How to Catch Mahi-Mahi in the Florida Keys and South Florida
Tackle Needed and Tactics to Get the Bite
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Are you visiting the Florida Keys or South Florida and want to learn how to catch Mahi or want to get better at catching Mahi? This article is for you and can help you learn how to catch Mahi Mahi! Below, we will discuss the basic tackle set up needed to catch Mahi as well as the rods and reels needed along with different techniques for catching them and ways to find Mahi while offshore.
A Little About The Mahi-mahi
The Mahi-mahi is a surface-dwelling fish found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical offshore waters worldwide. You'll also commonly hear Mahi-mahi called Dolphin or Dorado, which they have no relation to the Mammal Dolphin. The word Mahi in the Hawaiian Language translates to "Very Strong". Once you hook into a Mahi you will know why they're called the very strong fish!
Fishing for Mahi Mahi can be one of the most exhilarating experiences an offshore angler can have! Actively fishing in a school of feeding mahi is non stop action with constant hook ups and reel screaming fights that you will remember for decades!
Rod and Reels-
Tackle need to catch Mahi isn't too important as how to locate them. Generally any decent 7' Heavy Action rod paired with 4,000 to 7,000 series spinning reel are used as pitch rods. One of our go to reels for catching Mahi is the Qualia NLF50. This reel gives you a buttery smooth reel but also has the drag that is needed to fight a big Bull Mahi! Conventional reels are commonly used for trolling paired with a 5'6'-7' Heavy Action Conventional Rod. We recommend having a rod with decent backbone that will be up to the task of setting the hook in the mouth of these hungry predators! Most people will use a reel similar to a Shimano TLD15 or TLD20 or similar Penn Squall. We recommend the Qualia Advanz Q22-1 Single Speed or the Qualia Advanz Q22-2 Two Speed reel for offshore fishing. If you are looking for a little more line capacity and more drag check out the similar reels Q30-1 and Q30-2. The Qualia series of reels offer full metal housings for ruggedness as well as 25lbs of drag for fighting the big Bull Mahi! Plus, Qualia designed some of the highest quality fishing reels and offers a One Year (1 year) Warranty at an extremely affordable price point! The Qualia Q-22 reel also allow for up to 580 yards of 20lb mono!
When it comes to which line we put on our reels we like to use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method. Mostly all of our general use spinning reels for Mahi are all spooled with the same LB test. Most of our spinning reels we will spool on 30lb braid. This is usually a good sacrifice of allowing usually 300-400 yards of line but also gives you a good chance to put pressure on a big fish. However, our conventional reels we usually spool with 50lb braid. This is a good combination of line capacity as 50lb braid has the equivalent of 12lb mono and gives to the chance to give a fight to the big bull or other big pelagic fish that you could catch while offshore. Using braid gives you more capacity on your reels versus using mono. Again, this is what we do but you can choose to use the line of your choosing. Important: Braid does not have any stretch! You will need a Monofilament Top Shot to five shock absorption to the line otherwise you will have break offs from the shock of the fish hitting the lure! Read about Top Shot Below!
Top Shot is a highly debated subject within offshore fisherman. Top Shot is typically confused with leader. However, as they both serve similar purposes they are not the same (in our opinion). Top Shot, depending who you ask, is a Monofilament line attached to your braid mainline that is anywhere from 50'-150'. Again, depending on personal preference. The Top Shot's main purpose is to act as a shock absorber for when a fish strikes. This is extremely important if you use braid because braid does not stretch at all! IFGA has their own set of rules if you fish in tournaments that follow IFGA rules make sure to read the rules. We typically run about 100'-150' of 50 LB Top Shot connected to our braid using a Double Uni Knot on our Mahi reels. For High Speed Trolling (HST) or large game such as Marlin 100 LB Top Shot is recommended connected to 80-100lb Braid.
Leader is a vital key in catching fish offshore! Leader is different from Top Shot as it is usually heavier LB Monofilament or Fluorocarbon line than the Top Shot. Because the Leader is heavier LB test it offers more abrasion resistance to teeth and break offs. Typically most offshore lures for Mahi use 5'-6' of 80 or 100 LB Mono. Tournament Anglers usually use 80 LB Fluorocarbon to increase hook up ratio as it is nearly invisible. Fluorocarbon leader is a lot more expensive than Monofilament so most anglers will use Mono. This 5' Leader typically has a loop on end and is then connected to your Top Shot using a high quality Ball Bearing or Barrel Swivel Clip to prevent line twisting.
How To Catch Mahi
After you have all of your gear set up, now is the time you've been waiting for! It's time to get fishing! First, let's cover the two main types of fishing for Mahi. Both are effective at catching Mahi and have their time and place to be used.
1. Running and Gunning
Running and Gunning is a term most Offshore Anglers use when talking about just "running" their boat on plane covering ground looking for "Signs of Life". We'll discuss these "Signs of Life" in detail below. This is a quick way to cover ground and maximize time spent offshore.
2. Blind Trolling
This is a term that is used by a lot of Offshore Anglers when they just get to the depth they want to fish and just put their trolling lures out and start trolling without any "Signs of Life".
Now that we've covered the two main styles of fishing for Mahi let's get into the nitty gritty of Mahi Fishing!
You'll want to head offshore until you get to 150'-200' of water. This is the depth that Mahi begin to be found in the Florida Keys and pretty much ALL of South Florida! There is an old saying I was told many years ago: "Don't drive over fish to look for fish". Start your search for the fish whenever you enter the waters they are known to be in. We've caught a lot of keeper Mahi's in 200ft of water here in South Florida and the FL Keys.
Look for "Signs of Life"
As soon as you reach the right depths start looking for signs of life. Signs of Life are Birds, Weedlines of Sargasso Grass, any floating structure (logs, coolers, coconuts, wood (2x4's), really any floating debris), and changes in water color. Floating debris and weedlines hold the small plankton and baitfish that Mahi love to feed on. These fish spend all of their life eating since they are one of the fastest growing fish in the world. Birds found offshore feed on baitfish. These baitfish are typically schooled up in "bait balls" consisting of thousands of fish. The birds help you find the bait balls and the Mahi are typically feeding off the bait balls forcing these bait balls to the surface.
Get the Lures Out!
Once you find a "Sign of Life" get the lures in the water and start trolling! Make sure to get set up before reaching the "Signs of Life" so you have a good chance of running lures near the feeding Mahi. Do not wait until you are on top of the signs of life or underneath the signs of life to get your lures in the water! Typically, we will slow down about 1/4-1/2 mile away from the signs of life and put our lures in the water and troll up to the signs of life. If you are not sure what kind of lures work well for catching Mahi, we've created a list of our top selling and top performing lures that are sure to get a bite if you have fish in the area! Click here to see the list!
Fishing is a game of patients. If you are following birds, have someone on the boat keep and eye on the birds and have the Captain follow the birds. Do not get so close to the birds that you scare them. Troll your lures between 5-8kts. Trolling Lures are designed to be trolled between 5-8kts and this speed is best for catching Mahi.
Chum the Waters
Once you are hooked into a Mahi and have them next to the boat. Keep them in the water! Make sure you have some cut up bait such as Ballyhoo, Squid, Shrimp or anything else you have on hand. Toss out a few chucks of bait behind the boat. This is because Mahi typically feed in schools and where there is one Mahi there are many more! Have a pitch rod ready to throw a baited hook out to catch the feeding Mahi! A pitch rod is typically a 7' Heavy action rod with a 4000 to 6000 sized spinning reel. We typically have 20-30lb braid on our pitch rod outfits with 6ft of 20-30lb Fluorocarbon leader. Monofilament leader is used by most Mahi Fisherman and is more than fine to use. We will tie a 4/0-6/0 hook on the end of the Fluorocarbon. Hook size depends on the size of the chunks/bait being used. The hook can be a circle hook or a traditional J-hook depending on your hook preference. We have a list of recommended hooks for Mahi fishing HERE.
We hope you have learned the basic tackle and tactics for catching Mahi in South Florida and the Florida Keys! Be sure to check out our website for top quality fishing tackle at exceptional prices!