When I catch a dolphin or dorado in the West, I get excited for more than just a great dinner. I recycle the dolphin bellies back into baits that are very durable and versatile. It only takes a few minutes to make the most of your catch.
After filleting the dolphin, I flip the carcass belly up and cut down behind the pelvic fin. Then I cut back towards the tail and take out the belly triangle. Strip the guts out of the belly and set aside. (In this picture I was cutting in front of the pelvic fin to use it as a dolphin belly teaser. The bone structure gives you a good anchor for that, but for strips, I cut behind the fin.)
I usually just bag them while cleaning fish and then prep them the next day. It does not take too long and you only need some ice water, salt and a sharp knife.
I make a brine with salt and ice water and throw the bellies in to soak while I prep them. This also helps clean them up of any cleaning-table slime.
Each belly should have two sides. My first cuts are to trim off the ragged edges. I want to create a rectangular slab that maximizes the surface area of the belly.
Sometimes these trimmings are big enough to make a mini-strip that I use to tip a jig to give it flavor and more wiggle. These strips are tough and will not come off when a fish is nipping it.
The belly is divided into two parts by a groove down the middle.
This groove is where I cut the belly into two equal sides. You need to cut from the flesh-side so you are not cutting scales from the outside.
If the dolphin was bigger, I shave off the high spots in the meat so that it is level. Unless a dolphin was really big, I don’t shave the meat-side down. The membrane on the inside of the gut cavity helps seal up the meat and makes for a much tougher strip bait. If it is more than ¼ inch thick, then you may have to shave the meat-side down and then salt the exposed flesh to toughen it.
If I’m not fishing with the strips right away, then I leave the belly-halves whole and salt them before freezing. I normally cut the strips to shape as I prep for the day of fishing. In this way I can tailor their size to the type of fishing and rigs I’m using that day.
To make the strip is simple. Slice the belly into long strips that come to a point on one end.
I also trim the edges of the “front end” to make it more streamlined but still blunt and large enough for rigging. The strip bait will always have some type of lure head in front of it.
Lay your slabs out and salt them lightly. This will draw out some of the fluids and toughen them up. A good strip will troll for hours, but usually they get bit long before that.
I place a day’s worth of belly slabs in zipper bags for freezing. I put the slabs meat-side to meat-side for freezing taking care not to get salt in the tracks of the bags because it hinders closing them.
I rig the belly strips in many ways for trolling or tipping jigs for more flavor and action. I will explore many of these rigging variations in my upcoming articles.
On the East coast, little tunny (bonita) also make an excellent strip bait and are often readily available too. Other tuna do not work as well as they either have stiff skin with scales or are too soft.