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Fishing For Dorado: The Ultimate Guide To Mahi Mahi And Dorado Fishing
Dorado or Mahi-Mahi, are a spectacular gamefish. And if you’ve ever wanted to know how to fish for mahi mahi, this ultimate guide to dorado fishing is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Just some of the things we’ll cover in this dorado fishing guide include the basics of fishing for dorado, dorado fishing rigs and tactics, where to find dorado and how to lure these incredible fish onto your hook and into your boat.
All About Dorado
Before we get started with the details on how to pursue and catch these fish, let’s first take a quick look at this incredible fish that we’re after.
One Fish. Many Names
Depending where you’re fishing, dorado can go by one of several names. The most common names you’ll hear them called are dorado, mahi mahi and dolphin. I was introduced to this fish as a dorado. So that’s what I typically refer to this fish as.
These are all different names for the exact same fish. So when people ask what dorado vs mahi mahi is, you can tell them they are the same fish. And for the purposes of this article, you’ll see me refer to it interchangeable by all three of these names.
Where The Different Names For Dorado Come From
The origin of these multiple names for dorado have to do specifically with which part of the world you’re talking about them.
Mahi mahi is the Hawaiian name, dorado is the spanish name and Dolphin is the English name given to these fish. If fishing in Florida, you’ll probably hear people refer to as dolphin or dolphin fish. But fishing for the exact same fish in Baja Mexico, they’ll call it dorado. And if fishing in or near Hawaii, then mahi mahi is the fish you’re after.
What Kind Of A Fish Is Mahi Mahi?
Mahi mahi are a very fast growing fish and typically don’t live more than five years. In their short 5 years on earth, they typically grow up to around 15 lbs to 30 lbs. But it’s not unheard of to find dorado that double that size or even more. It’s a combination of their short lifespan and fast growth that makes mahi mahi very ferocious eaters.
Much like tuna, Mahi mahi are like torpedos in the water. And once hooked, mahi-mahi are fast, flashy, and acrobatic. They can reach speeds of up to 50 knots and can light up like a neon sign when on the run. It’s these golden colors on its sides, and the bright blues and greens on the sides and back that give this fish it’s spanish name, dorado.
Unfortunately, the brilliant colors that the dorado displays when in the water almost immediately disappear once caught and brought into the boat. The brilliant greens and golds almost instantly fade away into a muted gray tone when the fish is landed or gaffed.
Male mahi mahi are often referred to as “Bulls” and have a very large flat forehead. Bulls typically grow larger than the female mahi mahi, which are referred to as “Cows”.
Mahi Mahi Meat
Mahi Mahi are highly sought after by sport fishermen all over the world for their delicious flavored meat. Dorado meat is white, firm, sweeter than other tropical fish. It’s especially delicious when saut’ed, baked, broiled or fried.
But my absolute favorite way of eating dorado, is to showcase its translucent white meat in a delicious ceviche, only to be cooked by the acidity of lemon juice. Try this, and you won’t be disappointed!
Mahi Mahi Meat Cooking Tips
Here are some excellent cooking tips for mahi mahi meat from freshislandfish.com:
“Mahi Mahi is a lean fairly firmed meat with a sweet and mild to moderate flavor, very similar to swordfish. The dark portions you may find on a fillet can be trimmed away to produce a much milder flavor.
Raw mahi fillets will be pinkish to a grayish white, the cooked meat will be off-white with large, moist flakes.
Mahi Mahi is great for grilling and remain moist if you do not overcook it. You can grill the mahi with the skin on or off, I prefer to remove the skin and the darker meat portions first. It adapts well to many seasonings and can even be blackened.”
How To Fish For Mahi Mahi
So now that our mouths are watering for this incredibly delicious fish, let’s talk about how to actually go out there and catch a mahi mahi!
The first thing I like to discuss about how to catch any kind of fish in general, is what the fish like to eat. Isn’t that what we’re trying to do as fishermen anyway? Figure out what the fish like to eat, replicate it and present it to the fish?
The same is true with dorado. Wherever you’re at in the world, find out what they’re eating on at that moment, and replicate it.
What Do Dorado Like To Eat?
Dorado, or dolphin fish are a large, aggressive predators that feed on a wide variety of ocean species. And according to Sciencing.com, the dorado especially enjoy feeding on small ocean fishes such as flying fish, man-o-war fish, sargassum fish and triggerfish.
They also enjoy eating juveniles of larger fish like tuna, billfish, mackerel and ever other dolphin fish. Some of the mahi mahi’s other favorite foods include invertebrates such as octopus, squid, crabs and jellyfish.
Dorado typically like to feed near the surface of the water, which makes fishing for dorado somewhat easier, if you know where and what the dorado like to feed on.
Where In The World Can Dorado Be Found?
Dorado is a fish that’s found in warmer, tropical waters all over the world. Here are some of the more popular parts of the world where dorado or dolphin fish can be found. In North America, mahi-mahi are fished recreationally along the Pacific coast, particularly in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Costa Rica, and offshore in the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to Florida.
Other popular locations for recreational fishing of mahi mahi is in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and the Caribbean Sea, around Hawaii, around Southeast Asia, and along the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea.
Where In The Ocean To Find Mahi Mahi
Mahi mahi like to feed on or near the surface under a hot tropical sun, so you can imagine that the dorado would take shelter under or near anything that might be floating on the surface of the ocean.
For example, there is a floating weed called sargassum. If you’re out on the water and come across a stretch of sargassum, it’s worth your time to fish near these spots.
Not only does the sargassum provide shade and shelter for surface dwelling dolphin fish, but they also provide a source of food for the dolphin fish, or mahi mahi. This food source comes from other small fish that live in and around the floating sargassum.
Other areas to look for dorado are near other floating structures such as buoys, logs, brush and any other floating objects.
Troll your lure next to these objects, or stop your boat within casting distanced and cast next to the floating object. It won’t be long until the dorado comes out from the protection of the sargassum and hits your bait.
Tackle To Use For Dorado, Mahi Mahi or Dolphin
If you’ve ever hired a charter boat to take you dorado fishing, you’ve probably noticed that the gear they use is pretty heavy duty. That’s because many of these charters are also targeting very large saltwater game fish like marlin. So they’ll often times just use the same gear in case they hook into one of those larger fish.
The problem with this is that with such massive, heavy duty fishing gear, you really won’t get a chance to see what the dorado or mahi mahi is capable of doing. Dorado put on a great show when hooked. They’ll jump and fight the whole way in.
The first dorado I ever caught was on this heavy gear that was intended for a large marlin. It was fun to real in the dorado, but it wasn’t much of a challenge. When compared to fighting the same sized fish on much lighter, dorado appropriate gear, it was a much more enjoyable experience. I could feel the fish and really appreciate the fight.
But if you’re using heavy gear intended for a 200 pound marlin, you’re just not going to feel and experience the fight like you would using the appropriate sized rod and reel.
With that said, you also don’t want to head out with an ultralight trout rod you use with your kids on 4th of July camping trips at the lake. Using too light of gear is a guaranteed way of losing any decent sized dolphin, an possibly your gear.
What Size Rod, Reel and Fishing Line To Use For Dorado Fishing
So what’s the right sized rod and reel to use for dolphin fishing? Well let’s look for something in the middle. We want to be prepared for hooking into a 30 lb bull dorado and also be able to enjoy the fight of a 7 lb cow.
The best size rod and reel for mahi mahi fishing in my opinion is 20 to 30 pound fused or braided fishing line on a saltwater casting reel, like the PENN Squall Level Wind Combo. I believe the ideal sized fishing rod to use for dorado is a seven foot rod, but not any shorter than 6 feet. For more information on saltwater rod and reel combos, take a look at my article, The Best Saltwater Rod And Reel Combos For The Money.
The reason I like to use fused fishing line or braided fishing line for dorado, as opposed to monofilament fishing line is for the smaller diameter. Fused line and braided line, when compared to mono line, are much smaller in diameter which makes for a much better casting line. You’ll find you can get more distance from the smaller diameter fishing line, which allows you to place that baited hook right next to the floating sargassum and into the dorado.
Another benefit of using fused line and braided lines over mono for dorado fishing is they virtually have no stretch in them. This gives the fisherman the ability to carefully work difficult lures, sense the softest hits, and easily set the hook when the fish strikes.
Dorado Fishing Setup
What Kind Of Hook To Use For Mahi Mahi Fishing
If you’re not going to troll for mahi mahi, and would rather toss a baited hook to where they are, then make sure you use the right size hook and the right kind of hook. There are a couple things to consider when choosing the right hook for mahi mahi.
If catch and release is the name of the game, then the hook you want to use for mahi mahi or dorado is a 4/0 to 7/0 circle hook. Why a circle hook?
Circle hooks come with more advantages than disadvantages. One of the biggest advantages of using a circle hook for dorado fishing has to do with the survival rates of dorado after being released.
Fish caught on circle hooks have a much higher survival rate when released back into the water than fish caught on J hooks. In addition to being good for catch and release, circle hooks are very durable and resilient. They set nicely and almost always seem to set in the corner of the mouth.
But if your playing for keeps, or casting bait into a school of dolphin or dorado, then you might want to consider using a J hook. Unlike a circle hook, the J hook does not need to be exposed in order to set correctly. A J hook can be buried in the bait with only a portion of the sharp point exposed in order to set the hook.
Fishing Tactics And Techniques For Mahi Mahi
Now that we know where to find the dorado, what they like to eat and what kind of tackle to use, let’s talk about some of the different fishing tactics and dorado fishing setups you can use to target these awesome fish.
The first thing to know about fishing for mahi mahi is that you will need to have access to a boat. Dorado live out in open water and you’ll need a means of getting out to where they live.
Although you can try your luck at fishing for dorado from the shore, and it has been done, you’ll most likely only end your experience frustrated and empty handed.
How To Troll For Dorado
Trolling for dolphin or mahi mahi can be one of the most productive and is probably the most popular method of catching dolphin fish. And when it comes to trolling for dolphin, you have a couple different options as far as what to use. Generally speaking, you can choose from trolling with natural baits and trolling with artificial lures.
Trolling For Mahi Mahi With Natural Bait
Rig the ballyhoo or other bait fish on a #7 or #8 coffee or brown colored stainless steel wire leader. Attach one end of the wire to a 50 pound snap swivel that’s attached to your 20 or 30 pound fused fishing line. On the other end of the wire leader you will attach a 7/0 or 8/0 hook. Since we’re using bait, I prefer to use a J hook. To make both of these attachments with the wire leader, you will use a haywire twist knot.
This bait trolling rig can be trolled as is or you can attach a skirt over its head. Adding skirts or small lures in front of baits will let you pull them faster and will decrease the rate at which they wash out.
How To Rig A Ballyhoo For Trolling
Check out this video from Smitty’s Fishing. This is something you’ll want to learn how to do to fish for any pelagic species of fish.
Trolling For Dorado Using Artificial Lures
In addition to using bait to troll for dorado, they can also be caught trolling with artificial lures like the skirted WAHOO trolling lures. Often times these are the same artificial lures that fishermen use to target much larger fish like marlin and tuna. So don’t be afraid to use large lures.
Dorado, mahi mahi or dolphin are aggressive eaters and will take on the large lures without hesitation. So much so you’ll probably wonder how they ever fit that thing into their mouth.
Examples of popular artificial lures people use for dorado, myself included, are flutter style jigs, lures with rubber skirts with the flat face and large eye, and feathered lures. All of these trolling lures are designed to swim and dance in the water, which drives dorado nuts. Dorado love to eat on flying fish, and many of these lures mimic flying fish as you troll them through the water.
How To Troll For Mahi Mahi Using Artificial Lures And Bait
Whether you’re using a bait setup or artificial lure to troll for dorado, mahi mahi or dolphin fish, the main thing to keep in mind is to make sure your lures and baits are working together as one cohesive unit. The goal is to mimic a school of bait fish that’s trailing behind our boat.
How Fast To Troll For Mahi Mahi With Bait
How fast you set the throttle on your boat to troll with a bait rig setup all depends on how the bait looks in the water. You don’t want the bait to spin excessively or skip across the water. Choose a speed that keeps the bait in the water just under the surface. Generally speaking, trolling between 6 to 8 knots is going to be the optimum speed for mahi mahi. If you’re trolling in choppier water or seas with higher swells, then you may want to troll with the current so the bait stays in the water.
How Fast To Troll For Mahi Mahi With Artificial Lures
When trolling for dorado using artificial lures, you want to pick a speed that will give the lure the kind of action it was designed to do. Too slow, and the lure will sink too far below the surface. Too fast and it’ll essentially just skip across the top of the surface like a stone.
So what’s the perfect speed for trolling artificial lures? Find a speed that allows the lures to be trolled fast enough that they create a ‘smoke trail’.
A smoke trail is when the lure creates air pockets in front of it, which creates a bubbling or popping look to it. This is a very desirable effect and is what attracts the dorado or dolphin fish to the lure.
Keep in mind that the size, type, shape and weight of the lure is going to determine how fast or how slow you troll.
With all of this said, common trolling speeds while using artificial lures can be anywhere between 6 to 12 knots. Unlike trolling for dorado with baited rigs, artificial lures will generally require a little more speed to work correctly and create the desired “smoke trail”.
How Far Behind The Boat Should The Lure Be When Trolling For Dolphin Fish?
Every boat is different and you’ll need to make adjustments for your own boat. Proper distance for trolling artificial lures for dorado for most boats will be around 20 feet or more behind your boat.
One of the things that will determine how far behind the boat to keep your lure is whether you have inboard diesel or outboard gas engines. The kind of wake that your boat creates plays a huge part in lure placement. Try to place the lures so they are in the clear water around the wake, and not in the bubbly white water.
If the lure’s in the clear water next to the wake, then that means the dorado, or dolphin fish will see the dancing lure much more clearly. It also gives the lure a much better chance to create the desired smoke trail.
To find the right distance, start by positioning your baits or lures near the back of the boat, or the transom. Then you can slowly begin to move them back. While moving them back, pay close attention to the lures behavior and what they look like.
Other Considerations While Trolling For Dorado
After you find the right speed and the right distance from the boat to place the lure or bait, there’re still a couple other things to keep in mind.
Stagger Your Lures
The whole idea behind trolling for dorado is to mimic, or create as school of bait fish that are swimming in the wake of the boat. Try and cover as much area behind the boat as possible.
This is why staggering your lines is important. The purpose behind staggering your lines is to not just cover more area behind the boat, but it makes the school of bait fish that we’re creating look bigger to approaching dorado.
Use Your Boat To Attract Fish
The vibrations that your boat sends through the water actually attracts fish. So use this to your advantage! Since the boat is the largest attractant to fish, be sure to keep the lures that you’re trolling behind the boat close to the boat. Don’t send them out too far. If they’re too far, then the fish won’t associate the lures with the big loud noisy thing that they’re actually attracted to.
More Tips For Trolling For Dolphinfish
To wrap up the trolling section of this guide, I want to share an excellent video from Florida Sport Fishing that goes into detail with you the trolling setup for dolphinfish. Enjoy!
How To Fish For Dorado With Bait
When trolling lures behind your boat isn’t producing fish, then it might be time to float chunks of bait near a school of hungry dorado. Some of the more common types of bait to use are:
- Chuncks of ballyhoo
- Live shrimp
- Other small bait fish
These are just a few examples of different kinds of bait you can use for dorado. The best thing to do is talk to the locals in the area you’ll be fishing in. Find out what kind of bait fish are in the area and use that.
Easiest Method To Catch Dorado With Bait
The easiest and most effective way to fish for dorado with bait is this: Simply take a chunk of the bait fish, such as ballyhoo, and run a 4/0 to 6/0 live bait style hook through it. This can be as simple as running a J hook through the chunk of bait once and calling it good.
The hook should be attached to your 20 to 30 pound fused leader that’s attached your saltwater reel. Make the length of your leader about 15 to 20 feet long. The purpose of this is that when the leader starts to become nicked and compromised after catching several fish, you can simply cut off a few inches of line, retie, and keep on fishing.
Once everything is baited and tied up, and you’ve located an area that’s known or suspected to hold some fish, take a handful of the leftover, chopped up bait and toss it out to where you suspect the fish are holding up.
Once you see the dorado start to feed on the pieces of chum or bait, float out the baited hooks along with more of the chum. To target even more areas, add an ounce or two of weight to one line along with a float about 30 feet up the line. This will allow you to cover more depth with multiple lines. Some covering the surface and others down to 30 feet or so.
Once the pieces of chum have disappeared from sight, take another handful of bait chunks and toss them near the baited lines. Continue this process until you either see activity from nearby dorado, or you’re sure there aren’t any fish in the area.
Fishing for dorado like this can cause a feeding frenzy. So be ready. You may be reeling in multiple dorado at one time!
For more information on fishing for dorado using bait, check out this article from the Saltwater Sportsman.
More Tips On How To Catch Dorado
Whether your trolling for dorado or parking your boat and casting out chum, there are more things that you can do to help increase your odds at getting into the fish. Here’s a few of those tips.
Dorado Fishing Tip #1:
The first tip for mahi mahi fishing is to pay attention to the birds and observe what they’re doing.
If a flock of birds are diving into the water, they’re after bait fish. And you can bet that the dorado are not far behind.
Lone birds are worth paying attention to as well, even if they’re not diving after bait fish. A lone sea bird will often times hover over a group of dolphin or mahi mahi waiting for an easy meal. They’ll hover over the dorado watching them closely to see when and what they begin to feed on, and then swoop down and join in. So it’s always worth trolling underneath these solitary birds, especially if they appear to be circling a specific area.
Dorado Fishing Tip #2
If you’ve been trolling for a while and haven’t attracted any fish, try varying the speed of the boat. Speed up. Slow down. Do something. Just change it up somehow. You want to break up the pattern. If one speed’s not working, try another.
The same principle applies with the placement of the lures. If you’re not getting any action with your current dorado setup, then change it. The easiest and quickest thing to do is change the distance the lure is from the boat. Has the lure been riding in the churned up bubbly water from the prop? If so, change the placement of the lure and get it to ride in the clear water.
Dorado Fishing Tip #3
Birds aren’t the only wildlife you can keep an eye out for that’ll help you find dorado. Look for flying fish. Not only are they awesome to watch glide through the air, but dorado love to eat on flying fish and will follow them in hopes of an easy meal. If you see flying fish, chances are there are dorado sneaking around as well.
Now you’ve got all the basic information you need to get out there and locate and catch the incredible mahi mahi. In finishing up this dorado fishing guide, there’s one thing that I would highly recommend if you’re brand new to the dorado fishing game. And that is to consider hiring a guide to take you out the first time. There are a lot of advantages to hiring a guide to take you out, but there’s one especially that is very valuable. And that is to learn from your guide!
Your fishing guide is an expert at what he does. Watch him work. Watch what he does and how he does it. Still have questions about tackle or tactics after reading this, then pick your fishing guides brain. Most guides are more than happy to help educate fishermen eager to learn. After learning all you can from your guide, don’t forget to tip him or her!
If you’ve got any additional tips or resources you would like to see added to this dorado fishing guide, please feel free to contact me and share it.
Also feel free to check out some of the other guides I’ve written. If curious about what fishing in Alaska is all about, and want to change gears a bit, take a look at my guide, Fishing In Alaska: The Ultimate Guide To Planning Your Dream Alaskan Fishing Trip.
Or if you want to try something completely new, give carp fishing a shot! If you like a fish that fights, then you’ll enjoy carp fishing. Read my guide on carp fishing, Ultimate Guide To Carp Fishing: Tips and Techniques For Beginners Learning How To Fish For Carp.