Mahi-mahi, dorado, dolphinfish,… this legendary fish goes by a lot of names! Name confusion aside, mahi mahi fly fishing might just be the ultimate pelagic pursuit. They have bright colors, aren’t afraid to jump and fight hard – but not so hard that it’s work to land ’em!
Known to eat flies with reckless abandon, Mahi are not picky eaters. They grow extremely fast and have an appetite to fuel that growth. The IGFA all tackle mahi weighed 87 lbs, but anything over 40 lbs is considered a trophy. To make mahi an even more attractive target species, they are widely regarded as excellent table fare!
What to Expect while Mahi Mahi Fly Fishing
Tactics for locating mahi mahi are heavily reliant on the captain. While mahi live in the blue water, they love any structure they can locate. Floating pads of kelp, drift wood, buoys, and oil rigs are examples of habitat mahi will congregate around. Other times, these golden fish are located by watching for birds busting bait. When you see diving birds, chances are the mahi are feeding there too!
Protip: You can’t strip your fly too fast for mahi mahi! The double hand retrieve is best if you can manage it.
Expect to be quick: Chance’s are, your captain will use a “run and gun” tactic. This involves racing to where mahi might be and quickly firing a cast into the zone! But, be prepared as the boat can come to a jerking stop – hold on. Be ready while the boat approaches with some line striped off the reel. This helps to get a quick cast out!
Expect multiple fish: Mahi like to travel in packs, sometimes there’s three fish, sometimes 300. Because of this, mahi are great for doubling up. Once the first angler has hooked up, other fish will follow it to the boat. The second angler should capitalize on this and get their fly in the water!
Expect the hookset: Typically mahi fishing doesn’t require super long casts. It’s much more important to get your fly in the water quickly and start stripping! In open water, pelagic fish like mahi can see your fly and close in on it quickly from a distance. It’s n to uncommon for them to eat the fly as it reaches the boat. Be ready for this with a strong strip-set! Don’t lift your rod tip, even when they are close!
Expect them to jump: After burying the hook with a strip-set, get ready to clear the line as the fish takes off. Get ’em on the reel! Mahi like to stay near the surface and jump when they’re hooked. Because of this, they tire out sooner than most pelagic species – which is actually a great quality! Remember to ‘bow’ your rod when they jump, just like tarpon fishing. When they do dive deep, it can be some work to get them back to the surface inch-by-inch.
Expect an epic photo: Mahi photograph extremely well! Captains often like to gaff the fish, but we recommend taking the photo before gaffing to keep them colored-up and blood free! While Mahi eat extremely well, it’s never a bad idea to release them.
All About Mahi Mahi
Mahi are often schooling fish, but just as often they are found as singles or doubles. Larger fish tend to be more reclusive to decrease their feeding competition.
As aggresive pex predators, they often use their bill to impale or maim prey species of fish. Some areas, such as Baja, see seasonal concentrations of baitfish that often congregate feeding marlin – increasing the odds for anglers. Otherwise, they can be a bit tricky to locate without a dialed in guide!
Lifecycle: Mahi can live up to 4 or 5 years and max out around 90 lbs. Reaching sexual maturity at the ages of 5 months, they reproduce frequently and often. It’s estimated that Mahi can grow 2.7″ per week! A highly migratory species, they are found in the tropical, sub tropical, and temperate waters around the world.
Identification: Mahi are easily identified by their unique body shape and bright colors. They have a blunt shaped head tapering down their long, narrow body. Most mahi reach about 30 lbs, although some grow much larger. Their spectacular colors range from golds and neon yellows to vibrant blues.
Fun Fact: Mahi mahi have been clocked at swimming speeds of 50 mph! Talk about fly line burn when they take off!
Best Location for Mahi Mahi Fly Fishing
As a widely distributed epipelagic species, Mahi-mahi can be caught around the world! American fly anglers often target them in Florida, Hawaii, and Central America. Europeans have easy access to populations of mahi in the Mediterranean Sea.
Destination anglers find mahi commonly in the Indian Ocean when fishing locations like the Seychelles or Maldives. Pretty much anywhere that you can fly fish for marlin you can expect to find mahi!
When to Fly Fish for Mahi Mahi
Baja: Around Mag Bay, prime dorado season is October through December when sardines are in. Mahi can also be caught along the eastern cap in early spring. Occasionally anglers have even caught them with teasers from the beach!
Florida: In Florida, mahi season is considered peak through the spring and summer months. Anglers do best from April until October.
Hawaii: Peak season on Oahu is April and May. Maui is February through May. The Big Island peaks from December through March. Keep in mind that the name “mahi mahi” is rooted in Hawaii, so the fishing is pretty darn good year round!
Seychelles: Mahi populations are strong throughout the year in amongst the Seychelle’s atolls. However, November through March is considered ‘peak’ season.
Fly Rod Set-Up for Mahi Mahi
Pelagic speceies will push fly fishing gear to max. Once hooked, Mahi mahi will run hard, jump, and rarely will dive straight down into the depths. This means that showing up with well built gear and strong knots is a requirement! Strong rods with backbone are needed, as are reels with impeccable drags.
Mahi can get huge, but most of them will be in that 10 – 30 pound range. As excellent jumpers, they tend to stay near the surface most of the time. Most anglers show up with a standard 9 foot rod in 9 or 10 weight. However, with all pelagic fishing, fly rods in the 8 foot range are designed for blue water. These shorter rods help for lifting fish that dive deep and for landing fish in the confined quarters of a boat.
FlyTramp recommendation: Scott Sector 8109 (That’s right, it’s a 8′ 10″ 9 wt, 4 piece rod. Perfect for pelagics)
Reaching speeds of 50 mph, mahi are fast fish! That means blistering runs into your backing. Watch your knuckles! Cheap reels will not do the job. Large arbor reels are important to land these fish efficiently. Reels with STRONG drag are a needed to keep up with the fish.
FlyTramp recommendation: Mako, Shilton, or Hatch reels. We find the Nautilus Reels CCF-x2 8/10 Reel to be a good bang for your buck!
Mahi eat big flies. You will need a fly line that can turn these XL flies over efficiently with minimal casting. As with fighting all pelagic species, fly line’s core needs to be 50-100lbs to avoid breaking lines. Giant mahi’s will test your gear to the max!
Floating lines work fine. However, highest success rates are often found with intermediate lines. We recommend rigging with an intermediate line if you have one, and keeping a floating line in the boat as a spare.
FlyTramp recommendation: Scientific Anglers SONAR SALTWATER INTERMEDIATE
Leader & Tippet
There is quite a range in tippet weight class used for mahi mahi. Most guides recommend 40 to 50 pound straight fluorocarbon leaders.
FlyTramp recommendation: Straight 8 foot leaders of 50 lb Rio FLUOROFLEX SALTWATER TIPPET
What Flies to use for Mahi Mahi
Mahi eat baitfish, and will attempt to eat anything they can get their mouths around! For ease of casting, we find flies in the 6-10 inch range work best for most anglers. Size 6/0 to 8/0 hooks are an ideal size. For the most part, pelagic guides will provide these flies for you – they all have preferred patterns.
FlyTramp 4 recommended mahi mahi flies:
- NYAP (not your average popper)
- SF Brush Flies tied 6- 10 inches long with weighted eyes (blue/white, brown/white, pink/white, black)
- Deceivers tied 6- 8 inches long with weighted eyes (blue/white, brown/white, pink/white, black)
- XL Clouser minnows (chartreuse/white, black/white)