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Migratory dolphin return off S.C. coast

The author displays a peanut dolphin from May 11, 2013. Photo by William Dotterer

The author displays a peanut dolphin from May 11, 2013.
Photo by William Dotterer

When the calendar reaches the middle of May, it signals saltwater anglers that migratory dolphin will be offshore. Dolphin are the most-pursued pelagic fish and have the affectionate nickname of Mahi Mahi. Desirable both for their fighting spirit and their excellent table fare, they motivate many anglers to troll for them during the summer months.

A dolphin, or Coryphaena hippurus, can be anywhere in the ocean but anglers know to fish for them in areas that have some surface debris like a weedline or clusters of flotsam and jetsam. Everything from peanut dolphin to big bull dolphin can come from underneath a single piece of driftwood, so it’s best to mark any such object on the GPS and troll by it before moving on.

An average size dolphin is under 15 pounds, but it’s not too uncommon to see 30 and 40 pound class fish. Known as a beautiful fish to photograph, they have bright green and yellow colors that mark their flesh with small blue spots splatter-painted all along their bodies. The large blunt foreheads distinguish the large males, also known as bulls, from the rest of the pack.

Dolphin are voracious, will feed on just about anything, and are thought to be one of the fastest growing fish in the ocean. Trolling for them is the most common method of fishing, with hungry dolphin consistently eating ballyhoo as well as artificial baits.

Not streamlined torpedoes of the sea like billfish, dolphin possess the ability to jump, shake and use torque to pull against the boat – making them no easy prey for offshore anglers. Many offshore fishing tournaments recognize dolphin with a top dollar category for the heaviest fish brought to the docks.

Dolphin fishing is a great example of a sustainable harvest of our natural resources. Release the small ones to grow up and produce more fish, and keep the bigger ones for the love of sportfishing and for some really fine table fare. At the peak of the dolphin migration it’s not unheard of for boats to catch more than 20 dolphin per day, and the legal limit to keep is six fish per angler.

Some of the typical destinations in the ocean to target dolphin include the Edisto Banks, the 226-hole and the Georgetown Hole. It was May 11 when the 50-foot sportfisher Lil ‘Bit ventured out to the Edisto Banks for the first offshore fishing trip of the season. The ocean did not yield many fish this day, but I reeled in a small ‘peanut’ dolphin for our supper.

The real story from this trip was the welcome visit from a blue marlin, which ate one of the trolling baits and peeled off 500 yards of line. After a two-hour fight the lucky angler was able to bring the fish to the boat and release the billfish. One of the great thrills of offshore fishing is the mixed bag of fish species that anglers may encounter, but dolphin remain the most plentiful and readily available to catch.

Jeff Denis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (392 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com