NO MATTER THE NAME, FISHERMEN CALL IT FUN
Want to get on the dolphin? No need to go south any more, thanks to the warming ocean. You can get into them offshore in New Jersey. Whether you call them Mahi-Mahi, Dorado or Dolphin, this surface-dweller can be found in off-shore temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters worldwide. Definitely not the mammal of the same name, dolphin fish are one of two members of the Coryphaenidae family, the other being the pompano. The name mahi-mahi comes from the Hawaiian for "very strong".
Dolphin are a pelagic, migratory fish constantly on the move. They grow extremely fast and reach sexual maturity at five months of age. Females can spawn two to three times per year, producing between 80,000 and 1,000,000 eggs per event. Because they mature so fast, and reproduce prolifically, this species has not been devastated by over-fishing as they have sustained pressure better than most other pelagic species. Mahi are highly sought by sport fishermen due to their beauty, size, and food quality. They are found in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific coasts of North, Central and South America, West Africa, the Indian Ocean, Hawaii and the
South Pacific. Adult dolphin have been caught as far north as Maine on the East Atlantic Coast, but their distribution depends greatly on warm-water currents such as the Gulf Stream and its associated eddies that spin off into the Northeast canyons. Dolphin can be found in water ranging from 70 to 85 degrees F, but they prefer water temps in the mid-70 range.
Mahi have compressed bodies and a single long dorsal fin extending from the head almost to the tail. Mature males have prominent foreheads protruding well above the body, while females have a rounded head. They are distinguished by dazzling colors- golden lower sides, with bright blues and greens on the upper sides and back. Out of the water, the colors dull significantly fading to a muted yellow-grey upon death. When they're 'lit up,' you can't miss a dolphin popping up in the trolling spread behind the boat. Male dolphin, called "bulls," grow larger than female "cows." They are extremely fast swimmers, hence their ability to take large jumps and speed across the ocean's surface. While a 40-pound bull is a solid catch any day of the week, these fish can grow much larger. The current all-tackle world record is an 87-pound giant caught off Costa
Rica. Sightings of 100-pound mahi have surfaced from time to time.
Fishing charters usually look for floating debris and frigatebirds near the edge of reefs in up to 120 feet of water. Finding dolphin is all about finding stuff floating in the ocean. They often swim near debris such as floating wood, five-gallon bucket lids, palm fronds, sargasso weed lines and around fish buoys. In the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico, dolphin associate with weed lines that form on the surface of the ocean. Crews will troll alongside the weed lines with a man in the tower looking for big fish under the floating grass or debris. These are little havens in the ocean as they provide hiding places for small baitfish that attract the mahi.
Mahi are carnivorous, feeding on flying fish, crabs, squid, mackerel, and other forage fish.
Frigatebirds search for food accompanying the debris or weeds. Hookless teaser lures have the effect of bait balls of sardines. Trolling rigged ballyhoos or lures with 30-to-50-pound gear is common for Dolphin, and just about any lure will work- small chuggers and feather jigs or Sea Witches are some of the more popular choices. Crews also target dolphin with a combination
blue-and-white popping lures or an Hawaiian Eye rigged with a dead ballyhoo. This is probably the best combo to target mahi. Never leave home without a few mahi jigs in the box. You just might need one to save the day. Fly-casters often look for frigate- birds to find big dolphins, and once located, they use a bait-and-switch where they first toss the teasers or live chum, then throw the fly to the feeding mahi to let the acrobatics begin.
As for the eating, organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, classify mahi caught by line/pole in the US as "Eco-Best" in its three-category system, but classify mahi caught by longline as only "Eco-OK" or "Eco-Worst" due to longlining, a method that can result in injuring or killing seabirds, sea turtles and sharks