Se­cret Mahi Strate­gies of Four Florida Keys Char­ter Cap­tains

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Capt. Vin­cent Daniello

Se­cret Mahi Strate­gies of Four Florida Keys Char­ter Cap­tains

TThe hard-fight­ing, ac­ro­batic, col­or­ful and tasty Co­ryphaena hip­pu­rus ranks among the most sought species in the Florida Keys. It’s no won­der, then, that Keys char­ter cap­tains are par­tic­u­larly adept at catch­ing them. Whether they’re trolling along weed lines or in the open ocean, sight-cast­ing to fish on float­ing de­bris, or even pluck­ing them from above us­ing a kite, four pro skip­pers — op­er­at­ing out of Key Largo, Is­lam­orada, Marathon and Key West — share their strate­gies to lo­cate and cap­ture this neon-blue-and-brilliant-gold trea­sure. IN OPEN-OCEAN WA­TERS

“When there is no weed line or de­bris to fish on, look at sea-sur­face-tem­per­a­ture charts,” says

Com­pass Rose skip­per and 30-year Key West char­ter vet­eran Capt. Mike Wein­hofer (fishnkw

.com). Dol­phin typ­i­cally follow tem­per­a­ture breaks un­til they find sar­gas­sum weed or bait, so that’s a good start­ing point.

“You also have to cover ground,” he adds. “I can troll bal­ly­hoo around 6 knots. I cover 30 per­cent more ground trolling ar­ti­fi­cials up to 9 knots. That should equate to 30 per­cent more fish.”

Early in spring, when large, fast-mov­ing and some­times-finicky dol­phin pre­dom­i­nate, Wein­hofer trolls a com­bi­na­tion of medium bal­ly­hoo and small lures, but when school-size fish show up, from April through Oc­to­ber, he trolls four to six ar­ti­fi­cials.

“Choose small lures with a lot of ac­tion, such as a 4-inch, hard Wil­liamson Do­rado Catcher. You want to make as much noise as pos­si­ble,” Wein­hofer says. He trolls two flat lines and two rig­ger lines as fast as lures al­low, so they’re pop­ping and skip­ping but not jump­ing and tum­bling — 8 knots or more. “I put a 4-inch Wil­liamson Sail­fish Catcher way back in the shot­gun; it’s of­ten deadly for small tuna and lin­ger­ing dol­phin.”

Keys cap­tains also know dol­phin swim deep at times. “If the water is very warm, or the wind just switched di­rec­tion, re­place a flat line with a deep-div­ing lure such as a Ra­pala Mag­num 30 or 40. Run it right at the edge of the prop wash down 20 or 30 feet,” Wein­hofer says. If conditions al­low, he runs a flat line above it. “They come off that deep Mag­num, al­most like a dredge, and eat the sur­face lure.”

Capt. Frank Navarro grew up fish­ing off Key Largo and now charters Mr. Nice from Ocean Reef Club at the north­ern­most edge of the is­land (ocean­ “If there is no weed, I’ll put out six lines plus teasers,” he says, fa­vor­ing small lures or feath­ers for dol­phin and tuna, and teasers to in­ter­est mar­lin, plus a chug­ger or skirt over a bal­ly­hoo on a flat line. He trolls this spread at 7 or 8 knots, or if us­ing lures with­out bal­ly­hoo, at 9 or 10 knots.

When noth­ing that might at­tract fish shows on the sur­face, Navarro trolls along a depth con­tour. If he doesn’t find en­cour­ag­ing signs, then he pushes off­shore to 100 feet deeper, and fol­lows that depth for a while, then moves far­ther off­shore again. “Watch for birds, or look for any lit­tle edge, even if it doesn’t have any weed on it,” he says.


For­tu­nately, sum­mer­time trade winds in the Keys al­most in­vari­ably pro­duce some­thing on the sur­face along which one can troll. “If it’s over­cast,

I’ll put out a full spread,” says Is­lam­orada char­ter skip­per Capt. Alex Adler (bud­n­

Aboard his boat, Kalex, that means small lures, Ja­panese feath­ers, bonito (lit­tle tunny) strips or naked bal­ly­hoo. “If it’s rough, I’ll add chug­gers or skirts with a lit­tle weight.”

On swel­ter­ing, slow-fish­ing days, Adler — who’s been fish­ing here for 45 years — of­ten adds a cigar lead or planer to one flat line, 20 feet ahead of a bal­ly­hoo. “It doesn’t have to be deep,” he says. “Get­ting it down 15 feet draws them up. That deep one will go off first, then they eat the sur­face baits.” An­other tip to draw in fish: “Spray your wash­down hose high up in the air,” mim­ick­ing a show­er­ing school of bal­ly­hoo.

When skies are bright, most Keys cap­tains stalk dol­phin from their tow­ers. “Even if it’s just a thin, bro­ken weed line, I’ll put out a cou­ple of baits so we’re fish­ing some­thing — maybe a strip bait with a lit­tle head to keep it in the water, and a Ja­panese feather so I can pull them fast when I need to — but we’re fo­cus­ing on sight-fish­ing,” Adler says. “You might run for miles with noth­ing, not even see­ing any bait, and then you find a sweet spot — maybe a hatch with lit­tle 1-inch bait — and the dol­phin are thick.”

Ex­actly where those honey holes swarm­ing with dol­phin might be de­pends largely on the wind. “An east or south­east wind is best in the Keys,” says Capt. Marty Lewis, who op­er­ates

Main At­trac­tion (mainat­trac­ from Marathon. As wind blows sar­gas­sum weed and bait closer to shore, dol­phin come in with it. The stronger the breeze, or the longer it’s been blow­ing to­ward shore, the closer to land the fish will be.

“When you think you’re in the zone, slow down so you don’t miss any­thing,” Lewis says. While sight-fish­ing, he usu­ally trolls just two lines from his rig­gers. “We see nine out of 10 dol­phin be­fore they find the rig­ger baits, and if you miss a fish, you can turn and get back to

Wide-rang­ing mahi pa­trol blue water in warm oceans world­wide. The aptly named Wil­liamson 'RUDGRb&DWFKHU (op­po­site) has proved ef­fec­tive at at­tract­ing GROSKLQVōbDWWHQWLRQ

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