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Fishing for Dolphin in the Florida Keys

April 30, 2015 Florida Keys Lifestyle

Coryphaena Hippurus dolphin

Target Dorado –  the crème de la crème of offshore fishing excursions in the Florida Keys

So many of our visitors and residents alike come here for the fishing – and when it comes to deep sea targets, dolphin is the year round 'go to" fish.

Dolphin, Mahi-Mahi, Dorado, even Coryphaena Hippurus…no matter what you call it, you’re talking about the Florida Keys perfect all-around big game fish. Sure, reeling in a marlin or bluefin tuna is an irreplaceable once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the challenge of sight fishing tarpon or permit in the flats can’t be beat, but when you’re talking about more bang for your buck, it’s dolphin all the way.

When you find a school of dolphin you get to enjoy the best of both worlds: a fish that aggressively attacks your bait but fights you tooth and nail once hooked. What could be better than a fish that is easy to catch but strips tons of line from your reel and puts on a spectacular and colorful acrobatic show of jumps and tail walking all the way into the boat.

Tail walking dolphinfish

Dolphin are strong, fast, and one of the most delicious fish you’ll ever have the pleasure of tossing onto the grill. Good eating is one more reason this is one of the most often targeted species in the Florida Keys.

No need to reschedule your Keys vacation week.

Part of the reason that dolphin fishing is so popular in the Keys is that while they are more active in Spring and Fall, we catch dolphin year round.

This makes the planning a fishing vacation a whole lot easier. Whether you’re motivated by discounted flights or limited to a pre-set vacation schedule, no matter what time of year it is you’ll be able to have one heck of a time deep sea fishing for dolphin. That’s not to say there’s not an ideal season for dolphin. The biggest fish tend to be caught from April-June.

October-December is also good, with the added bonus that pods of sailfish come into the area around the same time. It’s not out of the question to haul in a monster dolphin and a sailfish in the same day. A two-for-one special!

dolphin dorado mahi mahi
Caught aboard the Compass Rose on Historic Charter Boat Row

Trolling puts on quite the show, but it’s not the only game in town.

Unlike other fishing methods where you’ve got to wait for a pull on your line to know there’s been a strike, slow trolling for dolphin provides the unique opportunity to see the fish charge and attack your bait. Talk about a whole new level of excitement. Drifting and casting are also popular techniques for catching dolphin. For bait pretty much anything goes, but the favorite seems to be ballyhoo — and, of course, jigs, flies, popping bugs and the whole array of trolling lures can hook 'em; a hot school of dolphin will strike anything that glitters.

Once a school is located you should keep at least one hooked fish in the water at all times and chum with cut bait. This will ensure that the school stays active around the boat.

Spotting a school generally involves looking for visual signs such as rafted weed lines and large floating objects. Frigate birds can also tip off the location of a school, as they will circle where the larger fish are feeding in hopes of scavenging leftovers. Dolphin continuously roam the open sea and particularly the Gulf Stream in search of food.

dolphins on deck

A colorful fish that you’ll quickly recognize once you get to know them.

Dolphin exhibit a dorsal fin that extends nearly from their head all the way down the length of the tail. Males and females are easily told apart as bulls have blunt heads while cows are far more rounded. Dolphins are known for their exquisite coloring and they almost glow in the water. They’re yellow with a combination of either deep blue or green and spots on the sides. Size wise you can find dolphin that range from just a pound or two all the way up to 50-plus pounds. The world record for a bull is 88 pounds. The bigger fish tend to roam as loners or in pairs of a bull and cow. Fish that travel together in schools generally are around the same size, but school fish rarely exceed the 20 pound mark. More on dolphin fishing in the Florida Keys here.

Our marina here on Sadowski Causeway offers several charters for those who here on vacation in Key Colony Beach and the middle Florida Keys, as well as residents.

More on things to do in the Florida Keys in our guide to the area.