How To Catch Dorado (Mahi Mahi)

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Are you looking for how to catch dorado now that the water is warming up? Mahi are one of my favorite species to catch because their colors are amazing, they fight hard, and the taste great. In this article, I share facts about the species and tips to help you land your personal best.

mahi biting a jig and jumping out of the water

Dorado (sometimes called dolphinfish) is found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters across the globe from Baja California Sur to South America. We often get asked, why is mahi-mahi called dorado? In Hawaii, they’re called mahi mahi which translates to “very strong.” They are indeed fast-growing strong fish, most living no more than five years.

You’re about to learn how to catch coryphaena hippurus using traditional, trolling, and spearfishing tactics.

Note: The golden dorado (river tiger) is not the same fish as a dorado! It’s a freshwater fish that is becoming a popular fresh fish for anglers to catch on the coast of Central America, Africa, and the Pacific. 

Dorado Facts

Scientific NameCoryphaena hippurus [Source]
Common Name(s)Dorado, Mahi Mahi, Mahi-mahi, Dolphin Fish, Dorado coryphaena hippurus
CharacteristicsDorado has striking colors (especially the bull male dorado, females are pretty, too) with golden, blue, and green hues on the sides with a subtle lateral line and beautiful dorsal fin. Fast growing. They have long dorsal fins and thin pectoral fins.
Depth RangeUsually on the surface but can be found 85 meters deep
DietSmaller fish, zooplankton, crustaceans, and squid
Food QualityMahi tastes great! Cooking them is easy on the grill, or you can eat them raw. Our favorite cooked method is smoking.

For more information about Dorado coryphaena hippurus, check out the NOAA.

Where Can You Find Dorado

Dolphin fish can be found in open waters, offshore, and near coastal areas.

They are found (sometimes year-round) in circumglobal waters in tropical and temperate waters. In the water column, they tend to reside near the surface to the mid-column. You’ll usually see them near flotsams (floating objects) as they are hunting for small fish taking shelter.

They are a pelagic species found in the Pacific Oceans, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and a host of other tropical waters, including near Costa Rica.

When fishermen go for sailfish, it’s not uncommon to see a few mahi mahi around.

Just type in “dorado Mexico or dorado Baja California Sur” in Google to see a plethora of mahi traveling in pairs or schools (it’s awesome when they chase flying fish). If you need a guide down in Cabo, go visit Pisces Sportfishing and tell them Jon sent you 🙂. Baja California Sur depending on the season is excellent mahi mahi fishing.

When they are on the surface they usually are looking for all forms of fish, zooplankton, crustaceans, and squids.

How to Catch Dorado

mahi with hook in mouth
A beautiful bull caught on a circle hook.

There are countless setups that will work for catching mahi, but to help point you in a direction, below are a few recommendations.

Mahi Mahi Fishing Gear

Small Dorado Setup

  • Star Rods 7.5-foot graphite inshore rod rated for 8-17 lb test.
  • Penn Battle II 4000 spinner loaded with 12lb diamond braid.
  • Twitch baits and jigs. Perfect for small fish.

Heavy Spinner Dorado Setup

  • Shakespeare 7 foot Ugly Stik Bigwater Spinning Rod
  • Penn Battle II 8000 reel loaded with 20lb Diamond Line.
  • Rigged with a VMC octopus hook, jig, staffer, and slammers.

Dorado Lures

If you want to slay Dorado (coryphaena hippurus), then you’ll want to check out this gear.

The Ripper Team uses a 220lb Fluorocarbon Leader for their Ballyhoo rig. They use a spring and wire to keep the ballyhoo protected while trolling, so you don’t have to switch out baits often. This could literally save you hours on your next trip!

Quality Lures Worth a Look

  • Williamson Ballyhoo Combo
  • Williamson Catcher Rigged 6 Lures
  • Rapala X-Rap Magnum 30 Lure

Mahi Fishing Tactics

Jon Stenstrom with a speared mahi
Jon with his first speared mahi mahi in SoCal.

There are many methods for catching mahi mahi in the Pacific (Costa Rica is a hot spot). Some people like to troll for them, some people would rather be on a boat and do a good old-fashioned line-of-sight casting for mahi.

Recreational fishermen love mahi since they tend to bite anything.

It makes sense. They are traveling long distances looking for floating objects. In this structure, they’ll find bait fish and other creatures to munch on. If you can get your bait or lure near a floating structure, either by casting or trolling, you’ll have a good shot at a hook-up if they’re around.

On a side note, we’re not fans of commercial fishermen using purse seine fishing techniques where they wrangle in large schools of mahi and large by-catch rates (we like our sea turtles and other species).

Trolling for Mahi Mahi

This is where you drag a lure or bait behind a moving boat and wait for a fish to bite.

This method is effective for covering vast amounts of area to give you a high probability of a catch. Devices such as planer boards are often used to spread fishing lures away from the vessel. This allows for multiple lines to be trolled at once, increasing your odds of a catch.

Trolling Lures

  • Plugs

Using lures is usually done between 7-15 knots depending on the fishing area, but it can work at slower speeds, especially from a kayak.

6 Tips for Catching Dorado

fishing for mahi
Mahi being reeled in.
  1. Make sure you have multiple rods and setups for a day out on the water.
  2. Be on the lookout for objects floating in the water, like flotsams or logs.
  3. Trolling using ballyhoo might inadvertently catch you a Marlin or swordfish. Be ready for a fight if that happens.
  4. Dorado are fast, so don’t be afraid to reel in fast when you use the line of sight technique.
  5. When you come up to flotsam, throw in chunks of fish or bait to get them feeding. With the same bait, load up a hook and throw it out in the water with the bait. They will most likely take it. Leave your bail off so the bait will sink until you see the line zipping with a mahi.
  6. If you hook a dorado, keep it in the water to keep the rest of the school around the boat while you fish them with live or dead bait, chunk bait, etc.

How To Process Your Dorado

Dorado ready to be filleted
Dorado ready to be filleted.

With the vast number of mahi recipes found online, you should know that the human consumption quality of this fish is sky-high. Since it’s a fast-growing pelagic species, the harmful toxins are relatively low in this fish. Especially when you compare it to tuna or other larger species.

One large bull make can feed a large group of people.

Fish caught on hook, and the line should be ikejime’d using a spike to kill the fish instantly.

Be sure to cut the gills and let the caught fish bleed out. You’ll want to run a shinkeijime wire down the spine (it follows the lateral line). Last you’ll want to get the fish in an ice slurry as fast as possible.

This will ensure your dorado fillets are restaurant-grade.

If you choose not to eat dorado raw, then we recommend smoking it whole on the smoker or grill.

Similar to roast a tuna head, you’ll make soft, flakey mouth-watering deliciousness fall right off the bone. Feed that to your friends and family; they’ll love you forever. If you can these fishes, you can enjoy them year-round.

A top-grade pelagic species, to say the least!

Here’s my buddy Brett from SpearFactor with an awesome Dorado!

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of fish is dorado?

Dorado is a surface-dwelling fish found off-shore in temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters around the world. They are part of the Coryphaenidae family.

Is dorado fish a dolphin?

Dorado is known as dolphinfish but isn’t a mammal-like dolphin.

What is the difference between mahi-mahi and dorado?

Mahi-mahi is the Hawaiian name for dorado. They’re the same fish, just different names.

What does mahi mahi look like?

Mahi-mahi has a unique shape, with the males having a large pronounced forehead. They are bright yellow, and white, and have other colors that make them directly noticeable.

What do mahi mahi eat?

Mahi mahi eats small fish, crustaceans, squid, and zooplankton.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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