Spring and Summer in the Florida Keys is about dolphin fishing. Sure…you can lobster, or fly fish for bonefish, tarpon, and permit on the flats, but spending a day chasing dolphin with a fly rod is the real deal. And there is no fish that combines beauty, gameness, and flavor like these fish.
Step #1: Get a boat.
One of the best parts about dolphin/dorado/mahi-mahi: You don’t need a $600/day guide to catch them! You however still need a boat, but renting one in the keys will run you around $200-$300 for a day (half the price of the guide).
Step #2: Chart a course.
Once you have your boat, you need to figure out where to go. In general, you are going to head out toward the gulfstream. You can (and probably should) invest time reviewing internet forums and fishing reports for intelligence: Florida Sportsman or similar websites can provide information on where fish have been located recently. Dolphin may be anywhere from the edge of the reef (running along the length of the keys) out into several thousand feet of water. In the summer, they’ll be closer to the reef than any other time of the year.
Step #3: Look for floating debris, birds, or flying fish.
Scan the horizon for any floating debris. A floating palette, tree, piece of foam, or if you’re lucky, a raft of Sargassum (weed)…all can and likely will hold fish. Additionally, keep an eye out for frigate birds or flying fish that scatter from the water. Both can indicate fish nearby and are worth investigating if you haven’t found any floating structure.
Step #4: Fish
My favorite way of DIY fishing for dolphin is to cruise slowly along a weedline and cast a 3-4 inch wide bodied fly to the edge of the weeds. The same thing applies with smaller floating structure, but in this case, cut the motor. The retrieve can and should be fast – dolphin are among the fastest fish in the sea, and can easily outpace your strips to eat a fly. I’ve seen dolphin cover 20′ in the blink of an eye to scarf down a pilchard imitation.
I have also fly fished while friends trolled the same weedline with conventional gear. We both were catching fish, and frankly, I’d rather battle a 15 lb dolphin on an 8wt than a broomstick.
- 8wt, 9wt, and 10wt rods
- Floating or Intermediate Fly Lines
- 7′ leaders with 2′ of 40lb fluorocarbon tippet
- Fly Sizes in 1/0 – 3/0
- Flies should be durable: Synthetic materials, brightly colored, and I like minimal flash
- Fly Reels should have decent, saltwater-capable drags.
On catching multiple dolphin:
So you hooked a dolphin and he’s leaping from the water and ripping out drag – congratulations! If he has buddies nearby, they may be following him, or coming over to the boat. If so, and if you have friends on board, have them start casting too! You can also drop a bag of chum over to entice the fish to stay. Another popular method of keeping dorado at the boat: Leave the hooked fish in the water. The rest of the school will stay by the boat, and you can literally pick one fish out of the school after another (I recommend picking the biggest ones…).
On keeping your catch:
Dolphin grow rapidly – even the 10 lb fish above are less than a year old – and taste great, so don’t feel bad about keeping a few of these beautiful fish. A blackened mahi sandwich is a great way to end a day fly fishing for dolphin.