Dolphin Fishing and Trolling

Dolphin trolling and fishing is as easy as it gets in the summer


Dolphin (mahi mahi or dorado) fishing is a summer time blast along the Atlantic coast. While they are caught in the Gulf of Mexico and southern Pacific and off Hawaii, Mexico and South America, it is the Southeastern US coast that is famous for summer time dolphin fishing.

The Species Identified

mahi mahi

Where do We Fish?

But the prime location for catching dolphin is the Gulfstream.

Gulfstream Location

As the coastline of the US turns back to the northeast, it moves closer to the stream, and at the Carolinas it becomes a more reasonable trip.

The Tackle Requirements

  • Rods and Reels
    • Trolling rods in the 30 pound class.
    • Matching conventional reels spooled with 25 to 30 pound monofilament line.
    • Spinning rods and matching reels in the same line class,
    • Lighter spinning or casting rods and reels for shoolies near the boat.
  • Terminal Tackle
    • Leaders usually made from 50 to 70 pound test wire, or 80 pound test monofilament. The reason for a wire leader is that other species than dolphin (like barracuda) may strike your bait. These leaders are usually six to eight feet in length.
    • Hooks for dead or live bait – usually in the 6/0 to 7/0 range in standard hooks for trolling and 7/0 circle hooks for live baiting.
  • Other Tackle
    • Gloves – for handling a hooked fish.
    • Gaff – sometimes more than one – for bringing the fish aboard.
    • A 120 quart cooler – this is the minimum size I would take. When a dolphin is brought aboard, it needs to go directly to the cooler where someone can sit on the lid until he calms down. A dolphin flopping around on the deck of a boat will break tackle and bones. Put him in the cooler!

Fishing Methods

  • Trolling
  • Most anglers who are pursuing dolphin will be trolling some type of bait.
  • The number of lines out depends on your boat and anglers. Most boats troll at least two lines on the surface.
  • One additional line may be trolled on a downrigger.
  • Trolling speed is between 4 ad 7 knots, just fast enough to make the bait work properly. A properly working bait will be skipping along just under and on the surface.
  • Live Baiting
  • Drift a weed line with a freelined live ballyhoo.
  • Kite fish with the same live bait.

What Bait to Use

  • Natural Bait
    • Ballyhoo – find them at most bait shops – sometimes fresh ones can be bought.
    • Mullet or mullet strips
  • Artificial Baits
    There are any number of artificial baits on the market, all designed to catch dolphin, and all of them do just that. I actually prefer a Dolphin Junior trolling bait to natural bait on most days. It's a lot easier to deal with and it sometimes out fishes the natural baits.

How Do I Know When to put my Lines Out?

  • The fish you pursue are in or close to the Gulfstream. On occasion, dolphin may follow a school of flying fish closer to shore, but they will most surely be in the stream. You will know when you reach the stream because of the ultra-clear, blue water under your boat. It will seem like you can see down into the water a mile or more. We call this the “blue water” for a reason – it is a gorgeous, deep, clear blue.
  • When you reach the blue water, look for weeds and flotsam. Anything floating on the surface of the water will attract dolphin. They use flotsam to shade themselves from the sun. Weedlines form in a rip that can be several miles long. You will find boats trolling along both sides of a long weed line. Just get in line and follow the leader. Sometimes everyone catches fish this way and sometimes no one catches fish. That’s why they call it fishing!


  • Always, always, always look for the birds. Sea birds like gulls and frigate birds follow schools of dolphin waiting for them to find a school of baitfish. You can spot a school of feeding fish by watching for a flock of diving birds. As you move to the birds, you may find that the feeding fish are not dolphin. Never mind that – just get some baits out. Larger dolphin will follow schools of other fish – like false albacore or bonito – and feed along with them.
  • The Frigate bird holds a special place in a dolphin angler’s heart. They will find and lock onto a big bull or cow dolphin and follow them high overhead for miles, waiting for them to feed. If you spot a cruising frigate bird, make an effort to stay with it for at least a while. This is where most of the really big dolphin are caught.

Bottom Line

While you do need a boat to find and catch dolphin, they are the easiest blue water fish to catch for the average angler. There are no really heavy duty tackle requirements, and the dolphin are usually quite eager to eat your bait – even if it happens to be presented a bit wrong. They generally cooperate and make you look good!