Fly-Fishing Tips for Dolphin

This popular species is the most accessible blue-water game for fly anglers.

August 13, 2015
fly fishing for dolphin
Dolphin are an ideal target for fly fishing. Ted Lund

Dolphin might not be the biggest or baddest fish that swim, but their willingness to eat a fly and their spectacular acrobatics make them one of the greatest fish on fly. For the saltwater fly angler looking to move off the flats, this is a fantastic fish to start with.

fly fishing for dolphin
Know where to look. Carter Andrews

As with any migratory fish, there are better times of the year than others to target them. Spring and summer in the Florida Keys is an excellent time. They prefer clean water, so start on the edge and work your way offshore. They love structure, which typically holds bait. Structure can be bottom contours, current lines or, best of all, floating debris. There is nothing better than a weed line. The last piece of the puzzle is a frigate bird. When you find a frigate working open water or a weed line, more times than not, he is on fish — and most of the time, it will be dolphin.

gear for fly fishing
Gear up. Ted Lund

Before I leave the dock, I load up a of couple spinning rods armed with topwater poppers with the hooks removed to tease in the fish, either casting or trolling. Another good choice for trolling is ballyhoo rigged hookless. If possible, take live bait for chumming. Pilchards are best, but almost any small, fast swimming baitfish will work. If you don’t have that option, dead chum helps keep fish around the boat when you find them.

fly fishing for dolphin

Run and Gun

Use teasers to search. Ted Lund

Once you find a weed line, debris or scattered grass, it’s time to get to work. You can drive around hunting for fish or take a proactive role and search with your teasers. Whether you cast with the hookless poppers or troll hookless baits, you are covering water and increasing your odds of finding fish. I like to concentrate on the heaviest areas of grass or debris. If I am on a weed or current line, I will parallel it.

fly fishing for dolphin
Be ready for the bite. Ted Lund

I have my fly line stripped off the reel, on the deck or in a bucket. If I’m trolling, I set up in the back right corner because I am right-handed. If we are in the bow and casting with poppers to tease them in, I manage my line on the deck as I wait for my shot. Many times you will find dolphin and not have to worry about teasing them in. Their curiosity often brings them to the boat. Once they show, feeding them chum keeps them engaged and allows you multiple opportunities at fish. If they start to lose interest, I like to work the popper around and get them fired up again.

fly fishing for dolphin
Placement is important. Ted Lund

The placement of the fly is important when teasing dolphin with a popper. If you cast behind the popper, chances are the fish won’t see the fly because they are focused on the popper. Cast the fly in front of the popper and bring the popper toward the fly. Getting them to eat is not difficult. Make a good presentation and strip aggressively.

fly fishing arsenal patterns for dolphin
What to have in your fly arsenal. Ted Lund

I have a variety of subsurface baitfish patterns both weighted and unweighted and a number of poppers I like to throw. They are also suckers for green-and-yellow or pink-and-white flies. For the most part, all you will need is a 8- to 10-weight outfit. I rarely fish anything but a floating line.

Mushmouth for dolphin
Mushmouth: The sparkle of the synthetic fibers in this realistic fly pattern mimics the shiny scales of most baitfish. Alex Suescun
Bunker Fly
Bunker Fly: The large silhouette and enticing action of this pattern make it ideal for big dolphin. Alex Suescun
Offshore Whistler
Offshore Whistler: This weighted fly is an excellent choice to fish under a weed line and other floating debris. Alex Suescun
Crease Fly
Crease Fly: The natural looks and the popping action of this fly draw exciting surface strikes from dolphin. Alex Suescun
fly fishing tips
Go get ’em. Ted Lund

So now that you have the basics, go hook ’em up and let the show begin. It never gets old for me watching dolphin running and jumping.


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