The end of May and early June are prime time for dolphin fishing in the East Region. There’s still some big fish coming over from the eastern side of the Gulf Stream, and at the same time, the weedlines are starting to stack up while the seas are calming, so there’s a lot more days you can get out on the water.
From now through the rest of summer, the key to dolphin fishing in my region is to cover a lot of water. Start your day with a little preparation on the way out by rigging a couple of spinning rods for casting to fish you might run across or to schoolies that follow a hooked fish to the boat. You never know what size fish you’re going to come across, so I go with 20 or 30-pound tackle on 7 foot medium heavy rods and a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader.
I like to rig one rod with a 1 ounce yellow jig, and another with a 6/0 J-style hook. If I have live baits on board, I’ll put a live bait on the hook and place the rod near the bait well and the bait back in the well. That way, if we come by a big fish within casting distance, I can just grab the rod and throw the bait in front of the fish. If you don’t have live bait, you can rig a whole ballyhoo on the hook and have it ready for the same scenario.
The best way to cover a lot of water is to troll, whether that be ballyhoo, swimming mullet or just a simple Japanese feather and strip bait combination. But don’t arbitrarily stop at a certain depth and put out baits—look for something that indicates dolphin might be in the area, like a weedline, color change or current edge. Start at the first thing that looks good, and fish it for 30 minutes, moving from one side of the rip or weedline to the other. If you don’t get a bite, pick up and run to the next thing that looks good.
Oddly, the fish typically hold on things that make them comfortable and provide food, but not every weedline had fish. You can be on a huge pile of weeds and be fishing in the desert while a single floating board will hold an oasis of fish. So don’t be afraid to move.
When you do find fish, work that area well, and if you go 30 minutes or so without a bite, pick up and move on. The key to the run-and-gun method of summertime fishing is to cover as much good-looking water as possible without wasting time fishing just anywhere. Look for lone floating objects, particularly things that have been in the water for some time and have barnacles growing on them. It’s even good to bring along some binoculars and scan the horizon every 10 minutes looking for floating objects.
Any time you’re dolphin fishing, you also want to watch for birds, which can be an indicator of dolphin below. Frigate birds diving on the water or circling and flying in a set direction are usually over a predator. Small terns diving repeatedly on the water are usually over school-sized dolphin. Birds flying north are often over school fish while birds flying south tend to be over larger fish.
If you encounter birds, don’t drive right through the middle of them. Instead observe the direction they’re moving, run up ahead of them and deploy your baits and let the fish swim up to you. That will keep the boat from breaking up the school or sending a big fish in another direction.
In the summer months, it’s common for the Gulf Stream to push current eddies in close to shore, so you may encounter fish as shallow as 60 feet of water, but as a rule the best fishing is from 100 feet of water on out. Cover water, look for signs of fish and birds and you’ll be hooked up and fighting dolphin in no time.