Offshore Fun

Peter Le Blang makes catching Dolphin Fish easy with this informative article about using water and FADs to your advantage.

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With all of the warm water along the coast, blue skies, flat oceans and windless mornings there’s a great opportunity to get offshore to tangle with dolphin fish. These stunning fish are a target right along the eastern sea board during summer for those that are equipped to hit the high seas.

Dolphin fish, or Mahi Mahi, is a fish that travels vast distances and is rarely caught in waters of less than 50m. Some years we are lucky enough to see the school of fish travel closer to the coast and they are generally chasing baitfish such as flying fish, slimy mackeral yellowtail or sauries in water of 22 degrees or more.

Dollies love to congregate around floating debris; flotsam, fish trap floats and lines. This trait is very helpful for us anglers. NSW Fisheries places along the coast a series of FADs (Fish Attracting Devices) which are basically one large buoy attached to the bottom. Around these FADs the fish gather and can be targeted up to 500m away from the fads with great success.

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The position for NSW Fisheries FADs can be found on their website but here are a few co-ordinates for this years position for those that fish off Sydney.

Sydney South
S   34 07 700
E   151 23 000

Sydney East
S   33 59 316
E   151 20 951

Sydney
S   33 47 021
E   151 22 700

Sydney North
S   33 35 700
E   151 34 600

Terrigal
S   33 30 032
E   151 38 592

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So as mentioned earlier there is a simple plan to catch these fish. The first step is to catch and keep alive some baitfish such as slimy mackeral or yellowtail. In my local area the best places to catch live bait is at West Head or Mackeral Beach hole. Remember to try not to touch your live baits with your hands if you can help it. I try to grab the hooks with pliers and release the live bait straight into the live bait well. When you grab fish such as slimy mackeral you remove their protective slime and when in with other fish tend to die quickly. If you can’t be bothered to catch livies grab a block or two of pilchards, some diving minnows and skirted lures. All of these will see you in with a chance once you have found an area holding these amazing fish.

When you are going to target gamefish such as dollies there are a few other factors that will help you. The first is that they are travellers as mentioned and this is a great opportunity for you to catch them. Trolling skirted lures covers ground and also puts you in with a great chance to run into a big bull dollie. These big males have an almost blunt head that rises straight up and the cows have a more sleek narrower appearance. Both put on amazing ariels and pull hard for their weight when caught on lighter tackle or with the bigger bulls you want them to hit the 15kg gear not the 6kg outfits.

My favourite coloured skirts are those that have pink or blue – white or green – gold and lastly black. I am sure they are receptive to many patterns and colours of skirted lures but these are my favourites and am sure that you will find other colours that become yours.

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Another couple of important things to look out for are current lines; these are like they say a distinct line that is created in the water. Temperature differences often occur from one side of these lines to another. These current lines can see fish travelling along them and the flotsam often forms long rafts of a variety of things from lost tennis balls and hats to sea weed, ropes and logs. It forms a floating haven for these fish.

An interesting fact is that these fish are the reputed to be the fastest growing fish in the sea. They do grow extremely fast and fish of 20 kg are thought to be only about 6-8 years old. For a short period during their first years they can almost double their size in a very short period of time.

This is another thing that can help us once we get to an area that has a FAD or fishing trap floats. When you arrive at such an area the first temptation is to grab out the pillies and send out some hooks but if you troll the outer areas first you may be rewarded with a bigger dollie.

After a few laps at the lures optimal speed and there are no fish showing this is the time to set up a drift pattern through the area. Check before you turn off your motors what is the strongest, wind or current. It is really important to do this as a float from a trap around your prop can be a disaster in more ways than one.

Once you have yourself lined up for a hassle free drift, place out some whole pilchards or pieces on a 5/0 – 7/0 hook and float them out the back amongst some other pieces of pillies. It is important to have the bait wafting away from the boat and sinking. If the boat is moving too fast to accomplish a slowly sinking bait, rig up a simple running rig with the appropriate sinker and make sure that the leader is about 1.5-2m in length. Also burly that little bit more and when you are ready for a second drift, drift the same line but don’t drive straight back along it to get to the starting point again. Cast lures near the floats or FADs on the drift through and the odd handful of pillie tails will help to see if there are any about.

I have found over the years that these green and gold beauties will go off the bite and start to head to deeper water after about 10 am. This doesn’t happen all days but normally the closer it gets towards midday the harder they are to catch around the FADs. This of course means that you start heading along those current lines and don’t be surprised if a marlin doesn’t jump on the hooks.

Catching dollies really can be the most amount of fun that you can have with your pants on.

Best wishes

Peter Le Blang

Harbour & Estuary Fishing Charters www.estuaryfishingcharters.com.au 0410 633 351 plfishfingers@bigpond.com  
Peter LeBlang

About Peter LeBlang

I have had a passion for fishing since the tender age of 3 when I caught my first mackerel with my father and grandfather. I never liked to eat fish back then and still don’t now! Since then I have been lucky enough to catch massive dogtooth tuna in Vanuatu, big Gt’s at Fiji, Barra, Mackerel, Jacks and Queenies at the top end of Australia just to mention a few. Now days I love to target and show people how to catch big kingfish, jewfish, snapper and flathead with a variety of techniques. My favourite fish to catch are kingfish using live bait on downriggers. I am lucky enough to be based on Pittwater in Sydney. I own and operate Harbour & Estuary Fishing Charters and this has led me into article writing and reporting for wonderful outlets such as Kaydo Fishing World. I also do fishing reports on radio for ABC Big Fish programme, 2CCC (Central Coast) on Saturday mornings. My biggest love in life are my kids, wife and family. Remember that fishing is only fishing when alone but when you can share it with someone, then it becomes an adventure. Peter.

Previous Spanish Mackeral and Wahoo at Flinders and Hutchies
Next Great Fishing around the NSW DPI FADs

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