Known as dorado throughout Central America, mahi mahi in the Pacific and dolphin in the Gulf and eastern seaboard, these colorful and powerful game fish are definitely not to be confused with Flipper. Coryphaena hippurus are prized by anglers because of their speed, strength and acrobatics. They are also delicious to eat and an eligible species in the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.
The ECBC record for dolphin has stood for 16 years. James Justice caught the 53.1-pound bull in 2006 while fishing aboard Fly By, a 74 Viking run by Capt. Marco Gaona. Most tournament entries are caught trolling for marlin, but with serious prize money in the category, teams are also now targeting dolphin specifically. Two veteran Gulf skippers shared their tips for putting hefty neon demons in the box.
“When the situation presents itself, we dolphin fish,” says Capt. Stan Blackman, who currently runs Never Settle after spending years as a mate. “If I’m up in the tower and we come across a weed line, my head is on a swivel, looking for stuff. Debris, flotsam, that’s where dolphin will be. One of my better days was when we found an 8-foot long piece of thick yellow and black poly rope that they use on commercial boats. It was floating on the surface and we pulled several 30-pounders off it, plus tons of super chickens. That was a fun day.”
If Blackman is sight-fishing for dolphin or casting to debris, he uses a 30-pound class spinning outfit. Leaders range from 60-pound test down to no leaders if the fish are reluctant to bite. Live baits are preferred and always in a variety.
“I’ve used pinfish, croakers, hardtails and cigar minnows,” Blackman explains. “We caught some small almaco jacks on a weed line one time, put ‘em back out and the dolphin scarfed ‘em down. But sometimes all they’ll eat is a dead cigar minnow, the stinkiest thing on the boat. Dolphin are weird, but it’s always good to have a live well full and be ready because you never know when they will pop up.”
Capt. Matt Condon normally runs boats for clients during tournaments and says most of his dolphin bites come on blue and white Islander lures rigged in front of dead ballyhoo.
“I always have a ballyhoo in the spread in some capacity,” Condon explains. “It’s like the cat’s meow for dolphin. If we find a rip line and troll along it, I’ll have an angler on the bow ready to cast forward without messing up the trolling spread too bad. If there is a big dolphin there, he’s coming out.”
Condon says the key to finding dolphin is to find brown flotsam—floating pallets, logs or a tight line of sargassum.
“I look for opposing currents to hold real debris,” he adds. “If you find a rip line, you’ll find dolphin. They may not be there instantly and it may take a tidal change but you have to be patient. I also don’t run from small dolphin because the big ones will be down deeper and they get more wary as the day progresses.”
Condon also likes using spinning gear or small conventional reels like Avets for throwing baits to dolphin. In addition to live bait (ballyhoo is his favorite), he’ll also use plastic ballyhoo and flying fish.
Condon has developed a small para-foil kite that he flies off the center “shotgun” rigger way beyond the spread with a rubber flying fish suspended underneath. The lure will bounce and skip on the water with a lot of action.
“Kites are used all the time in South Florida for sailfish, but they haven’t really caught on here in the Gulf. My E-Z Kite is simple to use, you can fly it in almost any wind and it works. Big dolphin will hit it when the lure is airborne and it’s good for tuna, too.”
The Ship’s Chandler in Destin carries the E-Z Kite and it is also available on-line at eatmytackle.com
In the ECBC dolphin division (20 pound minimum), entry levels are split 50/30/20 between three qualifying entries. The five optional jackpots ($500, $750, $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000) are divided 60/25/15 for the top three fish. No winners topped 40 pounds the last three years (39.4/2020, 35.9/2021, 38.9/2022), but a new tournament record is certainly out there. And this could be the year it’s brought to the scales.