How to Catch Dolphin on Light Tackle

Tired of trolling for dolphin? Find a field of lobster-pot markers and nail these brutes on light tackle

Illustration by Don Foley

As ocean temperatures rise in midsummer, dolphin—a.k.a. mahi mahi—can be found as far north as Massachusetts. Most are hooked on the troll. Problem is, unless you’re dealing with a giant bull, typical trolling outfits meant for tuna or marlin easily overpower the average dolphin. Fortunately, these fish love to congregate below anything floating—be it a piece of wood or a high flyer marking a lobster pot or fish trap. Find a pot field, and you (or your charter captain) can ditch the trolling spread and fill the box with inshore spinning gear light enough to make a 10-pound mahi battle memorable. Here’s the plan.

Go With Gunk
Look for pot markers that have a good coating of green slime or algae. The more growth, the longer the marker has been in the water, and the better the odds that dolphin are calling it home.

Catch the Drift
Calculate your drift speed and angle, then kill the engine 60 to 70 feet ahead of a pot marker and drift into casting range. Running full throttle from pot to pot—­especially on a calm day—can put fish on guard otherwise.

Double Up
Dolphin often follow a hooked schoolmate, but they'll scatter as soon as the fish on the line leaves the water. So once the first dolphin is hooked, keep it in the water and fighting until the next angler connects. Keep up this rotation as long as possible until the school catches on, or you've caught your fill.

Give Them a Snack
Although it's not always necessary to chum dolphin, a light flow of ballyhoo or squid chunks descending toward the pot marker helps keep the school competitive and feeding, making them more eager to smack your lure.

Dance the Jig
Any metal lure or diving hard bait can pull dolphin off the pots, but soft plastics are my first choice. A white Zoom Fluke rigged on a jighead matches both squid and baitfish in color; it can be worked deep or just below the surface; and the quick, rise-and-fall action seems to get these aggressive fish good and mad.

Go Down the Line
Most dolphin will hover just below the marker, but don't leave without sending a lure falling vertically down the rope. Sometimes big loner dolphin will sit deeper below the school, waiting for a meal that doesn't require them to compete with the others.