It does not feel like fall yet, but it will be here before you know it. For anglers up and down the east coast of Florida that means the dolphin will make another showing. Not as prolific as the spring run, but certainly worth trolling for one of the most edible, sporty and gorgeous game fish, the dolphin. They are also known by the tourist as the “Mahi Mahi” and by our Pacific brethren, the “Dorado”.
Sailfish will also begin to move south as the first signs of cooler weather up north signal the exodus. November through February will be the peak sailfish season for most of Florida’s east coast and the Keys.
Normally we use wire leaders for a trolling spread in Central Florida because of possibility of wahoo and kingfish bites. Wire leaders will also catch dolphin and sailfish no problem.
But a better method exists for fish without teeth that swallow their prey whole such as the dolphin, sailfish and tuna.
Light mono leaders and smaller baits are much easier for a dolphin to gulp in and the hook up ratio goes up noticeably.
That is why I switch to this type of spread when the dolphin or sailfish begin their runs. It is actually a “tried and true” sailfish method that works really well for dolphin too.
First the theory made simple. The dolphin and sailfish gulp the bait whole, so let’s give them a bait that is easy to eat and with small enough hardware that they don’t detect it. Since the fish can eat this bait without detection, we let them have a little more drop back than normal to ensure it is in their mouth before we come tight. Hence the better hook up ratio, and it’s just plain fun! We call this “Dink” fishing. What about the wahoo, well we often leave the “shotgun” or long bait a wire rig and hope for the best. We only switch to mono when we think the odds of dolphin or sail bites are so much greater than a wahoo that it is worth the small risk.
We normally target dolphin and sailfish with 30# class tackle. I prefer to use hi-vis line as it is easy to track your bait and chase a fish. I put a short bimini twist to double the main line and then blood knot that to a 20 foot piece of clear 50# mono as a wind-on leader. Watch your lengths if you are doing anything IGFA, like tournaments or record fishing. This long wind on gives you added protection while the fish is around the boat and gets the bait away from the hi-vis line in case it matters. The blood knot is important because, once fully cinched down, you can trim the tags very close to the knot with nail clippers. This lets the knot pass through the guides without “plinking” or hanging up. Tie a small barrel swivel to the end of your wind on, to which you will tie your four-foot bait leader. We don’t use snap swivels as they are often a weak link and we don’t want loops on the free end of the bait leaders as they get tangled in the bait cooler.
The “naked” ballyhoo is the gold standard of “dink” fishing. It can be rigged straight, split-billed or with a tiny chin weight.
You can add a small, light-haired sea witch or tinsel lure if it is windy to help keep it in the water. I also love to fish a strip bait of bonita, mullet or dolphin belly. It is tough so you can get multiple shots from a fish and it keeps swimming. I always put an eighth or quarter ounce sea witch type lure in front of the strip bait. (rig a strip video) Prepping the ballyhoo for rigging is equally important in its lifelike swimming action.
Keep your spread simple and efficient. Match the quantity of your spread to the weather conditions and the number and experience of your crew. When fishing a center console or smaller boat, I normally pull two outriggers, two “flat” lines and one shotgun.
Pulling a teaser is a priority in this type of fishing, to attract attention to your dainty, edible spread.
Artificial or natural teasers on a dredge or spreader bar create the effect of a school of bait behind your boat. A daisy chain of squid is tried and true and less pressure to pull and clear. Often on a smaller boat I pull the teaser with a downrigger because it is easy to reel it in and get it out of the way. Put a top shot piece of 200# mono over the wire of the downrigger, just in case it gets in a prop. Clear it out of the way with each fish hooked.
Now this is important, the hook in a “dink” rig is way up in the chin of the bait. If you fish as you would normally with the reels “in gear”, you will miss many fish. The extra drop back is a key component.
To do this we position the bait where we want it in the spread (you cannot adjust the distance without popping the clip). Then twist the line about eight times and put it into a lightly tensioned rigger clip. Leave the reel out of gear with the clicker on. This works best with a lever drag reel so that we can feather the tension just above free spool to avoid a backlash on a hard bite. Take up any slack line between the rod tip and the rigger clip so that it cannot tangle around anything.
Now when the fish bites, the rigger clip will pop, the line will begin to pay out from the reel and by the time you get to the reel, you can pick it up, engage the drag and reel down tight to the fish. Once really tight, a couple of modest bumps can set the hook, but it shouldn’t take much since you sharpened your hooks! Hint Hint! Even your flat lines should be in a clip on the transom so that you can use this method.
This is also the way you would fish when you use circle hooks. Circle hooks are required in most billfish tournaments and are quickly becoming a favorite of anglers for both fishability and conservation reasons. The longer drop back is key and then just reeling down slowly till you come tight is essential.
Fishing circle hooks will really clean up your bait box as the prepped baits have no hooks with leaders.
You will also realize a tackle savings as you won’t need to rig a j-hook in each bait. The leader set up and tactics remain the same.
Most of the baits are naked with circle hooks, though a small lure head or tinsel type head can be attached to the bait and the hook rides in front of it all. Keep it small, because the fish has to eat the lure to get to the hook.
Take some time to learn how to rig these and you will not only see your hook-up ratios increase, but you will have a blast doing it.