2022 Season Recap: The Year of the Dorado

To say the dorado fishing was good this past summer is an understatement. These colorful, acrobatic pelagic fish invaded the offshore waters from San Diego to the Catalina Channel and beyond. With the abundance of dorado being close to home, private boaters as well as AM and PM half day boats were all able to get in on the action. Limits were not hard to come by and with these fish hanging around for as long as they did, we have to appreciate and reminisce on the amazing season we had. Longtime local fishermen stated that this past summer was the largest biomass of dorado in our local waters for a prolonged period of time. Will we experience this amazing dorado fishing again next summer? Who knows; only time will tell. In this article, we will recap on the various methods used this past season to catch these hard fighting, beautifully colored, and excellent tasting fish.   

Live Bait Fishing for Dorado 

It is hard to beat live bait fishing and it’s arguably the best method for catching dorado in our local waters. Being able to roll up to the bait dock early in the morning and load up on scoops of live sardines or anchovy is a blessing for California anglers. Fishing live bait when a school of dorado is fired up is a slam dunk and the fish box is full within the hour. But when these fish are in “lockjaw” mode, something we experienced for a certain period of time this summer, it can be frustrating and pretty difficult to get a bite. There were a few tricks we used this past summer to help when those picky dorado wouldn’t take a bait.  

  • Gear: Scale down the gear by using a lighter rated rod and reel setup with 20lb or even 15lb fluorocarbon or mono top shot. Also, scaling down on hook size such as a 1/0 sized hook can help aid in getting bites. Casualties were more frequent and fight time was prolonged from utilizing lighter line, but it was a key tactic to having a fish on the end of your line.  
  • Bait Selection: Not every live bait is the same, and choosing a bait that is fired up and healthy was crucial. Selecting a nice green sardine that is not bloody and bruised gave the best chance at triggering a strike. The beaten-up bait in the bait tank can be used for either chunking (another great method for catching dorado) as well as for chum to bring the fish in close to the boat. While selecting a good live bait is true for fishing any species, it was essential this past summer when the dorado weren’t wide open. 
  • Bait Variety: Having live bait options when offshore is never a bad idea. By loading up on a few pieces of mackerel outside the harbor, time permitting, gives you another tool in your arsenal. A few of our catches this summer came off lively mackerel made outside the harbor before heading offshore. We were happy to find that our effort in making our own bait that morning helped us in not heading home empty handed.   

Trolling for Dorado 

One of the most popular methods for targeting dorado and other pelagic fish, especially in other countries, is trolling. Trolling is a great tactic for covering large areas of water while also searching for signs of life. Trolling small feathers in various colors at 7 to 8 knots yielded some nice dorado catches this summer. While it is entirely possible to get a blind jig strike from dorado while trolling open water; finding an area with surface activity or birds working and trolling that area is usually more productive.

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Another great trolling technique once you’ve located the fish is slow trolling a live sardine or mackerel. This is done by nose hooking your bait and letting it out behind the boat with the reel in free spool, all while keeping the boat moving at around 2 knots. When flylining live bait or trolling artificial lures were not working this past summer, we relied on slow trolling live baits in fishy areas and found some success along the way. While trolling for dorado may not be the most exhilarating style of fishing, it was certainly a necessary and effective method this past summer for catching and locating dorado schools.   

Left: Great trolling options for dorado. Right: Dorado caught on the troll.

Casting Lures for Dorado 

While not as heavily employed as live bait or trolling, casting artificial lures for dorado can be extremely effective. Soft plastic jigs, metal jigs, and surface irons can all be used to catch dorado. With that being said, caution should be exercised when using jigs for dorado. When hooked, dorado will leap out of the water multiple times in attempt to shake the hook, which can cause the jig to come flying back at the boat potentially causing serious boat damage or even worse, injury to anglers. Over this past summer we relied heavily on live bait when fishing offshore for dorado, with exception to one trip where unfortunately a majority of our bait did not survive the run to the fishing grounds. After using the last remaining live sardines in our bait tank and cutting up the dead ones for chum, we were out of live bait and had little success for the day. The next approach on deck for us was casting for these dorado as they continued to taunt us by circling the boat. Using a lighter baitcasting setup with 15-pound fluorocarbon, ¼ oz sardine and anchovy color hookup baits, we were able to pick a few more dorado off the school to bring home for the dinner table. These fish were keyed in on small micro bait so using the smallest possible size lure to cast for them was key. We also worked the lure fast in order to trigger a strike from these dorado, as we noticed from earlier that these fish would primarily only take a hot swimming sardine. Understanding what these fish were primarily eating and their tendencies and behavior aided us in having a successful day on the water, even when bites were rather hard to come by.  

This past fishing season for Southern California anglers was one to remember and will be talked about for generations to come on how our local waters were invaded by massive schools of dorado. While it’s important to recollect on the amazing dorado fishing, it is also valuable to understand techniques that worked to hook these fish when the bite was not wide open. By reflecting, we can prepare ourselves as anglers for next season if we are fortunate enough to experience an event similar to this past year. 

Kevin White grew up in Southern California and became an avid angler fishing both freshwater and saltwater. His passion for fishing stems from a young age fishing for Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass in Upper Michigan with his father and grandfather. When he is not working as an engineer for one of...