The dolphin gamefish
A saltwater angler's prize catch
The dolphin gamefish (coryphaena hippurus) is one of the most prized catches on the high seas due to three main reasons: saltwater dolphin gamefish are acrobatic fighters, fast growing, and delicious table fare. Florida anglers foucus on this bright green and blue speckled prize during the spring season, but dolphin can be caught year round to some degree and are always a welcomed visitor in the trolling spread.
When fishing for gamefish in Florida's saltwater oceans and rivers always know and obey the laws, which you can find from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission online. When heading out for dolphin there are as many opinions as there are fishermen, but in this article I will focus on three of the valuable basics: trolling lure spread, bait color combinations, and my list of four critical Florida saltwater dolphin fishing must-dos.
Dolphin Trolling Lure Spread
It's all about distance between baits
The first basic is trolling lure spread. From the angler's perspective, the trolling spread for dolphin is similar to that which you would use for sailfish or general trolling with one exception. When the dolphin come to play it is beneficial to have your baits staggered, or as far apart from one another as possible.
Dolphin are exceedingly fast and waste no time going from one bait to another. Unlike a sailfish, that will normally focus on one bait with tenacity, the dolphin will often crash one bait, then before you can get to the rod, the fish will have demolished a second or third bait in your spread. The traditional, two flatlines/two outriggers/and a centerline setup is fine as a starting point.
Then adjust your flatlines so that one (port for instance) rides ten or fifteen yards behind the other, rather than dead even. Set the outriggers in the opposite way (with the starboard outrigger bait ten or fifteen yards behind the port outrigger bait). Position the center line a generous fifteen yards or more behind the farthest-out rigger bait.
This staggered presentation will put the maximum amount of distance between baits. This will buy you precious seconds when a speedy, rambunctious dolphin begins making a mockery of it all.
Dolphin Trolling Lure Spread Diagram
Rough Positions of Flatlines, Outriggers, and Center Baits
Lure Colors for Dolphin Trolling
Is it the actual color, or the odd-man-out?
The second dolphin fishing consideration is lure color. Whether you use rigged dead bait (such as ballyhoo with a colored skirt) or artificial trolling lures, the colors are a hot topic around the dock when dolphin are running. When I was growing up we used to troll naked (no skirt or color) ballyhoo and a blue or purple skirted bait here and there.
My Dad always insisted on pulling a yellow/green color in the spread that was just for dolphin. We seemed to catch many dolphin on that color combination so no one ever really argued. Other fishermen have confirmed this idea for me over the years and it is somewhat of a consensus. After all, dolphin are green and yellow, and perhaps they can see those colors better than others but over the years I have developed my own theory.
Back in the days when my Dad would troll all-natural baits with a blue skirt or purple skirt in the mix, all of those colors had similar hues (silver, blue, white, purple). All of these are cool colors and look relatively natural in the fish world. The addition of a single green/yellow lure or skirt caused that bait to stand out.
I believe it is that stand out trait that caused so many strikes from the opportunistic feeding dolphin gamefish. I have tested this theory during the Florida spring dolphin fishing season many times. I have trolled four green/yellow baits and one pink one, and caught three dolphin on the pink lure. I have trolled all blue skirted ballyhoo and one red/white one, and had consistent knock-downs on the red bait all day.
So my conclusion is that the one distinctly different bait attracts strikes. I still pull the old dolphin color sometimes just for the memory of my Dad and his days teaching me how to fish. I will add one last note to this topic: When the dolphin are biting you could troll a dishrag and catch fish. But when they aren’t, you could float a leaderless, live, knife-and-fork-sized shrimp under his nose and he will swim away annoyed. So put some thought into your colors and find what works for you. (But do try my odd-man-out approach and let me know how it goes!)
A day's catch of Florida dolphin
Dolphin Fishing "Must Do's"
Four tips to help you catch more fish
Finally my list of four dolphin fishing “must dos”.
- You must head toward the birds when you see them dipping down and feeding at the surface. Dolphin feed at the surface and their presence (or the presence of the bait fish they like to eat) attracts birds. Where there are birds, there are often dolphin.
- Also never pass by anything floating (and I do mean anything). This goes for everything from that beautiful, textbook, wide, solid weedline that looks like a dirt road with a color change on one side and a rip current on the other, to a cooler lid or a floating milk jug. In short, as you are trolling, if you see something on the water, head over and troll by it. Trust me.
- Next, once you get into a school of dolphin, remember to leave one hooked fish on the line in the water near the boat, and the other fish in the school will stay with him (or are more likely to stay). Drifting with a school of dolphin provides an opportunity to cast lighter gear and catch your limit of fish quickly.
- Finally, when fishing a school of dolphin, always drop a jig bait down deep under the school and work it by jigging with huge lifts and drops. I keep a heavy-duty six or so ounce bucktail jig that I tip with squid if I have it (or half of a ballyhoo if I don’t) just for such occasions. You can pick up a big bull dolphin this way, since they lurk under schools. The elusive and treasured wahoo gamefish does this as well, so as you are jigging be sure to hold on to the rod and be ready for anything.
Go fishing for some delicious dolphin gamefish!
So get out there the next time the dolphin are running. Familiarize yourself and be prepared with proper licensing and knowledge of fishing laws by visiting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission online.
Set your trolling spread to be a bit more staggered than usual to create maximum distance between baits and buy yourself some time when the dolphin maraud. Also, choose your colors by tradition or science, but I suggest that the odd color gets the attention. This can instigate strikes by activating the weakest of the herd prey instinct that gamefish have.
Lastly, watch for and fish with the birds, never pass up structure or even the tiniest flotsam, and deep jig under the schoolies for a potential surprise of a big dolphin or Mr. Wahoo. I wish you the best and happy fishing!