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August 05, 2013

California Mahi Madness

When West Coast mahimahi grow finicky, these tips can incite a bite.

Chunk It
At times, you’ll see mahi That won't bite. Rather than leave, set up a chunk line. Cut up dead or frozen baits and drop one or two chunks at a time as you drift away from the paddy. Wait for each chunk to disappear before dropping the next one. At the same time, drift two or three lively baits, staggered from 75 to 150 feet behind the boat. Drift for a quarter-mile, and if you don’t get bit, slow-troll up the chum line and repeat the process. Interestingly, most strikes with this tactic come on the slow-troll back to the paddy.

Chunking also pays off when fishing pressure shuts down a bite. In years past, if a skipper found a paddy, other boats steered clear. Today, that code is history, as other boaters zero in when they see someone stopped. Free-divers won’t hesitate to jump in to spear mahi while you’re fishing for them either. It’s not unusual to find 10 or more boats on a single paddy, especially one that’s close to the coast.

In these situations, mahi usually shy away from the paddy where the boats are hovering. By drifting away and chunking, you might draw the fish to you. If you hook up, delay landing the dorado until you can hook another one. This holds the school close by. At the same time, maintain a chunk line and toss out one or two live baits to keep the mahi in the mood to bite.

If the dorado swim north into U.S. waters again this summer, angling pressure off Southern California will no doubt intensify. Adopt new tactics and refine your tackle to catch these beautiful visitors amid the mahi madness.


SWS Tackle Box

Two elements contribute to a bait’s effectiveness for California mahi. The first is vitality. The bait needs to be hot, fast and frisky when it hits the water. The other key element is size. Baits of four inches or less don’t seem to interest California mahi, so avoid tanking up with anchovies or small sardines. The bait needs to be at least five to eight inches in length, whether mackerel or sardines. At times, even larger baits, such as a foot-long Pacific mackerel, will trigger a bite.

Baits and Rigs: Fly-lined live sardines or mackerel, five to eight inches long

Rods: 7- to 8-foot light-action rods

Reels: Small, fast star-drag reels such as the Daiwa Saltist 20H

Line: 12- to 20-pound-test fluorocarbon top shot with 20-pound monofilament main line

Terminal Rig: Single 3/0 Owner Mutu Light Circle Hook; for large mackerel, use 4/0 or 5/0 circle hooks. Tie the hook directly to the fluoro top shot.


SWS Planner

What: Mahimahi (aka dorado, dolphin)
Where: Coastal and offshore waters from Long Beach to San Diego, around kelp paddies
When: July through early October; July and October are good; August through September is excellent.
Who: Boating anglers with reliable craft from 20 feet and up. Here are three top captains who can show you how it’s done:

Capt. Barry Brightenburg
Always an Adventure Charters

Capt. Brandon Hayward
One Man Charters

Capt. Dave Hanson
Your Saltwater Guide