After three straight weeks of trying to get offshore to chase dolphin fish, also known as Mahi, we finally made it a couple weeks ago. It was still a bit bumpy in Matt Willis’s 23-foot boat, but it had been the only time in three weeks there wasn’t a storm off the coast near Charleston. So, we met up at 3:30 a.m. and went dolphin fishing.
The group consisted of Matt Willis, (since it was his boat) his son Matthew, Mike Cox and myself. We left the Waphoo Cut landing before 4 a.m. and frankly the ride out wasn’t too rough and we made good time. We reached the area where reports of dolphins being caught had been good, about 130 feet deep, not quite all the way to the ledge, and we were there right at sunrise and started trolling.
Overall, the fishing was slower than we hoped for, but we did catch dolphin and two of them were in the 30-pound class. We did lose a few hookups and Matthew even saw one dolphin coming out of the water chasing one of our top water baits.
The basic rigging is fairly simple. A typical dolphin spread of lures may consist of several type; we used five, with surface lines pulled behind the boat at 5-7 knots. While there are lures that work well on dolphin, we used lures rigged with ballyhoo, a baitfish you can buy frozen and place behind the lure to better attract the fish. Natural baits such as ballyhoo or even mullet rigged with a small- to medium-sized artificial lure or colored skirt produce more of these game fish than any other bait. While other techniques will work, for Willis and Cox, this seemed to be the bait of choice.
Large artificial surface lures are also effective for the big fish. While all baits are usually fished on the surface, according to some anglers it is wise to run at least one line 60-70 feet deep via a downrigger.
The best place to fish is usually anything that’s different such as temperature breaks, current upwellings or rips, weed lines and anything floating. We focused on weed lines but they were broken up pretty bad, probably because of all the storms recently and getting our lures fouled on small clumps of the weeds was problematic. While keeping the lures running straight and free of weeds was a bit of work, we did catch some dolphin.
On the way back in, since the black sea bass season opened up on June 1, we stopped over an offshore wreck and caught limits of these excellent eating fish. We had a bonus for the day as well.
In early summer, most dolphin are found further out, from the ledge in about 160 feet out to 400 feet deep or more. Now that we’re in June, some of the fish are moving closer to shore and often they will get even closer than the 130-foot line. That makes the trip out and back shorter; an important variable when you consider all the windy days we’ve had this year so far.
Dolphin area very important fish for South Carolina and every year, unbelievable numbers of these fast-growing, neon-colored fish migrate north off our coast. Usually they are hottest from late April through June, with bigger fish (30-50 pounds) typically moving through first.
Summer offers anglers an excellent opportunity to catch these game fish closer to shore than during any other season. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, good concentrations of dolphin occur as close in as 90 feet of water, although the area from 180-600 feet deep will often hold the best concentrations of these species.
As the summer progresses, the size of dolphin gradually declines. At summer’s start, 10-20 pound dolphin are the norm, but average weight drops to eight pounds by summer’s end.
The common dolphin, frequently called mahi mahi or dorado, is likely the perfect game fish. Ranging worldwide in warm temperate and tropical oceans, this species is recognized as a premier game and food fish wherever it is found. The dolphin is revered among anglers for its aggressive strikes, long, fast runs, stunning aerial acrobatics and its vibrant, neon colors.
Historically harvested almost wholly by recreational fishermen around the world, only in recent decades did the fish catch the attention of commercial anglers. Today, the species is a shared stock between recreational and commercial interests, both vying for their share of this true seafood delicacy.
Off the South Carolina coast, dolphin are present virtually year round in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, 60-75 miles offshore, but are at peak abundance April through July. As shallower Continental Shelf waters warm in the summer, the fish move closer to shore, occasionally being found within ten miles of the coast.
Dolphin may very likely be the fastest growing wild fish known to man. This species has been reported to grow at the phenomenal rates of 1.3 to 2.7 inches in length per week. Studies have shown that dolphin are capable of reaching a body length of four feet and a weight of 40 pounds in less than 12 months. Males were found to grow at a faster rate than females, weigh as much as 20 percent more per given length and reach a larger size at equal ages. Females seldom exceed 40 pounds while males routinely reach 60 pounds with the current world record being an 88-pound bull caught in 1998 in the Bahamas. Dolphin is one of the few species of fish where the sexes can be identified by external features. Males have a pronounced blunt head shape while the females are gracefully rounded.
If you want to get in on some great fishing and some of the finest table fare in the sea, now is the time to go. I hope to get back again soon.