Mahi mahi move into nearshore waters off Cape Fear

Normally a bluewater, offshore fish, mahi mahi, aka dolphin, venture closer to shore when summer waters heat up.

Mahi detour close to shore this time of year

Mahi mahi, aka dolphin, are one of the most-popular fish in the ocean, very tasty and extremely fun to catch.

Another factor boosting their popularity is that when offshore waters warm during summer, they break away from the Gulf Stream and follow bait schools much closer to land. This brings them within range of more fishermen. And any day that includes a dolphinfish or two in the fish box is special.

The waters around North Carolina’s Frying Pan Shoals are time-tested to hold a variety of fish, and dolphin are one of the favorites. The nearshore water tends to be cleaner on the eastern side of the shoals, which includes Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. And these fish often venture closer to land in the cleaner water. However, they are also on the western or Southport side of the shoals, but typically a few miles farther offshore.

Capt. Rod Bierstedt, who runs On My Way Charters out of Carolina Beach, N.C., catches a lot of mahi in these waters. He said when the water warms during summer, mahi move closer in, and he catches them several different ways. Some days, he targets them, and some days they are incidental to catching bottomfish or trolling for king mackerel. Dolphin are almost always feeding and will usually bite when found.

Thermal charts make finding mahi easier

“The work for catching them begins the night before by searching seawater thermal charts for eddies, rips and areas rich in chlorophyll,” Bierstedt said. “Once we get there, we put out a trolling spread of small ballyhoo, some naked and some rigged behind small lures like the Moldcraft chuggers and Blue Water Candy king skirts. We also use teasers and spreader bars to get their attention.

“Mahi are not just surface feeders. So we troll at least one deep line that might be a Rapala swim lure or another rigged ballyhoo. Trolling at 5 1/2 to 6 knots allows us to cover water quickly to find the hot spot that morning.

“We also catch a lot of mahi while slow-trolling for kings,” Bierstedt said. “They are aggressive feeders and will hit live baits, cigar minnows and more. Always use your downriggers and don’t be surprised to catch mahi on them. We also keep a light line out, with other baits ready to cast, when bottom-fishing. It creates a chum line, and curious mahi will swim up to see what’s happening.”

Bierstedt said to check out any floating object. Mahi are attracted to buoys, boards, balloons and just about anything else floating along on the surface.

Summer mahi move to within sight of the beach at times and this puts them within range of many fishermen. Grilled mahi mahi tastes even better when you caught it just a few hours earlier.

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About Jerry Dilsaver 1144 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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