I heard that quote somewhere so can’t take credit for it, but it is very true. Pretty much everywhere you go up and down the East coast, you will find a charter boat that targets Mahi. This green, blue, yellow, and white fish is one of the most colorful and unique fish in the ocean and highly prized along the Eastern seaboard.
I am based in Ocean City, MD where we find the smaller Mahi usually balled up in large schools sometimes hundreds, making them a nice target to stop the boat and using chunking techniques. The larger ones tend to be more solitary or in small groups. I have been fortunate enough to see Mahi Mahi up to 51 lbs. come over the gunnel of my boat the PRIMARY SEARCH with many 20s and 30s to boot. I would say the average size of Mahi Mahi in the mid-Atlantic area would be a 5-10lb fish. The larger fish usually come while trolling and the smaller class fish usually come from stopping the boat and chunking cut bait.
Mahi Mahi for us is not a guarantee, we have years that have showcased considerable biomass and others such as this year where they become harder to locate. If they are your primary target a first step to locating them is finding floating debris whether man-made or natural both act as FADS (fish aggregating devices). If you can’t find any floating structure, temperature breaks over the bottom structure are the next best bet. The species is extremely versatile, and we have areas where we’ve found them in considerably shallow depth (15 fathoms) to the endless abyss offshore.
A commonplace to begin to look for floating structure out of Ocean City Maryland is on a 20-fathom line. This area has made for great opportunities for smaller boats to catch Mahi within 25nm of the inlet. Traveling offshore to the canyons you will see less gear/ floating structure and if you do it tends to be more spread out. While the structure is the main attractant to locating them they will also be scattered about the open ocean.
If you happen to come across any structure, it’s best to troll by it first. I have caught Blue Marlin, White Marlin, Tunas, Wahoos, and sharks off floating debris and buoys. If the debris is there long enough it can have its own eco-system living around it. If after a few passes you have only caught a few Mahi Mahi or nothing, it’s a good time to break out the spinning gear and chunks. We will often take a bonito, or bluefish, or any oily fish and cut it into small chunks both to chum the school to us and for hook baits. Store-bought options are available as well, finger mullet or sardines are a great substitute for fresh bait. I approach the object from the down current side backing up towards the object, being careful to not get too close but close enough to cast our bait to the object.
Once you’ve hooked up it is very important to always keep one in the water so the school will stay with you. If you have an aggressive school and enough bait you can pull the school away from the object and they will stay behind your boat for an extended period. Once the school is biting the name of the game is speed. You have to get the fish in the boat, off the hook, and re-baited as fast as you can. You never know how long they will bite for. The most important part about Mahi fishing is to take only what you need. I am just as guilty as the next guy for overfishing! It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget how many you have. On my boat, we have started keeping an out loud count. Each time a fish goes in the box the mate or whoever puts it in will shout “ONE”, “TWO” and so on. We are trying to limit our daily catch to 30, down from the limit of 60. It’s a small step in the right direction I would like to see some other boats do this as well. I am not sure if the lack of Mahi we are seeing this year is due to overfishing them, but it never hurts to take only what you need.
For Chunking: Any medium-weight spinning rod with 20-30lb mono will work. I try to stay away from braid in this type of fishing because tangles are going to happen and its way easier to untangle mono. On the main line we will add a 1-2oz egg sinker, below that a Gamakatsu Duo Lock snap swivel that is big enough to easily open. Next, the leader is a 30-40lb mono or fluorocarbon. You want this to be strong enough to fling fish in the fishbox. Once the fish is in you simply undo the leader and put a new one on.
As far as hooks: The Gamakatsu Octopus is great in a 2/0 or a Gamakatsu Nautilus Circle Hook in 3/0-4/0 depending on the size of the fish.
Any 20 or 30 class Trolling outfit with work. Again mono is preferred over braid, in the 20-30 lb. range. We tie a Bimini in the main line, at the bottom of the Bimini a “no name” knot, then 12 ft. of 60 lb. mono to a snap swivel, then 4-6 foot of 50-80 lb. leader to our hook (snelled). The Gamakatsu Nautilus Light 5/0-7/0 works great, this hook is rigged with a naked chin-weighted ballyhoo in small or medium.
No bait available? Artificial lures work great for Mahi Mahi as well. Cedar plugs, diving plugs, green machines, and any marlin plug in a small size works great for Mahi. Black Bart makes a “micro bait” series that works great as well.
Mahi Mahi is one of the most targeted and caught fish on the East coast. It is a valuable resource for commercial, charter, and recreational fishermen alike. It’s our job to protect this species for future generations. Enjoy the resource but also respect it. You can make a difference.
If you’re interested in fishing with Captain Austin Ensor on his Charter boat Primitive Search check out: https://primarysearchsportfishing.com/