Maximizing Mahi from Small Boats

Dolphin Sportfishing

Mahi Magic: Maximizing your Mahi trolling spread from a Small Boat

Mahi-mahi, also known as Dorado or common dolphin, are a highly sought after sportfish found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters worldwide. Anglers are attracted to this prized fish for it’s frantic fights on the water and it’s superb food quality on the table. While dolphin fishing is somewhat easier than other game-fishing, there are methods you can practice to increase your numbers per trip.  Learning how to catch mahi mahi is not complicated, but only involves a couple of easily learned strategies.

Here are a few simple, but effective, practices while trolling for dolphin with smaller center console type boats.  The objective when setting your trolling spread is to try and imitate a natural feeding scenario. This is accomplished by arranging your baits in a pattern to create the illusion of a school of panicked baitfish. This can be accomplished by staggering different baits at different lengths behind the boat with the ultimate objective being to have your dolphin trolling spread working together as one unit. Staggering your baits also imitates the natural pattern of a school of fleeing baitfish, where the weak or slower fish often times get separated from the main group and become easier targets for mahi.

Saltwater Trolling

how to Optimize trolling speed for mahi

The # 1 rule about how fast to troll for mahi is to optimize the action of your baits.  Mahi will hit anything from a high speed wahoo lure to a stationary bunk of bait.  There is no magic speed that triggers a mahi strike.

As each bait is lowered over the side of the boat, look at how that bait is swimming.  Adjust the rigging as necessary so that it swims well.  Then change the boat speed and watch how that affects the bait.  Adjust the boat speed as necessary to optimize the action of the lure.  

Try to determine the sensitivity of the bait to the speed of the boat.  Choose a speed that is toward the midpoint of idle action.  Don't choose a speed that is barely fast or slow enough to make the bait swim well.  The action of the bait may change some as it dropped back into the spread.  You don't want the bait barely swimming well while it is beside the boat.  

Pause as you drop the bait back and watch how it trolls.  This is a learning process and you will get better at determining the optimum speed over time.  Realize that the optimum speed can change with wave height, current speed, trolling direction relative to current, position in the spread, and the angle of line entry into the water.  Always be attentive the action of bait and adjust speed as necessary.  

creating a trolling spread for mahi mahi

The following setup is a basic but effective spread for those who fish in center console type boats with no outriggers. For setting your spread, you will want to begin by placing two rods in the rod holders on the corners of the stern of your boat. These two baits will be your short flat lines and are most effective around 30-50 feet behind the boat.

Once your baits are in the water, you will want to increase the trolling speed of the boat until these baits appear to be skipping along the surface without spending too much time in the air. Be sure to place these two baits out of the wash of your boat in areas of bluewater so the baits’ actions can be maximized and easily spotted. Effective baits for these lines include daisy chains, light plastic skirted lures, or feathered trolling lures. Your next two lines will be your outside long flat lines that you will place in the outside rod holders in your rod launcher on the rear of your T-top, or you can also place them on the gunwales near the stern of your boat, preferably in rod holders that have a 45 degree outward angle.

Optimal placement for these two baits is around 60-80 feet behind the boat—a safe but close distance away from your two short flat lines. Effective lures for your long flats can be naked ballyhoo, skirted ballyhoo, or medium sized plastic skirted lures such as the Green Machine. Next, depending on your boat layout, you can add up to two additional lines, the first being the “shotgun” bait which you will place 200 feet back, down the center of your spread.

Bigger baits such as larger skirted lures work well, and you can place this rod in the center of your t-top rod launcher. This bait is generally the most effective lure in catching fish as it is seen as the weaker or injured fish.  It is important that you have a large spool capacity of line on this reel as you will already have 200 feet of line out prior to the hookup. The last line you can place out is a very short center flat line just behind the prop wash of your boat. Something small here is best as you don’t want a large bait too close to your short flat lines. The opportunity to land more mahi mahi often comes with how things happen when you hook up.  Hooking a fish often create a lot of excitement and sometimes leads the members of the boat into a frenzy. 

how to catch mahi mahi

trolling natural baits for mahi

A good trolling spread will include a variety of natural and artificial bait featuring a variety of colors.  As the day progresses, adjust your spread based on how the fish react.  

Ballyhoo are one of the most popular natural baits for mahi.  They can be effectively trolled using the traditional pin-rigging.  As an alternative to pin-rigging, TrollTrue mahi trolling lures offer a fast, easy way to rig ballyhoo with pin-rigging, rubber bands, or copper wire.  This can make a big difference when the action get hot.

keep trolling to add more mahi to the fishbox!

One of the most common mistakes while trolling for mahi is made when initially hooked is the captain's instinct to stop the boat.  Mahi are most commonly found in schools and you will have a greater chance of doubling or tripling up if you continue to troll while hooked up. Rather than stopping the boat completely, reduce to half speed and continue to troll. This alone will drastically increase your chances of catching another mahi. In the case of a large mahi you may have to stop the boat and reel in the lines that may become tangled. In this case, it is always a good idea to have a nice large spinning rod and reel set up with a pitch bait to cast while the first mahi is being landed. When casting, be sure to give plenty of distance from the hooked mahi to ensure you don’t get tangled. Your retrieve should be fast and frantic to create the chaos of fleeing baitfish. Effective baits for this method are bucktails, jigs, or a diving bait such as Rapala. This method is a sure fire way to increase your chances of putting more mahi in your cooler. If this method does land you another fish, you can continue this practice until the bite goes cold and then return to trolling.