The WaterThe first thing to remember is that dolphin, for the most part, are found in blue water. Along the southern Atlantic coast, that usually means the Gulfstream. For all but Florida anglers, that means a small boat is out of luck. The Gulfstream begins moving away from the North American continent around the northern part of Florida. From Jacksonville, the run to the stream is sometimes 80 miles.
But, because the stream meanders in and out, and sometimes warm water currents off the stream can move close, dolphin can be found as close in as ten miles during the summer months. There won’t be a lot of them, but they can be caught. You just need to pay attention to the fishing reports.
In South Florida and the Florida Keys, the stream runs from three to five miles off the beach, and I have actually caught dolphin over the edge of the reef in forty feet of water or less. Again, it isn’t the norm, but it does happen.
So, take account of where you are and plan accordingly.
The SeasonWatch and read the fishing reports in your area and see when and where the dolphin are being caught. Dolphin can be caught year round, but in general, the hot season is from about April all the way through to the first cold weather.
Dolphin will stay in the warm waters of the Gulfstream when the surrounding water is cold. So, winter time means getting right in the stream to fish. In warm and hot weather, the waters surrounding the stream heat up and dolphin will wander in closer to the reef in search of food.
Feeding HabitsDolphin are voracious eaters. They are virtual feeding machines. Although I have had some days when I could not get a school that was swimming under my boat to bite, in general, they live to eat. The lifespan of a dolphin is only five years, and in that time they reach weights of fifty pounds or more.
As far as a favorite food, the flying fish has to be close to the top of the list. Great schools of flying fish will leap into the air, gliding the wind currents for several hundred yards to escape a predator fish. They are all over the Gulfstream, and dolphin, among other fish, love them.
Dolphin also feed on ballyhoo, another baitfish common in the area, and on the small fish and crustaceans that live in and around floating Sargasso weed. This weed comes into the Gulfstream from the great Sargasso Sea, a sea within a sea, in the tropical Atlantic. It is home to a variety of sea life, and Dolphin will usually be found patrolling an area of weeds.
The Sargasso weeds are free floating. They provide not only food, but shade from the sun (yes, fish need to stay out of the sun just like us!). The weeds tend to be found in long lines that have been formed by current wave action. Some of these weed lines can be a hundred yards wide and stretch for several miles. Others are a few yards wide and only a hundred yards long. Whatever the size, remember that dolphin like them and feed under them.
The TackleDolphin fishing is more fun on light tackle. By light, I mean no bigger than thirty pound IGFA class tackle. I actually prefer twenty pound tackle, because the vast majority of dolphin you will catch are under twenty pounds. The occasional big bull dolphin can still be caught on this light tackle; you will simply have to run him down and fight him!
Conventional trolling rods and reels work well, but medium to heavy spinning tackle will work equally as well. Just make sure the reel holds several hundred yards of line.
I use twenty to thirty pound test monofilament line on my dolphin reels. But, remember, I am specifically targeting dolphin. Charter boats will usually be trolling fifty or even eighty pound line. The beauty of trolling the Gulfstream is that you never know what you will find. So, charter boats – wanting to make sure their paying customers don’t miss a big tuna or wahoo because the line is too light – will use the heavier tackle.