Welcome to our “How to Catch Mahi-mahi – A Complete Guide” where we tell you everything we know and could find about catching the savage Mahi-mahi. The MAHI-MAHI is FLORIDA’S #1 OFF-SHORE GAMEFISH! It is one of Florida’s most exciting fish to catch!
[Page Updated – 1 August 2020. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
MAHI-MAHI GAMEFISH RATINGS
- Size: 7/10 stars
- Fight: 8/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 5/10 stars
- Taste: 10/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Mahi-mahi FACTS
- WHY catch Mahi-mahi?
- WHERE are Mahi-mahi found?
- What do Mahi-mahi EAT?
- HOW to catch Mahi-mahi?
- WHEN is best for Mahi-mahi?
- GEAR to use for Mahi-mahi? (our best recommendations)
- Mahi-mahi LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK Mahi-mahi for the ultimate meal?
How To Catch Mahi-mahi | Guide
PRO TIP – Mahi-mahi (Hawaiian for ‘very strong’) are also called dolphin, dolphin fish, dorado (strong) near Spanish speaking countries, and lampuka in Malta.
Species: Coryphaena hippurus. (Carl Linnaeus, 1758)
Similar Species: Oarfish? Mahi-mahi has a unique morphology (body shape) that makes it appear eel-like or similar to an oarfish. Mahi are considerably shorter than oarfish, so they are not hard to distinguish.
IUCN Redlist Status: LC – Least Concern. There are plenty of Mahi-mahi across the world and there is no known threat to the population.
Appearance: As you can see above, Mahi-mahi are brightly colored – greens and yellows the predominant coloration. They change color when excited and fighting against an angler. They slowly lose colors upon death and are darker green and blue as they expire.
Mahi-mahi are long in appearance, with a single very long dorsal fin from the head nearly to the tail. Adult males have strong flat foreheads coming straight up from the mouth and is more pronounced than round female heads. Gold on the sides and with bright blues and greens on the dorsal (back) and sides. It is so bright, the colors are almost fluorescent. Pectoral fins are bright blue.
Length: Mahi-mahi are typically landed in the 39″ range and between 15 to 29 lbs and are rarely found at more than 33 lbs. Maximum length is over 40-inches, even up to 60-inches but very rare. Mahi at 4-5 months old are sexually active and capable of reproduction from the time they are about 8-inches long. They lay tens of thousands to a million eggs at a time with more eggs being noted by scientists in spring/summer. Females are smaller than males.
Weight: Average weight is 15-29 lbs. Rarely over 50 lbs. In the early years they grow around 1 lb. per month, and sometimes 2 lbs. per month.
Range/Distribution: Distribution of Mahi-mahi ranges across the entire globe in the warm saltwater oceans north and south of the equator. In the United States, Mahi-mahi are found in saltwater from Massachusetts to Texas.
Habitat: Mahi-mahi are found just under the surface in water around 120 feet deep. They don’t dive, so they are easy targets for fast-moving boats that harpoon them with small spears. This is how much of the mahi-mahi fishing is done in other countries. Mahi are found in saltwater across the entire globe in the warm regions north and south of the equator. Mahi can be targeted by boaters by fishing any structure or floating object or flora – sargassum seaweed, plastic bottles, garbage, literally anything floating – they take shelter under and anglers can target them by throwing an artificial lure close by. Mahi can often be found by looking for frigate birds on the edge of a coral reef.
Diet: Young Mahi-mahi eat crustaceans primarily. Adults are voracious eaters, eating mostly during the day. Males eat more than females, and are considerably bigger. Mahi-mahi are very fast and agile, able to make meals of any fish they target. Preferred diet includes flying fish, man-o-war fish, sargassum fish, triggerfish and other reef fish, juvenile tuna, swordfish, crevalle jacks, macks (mackerel), and some invertebrates like cephalopods and crabs of all type.
Mahi-mahi feed in schools or pairs.
I have caught Mahi-mahi from the Gandy Bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida a number of times near midnight. There are lights at the pier, and as I recall, I tended to catch more of them on full-moon nights or nights when the moon was bright.
Predators: The lifespan for Mahi-mahi is about 7 years. Predators of Mahi-mahi include sharks, marlin, dolphins, porpoises, and other predatory species.
World Record Mahi-mahi
In July 2015, Brian Lindsey was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on a guided fishing trip and caught a huge Mahi-mahi. The fish was weighed on a hand-scale at 102 lbs. There was no official weighing, and the happy customer ate the fish with friends! As it stands today, the world record mahi-mahi was caught in Costa Rica in 1976 and was 87 lbs.
USA Record Mahi-mahi: Jeff Wright, 34, of Cambridge, Maryland caught a large 72.8 lb. fish off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.
Florida Record Mahi-mahi: A large 81 lb. 0 oz. mahi-mahi was caught by R Vail on June 9, 2007 in Lantana, Florida.
WHY Catch Mahi-mahi?
Mahi-mahi are great FUN to catch on rod and reel!
Mahi-mahi are fun to catch because they are big fish that go acrobatic when hooked. The colors are flat-out mindblowing! When a mahi is hooked and makes that first run, line literally screams off your reel at up to 57 miles per hour. That’s how fast this fish is!
At night it gets EVEN BETTER as there may be phosphorescent plankton in the water, so when the mahi starts screaming out line, it’s making a wavy path through the water that lights up with luminescence! It’s outrageous, and one of the best fish to target. Oh, and did we mention just how absolutely DELICIOUS grilled mahi-mahi sandwiches are? One of the TOP 3 best eating fish in the ocean, in our opinion.
WHERE To Find Mahi-mahi?
Another thing that makes targeting mahi-mahi as a gamefish is that they are not that difficult to find. Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic side – both have plenty mahi-mahi.
If you watch any of these catamaran or monohull sailing shows on YouTube, like this one, you’ll see that everyone is catching some mahi-mahi just using trolling rigs set up behind the boat as they sail across the warm oceans. In that video, they get a couple of Mahi, tuna, and a wahoo, one after another.
If you don’t have the luxury of a sailing catamaran, you can use any boat, even a kayak to pull up close to some structure or floating mass of seaweed. Catching even one fish is usually enough fish for a family. There are limits for consumption due to mercury levels, but it is lower than for some other fish.
What Do Mahi-Mahi EAT?
Nobody fishes for Mahi-Mahi with live or dead bait, we all use lures. Big lures. Not as big as you’d fish for marlin with, but a topwater (they live on the top) plug that makes a lot of noise and is reeled or trolled fast. They are lightning fast fish and they WILL catch the lure no matter how fast you troll it.
HOW to Catch Mahi-mahi – Techniques
From a Small Boat – Kayak, Canoe
I watched a Hawaiian guy take his kayak out on the water off Beach Park on the west side of southern Oahu. In less than two-hours, he returned with 3 large mahi-mahi over 40-inches long. He had hand-speared them from the kayak, probably after chumming up the water around some seaweed floating off the shore. So, there’s that method if you’re skilled at spearing fish from a kayak. Another way to look at it is, he probably just made $150 in 2-hours on the water, selling 30+ lbs. of mahi for $5 per pound. Grilled mahi-mahi sandwiches sell for $10+ on Maui and certainly don’t include 16 oz. of fish!
For the rest of us fishing with rod and reel, just roll up next to any floating seaweed and toss out an artificial that looks like a small fish.
If rigging with live bait, live pilchard and dead squid are ideal baits for mahi. You should always have a bucket of chum on board to toss over if you are in a group of Mahi, to keep their interest a while longer. The entire school won’t stop long for the one fish you’re dragging through the water!
From a Fishing Boat
Fishing for Mahi-mahi from a fishing boat is great fun. You can either troll lures behind your boat, or target specific areas of seaweed and other floating flotsam, or structure. Mahi can be found in many places just under the water, and they are attracted to boats and noise-making artificials. Using Ballyhoo rigs works well because they make a lot of bubbles and commotion under the water – ideal for arousing mahi-mahi.
Don’t forget to start the chum for mahi in a spot where you know they are, to bring them closer to the boat.
WHEN Is the Best Time to Catch Mahi-mahi?
April to August is the best time in Florida to catch Mahi-mahi, but really, anytime is a good time because they’re here, they just aren’t quite as active outside of these months.
If you’re choosing between day and night, choose day. If you’re choosing between fishing from a fishing boat, kayak, shore, or pier, choose fishing boat because you can troll and search out the weed-lines which will virtually ensure hook-ups.
PRO TIP! If the moon is full or close to full at night, you can be sure the mahi-mahi will be eating all night and will probably NOT BITE during daylight hours much. They seem to prefer to eat at night. They can only eat when the moon is bright at night. Avoid the middle of the day fish trips after bright moon nights. Fish very early – 5 am to 8 am. and 4 pm to dark if possible.
Mahi-mahi GEAR – Big, Tough Tackle Necessary
Best Rod for Mahi-mahi?
A 7-foot long medium-heavy or heavy action rod like an Ugly Stik is good for all your mahi fishing. You’re going to need some good line. Instead of the 20 lb. braided we usually recommend, let’s go wtih 30 lb. braided, or even something heavier. When fishing for mahi, there are some other nice big gamefish you might hook, like tuna, wahoo, kings, or just big mahi. In any of those situations, I would like 40-50 lb. braided on my reel and a heavier rod just in case. When boat fishing, you should have a couple of rods ready to go – and at least one heavy 40+ lb. test line with strong 6-7″ rod.
RECOMMENDATION – This tough UglyStik Rod is what we’ve used for over a decade!
Best Reel for Mahi-mahi?
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
Penn baitcasting reels are my favorites. I just love the high-quality design and manufacturing and the fact that I’ve never broken one with a fish on. Never. I can’t say that for Shimano or Daiwa. Sure it may happen someday, but I’m sticking with my PENNS!
Always buy the best all-around reel you can afford. You’ll be using that reel more than any of the others and it has to be strong enough to withstand some abuse.
WHICH Penn Reel for Mahi-mahi?
This one — PENN Reel
Mahi-mahi Spinning Reel?
Best Spinning Reel for Mahi-mahi? Again, any all-around reel that you can use for catching 1-lb blues, all the way up to 20 lb. redfish with the potential to catch something even bigger.
RECOMMENDATION – This PENN Spinning Reel is the perfect all-around reel.
Best Line for Mahi-mahi?
Most anglers I know go with twenty-pound braided. I go heavier. I just hate to lose the big ones. Twenty to forty pound test braided line is great for Mahi-mahi and just about anything else you’re going to catch except the lunkers you’ll find in Florida waters. Sure, there are exceptions, but you can’t really go wrong using something in this range as your all-around line.
We recommend the following line for Mahi-mahi.
Line – 20/8 lb. braided is perfect for your main line if you want to go light (like everyone else).
Heavier Line – 40 lb. braided is perfect if you want to be prepared for the big ones.
Leader – 80 lb. mono leader is suggested, as the mahi-mahi teeth are sharp and can cut through lesser leaders. Either use mono, or #7-8 wire leaders. We prefer mono.
Best Mahi-mahi Hooks?
Recommendation – The best hooks for Mahi-mahi are Gamakatsu and this size.
PRO TIP! Always keep a ziplock bag of cut bait – cross sections of fish already cut and ready to stick on a hook. Same with squid. ALWAYS have a squid bag ready to pop open when you see the school of mahi-mahi. OR, they may pass your boat right up before you can react.
Best Mahi-mahi Rigs?
Mahi-mahi Rig – Our usual Mahi-mahi rig is a small ballyhoo rig for small mahi and a bigger one for bigger mahi. Either troll it at 7 knots per hour or reel it in fast and re-cast. Up to you!
Best Mahi-mahi Rig
- Strong Swivel – one very strong 2 loop swivel.
- Line – 40 lb. braided is fine for your main line.
- Leader – a very thin wire leader or 80 lb mono is advised for Mahi-mahi, as they will bite right through anything less sturdy.
- Hook – 5/0 Owner or Gamakatsu J hooks – J-hooks if you’re planning on keeping your catch, and size #4-7 circle hooks if you plan to release them.
When using cut bait, ballyhoo or sardines, any baitfish with some thickness to it is devoured by Mahi-mahi. Squid too! Wind a fat roll of shrimp on a hook and toss it out there. DINNER TIME!
Best Artificial Lure for Mahi-mahi?
Ballyhoo rig. These look absolutely nothing like a ballyhoo fish, but for whatever reason the entire industry calls them that.
Mahi-mahi LAWS in Florida
In Florida, the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission calls this “Dolphinfish.” The limits are different for Mahi caught in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic side. It is your responsibility to check the latest laws on the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
Legal Gear for Harvesting Mahi-mahi
Fishing with spears or hook and line is legal.
Gulf Coast Mahi-mahi Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: None.
- Daily Bag Limit: 10 per angler per day or up to 60 per vessel (whichever is less).
- Season: Open all year.
East Coast Mahi-mahi Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 20-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: 10 per angler per day. or up to 60 per vessel (whichever is less).
- Season: Open all year.
Federal Water Mahi-mahi Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 20-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: Federal waters: 10 per angler per day.
- Season: Open all year.
NOTE – a full list of rules for fishing for Mahi-mahi can be found at the Florida Rules website here.
Get the Fishing App
Mahi-mahi laws can change at any time so it’s a good idea to be ready for anything. Nothing quite like the law rolling up to you in their little speedboat asking to see your fishing license, driver’s license, catch, and rigs. Information on our site is up-to-date the day we publish it, but that can change tomorrow. If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
How to COOK Mahi-mahi?
Mahi-mahi is one of the best fish to eat, and I’ve had a lot of it while living in Hawaii – especially Maui where kayakers and small fishing boats would head out and spearfish and catch on rod/reel some Mahi for the local market. Most restaurants in Hawaii serve Mahi-mahi sandwiches – phenomenal and a must-try if you visit the islands!
Grill the Mahi – especially blackened, and serve it up on a sandwich with fresh baked bun or Ciabatta bread roll, light mayo, fried onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and some garlic hot sauce (Tobasco works well). If you’ve got it, spoon a lump of mashed avocado on there. HOOO WEEY!
PRO TIP – As usual with ocean-going fish, the smaller, the better. Resist the urge to eat your gigantic mahi you just caught on a guided fishing tour, and instead let it go free. The best mahi to eat are the smaller fish (within legal limits, of course).
Caution — Ciguatera Toxin
Ciguatera toxins have been detected in some mahi-mahi. It is caused by the buildup of ciguatoxins in the flesh of tropical marine fishes which are then eaten by Mahi-mahi. Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include stomach issues and weakness of arms and legs. There is sometimes a bizarre symptom in which the person cannot distinguish between hot and cold – and often reverses them. Symptoms may persist for weeks.
Caution -— Mercury Levels
Mahi-mahi has a tested mercury parts per million of about 1/5th that of the highest tested fish (Tilefish in Gulf of Mexico) on the chart1. That is still very high, and it isn’t recommended that you eat mahi-mahi more than a couple of servings per month to be safe. Pregnant or lactating women, probably skip it to be really safe, right?
Mahi-mahi Guide Resources
- 1. US Food & Drug Administration – Mercury levels in Commercial Fish.
- NOAA Fisheries
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and here.
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
Image credits: Images sourced from stock and government agencies with creative commons licenses or permission.
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)