Keenan Davis of Bluffton was fishing for dolphin out of Hilton Head Island when he saw something he liked. “Check this out. We’re definitely trolling past that,” Davis said, instructing his fishing partners to reel in their rigs as he readied a couple of 50-wide Shimano TLDs with skirted ballyhoos.
What caught Davis’ s attention was a floating piece of debris, a large, wooden deck that looked like it had been ripped from the back of a house. Sixty miles from the beach, it was the only visible structure on the surface.
Davis let out about 80 yards of line from one of the reels and placed the rod in a rod holder on the starboard side of the boat. He let about 150 yards from the other one and placed that one in a rod holder on the corner of the transom on the boat’s starboard side. He steered so close to the floating debris that it appeared the boat would hit it. It didn’t, but as the first ballyhoo swam past the wooden structure, the water boiled, and something took a swipe at the ballyhoo but missed.
“Watch that second one get hit,” said Davis as he throttled down, slightly slowing the boat.
The second ballyhoo passed by the floating deck, and just as it cleared the corner, an explosion occurred, and a big-bodied fish went airborne. It was a dolphin, and as an angler grabbed the rod and began reeling, Davis turned the boat and prepared to troll past the structure again.
“The dolphin really start showing up strong this month, and no matter what I’m out here fishing for, two things will make me change to pulling skirted ballyhoo behind the boat: birds diving or anything floating, whether it’s a floating weed line or a floating piece of plywood. If I see anything like that, I’m trolling past it,” Davis said.
When trolling for dolphin, Davis said a key is keeping your speed between 5 and 7 knots. When he doesn’t find debris, he will still begin trolling if he finds a line with about a 2- or 3-degree temperature break.
“That kind of temperature break isn’t too hard to find this time of year, and when you find it, you need to stay right on the line. Dolphin will swim along that line religiously. And just like when finding floating debris, go back around and troll it again, especially if you catch a fish or two on your first pass,” he said.
For anglers specifically targeting dolphin, be prepared to spend a long day on the water, according to Davis.
“I’m not saying you can’t find dolphin closer than the Gulf Stream, but if you want to really get into them, the Gulf Stream is where you really need to be,” he said. “Getting there by daybreak will give you the best shot on most days, and that can mean leaving port as early as 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said.