling blindly out in blue water.  Iíll look for a group of birds diving into the surface around weeds.  Any object floating on the surface is an excellent target.  Sometimes the fish are near shore within 10 miles.  Other times Iíll go out to 20-30 miles in search of these signs.  It depends on the wind and currents.  On the east coast, if the wind is from the east it will bring weeds and debris in closer.  If the wind is from the west, chances are weedlines and floating objects will be further out. 

     The reason why these weedlines and floating objects are so important is very simple.  What would you do if you weíre a small bite size fish only visible to predators when the sun hits your shiny body?  Simple. Hide under a shadow and become invisible.  Why do we search for birds?  Again the answer is understandable.  When dolphin are feeding on small fish theyíll leave bits and pieces of small fish floating that become an easy meal for our feathered friends.  Find a bunch of birds concentrated in one area frantically diving into the water and youíll find dolphin, or other predators for that matter.

     If I find a floating object such as a board, my son will be front and center with the light spinning rod tipped with a jig.  Iíll stop the boat a few feet before and heíll cast his jig a couple of times in the vicinity of the board.  If thereís dolphin around theyíll hit. If no hits are had, then Iíll troll around the object a few times.  Iíll have a pink, yellow or blue Dolphin Jr. on one rod, a plain single-hook ballyhoo on another, and another single-hooked ballyhoo with a skirt in different color than that of the Dolphin Jr.  The ballyhoo lines will be my port and starboard lines and Iíll have them at least 75í-150í back. Try using only single hooked ballyhoo; double hooked ones are not really ideal for trolling.  The Dolphin Jr. will be in the middle and closer in.  Iíll troll at around 1500 to 2000 RPM so as to be able to keep an eye on the baits.  If you donít see your baits skipping on the surface every so often, youíre going to slow so speed up.   If we donít get any hits, then Iíll stop and let the lines drop deeper for a few minutes. Sometimes the dolphin are down deep and will hit the baits. If the area looks really productive Iíll cast a live bait out and see what happens.  If nothing happens Iíll crank up the engine and move on.  Iím going to do this continually until I find the fish. 

     Once you find the fish things happen pretty quickly.  If youíre not ready you wonít land as many fish.  First and foremost is the cardinal rule of keeping the school around your boat.  If you bring in a fish and you see it is being chased and accompanied by others, then leave it in the water.  If you bring the fish into your boat, the rest of the school might leave to find more food.  Keeping the fish in the water will increase the chances of that school of fish staying around your boat.  Once that fish begins to die, then bring it in and leave another hooked and lively fish out there.  Its important to realize that the fish will often move on and not be interested in your bait.  If this happens troll around the area again.  This will usually entice them to bite again.  While youíre at it drop a live bait with a sinker down deep with a wire and you might be surprised to have a Wahoo hit your bait.  They love dolphin and will chase schools around waiting for an easy meal.  Its also good to try different baits once youíve got them around your bait.  Leave the best (live baits and cut baits) for last.  Dolphin will often ignore anything you throw at them and yet strike aggressively at a live bait or some other bait that attracts their attention.  Every school is different and you must be flexible in your offerings to them.

      As I look out for birds and other fishy signs, Iíll keep an eye out for boat activity.  If I see a boat stopped 15 miles out to sea, chances are theyíll have fish around. Its not the most ethical form of finding fish, but I must admit Iíve saved many trips thanks to other boats. This is where a good pair of binoculars comes in handy.  Some pros will put rods down and stop fishing if they see a boat approaching.  Troll in circles well away from any boats you see on fish and theyíll come to you.  Stay far enough to avoid getting your lines tangled with theirs.    

      Other times that Iím not in the mood to run far or sea conditions do not allow me to, Iíll find a good weedline and start a chumline while drifting.  This method can also be very productive and you may attract many types of fish.  Iíll have a couple of free-lined live baits on mono leaders on top and a couple of baits weighted to get them down.

     Once youíve found them, you can easily land many fish in a short amount of time.  Please observe state and federal regulations and limits on Dolphin.  Keep only the fish you will eat.  Try to do your part for conservation and resist the temptation of keeping as many fish as you can.  Teach your kids this mindset and in time, catch and release will be second nature for everyone and our fish populations will always be plentiful.  Thereís no feeling like putting back where youíve always taken from.


Tightlines from ďDoubleTrebleĒ



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