Picking Mahi Off Debris

It’s pretty common knowledge that mahi tend to gravitate around floating debris; flotsam and jetsam drifting aimlessly in the ocean, as well as by lobster pot hi-fliers and weed patches. Floating structure attracts dolphin to feed upon the growth and baitfish that congregate on the objects as the entire food chain evolves. Light tackle bucktailing is a prime way to pick 5 to 20-pound mahi off that structure.

Start with a St. Croix TIS66MM 6-1/2 foot medium spinning rod rated for 8 to 17-pound. Match a Shimano Stradic 4000 reel spooled with 20-pound braided line. A bucktail rig consists of a 75-lb Spro barrel swivel, a 30-inch section of 30-lb fluorocarbon leader to which a loop knot is wrapped on the eye of a round head bucktail jig. Go with relatively small, light bucktails of ½ to 2-ounces to pull mahi off the pots as they can be jigged with maximum life-like effectiveness. White, white/chartreuse, and white/pink patterns are always top color choices. Without a doubt, tipping the bucktail hook with some flavor intensifies the attraction. Many offerings can be lanced on the hook, including fluke bellies, live killies, squid tentacles, and any kind of strip bait like false albacore, bonito, bluefish or mackerel, plus you can opt for artificials such as a Berkley Gulp! 5-inch jerk shad or 5-3/4-inch Fin-S Fish in Electric Chicken, Bubble Gum or Rainbow Trout. Those happen to be my favorite offerings, but to each their own.

The strategy to fooling mahi with a bucktail is threefold – in location, presentation and retrieval speed. If working a pot line or marker buoy, take the boat out of gear upcurrent of the target about a hundred yards, staying a good 40 feet or so away so as not to spook any fish. Make your casts past the target, allowing the bucktail to sink for a good three count to start. Proceed to jig the bucktail in short, jerky strokes back to the boat for a strike. You want the bucktail to present itself naturally in the current, on an up and down fleeing away approach. If no hits come from the surface, try deeper. Allow the bucktail to sink a good 30 feet or so, then work the bucktail back up the water column, pulling the deep rooted dolphin to come up. A major factor in a successful catch rate is to keep the mahi mahi feeding. When you do hook up with one, use the textbook method of leaving the rod in the rod holder with the dolphin attached as the fluttering, feeding hooked dolphin will pique the curiosity of the rest of the pack.

Photo courtesy of Jed Record.

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