Mahi mahi, Dorado, Dolphinfish – Coryphaena hippurus – How to Catch

Other Names: 

Mahi mahi, Dorado, Dolphinfish, and Shiira. The name Mahi mahi is Hawaiian in origin. The species is also widely known by the somewhat confusing English name of dolphinfish. It is, of course, not in any way related to the marine mammal dolphins. Another common name for this fish is Dorado which is Spanish. Shiira is the Japanese name for Mahi mahi.

Recognition Features:

The International Game Fish Association’s all-tackle world record, as of the year 2,000, stood at 39.91 kg (88 lb 0 oz) caught by Richard Evans at Highbourne Cay, Exuma, Bahamas, on 5 May 1998. However, those caught in New Zealand are much smaller.  

One of the most striking features is the high, near verticle, forehead of the males, known as bulls. The females, or cows, have a rounded forehead and are a bit smaller than the bulls.

There is quite a bit of colour variation with this species. While in the water the dolphinfish is iridescent blue-green and the flanks are gold and covered in blue spots. The underside of the fish is silver to white. Their bodies are long and laterally compressed. After capture, the colour varies between blue, green and yellow. After the fish dies the colours become more of a subdued silvery-grey.  

Mahi mahi Distribution:

Found throughout the Equatorial Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans in tropical and warm seas between 20℃ – 31℃. The really big dolphinfish are mostly caught off the Bahamas, Florida, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama. Interestingly, tagged specimens have been recaught the following day off Florida having travelled 100 km in just 24 hours!

New Zealand: During warmer Al Nino years they are caught off both coasts as far south as East Cape. Although large specimens can reach 1.8m in length, those that are caught in New Zealand’s northern waters in high summer when water temperatures are warmest are generally much smaller weighing a little under 5 kg and under six months old. Occasionally a bigger one weighing 10-15 kg is caught here. They travel in small schools made up of male and female fish of differing sizes. It is possible to target larger specimens by casting lures and poppers to individual fish.

Mahi-mahi: the difference in appearance between male (bull) and female (cow).

Fishing Methods for Mahi mahi

They are attracted to anything floating on the surface of the ocean that could shelter baitfish. Current lines with a lot of weed, marker buoys, floating logs, and even the underside of boats will all draw in dolphinfish and keep them hanging around. If you are expecting this species in your fishing area and spot anything floating on the surface it is worth stopping and having a few casts.

Lures: When they are in attack mode they will take almost any lure or bait particularly if fished close to any sort of fish aggregation device like those mentioned above. Small Mahi mahi around 4-5 kg will at times take quite large lures intended for marlin. When spinning and trolling, bibbed Rapalas and bibless lures like Mackerel Maulers are excellent. When spin fishing it is a good idea to use bibless minnows with just two single hooks instead of trebles or doubles. It will make it easier to remove the lure from a struggling fish. 

Live-baits: As with most pelagic oceanic predators Mahi mahi can’t resist live-baits. They almost always take them head-first. If you can catch a supply of live bait like flying fish, mullet or mackerel on the way out to the fishing grounds and keep them in your onboard live-bait tank it will prove well worth the effort. Mahi mahi, kingfish and tuna can’t resist a back-hooked live bait.  

Cubing: Cubing works very well especially if employed close to anything floating on the surface as mentioned above.  A skipjack tuna cut into 30mm cubes makes perfect oily cubing bait. Toss a cube over the side or stern and then as it disappears from view toss out another. Then send a cube over the side with a 5/0 hook threaded through it along with a small ball sinker. To see how it is done check out the video at the bottom of this page. Our Aussie mates from The Hook and The Cook show how it is done off Sydney.

SWF: Mahi-mahi is the most exciting species to catch on a fly rod. If you are interested in saltwater fly fishing check out this video. You are in for a treat. In this footage, you really get to see the amazing colours of these fish closeup. Giant Dorado – In La Paz on Seasons On The Fly.

General:

If you want to catch dolphinfish the further you go offshore and the deeper the water the better.

Also, note that a freshly caught dolphin fish on the deck can be quite dangerous as it thrashes around. Not only can the crew be hit by the tail, but they might also be hooked on a hook barb particularly if it is a multi-hook lure. The safest practice is to send the thrashing fish straight into the fish bin until it expires. With smaller specimens, a more conventional approach can be used.   

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Very Fast Swimmers: When hooked they go absolutely crazy running and repeatedly jumping well clear of the water. They are incredibly fast swimmers capable of 50 knots (92.6 kph or 57.5 mph). No baitfish would stand a chance of outrunning a pursuing dorado.

They live for only about five years. So they grow quickly, swim fast, are prolific spawners, and die young!

Good Eating: Dolphinfish, or dorado, are reportedly one of the best-eating fish in the sea. Their firm, white fillets are excellent both fresh or frozen.      

Astonishing Growth Rate: The most notable feature of this species is its astonishing growth rate.

They grow from the larvae stage to 45 cm long and weigh several pounds in just 3 to 4 months by which stage they become sexually mature. They breed by broadcast spawning in the open ocean. Over the course of the female’s short life, she will produce millions of eggs. The cows produce more eggs as they age. 

A 50 lb bull Mahi-mahi can actually be much less than two years of age. A study by the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s aquaculture program talks about a captured Mahi-mahi that was kept in ideal aquarium conditions and fed a good diet once a day. It increased in size from 5-6 pounds to 56.4 pounds, an increase of 50 pounds in just 279 days. This must surely be the fastest-growing fish in the sea.  You can read all about it here at floridatoday.com   

Video: Flying fish can make powerful, self-propelled leaps out of the water into the air, where their long, wing-like fins enable gliding flight for considerable distances. It appears these Flying Fish are in a no-win situation, picked off from above the surface by Frigatebirds and devoured underwater by the Dorado. The pursuing Dorado have been seen jumping up to a metre above the water to take flying fish in mid-air.

Video: Here is the 2nd video from our trip to Port Lucaya of Grand Bahama island in the Bahamas. Our primary focus when fishing offshore in the islands is Yellowfin Tuna, but this time of year provides for some of the best Mahi-Mahi (dorado) fishing. Almost any floating debri holds dolphin and we found two giant fish, along with a good amount of schoolies. We used live pilchards as bait and sight fished the mahi. We also saw a good amount of tripletail and ended the day by trolling for blackfin tuna and chunking up a nice Yellowfin Tuna.

Video – How to: Catch Dorado, Dolphin Fish, Mahi mahi. The Hook and The Cook. How to catch Dorado, Dolphin Fish, Mahi Mahi. Paul and Scotty take you fishing for Dolphin fish wide from Sydney Trolling, Spinning and bait, three great methods to help you land a ripper on your next outing. How to Catch Dorado, Dolphin Fish, Mahi Mahi is a must watch with very special footage and underwater footage. Hope you enjoy this video and learn a few tips & tricks along the way. Please share it with your friend and subscribe to The Hook and The Cook Youtube channel for the latest videos on Fishing & Cooking.

This post was last modified on 03/11/2021 2:02 pm

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