- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
If I were searching for the perfect saltwater game fish, there are several attributes I'd look for. The candidate should be a flashy and strong fighter, take to the air during battle, be numerous and with a widespread range, relatively easy to locate and entice, suitable for light-tackle combat, and fine eating on the table.
Under these criteria, I have immediately eliminated such highly regarded adversaries as bonefish and marlin, and for good reason. Fish that are found only in exotic locations or far from land tend to be expensive to pursue—and fishing should be a sport to be enjoyed by anglers of modest means as well as the wealthy. Fish traditionally not eaten, or not considered edible, are catch-and-release only quarry, and I have some issue with this as well. Fish are an important source of dietary protein, and a man (or woman) who fishes recreationally should be able to enjoy their catch fully, in my humble opinion, if they are so inclined.
Within these boundaries, there is really little competition for the dolphinfish. Found in warm waters worldwide, and even up the East Coast of the United States as far as New England in some years, the dolphin is always considered a prize catch. Whether called mahi-mahi (Hawaii) or dorado (Mexico, Central and South America), a dolphin catch brightens any offshore fisherman's day.
The availability, fighting instincts and tasitness of dolphin always make them a great catch.
Extremely acrobatic and robust for their size, dolphin sometimes spend more time in the air than in the water after being hooked. Aggressive feeders, they can usually be enticed into taking a fisherman's offering, and they are one of the finest eating fish to come out of any ocean. On top of all this, dolphin are beautiful creatures with bright greens, yellow and blues combining into a living masterpiece of colors. The ancient Greeks wrote of the tragic beauty of a dying dolphin, when colors often seem to change and flash like neon. I've seen some turn pure white in the fish box, save for bright blue spots, only to return to the normal yellow of a boxed dolphin before we reached shore.
Is A Dolphin A Dolphin?
When you say “dolphin” to many folks, they may automatically think of the porpoise variety, which is neither a sportfish nor a fish at all, rather a mammal. Dolphinfish, on the other hand, are sleek, beautiful and majestic fish specimens. There have long been two recognized subspecies of dolphin, the smaller pompano dolphin and the common dolphin. Pompano dolphin seldom reach a length of more than 3 feet. These are the "chicken" dolphin often found in large schools around weedlines or any floating debris. The large common dolphin can reach weights of 50 pounds or more. While these fish also school, they can just as likely be found roaming open water solo, or in groups of two or three. Although all dolphin are vigorous fighters, their style of combat—short surface runs punctuated by head shaking jumps—means properly matched and prepared light tackle is suitable for all but the very largest specimens.
"Chicken" dolphin love any type of structure. They gather in large masses under weedlines or patches of floating seaweed, under shrimp boats or other large anchored vessels, around oil production platforms, or under any sort of floating debris, from old tires to drift logs. Savvy skippers will pull up as close as possible to potential dolphin habitat and toss out a bit of chum, and if dolphin are around, the water will soon turn blue and gold! Some charter captains use dead shrimp for chum, then bait their customers' hooks with pieces of squid. I prefer small menhaden (shad) for chum. They are flashy, oily, and do not have to be cut up. Any small bits of bait will do, however.
Jigs that imitate the dolphinfish's natural food are effective lures, though bait can be added to "sweeten" the jigs.
On my boat, we always carry a supply of the small, pre-rigged jigs known as "speck rigs" in white, yellow, pink, and combinations of these colors. By "fly-lining" these tandem jigs to dolphin lured to the boat by the chum, fast hook-ups are almost a certainty. Most experienced dolphin hunters suggest leaving the first hooked fish in the water at the transom to excite its schoolmates and keep them close. If the fish start to get wise to the plan, "sweetening" the jigs with a piece of bait can help. When they refuse to hit at all, or stop hitting after a number have been boated, slow trolling with small jigs, letting the lures swing through the edge of the school or near the cover they hide in and occasionally bumping the engines in and out of gear to let the lure sink—then jerk back to life—will often get them going again. On my best day for small dolphin, we discovered also that sometimes they like the boat to move. By leaving a hooked fish in the water and leaving the engine in gear so the boat was creeping forward, four of us brought 107 dolphin in the boat—and left them still biting.
Why Go Light?
While most smaller dolphin are caught on tackle intended for kingfish or snapper, when gear intended for fishing the bays—or even freshwater bass tackle—is used, the fun increases tremendously. On tandem jigs, quite often two fish will be on at once, and their jumps and energy more than make up for any lack of size. Fly rods work well here, too, and a roll cast with any sort of small streamer will get results. My next trick to try on dolphin is to use collapsible fiberglass poles of the type used for freshwater crappie fishing. With their length, my clients are able to drop their bait or lure in front of a dolphin without casting, and these fish put on a real battle on such a long and limber pole with no reel to give line out!
Common dolphin may reach weights over 50 pounds.
Larger dolphin also hang out in schools around surface structure. In fact, they will sometimes be holding just below a school of their smaller cousins. On other occasions, a log or patch of weeds will hold only bigger fish. Larger baits and 15- to 20-pound test casting tackle are the choice of weapons for fish in the 10- to 30-pound class. Chumming also works with the larger fish. I was chumming for sharks in a tournament one year, using a large dead mullet for bait, when a 24-pound bull dolphin hooked up right at boat side. Live baits work well on schools of dolphin, and possibly bring out those "bulls" that have been reluctant to bite before. Finger mullet, large shrimp, or mud minnows are all good choices. For lures, spoons, small rattling plugs, poppers, and the new saltwater spinnerbaits being marketed for redfish can work as well as jigs.
Bull dolphin feed heavily on flying fish, so anytime these lovely creatures are sighted breaking the water in numbers, you are in a good area for dolphin. Trolling with brightly colored jigs in such areas will often produce good fish. Even though it would seem that blue and white would be the choice colors, I've had excellent results on orange and yellow jigs with an orange or pink trailing plastic twist tail. Dolphin will usually hit the lures from the side, and their thin dorsal can be seen slicing across the surface before the strike. I once had one come in like this very fast, jump at the jig, miss, and turn cartwheels across the surface! Never use more than 20-pound tackle when targeting dolphin, unless trolling deep water where large bulls might be found along with tuna, wahoo and marlin!
The dolphin has all the qualities of the perfect sportfish. The memory of the flashing colors and stunning leaps will even outlast the fine meals to be had from a catch of fresh dolphin.