Focus on mahi mahi
  |  First Published: February 2004

MAHI MAHI, or as I prefer to call them, dolphin fish, are the flavour of the month as they really start to hit their straps on the wave rider buoy and trap markers off the coast.

It was only a few years back that they were virtually unknown to most anglers but, with the demise of other species, they have become a popular Summer target.

They are not the hardest fish to catch, as they will eat just about any bait, lure or fly and, at times, will almost join you in the boat as they fight between themselves for a crack at your offering.

Most fish encountered locally are between 1kg and 3kg but some of the more enterprising locals have been putting their own FADs out in up to 100 fathoms and attracting some very good fish up to 20kg.

This year NSW Fisheries is conducting a survey into ‘dolly’ numbers and growth rates but, to participate, you have to go to a training session to learn the correct tagging and recording process. I am a bit sceptical about these surveys because researchers already know they are one of the most prolific tropical species and one of the fastest-growing. One fish studied averaged over a kilo in growth each month from when it was tagged, at about a kilo, and recaptured nine months later at 9kg.

Professionals have long wanted to harvest them, with one weapon being the floating fish trap that was so devastatingly successful in wiping out kingfish. But there is an image problem with marketing them as dolphin fish – no one wants to eat Flipper. I seldom refer to them as mahi mahi, the Polynesian name, for this reason.

In the past, Fisheries surveys have often come to very poor conclusions due to, in some respects, a lack of knowledge by those compiling the data. Point in case was a recreational catch survey conducted on species amateurs caught, compared with pro captures. Researchers found that amateur anglers were responsible for ‘wiping out’ species such as red rock cod, cobia and dusky flathead and it was advised that massive reductions on bag limits should be put in place.

Pros rarely, if ever, take any of these species so they have very limited numbers going through the markets, while rec anglers often catch these and so the amateurs were deemed to be doing the species damage. Commonsense eventually prevailed when the true facts were realised.

The mahi mahi data collection could well be another cheap way of using the vast and enthusiastic amateur angler base for gathering information, which could well be to our detriment and the professionals’ benefit.


Marlin don’t mind a feed of mahi mahi and this month they really hit their straps, with quite a few already caught. This is the month they get right in close so if you put into practice the information from last month’s column, you are in with a big chance.

Bandit Reef and Wollongong Reef are popular spots in the north, while the South East Grounds off Shellharbour are also worthwhile.

Black marlin are the main target but there will be striped marlin and even some blues about. It’s not out of the question to get a grand slam of all three in one day.

As for other surface activity there are some small yellowfin tuna and striped tuna out around the shelf while in closer there are bonito, mackerel tuna and frigate mackerel. So just about all the tuna species are represented this month.

If you throw in salmon and yellowtail kings there is plenty of pelagic action about. The kings are around Rangoon Island, the islands off Port Kembla and out on Bellambi Reef. For best results you will need to be up early and on the spots already with live baits in the water. When the sun gets up, the bite starts to slow down quickly before stopping mid-morning.

The salmon are all over the place and a school could pop up anywhere in close, so always keep a small lure on one of your rods for when the surface action starts.

Also about over the reefs are samson fish, rainbow runners, tailor, silver trevally and a few teraglin. Snapper up to 2kg have started to show on the close reefs along with the odd larger fish and they should get better by the end of the month.

The bottom-bouncers are having a ball on flathead, with every patch of sand producing and just about every boat getting a feed. There have even been a few nice flounder at the back of Port Kembla Beach. Small hammerheads and whaler sharks are common. Sweep, a few mowies and even a few small jewies are rounding out most boxes.


Off the rocks the action is very good, particularly off the deeper ledges. There’s plenty of surface activity off Kiama, Bombo, Bass Point, Port Kembla and Coal Cliff rocks. Kings, salmon, trevally, tailor, frigate mackerel and bonito are active, particularly early morning. During the evenings it is worth a throw in the quiet bays for bream and trevally.

Blackfish should start to move along the ocean rocks towards the end of the month and are well worth a look, as they are big bronze bruisers rather than the scrawny dark local fish you see most of the year.

The beaches are a real mixed grill with early mornings and late evenings the best times, thus avoiding the hot sun and the swimmers. Bream, tailor, salmon, flathead, dart, whiting and jewies are all on the move and it should not be too hard to scratch up a feed.

Windang and Port Kembla beaches are fishing well for whiting but they are on most beaches, with beach worms a must for good catches. Bream are in the deeper gutters and like worms, too, while pilchards are taking tailor, flathead and salmon in most good gutters. Coniston, Fairy Meadow, Stanwell Park, Bombo and South Shell Harbour are all top spots.

During the evenings there have been some nice jewies taken but they have been a bit quiet. They started off with a real bang before Christmas but then slowed right down.


There are still plenty of flathead in the channel at Lake Illawarra with live prawns and poddy mullet top baits and soft plastics working well. Chopper tailor are keeping the retailers of plastics happy as they chew their way through bodies on almost every other cast in some spots.

There are whiting down near the entrance, along with a few nice blackfish on worms. Up in the creeks there are heaps of big mullet which give a good account of themselves on bread baits in a bread berley trail.

Prawns have been on the move during the darks with up to 3kg a night for scoopers on good evenings and three prawns on bad ones. There are really only two good darks left, so make the most of them.

Minnamurra has some nice flathead along its entire length with whiting and blackfish on worms from the entrance up to the rail bridge and on the sand flats opposite the golf course. There are a few trevally around the bridge pylons and the report of small mangrove jack as well.


I leave on a sad note: My beloved 500-litre bait freezer died the other day after 20 years of loyal service. It was a reliable keeper of bait of all kinds – if it was not in the freezer, it didn’t exist.

It was a strange brand; so far no one has been able to track down a maker as it went under the trade name of Franger. I once thought about selling it but nobody replied to the ad, which kind of read strangely, so it rattled and banged along in the garage for years until the other day.

Now a second-hand 320-litre Westinghouse sits where the beloved Franger once stood. It will be a long time before anyone else will get 20 years of continuous use out of a Franger.

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