Eat or Be Eaten

Fooling the Food Chain

FSF Staff May 24, 2012

Fast growing, short-lived predators that inhabit most of the world’s tropical seas, dolphin are gluttonous carnivores that at times feed with no remorse. Anything that swims is fair game, with long-distance migrations and aggressive tendencies warranting the need for substantial protein consumption. On a biological level, scientists have determined that dolphin are equipped with specialized gills similar to marlin and tuna that permit high oxygen diffusion to support their increased metabolic rates. Socially, dolphin often travel and feed in large schools so the competition for forage rules their lives. As a result, dolphin feed when food is available and it is partially because of their insatiable appetites that most mahi don’t make it past their first birthday.

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This unfortunate peanut was an easy meal for a hungry cow. Photo: Captain Rob Harris

Cruising a weedline, color change or temperature break for anything resembling a meal, dolphin aren’t over particular and will capitalize on whatever opportunity presents itself. Research and tagging data reveals that juvenile dolphin are capable of growing 1.3 to 2.7-inches a week—it’s no surprise they eat almost anything. One look at the stomach contents of a mature dolphin and this fact will be confirmed. Dolphin will literally eat anything they can fit in their mouth, including their own offspring! And just after a cannibalistic cow bears down on a baby ‘phin, a brilliantly lit blue marlin or lightning fast wahoo comes in for the kill. That’s the sad reality of life as a dolphin in a fish-eat-fish world.

Dolphin will literally eat anything they can fit in their mouth, including their own offspring!

The ocean is one of the world’s most incredible ecosystems and educated anglers that observe and understand the food chain have a greater chance of capitalizing on all of the available opportunities. During Florida’s spring and summer months dolphin fishing is the talk of the town. While novice anglers know that weedlines and birds signal the presence of dolphin, professionals have an even better understanding of the ocean’s inhabitants.

Trophy fish over 30 pounds won’t have as many birds on them as would a school of juvenile green hornets. A pair of mature dolphin simply can’t corral baitfish to the surface quite like a school of peanuts can. So when you see a plethora of birds it’s likely they are tight to a pack of juveniles. Even though it’s nice to break the ice with a couple of schoolies, you can only get so much excitement out of 20-inch shakers. Bulls and cows typically become couples once they eclipse the 20-pound mark, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be too far off. When juvenile ‘phin are thick and you can’t get away there are a few things you can do to maximize on the opportunities lurking below—and we’re not only talking about slammer dolphin.

Pretty much every species of pelagic game fish has been known to feed on dolphin, so when your other big fish tactics aren’t doing the trick many anglers look to match the prevalent forage. Lures with dolphin colors and patterns will pique the interest of billfish, wahoo and tuna, in addition to slammer ‘phin hungry for their own flesh and blood.

Tackle manufacturers are always looking to exploit the next big thing, but matching the hatch is no novel idea. For years manufacturers have been producing a variety of offerings equipped with exquisite dolphin patterns and no matter your preferred approach and target game fish, faux ‘phin will get you in the game. Blue water anglers well versed in raising billfish routinely utilize bowling pin teasers to add action to their spread. They know that to a blue marlin everything is food, and one look at the scarred bowling pins will reveal an appealing dolphin paint scheme. What better way to lure a marlin to your spread than with a school of agitated mahi?

Stepping it up a notch, many anglers introduce dolphin patterned trolling lures into their spreads, knowing all too well the predators they can entice. With an incredibly accurate dolphin pattern, Fathom Offshore’s Pepal Grande trolling lure really looks like a peanut dolphin darting through the water. Ideally suited to be pulled right along the edge of a weedline to imitate juvenile dolphin that routinely seek the refuge provided by floating mats of vegetation, you never know what will jump on this lure. Could be a peanut, gaffer or billfish. Cedar plugs are also available in dolphin patterns and are also great offerings to troll around weedlines. When pulled at higher speeds they will easily shake off sargassum and keep your offerings fishing.

Maybe you’re more of a live bait guy and prefer running & gunning in search of the holy grail of floating debris. You’ve probably encountered dolphin schools so thick you could walk across them, yet you don’t get much of a response from your offerings. They may not like your flavor of the day, but there could be another reason for their heightened alertness—and it’s likely hanging in the shadows. This is when casting a popper or diving plug painted like a peanut will pay big dividends with surface foraging slammers or suspended wahoo.

While we’re not suggesting an entire spread of dolphin patterned offerings, no matter your preferred technique for blue water fishing you should include a dolphin colored lure in your approach. And since dolphin have such a wide ranging habitat, these lures will work in any of the world’s oceans.

When nothing else seems to work anglers need to think outside of the box. While you’ve certainly heard about keeping a hooked fish in the water to keep the interest of schooling dolphin, some professionals take it to a whole other level. Boat your schoolie and bridle it to a 50 lb. class outfit. While you will effectively keep the school at the boat, you will also be ready to capitalize on the opportunity if a marlin or slammer ‘phin comes in to investigate.

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