Dolphin On A Fly by Dan Blanton

I just finished reading Trey Comb’s new book, “Bluewater Fly Fishing.” Superlatives aside, it is the best work yet on the subject. I thought is was interesting that part one – Bluewater fish – began with the Dorado (the Central American name for the Dolphin fish), one of the most highly prized and respected marine gamefishes. Although I already had a good idea why, I asked Trey why he chose the dolphin to head his list of bluewater fly rod gamesters.

His reply: “Because the Dorado is the single most accessible bluewater fly-rod gamefish available world wide, a species endowed with all the attributes desired by marine fly fishers. It’s not the hardest species to catch on fly, but they aren’t always easy either. They are a marvelous fly-rod fish!” I couldn’t agree more! About the only thing a dolphin doesn’t do once hooked, is scream when it jumps.

Dan Blanton with Dolphin

Dan Blanton with Dolphin

WHERE THEY LIVE / FINDING THEM

Dolphin, Dorado, Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena Hippurus), All the same species, are found in nearly all tropical and sub-tropical waters, from the Gulf Stream to the far eastern Pacific, including sub-species. They love deep, blue water, but occasionally are found nearer shore, often in the aqua-green, shallower regions. This is particularly true of the Sea of Cortez. The vastness of bluewater can often overwhelm new-comers to the sport when trying to locate certain species. Dolphin, however, make things a little easier because they have the inherent trait of congregating around surface structure ranging from Sargasso grass and kelp paddies, to hovering by the hundreds under a single dead sea lion. Anything floating (including navigation buoys, spreads of old newspapers, etc.) can aggregate them, fish ranging from pint-sized to gargantuan hippos exceeding 60 pounds. Magnet-like rip lines grab hold of anything floating, from grass to 100-foot-long trees, stringing this flotsam sometimes for miles upon the sea. To dolphin, rip lines are both sanctuary from intense sunlight and a dining room. To me they are “meat buckets” for marine fly fishers.

GETTING SCATTERED FISH TO EAT

From dawn to just before shards of high sunlight pierce deep into the depths, dolphin schools usually scatter into singles or small pods and hunt flying fish and others in open water away from structure. Blunt heads and sickle tails often can be seen slicing through the surface right on the tail of a frantic, airborne flying fish. Rest assured, this hapless creature will become its tormentor’s breakfast. Getting a fly in front of scattered dolphin can be difficult, but if there are enough of them around, a noisy surface popper blind cast into the general area can often draw shattering strikes. A tip: wait a couple of seconds before retrieving the popper with noisy, erratic pulls and pauses. Dorado have extremely keen eyesight and are often well on the way to intercepting your fraud before it hits the water, blasting it the second it lands. Another commonly used scattered-fish tactic is to troll a lure or a live or fresh dead bait and once a dolphin is hooked and drawn close to the boat, a streamer or popper is then quickly cast to any mates that may be following. Of course anytime a supply of prevailing live bait is aboard (regardless of whether the fish are scattered or aggregated under surface structure) you can arouse dolphin into a feeding frenzy by tossing some live baits overboard. No more than a few, though! Over-chumming can be worse than having no live bait at all. Dolphin quickly learn the difference between fly and bait and though still busting all-round the boat, will ignore the best designed fly. When this happens, ignore close-in fish. Instead cast as far away as you can (this is when a shooting head shines), letting the fly sink 10 or 15 feet before working it back erratically. You’ll be amazed at how many uneducated fish drawn from afar by the boat-side melee will nail your moniker. You are catching only small fish from an aroused school of dorado? Trying casting well beyond near-surface fish, using a high-speed sinking shooting head, let the line and fly plummet for a count of 30 and then start it back. But hold tightly to your rod! Big Moes lurk below the juveniles. Are fish charging but then refusing your fly at the last instant? Try dropping fly and line about 40 feet out, instantly ripping the works off the surface several times, creating a frenzy-like commotion, before finally retrieving the fly. This tactic often turns tire-kickers into eaters. Or, your fly may be too long and full, try dropping down a size or two. A smaller, sparser pattern often turns on jaded dorado – even large bulls! Also, don’t use bite leaders testing greater than 30 pounds – turns them off!

ENTICING FISH SCHOOLED UNDER FLOTSAM
When zenith sunlight forces dolphin into shadows of floating structure, fly fishing for them can also reach its zenith. As stated before, hundreds of dolphin can school under a single floating object. Fish in these numbers rarely need to be goaded into taking a well-designed fly. Never-the-less, if only a few are there, or if they are deep or partially sated, they can be tough. Here are a few suggestions:

Keep your distance! Use an extremely fast-sinking or lead-core shooting head, gently ease the boat to within a long cast away from the floating structure and drop your popper or fly right next to it. Let the moniker set or sink a bit, and then work it back quickly, with intermittent pauses. If willing fish are there, strikes should be nearly instantaneous.

Don’t give up if nothing happens or you don’t see any dolphin near the surface. Try sinking the fly to 30 or 40 feet or more. Big dorado often sulk under grass or debris at depths exceeding 60 feet.

Chumming with live or chunk bait can bring them up too, but again, don’t over-do it. If using chunk bait (like squid) it pays to use flies closely resembling the chum.

Of course, keeping a hooked “Juda” fish in the water to draw others in, is always good advice regardless of the circumstances.

If the fish are deep and no live bait is available or you are checking out long stretches or rip lines, trolling with a teaser (hookless lure, strip or rigged bait) will often bring up the big bulls. Dorado are quick, ambush feeders, though, streaking in from the side, blasting the bait and quickly turning for cover. They won’t stay long on a teaser – if at all. Accordingly, fly anglers need to be ever ready to cast the instant a fish is noted streaking in on the teaser (they are easily seen from the fly bridge). Once announced a fish is coming, the boat is placed in neutral, the teaser is quickly cranked towards the boat and the fly is cast right at the teaser. This “bait and switch” tactic usually works, particularly if multiple fish are drawn in. Again, success depends upon the caster being ready, quick and accurate.

Above all, be observant, imaginative and willing to try the unorthodox.