Mahi Mahi Trolling Tactics with Captain Shawn Rotella

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Instructor: Shawn Rotella

Capt. Shawn Rotella unlocks the secrets of mahi mahi fishing. From spotting elusive dolphin fish to mastering the art of trolling, this video offers a deep-sea journey into the world of dolphin fishing.

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Video Summary

  • Background: Captain Shawn Rotella breaksdown lure trolling for yellowfin tuna
  • Be Prepared: A shift from big game fishing to mahi mahi fishing in Kona.
  • The Mystery of the Floating Debris: How flotsam becomes a fishing opportunity.
  • Trolling Techniques: Key strategies around debris.
  • Adapting and Overcoming: The importance of versatility in fishing.
  • A Glimpse into Dolphin Trolling: An overview of the dolphin trolling technique.
  • Understanding Dolphin Fish Behavior: Insights into their preferences and behaviors.
Mahi mahi, also known as dolphin fish, are prized game fish found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. Known for their stunning colors and acrobatic jumps when hooked, mahi put up an exciting fight that makes them a favorite target species for many offshore anglers. Captain Shawn Rotella, a veteran charter fishing guide based in Kona, Hawaii, shares his insights on tracking down and catching mahi mahi.

The Morning Surprise

Off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, our mission was clear: to embark on an unforgettable big game fishing adventure. As the boat gracefully sliced through the crystal-clear waters, the experienced crew began trolling with a carefully selected spread of lures designed to entice tuna and marlin. However, as any seasoned fisherman will attest, the ocean is an unpredictable mistress, often harboring its own hidden agenda.

Suddenly, Capt. Shawn Rotella, with his keen eye honed by years on the water, spotted a mesmerizing spectacle: a school of mahi mahi, their golden-green scales shimmering in the sunlight as they leaped freely along a current line. These magnificent fish, also known as dolphin fish, are renowned for their vibrant colors and acrobatic displays. In an instant, our mission shifted, and the crew swiftly adapted their strategy to seize the opportunity presented by these energetic creatures.

As Capt. Rotella wisely noted, "_The ocean teaches patience and unpredictability, two lessons every angler should engrave in their hearts._" These words rang true as we prepared to engage with the mahi mahi.

With meticulous attention to detail, the crew selected a spread of compact 5-inch squid lures, expertly designed to mimic the mahi's natural prey. The choice proved to be a masterstroke, as almost immediately, we found ourselves hooked up with a lively and determined fish.

However, with success comes responsibility. Maintaining a clean and organized deck is of utmost importance while fishing, particularly when targeting mahi mahi. These powerful fish, when brought aboard, can create quite a commotion as they flop and thrash about. Their blood, if not managed properly, can quickly transform the boat deck into a chaotic and slippery scene, posing risks to both the crew and the fish itself.

As we reveled in the excitement of our catch, we remained mindful of the need to handle the mahi with care and efficiency. The crew worked together seamlessly, ensuring that the fish were promptly secured and the deck was swiftly cleaned to prevent any accidents or damage to the boat or its occupants.

In the end, our Kona fishing adventure served as a poignant reminder of the marvels and challenges that await those who venture out onto the open ocean. The mahi mahi, with their stunning beauty and fighting spirit, provided us with an unforgettable experience, while also teaching us valuable lessons in adaptability, patience, and respect for the untamed wilderness of the sea.

Key Aspects for Success

When it comes to catching dolphin, preparation is crucial. Having an arsenal of various lures, baits, and rigs on hand will allow you to adapt to whatever situation the day brings. Here are some key tactics Shawn relies on when targeting dolphin fish:

  • Trolling Lures - Our initial trolling spread for mahi consisted of 5 inch squid pattern lures, trolled at 1-2 knots with the current. Compact, erratic lures often draw savage strikes.
  • Locate Floating Structure - Mahi mahi love to hang around floating debris. Marking flotsam with a buoy allows you to work the area thoroughly.
  • Mixed Spread - Prospect the structure by trolling a mix of fast moving lures (pencil poppers, cedar plugs) and live baits. Cover water until you dial in on what they want.
  • Work the Area - Make repeated passes around the flotsam, moving in and out. Keep baits and lures near the structure, but not too close.
  • Live Bait Control - Free spool baits on bites and use a bait tickler or bridle to stir them up. Nervous baits get bit!
  • Changing Things Up - Be prepared to switch tactics when the dolphin get spooky. Try chunking bait or trolling bait strips to keep them in the area.

The Mystery of the Floating Debris

While trolling, Capt. Shawn Rotella's experienced gaze was drawn to floating debris, a well-known attractant for dolphin fish. The presence of flotsam in the open ocean creates a mini-ecosystem, providing shelter and a food source for smaller marine life, which in turn attracts larger predators like mahi mahi. This natural phenomenon presents a golden opportunity for anglers, as the concentration of fish around these floating structures significantly increases the chances of a successful catch. Capt. Rotella, recognizing the potential, deftly maneuvered the boat towards the debris, anticipating the thrilling moment when a curious and hungry mahi would strike the strategically placed lures.

Trolling Techniques Near Debris

  1. Prospect the Debris: Begin by trolling in the vicinity of the debris using a combination of pencil poppers and rigged live bait.
  2. Understand the Current: Trolling speed adjusts with the current. On this particular day, the crew trolled at 1 knot against the current and about 2.5 knots with it.
  3. Mark Your Territory: Given that flotsam can sometimes be barely visible below the surface, marking it with a buoy ensures you don't lose sight.
  4. The Debris Dance: Start with lures, then introduce baits. As the mahi mahi become more reserved on the lures, bait becomes the preferred choice. The trick is to keep making passes by the debris without encroaching on their territory.
When live bait fishing, the touch is everything. A finger on the line senses the bait's nervousness and the thrill of a bite. And when that bite does come? Be prepared to free spool the bait, allowing the mahi mahi to swallow it.

Learn other techniques for catching dolphin fish with our library of fishing videos.

Adapting and Overcoming

One might argue that the essence of fishing is unpredictability. Being prepared is not just an advantage; it's a necessity.

  • Diverse Gear: Having a range of lures, baits, rigs, and gear ready is paramount.
  • Versatility: Sometimes, the plan doesn't pan out. That's when knowledge of multiple fishing techniques becomes invaluable. Whether it's converting live baits into strips or chunks or knowing when to change tactics altogether, adaptability is key.
  • Reading the Mahi Mahi: These creatures can become wary or "spooky" over time. Recognizing this change and switching tactics, like chunking or dragging strips, can reignite their interest.

Dolphin fish can be particularly finicky. Dialing into their preferences is a game of observation and intuition. Smaller presentations, like tail-hooked baits, often work wonders, triggering the dolphin's natural instinct to chase.

Capt. Shawn provides a crucial insight about understanding where the fish position on the flotsam relative to the current. Such nuances, often overlooked by novices, can be game-changers in saltwater fishing.

A Glimpse into Mahi Mahi Trolling

Dolphin trolling is an art form. Its essence is captured in the following steps:

  1. Locate: Look for tell-tale signs of dolphin fish.
  2. Setup: Equip with the right trolling gear.
  3. Speed: Find the optimal trolling speed.
  4. Observe: Watch for those exhilarating strikes.
  5. Reel In: Patience and skill are your best allies.

Understanding the Picky Dolphin Fish

There are days when the dolphin fish seem almost indifferent. Several factors can influence their selectiveness:

  • Water Conditions: Clear, calm waters often make them more discerning.
  • Bait Selection: Live bait, like pilchards, often holds an edge over dead bait.
  • Presentation: The speed and method of trolling can make all the difference.
  • Fishing Pressure: Overfished areas can make dolphin fish more wary.
  • Time of Day: Early mornings or late afternoons might prove more fruitful.

In conclusion, the ocean's lessons are endless. It teaches resilience, adaptability, and most importantly, respect for nature. As Capt. Shawn Rotella's experience in Kona showcases, understanding the mahi mahi, or dolphin fish, requires both skill and intuition. With the right knowledge, equipment, and a bit of luck, the dance with the mahi mahi can be one of the most exhilarating experiences for any angler.

For more such insights and tips, dive into the vast sea of knowledge at, your premier destination for sport fishing educational content.

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Shawn Rotella

Captain Rotella, the acclaimed mastermind behind Night Runner Sport Fishing, offers a unique deep-sea fishing experience in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. With a state-of-the-art 38' custom-built vessel, he provides a diverse array of charters, including Giant Blue Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Yellow Fin Tuna, Wahoo, and other species. Rotella's commitment to customer service, world-renowned lure crafting skills, and family-friendly atmosphere make his charter service a beacon for fishing enthusiasts worldwide.

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