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Fishing Tips

TRY DORADO FOR FISHING FUN

Posted 11/20/2012

These high-seas wanderers are beautiful, abundant, accommodating and an epicurean delight!

Dorado are a wildly popular game fish, not to mention spectacular table fare. The native Hawaiians liked these fish so much they named them twice—mahi mahi. And if you’ve ever caught one of significant size you probably did a double take, too. They are fast, strong and can compete with any billfish in the jumping department. Set the hook, and they are immediately airborne. Hook up a teen size dorado on almost any tackle and it will make a good showing of itself, but on light trolling, plugging or spinning tackle they are a joy to fight.

Dorado are most susceptible to trolling and have a penchant for small lures or ballyhoo. When dorado are the target, keep the tackle in the 20-pound class to maximize your fun. But if you luck into a 30-pound specimen or larger, you just might be wishing you had the 50s out. They are great fun to catch on live bait and casting small lures. If you can find anything floating on the surface, like buoys for commercial fishing gear, weather buoys, weed lines or just about any type of flotsam that offers a tad of shade, there is a good chance dorado will be under or around it. You can throw a few live baitfish in the water and watch them come charging out, drop a live bait or cast and retrieve a small jig, shiny metal lure or plug, and they will chase it back to the boat. Once you hook the first one, have an angler keep it near the boat because others will follow it and are susceptible to your lures or baits. When you find a concentration of them, it is an all out blast. Just be sure you ice down the fish you are going to keep quickly so they remain firm and tasty for the table.

Dorado are not just great to fish for, they are pretty remarkable creatures in their own right. The more you learn about them, the more you’ll realize just how specialized they are and how they fit into their own little niche in the ocean ecosystem. There are actually two closely related species of this colorful gamefish. The common dorado (Coryphaena hippurus) and the smaller pompano dorado (Coryphaena equiselis) are both pelagic fishes found throughout the tropical and subtropical oceans of the world. In the western Atlantic, their range extends as far north as Cape Cod in the summer to as far south as southern Brazil in the winter as they migrate with warming ocean temperatures into the more northern and southern latitudes. The common dorado is the one most frequently encountered by anglers in U.S. waters, and they can be found both offshore or in near shore waters depending on how closely ocean currents meander toward land. The Gulf Stream is a major migration route along the East Coast where its western edge is close to shore. Along the central and southern coast of Florida and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, dorado can be caught within a few miles of the beach while further north they can range from 10-to-90 miles offshore. This widespread distribution makes them available to fishermen in boats both large and small. 

Considered to be one of the most beautiful fish on the planet, the dorado is the chameleon of ocean predators, with the ability to alter its color patterns radically at a moment’s notice. A dorado’s body can range from iridescent colors as varied as metallic silvers, blues and greens, to bright yellow and gold with blue or green fins and colorful spots. During a photo session with a 40-pound dorado caught off North Carolina, the fish suddenly morphed into snow white with bright blue spots from head to tail, and just as abruptly changed back to gold and green. The dorado is one of nature’s most variable canvasses.

Few fish have such visible differences between the male and female of the species. Males (bulls) have a severe, hatchet-shaped forehead, while females (cows) have a more graceful, rounded head. They have a flat-sided body built for speed and agility, a quality that is an absolute necessity for fleeing larger predators and for maintaining the truly incredible metabolism they have to feed on a daily basis. Dorado grow faster, mature quicker, and die younger than any other pelagic predator in the ocean, literally burning themselves out by the time they reach three years of age (although very few make it to one). The overwhelming majority of larval dorado never see six months, falling prey to a wide variety of larger ocean predators. But that doesn’t prevent them from contributing to the future of the species.  

Studies in the Atlantic indicate that a 30-inch long dorado is typically a year old and a four-foot long dorado is barely two. They grow even more rapidly in the Pacific. Studies near Hawaii found one-year-old bulls as large as four-feet long, and the current world record fish that tipped the scales at 87 pounds was probably only two. With a growth rate like that, dorado have a metabolic rate that runs flat out 24/7. Females are sexually mature at four months and spawn frequently, several times a year, throughout the course of their short lives.

A dorado placed into the main tank at the New Jersey State Aquarium at 1.5 pounds, along with other open ocean species, reached a weight of 36 pounds in a year, and was eating so much food that it had to be removed. That is a growth rate unparalleled by any other species. It is estimated that a dorado in a forage-rich environment can grow up to a pound per week.

For sheer fishing fun, it’s hard to beat the dorado and the rewards gained are wonderful sautéed, broiled, grilled or blackened.