Mahi mahi are also called the dolphinfish or dorado in Portuguese. This is a tropical fish that seasonally migrates up to thousands of miles each year. This is one of the fastest growing fish in the world growing up to 1 inch per week and gaining up to 3 pounds per month. Mahi mahi live in surface waters and eat fish, crabs, squid and shrimp.
Mahi mahi are found scattered in the open ocean generally in warmer waters near the gulf stream. The general strategy to find mahi mahi in south Florida is to travel past the reef into blue water 200 feet or deeper in depth but the mahi mahi will be near the surface. Once you are in Mahi waters look for Sargassum Alge weed lines, debris, fish surfacing or diving birds. When one of these is found there is a good chance mahi mahi will be around if it is the correct time of year. Once a good location is found the baits can be pitched or trolled close to the surface structure or activity. A six to seven mph troll speed is typical for mahi mahi. This can vary based on weather conditions and the size of the boat. Some lures need to be in locations fish can spot them easily to attract fish. This is done by placing them far back or outside of the turbulence area of the wake. Mahi mahi can swim at over 50 mph so don’t be afraid to try faster trolling speeds if fish are not hitting lures at slow trolling speeds.
Some boats catch three mahi mahi all day and others catch 60 mahi mahi. The big difference is capitalizing once one fish is caught while trolling. Keep the fish in the water about 20 feet behind the boat until a second mahi mahi is hooked. The second mahi mahi should be caught by pitching a ballyhoo hooked through the nose close to the other mahi mahi that is on the line. Once a second mahi mahi is hooked the first mahi mahi can be brought in. This cycle is repeated until the school of mahi mahi leave. If the school is close to the boat a whole dead squid is a great bait to use. Dead bait is typically all that is needed but if the school of mahi mahi are not biting using live pilchards or cigar minnows for bait is a great option to have. Once live bait is used that particular school of mahi mahi may not bite dead bait anymore so it is a good idea to start out pitching dead bait. Some days the mahi mahi are skittish and picky with baits other days they will bite an empty hook!
There are lots of great lures and baits for mahi mahi. In some locations, additional attractants are adding to the trolling setup such as hookless spreader bars and dredges. The reason having good mahi mahi lures onboard is to hook the first fish and then bring the school close to the boat and pitch baits to them.
Here are the best mahi mahi lures and baits.
Stubby Bubblers, Lil Stubby and Jets
C&H Stubby Bubbler pink white 5 1/2 inch also comes in blue pink with silver Mylar.
C&H Lil Stubby 5 1/2 inch, 2 ounce trolling lure.
Boone Gatlin Jet rigged purple black 7 inch, 2-3/4 ounce trolling lure.
The blubbers, stubbies and jets are typically run a short distance behind the boat skipping in and out of the water creating bubble trails and lots of surface action. Make sure these lures stay weed free. Grabbing the fishing line a popping the lure can help trigger strikes. This also helps you realize when the lure picks up weeds.
Daisy Chain, Mahi Mahi Trolling Lure
Daisy Chain 3 squid teasers with a skirted bait.
It is a good idea to run two daisy chains on the far sides of the spread of lures and midway back. When the front squid is bouncing in and out of the water is it is a good distance back. These large lures help attract fish to the trolling area and frequently produce fish. Most other predator fish such as wahoo, sailfish, tuna and marlin will also bite this so it is a great lure to be trolling.
Billy Baits and Iland Ilander JR
Billy Baits Mini Turbo Slammer 5 ½ inch 5/8 ounce, in pink, purple and blue.
Iland Ilander JR 6 3/4 inch 13/14 ounce with a bullet head, works well with rigged ballyhoo.
Billy baits are great to run far back in the spread. Any skittish fish that is are not willing to get close to the boat can still find these trailing in the back. They are small and will catch any size fish. The Islander Jr is a very popular mahi lure and is often rigged with ballyhoo. It can be fished anywhere in the spread.
Williamson Ballyhoo Combo
Williamson Ballyhoo Combo has a scoop head sailfish catcher in combination with an artificial ballyhoo. The lure weight is 15 ounces with a 6 foot 100-pound leader line and comes in a variety of great colors.
The artificial ballyhoo is great for the recreational fisherman and is effective at attracting fish. If dead ballyhoo if it is not rigged perfectly the lure can spin and fish will never bite a spinning bait. Also with dead bait, you have to deal with washout which is when the belly of ballyhoo breaks apart which makes the bait not troll properly. This is why salt is applied to the belly of dead ballyhoo. Dead ballyhoo can also be bitten in half and then trolled for a long time without a chance of catching a fish. An artificial skirted ballyhoo might not be as good as freshly baited skirted ballyhoo but it is much easier for the recreational fisherman to use and still works great.back to menu ↑
Ballyhoo, Naked or Skirted
When making a ballyhoo rig for mahi mahi 80-pound fluorocarbon leader line is used. A hook is tied to one end and the other end is tied with a perfection loop so the leader can easily be changed out. The line on the pole has a barrel snap swivel on it that can easily be connected to the perfection loop. This make changing out baits fast when the mahi mahi are biting.
To make a ballyhoo rig for trolling you start with dead ballyhoo that was previously frozen. Keep the ballyhoo as cold as possible and in a ice salt brine. At a minimum salt the bellies of ballyhoo.
A mustad 7/0 hook is used to make a ballyhoo rig.
Rigging wire is wrapped around the hook and then around the ballyhoo. There are many good YouTube videos about how to make a ballyhoo rig.
A chugger head is a great lure to place over the dead ballyhoo to make a skirted ballyhoo rig. This adds surface action to the lure and make the ballyhoo troll more easily in the water without spinning and help the bait not get washed out as quickly.
How to catch Mahi Mahi
The key to catching the first mahi mahi of the day is finding the birds. Sometimes finding good weed lines or debris works but I feel much more confident that I am going to catch fish when I find a warbird hovering low near the water. A warbird is also called a frigate bird. Once a school of fish is found troll near the fish without running over the school with the boat until a fish is hooked.
Once one fish is caught keep it in the water until a second fish is caught. Pitch just behind the caught fish with a ballyhoo, squid, pilchard or cigar minnow.
Pitching a full-size dead squid or ballyhoo is a great option when there is a school of mahi mahi near the boat. If the mahi mahi are small a piece of cut bait can be used.
Pitching live cigar minnows or pilchards is the best bait to use when mahi mahi are behind the boat. Shown here is a cigar minnow. These can be caught in grass patches on the reef by putting chumming the water and throwing a large cast net. See our cast net page for more information about cast nest.
A size 4/0 to 6/0 circle hook with fluorocarbon leader should be used with the pitch bait. Try to keep the school around the boat by chunking cut or live bait to the school.
When trolling only four lines are typically set out, even on charter fishing boats. Skirt baits are typically trolled directly behind the boat about 25-50 years back. A naked ballyhoo is trolled using the outrigger on one side and a skirted ballyhoo is trolled using the second outrigger on the other side. The outrigger like are set about 50-100 yards behind the boat. Make sure that lures do not have weeds on them. You will not catch a fish if the lure has weeds on it. Sometimes the lures have to be continuously reeled in to remove the weeds. Running the lines a bit close helps to reduce the number of weeds that are caught on the line.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you catch more mahi mahi!
If you have any suggestions for top mahi mahi lures and baits, leave a comment below!