Beginner Dolphin Trolling Basics: How To Catch A Mahi-Mahi
Beginner Dolphin Trolling Basics: How To Catch A Mahi-Mahi

Beginner Dolphin Trolling Basics: How To Catch A Mahi-Mahi

Are hard-fighting, good-eating dolphinfish beginning to make you think you should get out on a boat and go fishing? We wanted to outline the beginner dolphin trolling basic and to explain how to catch mahi-mahi.

Beginner Dolphin Trolling Basics: Understanding The Mahi Mahi

Dolphinfish are one of the most popular sport fishing species. Known as mahi-mahi, dolphinfish, and sometimes dorado (there is a related species that is a South American river fish), these fish are found all across the world and are highly sought after for recreational fishing. They’re also becoming more popular in commercial fishing.

Traditionally, this fish was consumed most by the United States and Caribbean communities, but this fish’s growing popularity is finding new fans in Australia and Europe. Well known for the beauty, size, and good eating, these colorful, fast, flashy fish are an acrobatic prey worthy of any angler.

As you are likely aware, dolphinfish aren’t actually related to the aquatic mammals. Although its traditional name is dolphin, these days it is known by its Hawaaian name (mahi-mahi) to prevent any confusion.

To understand some beginner dolphin trolling basics, you’re going to want to know their behavior. These aggressive fish are commonly found to have a length of about five feet (1.5 m) and are known to weigh around 30 kg or 66 lbs. Their body colors are known for their sparkle, presenting an attractive sight in the water. These fish are carnivorous and are often found in schools, feeding on smaller fish and invertebrates.

Because they are often found under the shade of sea vegetation hunting for flying fish near the surface of the water, trolling is a great technique to start catching dolphinfish right away.

Trolling: The Best Way Beginners Can Start Fishing For Mahi-mahi

Trolling involves drawing lures or bait fish through the water at various depths from behind a boat. The important thing is that you keep those lines moving slowly, making your bait seem alive and well.

The technique of trolling is especially effective when you throw multiple lines in the water at one time, making you and your boat look like a school of tasty bait fish just waiting to get snapped up by some hungry dorados.

This assortment of lines in the water being drawn behind the boat is known as a spread. There are many different techniques for making these spreads more effective.

Styles Of Trolling

Looking to figure out how best to troll for mahi mahi? Well, there are a number of different ways you can go about trolling for mahi and there are many different styles of trolling, from conventional methods that you are probably familiar with to techniques where native Hawaiians use a kite to troll for fish instead of a boat. Here we will focus on a few of the more common styles.


A big part of beginner dolphin trolling basics is making sure your lure is staying where you want it in the water. Each lure has a different depth that it will be most attractive to fish, and a down rigger helps you control this important variable. Also downriggers and outriggers prove to be extremely effective when trolling lures or rigged ballyhoo.

A downrigger is a horizontal pole with a weight on it. Your line gets clipped to this pole to ensure that your bait stays at the same level consistently. You know that your fishing line is going to stay with the down-rigger no ifs ands or buts. 

There is a downside to using a downriver however; if there are hazards invisible to you under the water, your downrigger could snag, which would be no fun at all. 


Another common technique is to use a “spreader.” A spreader lets you put multiple lures or bait on one single line. Some advanced spreaders go far beyond just that. The way they are designed allows for all those lures to rotate in different patterns that make your lures look even more like the school of baitfish that are so attractive to hungry dolphinfish.

Tackle, Rod, and Reel

Even for the average beginner, dolphin trolling basics still include making sure that you have the right gear. Generally, we like to use live bait or trolled dead bait with skirts. Either way, you need to make sure your gear can support a 40 lb. bull dolphin. 

Line, rod, and reel

Make sure that your rod and reel are up for the battle of taking in a mahi. Even the smaller mahi at 20 lbs can put up a fight, so you want to make sure that the fishing line on your reel is about between 20 to 50 pounds of test. You don’t need the heaviest gear, but you do want to give yourself the right chance of getting the fish into the boat. 

Your rod should definitely be of quality as well, and should have the right strength to hold up to ocean fishing. If you do some research you should find something that will meet your need (and your budget), but remember, that your rod is key part of your fishing experience. 

The same thing goes for making sure that you have a quality reel. Since dolphinfish are known for fighting, you want to be cranking on a reel that gives you confidence. Although reels can be a high ticket item, quality reels are available without all the bells and whistles that should fit your budget. 


Mahi mahi, tuna, kingfish, and other large saltwater fish can all be caught using similar styles of lure. A feather lure makes for a good start. Shaped in front to resemble a fish, it trails artificial, colored, and often sparkling feathers behind it to both attract the attention of fish and hide its hook. 

Remember, a lure is just a tool. So just make sure you are matching the size of the lure to whatever the fish are eating and you will be in business.

Another lure that’s great for beginner dolphin trolling basics is a bullet, or an ilander lure. Typically shaped like a bullet in front, it trails a colorful skirt behind it, similar to a feather lure, to catch a dolphin’s eye. However, it is best to bait this type of lure. It’s an another effective lure to pull behind your boat.

Tackle for beginner dolphin trolling basics might also include a “popper” or plug type lure as well. They are good because they make bubbles and a lot of noise. This marks another tactic to get a fish’s attention.

Last, but not least, a magnum type of lure is really effective. This famous lure isn’t meant to ride along the surface, but to swim anywhere from 10 feet to 20 feet or more below the surface. It is known for attracting the larger fish.

Lures vs Bait Fishing

If you’re wondering how to catch a Mahi-Mahi with a lure or bait, you’ve come to the right place. Baiting hooks is traditionally how most saltwater fishing happens. However, there are quite a few styles of lure out there that can attract fish without using bait! 

Dolphin fish love small reef dwellers and young fish. Here, we’re talking man-o-war fish, mackerel, ballyhoo, squid, sargassum fish, and other similar species. Because of their availability, we usually go with squid, mackerel or large ballyhoo. 

It’s always nice to be able to get your line in the water fast, and bait can be expensive. When it comes to lures, some of them work better with bait, and others will do just fine by themselves. 

The feather lure for example doesn’t require any bait. You can put this all the way out behind your boat on its own and it will still attract fish. The same can be said for the magnum type lure: this type looks and swims just like a baitfish anyway, so there’s no need to do too much more to get those dolphinfish biting. 

However, ilander or bullet type lures definitely could use some bait. The way that this lure looks in the water makes it seem like somethings moving, and some fresh caught squid or bonito on there will make sure those mahi don’t think twice before striking. 

Popper or plug type lures can work either way. Baiting them will definitely make them a bit more attractive to the fish who are attracted to the vibrations and noise that they make moving through the water, but when it’s choppy out,  you don’t want to spend all of your time reeling in a lure because the bait slipped right off. So if things are calm, bait this lure. But if it’s getting rough out there, don’t worry about it. 

Where to Look for Mahi

Remember, cruising around sea vegetation, logs, and other cover from the sun is where you’re most likely to find dolphinfish. Just like us, they need a break from the sun, and would rather hang out in the shade. 

So, when you’re able to see seagulls, flying fish, vegetation, or even sunken logs, that makes for an ideal habitat for dolphinfish and one thousand per cent the place you should start fishing.

Wrapping Up

Remember, the most important part about going fishing is spending time out on the water. No matter whether you’re using a downrigger, or a rod and reel, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t stray too far from beginner dolphin trolling basics. 

Fishing for dolphin is one of the best sporting experiences on a boat in South Florida, so don’t let fishing make itself all about expensive gear. Trolling for dolphinfish is a time-honored tradition that people from all different cultures have participated in and you should feel good about being part of that tradition. Happy fishing!

Leave a Replay

Florida Fish Report

We are passionate about fishing and want to provide our readers with the most up-to-date reviews, reports & tips. Make sure to subscribe for the latest in Florida salt water fishing.

Recent Posts

Book A Charter With One Of Our Partners

Local Bait & Tackle Shops

Our Sponsors
Read More

Related Posts

How to Gaff a Fish

To become a successful saltwater angler, there are a multitude of skills to learn before a person can truly declare themselves proficient. Most beginner anglers

Wade Fishing in Florida

When most people think of saltwater angling, they imagine a 40-mile boat ride off shore in pursuit of massive Sailfish or Tuna. These trips are

St Lucie Inlet Fishing Report 6/28 to 7/5/2020

Best Casting Lures For Mahi Mahi

Saltwater anglers in the Florida Keys are spoiled. The variety of large fish available to be caught is rivaled in few places throughout the world.