• Published:June 10, 2020
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If mahimahi (aka dolphin fish) were to have a motto, it would adhere to the famous movie line "live fast, die young, and leave an attractive corpse."

Mahi grow fast, weighing two pounds at just six months of age and hitting 20 pounds around their first birthday. Long-lived mahi can top 70 or more pounds. The International Game Fishing Association's all-tackle world record stands at 87 pounds. Catching a big bull is one of those benchmarks every angler sets.

These amazing fish can change colors in an instant — flashing from lime green and canary yellow to brilliant neon blue and silver depending on their mood. They’re a peculiar looking too, with a deeply forked tail, a dorsal fin that runs the length of the body, a leathery, finely scaled skin, and a big head. Males (bulls) have a square-shaped forehead, while the females’ (cows) are more rounded. Unlike most things in the marine world, male dolphin grow larger than the females. But picking up a trophy mahi is not exactly easy.

Mahimahi are equipped with tremendous eyesight. I’ve seen these neon blue blurs locked onto the lure spread like guided missiles from 100 yards away.


Mahi congregate under floating objects such as logs, weed lines, buoys and fish aggregating devices or FADs. Baitfish gather beneath flotsam for protection and food, and mahi do the same. If you find any sort of flotsam in the warm open ocean, you’re in for a treat.

Due to dolphin's predisposition for gathering under floating objects, fishermen the world over have used it to their advantage, building permanent and semi-permanent floating rafts to attract and hold fish. 

The positioning of a FAD can be crucial to its success or failure. The deeper the water a FAD is anchored in, the better it will work. Interestingly, mahimahi will begin to gather within days of a FAD being anchored, even before any weed growth accumulates. Then, as more marine life attaches itself to the rope, the number of mahi increases.

Mahimahi are voracious eaters, chowing down on an amazing array of fish and marine critters. Stomach contents will reveal flying fish, puffer fish, trigger fish, larval crabs, pilchards, yellowtail scad, sauries, eels, squid and squid beaks, marine worms, juvenile turtles and even tiny swordfish. Bigger dolphin fish will eat a bridled live skipjack tuna or frigate mackerel, and in Great Barrier Reef waters some real monsters over 50 pounds occasionally latch onto scad and queenfish intended for giant black marlin. 

Optimum water temperatures need to be from 70 to 80 degrees F, and while mahi are sometimes found in green water (especially around FADs when the water has rolled over), they can show a frustrating reluctance to bite until the color improves and the temperature rises again. Big dolphin fish are usually loners or hold company with one or two others. 

Many anglers target dolphin fish with lures. Mahi will also eat a saltwater fly. A lure or fly between five and 10 inches is the ideal size for most mahi. Either a large Christmas tree, a feather jig, a small skirted marlin lure, or even a bibless stickbait is worth towing.

Bigger fish of 30-plus pounds prefer larger lures, but since these lures are usually clipped to 50-, 80- or 130-pound gear the fish don’t really get to show their true fighting ability. Tackle these same fish on 20- or 30-pound, however, and you’ll be raving about the fight to your thoroughly bored friends for months to come.


The locations of public FADs or offshore buoys are well documented and they can become pretty crowded pieces of real estate, especially on weekends. If you’re going to fish them successfully, get out early and be in position before dawn.
Upon arrival do a couple of troll runs past the FAD to try and catch a few mahi that are half asleep. You can cast poppers and metal lures at the base of the float. Vertically jigging lures also works. If this doesn’t produce, assess the speed and direction of the drift, then stop up-current and lay down a trail of diced bait chunks and rig a few whole baits on spinning gear. Mahimahi can be lured well away from the FAD and you’ll quickly have a chum trail full of glowing blue backs and yellow tails. Mahi don’t always hang directly beneath the FAD, and often roam in colorful packs some distance away, so it helps to be mobile.

After the mahi wise up to lures and dead baits, fishing a live bait will be your best option. Live baits also bring the bigger fish into the picture. A small mackerel hooked through the fleshy membrane forward of its eyes won’t last long, and rigged this way it can also be slow-trolled.


A small offset hook and five feet of 50-pound leader will have sufficient abrasion resistance to cope with a prolonged fight with a big fish on light tackle. If the mahi refuses the bait and the fish are small, don’t be afraid to drop down in leader size or even remove the leader and fish the main line straight to the hook.

Be careful when using double hooked marlin lures though. When a mahimahi comes into the boat, it’s apt to go completely nuts and if that second hook isn’t securely pinned in the fish, it can become a real danger.

A gaff shot in the head will maintain some degree of control. Fling the fish straight into the fish box and jam the lid shut until the commotion dies down. Or pin the mahi against the deck and bend the tail up towards the head.

Mahimahi are superb eating at any size, so few legal fish get thrown back. As with all fish, they are best bled, gutted and put on ice as soon as possible. Save the belly meat and you can use it to rig up a nice Teaser.