Mahi are amazing creatures. Referred to as Mahi, Dolphin, Dolphinfish or Dorado, these fish sport distinct beautiful colors that are unmistakable; bright yellows, various greens and brilliant blues. This acrobatic species is a fantastic game fish!
Being an off-shore species, you can get some great deep-sea fishing in and possibly catch your daily bag limit. The even more exciting fact is, Mahi can be caught year-round off all of Florida’s coasts!
The Rules and Regulations
Dolphin can be fished in both the Gulf and Atlantic waters surrounding Florida. Atlantic waters enforce a minimum fork length of your catches tail to be 20in. The Gulf State waters, however, do not enforce a minimum size limit. On both coasts, the daily bag limit is 10 fish per person or 60 per vessel, whichever one is less.
You can’t just capture these creatures using any gear you want; there are guidelines to follow here as well. In state waters, the legal tools you can use are spears and hook & line. If you are outside of state waters, you can fish for Dolphin using long-line. Absolutely NO types of fishing nets are permitted for use in catching Mahi Mahi.
When and Where to Catch Your Dolphin Share
Although this species is caught year-round, the summer months (between April – September) are the most active and consistent months to fish. The summer offers the high temp water that gets all the Dolphin up to the top of the water and ready to be snagged. Water depths greater than 80 feet are the most ideal for these creatures. The younger, smaller fish tend to live amongst the floating weed bundles and lines to stay sheltered and fed until they are a bit larger.
September and October, specifically on Florida’s East Atlantic Coast, are prime months for deep blue-water fishing. The biggest bulls are normally caught during the spring and fall near northeast Florida. If you are willing to make the trip, southeast Florida houses some of the largest fish in the state. Runs to the deep blue from the south end of Florida are also much shorter; you can get to Dolphin rich water quick.
Along with Mahi; Marlin, Wahoo and Yellow Fin Tuna are among some of the other popular pelagic species.
What Bait to Use for Your Crab Traps
One of the most popular baits to attract your crab catch is Grouper heads. If you want the bait to really last, take the extra time to place them in a mesh bag, making it harder for the crabs to get a piece of it. Some may think that that bait is a bit prestigious, so you can simply use mullet or ladyfish. Make sure to cut up the bait a bit to “chum” the waters, which will make it easier for the crabs to eat.
If you really want to make the best use of all your fish by-products, using the carcass left over from your dinner the other night will work just as well. When you are done filleting your fish, put the excess in a sealable plastic bag and place it in the fridge until you go re-bait and empty your Stone Crab traps.
Mahi Mahi Fishing Tips
Dolphinfish are schooling fish; those in the school are of similar sizes, up to 20 pounds. If you happen among a school of them and happen to hook one, the remaining school will generally remain close by. This gives you the opportunity to chum the waters and take multiple stabs at catching your bag limit for the day! Attracting schooling Dolphin can be simple. Simply chumming the waters with cut up bait and blood should attract nearby schools. Once hooked, dropping a line with a whole fish near the vessel will likely keep the school close for multiple catches. Dorado are fast swimmers, so you need to be quick if you plan on spearing them.
Fish 20 pounds or larger tend to be loaners or travel in male and female (bull & cow) pairs. The average big bulls weigh up to 50 pounds but can exceed 70+. Larger cows tend to max out at about 40lbs. Individuals will roam the ocean, endlessly looking for food. Adults generally eat bait fish, crabs, flying fish and squid, but can also be caught using natural bait, cut bait, artificial lures, spoons, jigs or feathers. Light spinning tackle can be used to capture the smaller Mahi in the school. Trolling equipment can be used to catch the larger adults.
Keep in mind that these large game fish are rather acrobatic. Once on your line or even speared, they will flip, flop, jump and yank – anything to be free! This makes reeling them in difficult and all part of the “game”.
The Distinct Florida Dolphin
All Mahi have an amazing color scheme that is undeniable. Bright yellow sides accompany all dolphinfish, but their backs can range from a vibrant blue to a deep green. They sport a rounded dorsal fin that runs the full length of their backs, as well as a deep forked tail. The bulls have a much blunter square head than their female counterparts; cows have a rather round head.
Once adults, the bulls, as in most species, are larger. Bulls can be up to 20+ pounds larger than their respective cows. Mahi grow at an exponential pace. They are one of the fastest growing pelagic species in the deep blue sea, reaching approximately 3 feet in the first year.
How to Cook Up My Catch
Mahi Mahi is one species of fish that can be eaten cooked or raw. It is not a delicate fish so there are various ways and flavors in which you can cook this wonderful species. You can grill it, bread it, fry it, stew it, marinate it or sauté it. Mahi is known for being served in a Lemon Garlic Butter sauce or in an Asian inspired style.
As a general rule, when cooking fish, you should always cook it on a medium to medium-low temperature. This will cook the fish slow which will keep it from drying out and falling apart, while cooking it even all the way through.
When grilling, to keep the fish from sticking to the grill, lay a few slices of lemon or other desired fruit like mango or pineapple. The added fruit will also enhance the flavor of the fish and give you a hint of the fruit you use. Two delicious grilled Mahi recipes are Grilled Lemon & Garlic Butter Mahi and Grilled Mahi Tacos with a Mango Salsa. (Link the 2 Mahi recipes)
Frying, breading and battering Mahi makes an amazing dish. The secret to frying a perfect fillet is to heat the oil to just about 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit and only frying the fish for about 2-3 minutes on each side. For kids, Cornmeal Crusted Mahi Sticks make a delicious intro to fish for the kiddos. For the adults, a Battered Mahi Fish Sandwich with Homemade Coleslaw will most definitely hit the spot!
Pan searing and sautéing are among the easiest and most popular way to cook up your fresh caught Dolphin. Pan seared Mahi in an Asian Ginger glaze, paired with steamed broccoli and some white rice creates a quick and easy meal that can be ready in less than 40 minutes! Is Asian not your style? Then try sautéed Mahi in a Basil Butter Sauce.
Beautiful Dolphinfish can be caught year round. Weather you live on the East or West coast of Florida, you can find Dorado off the coast. Southeast Florida harbors the largest fish you can catch. They live in 80+ feet of water, so be sure to go out deep.
Remember, most of the time Mahi travel in packs; chumming the waters is an effective way to keep them around for you and the company on your vessel to catch your daily bag limit. The rules and regulations state that no one person can exceed 10 fish in a day or 60 per day on a single vessel, whichever one is the smaller quantity. Catch all you can and try out different recipes.