Most of us think of mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) as a species usually encountered in offshore waters, and usually that’s the case. Some years, however, they come closer to shore than others. And every so often they can be caught not just within sight of land but even within a mile or two of the beach. When this happens, there’s a good chance the mahi will be found in inshore waters for the remainder of the season. This offers a great opportunity to small boat anglers who may otherwise not be able to target them. So when you hear about a friend or two catching mahi close to shore, it’s usually worth targeting them in specific.
Some folks like to troll for mahi, and others like bailing for them. When these fish move inshore, however, the best way to load the cooler is by employing both methods at once. Pick out two or three trolling favorites – my number-one is a whole rigged six-inch squid, followed by a four-inch pink plastic squid – and deploy them around any sort of floating structure. Weeds, commercial fishing gear floats, buoys, or just about anything floating on the water’s surface will draw the mahi in and hold them. Then, as you troll among the flotsam cut up a mess of fish or squid chunks. The chunks should be domino-sized, and you should cut up a pound or two so you’re ready for action.
When a trolled bait gets hit, the captain and crew needs to react immediately. The captain should shift the boat out of gear and into neutral, as someone grabs the rod and someone else throws a handful of chunks behind the boat. Anyone not fighting a fish then grabs a spinning rod rigged with a 30-pound fluoro leader and a 8/0 to 9/0 circle hook. Place one of the chunks on the hook, and flip it over the side. Tossing a few additional chunks to get the fish fired up never hurts, either.
Mahi usually travel in packs, and using this combined trolling/bailing technique you can often turn a lone strike into mayhem. If the rest of the school is anywhere near the hooked fish they’ll see the chunks, swim closer, and go into a feeding frenzy. It’s not at all unusual to get three or four on the lines before that first fish has even been landed. Just remember to keep tossing a few chunks over the side when the others have all disappeared from view, to hold the school close.