Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle
Capt. Alex Crawford
May 12, 2006
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
MAHI MAHI MADNESS
June on the Forgotten Coast is the beginning of one of our most thrilling offshore fisheries. Mahi mahi or dolphinfish is at the top of the list of sport fishing targets that show up here normally around Memorial Day. Ideal conditions are warm water in the upper seventies offshore and prolonged summer wind patterns out of the south. Winds blowing out of the south pushes warm water inshore. Cool water dumps out of the mouth of the Apalachicola River and mixes with the warm offshore water. It is not unusual to find mahis relatively close to the barriers islands, sometimes less than 10 nautical miles south of Saint George Island. The key ingredient is several days of winds blowing onshore from south to north. As I write this, reports tell of the first show of mahis well offshore.
A favorite habitat for mahis in the Gulf is weeds, called sargassum. Sargassum weeds move with ocean currents from an area in the north Atlantic called the Sargasso Sea. Currents and winds push the weeds together into tightly formed mats or weed lines. Many of these weed lines stretch for miles across the bluewater. They create mini eco systems that support sea life that provide ocean pelagic predators like mahis a consistent food source. Other pelagic species will orient to these feeding areas like wahoo, king mackerel, tunas, tripletail and billfish. Common inhabitants of ocean weeds will include crabs and baitfish such as mullet, pinfish and small jacks. This scenario offers a buffet table to hungry schools of mahis that are virtual eating machines. In an ocean extending for hundreds of mile, pretty much devoid of any structure, any floating objects provide protection for baitfish to hide. And mahis use this floating structure to hide from predators like marlin. Even an object as small as a milk jug can hold a school of mahis, so it is wise to explore any piece of flotsam or jetsam you may find while running offshore. Some of the classic mahi attractors are wooden pallets, tree trunks and other debris that has washed into a weed line
Mahis are a very popular sport fish because they meet all of the best criteria. Their elongated bodies and large powerful tails make them a real challenge to bring to the gaff. They always will come up and battle you on the surface with wild, tail walking jumps. Arguably one of the most gorgeous fish that swim, a “lit-up” mahi ready to strike is a blend of bright colors like green, yellow, purple and blues. Many veteran blue water anglers will put mahi fillets at the very top of their seafood dinner choices. Hard fighters, beautiful colors and great eaters; it’s all good!
Mahi appetities are legendary. They have a short life span, but spend their time as ocean predators eating everything they can catch. Some of the top notch trolling baits are ballyhoo, squid and flying fish. It is a sight to see a mahi catch a flying fish in mid-flight. One I have not observed is a marlin catching a mahi in mid air. The thought of that experience will motivate the dedicated mahi chaser to get out of bed early.
One of the amazing characteristics of mahis is that they are carnivorous. Seasoned offshore fishermen know that it is smart to leave one hooked-up mahi in the water close to the boat. The school will stay close around their distressed brethren. They will attempt to take bites out of their “school mate” and provide almost unlimited opportunities for shots at other fish. Larger bulls and cows will lurk under the school of “chicken dolphins.” Keep a 30 pound class spinner with a live bait at the ready to present to the big, solitary bull. Oh, that wonderful string music will give you the best natural rush.
Chunk baiting mahis is a proven technique. Have your chunk baits precut and bagged on ice. Pogies, jacks, ballyhoo and bonito top the list of offerings. Try parking your boat in the weeds and start slowly chumming. Just drift with the current and see what shows up in the chum line. Have one outfit ready with a wire leader for toothy critters like Spanish, ceros, kings or wahoo. A small spinning combo baited with squid is perfect when you find a big tripletail hiding in the weeds. Tripletail may be better on the dinner table than mahis. Chartreuse and white jigs will induce a strike.
With fuel prices gone ballistic, trolling gets boring pretty fast. If you find good weeds, stay with it and it may produce with proper chumming. If chumming gets boring, jump overboard into the deep blue for a swim. It will cool you off and may bring a big bull or mako shark up for a look. Small joke!!! Or keep on the lookout for the other dolphin, not the fish, the bottlenose dolphin that breathes air.
Summer mahi fishing is an exciting endeavor that everyone can enjoy. Have fun and catch quality fish.
Till next tide,
Captain Alex Crawford
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