Gold in the air
Great friend of Fish and Fly, Juan Del Carmen, has recently left his native Spain and is enjoying the saltwater fly fishing down in Australia. Here is his definitive guide to dorado fishing in the tropical seas. After many visits, Juan assures us that it doesn't come more exciting than this
The scientific name is Coryphaena Hippurus and Coryphaena Equiselis, but the popular names are Dorado, Dolphin Fish and Mahi Mahi.
Dorado means gold in Spanish. This fish is one of the most attractive of all the game fish that live in the sea. They are usually bright greenish-blue along the back and have liberal amounts of blue spots over their golden flanks, with very bright electric blue pectoral fins. They can exceed 50 miles per hour for short bursts. The females have a rounded forehead while males have a high and step like forehead.
This fantastic, dynamic, fast and colourful fish is one of the most successful species of the tropical waters worldwide. They like deep water and love to hang around anything that floats, like seaweed, buoys, traps and containers.
Dorados are prime fly rod sport fish for a number of reasons. They are hard-fighters and acrobatic. They spend the majority of time around the surface of the water where they are comparatively easy to reach while fly-fishing. They also grow incredibly fast: at one year old, most exceed six pounds and may be over twenty pounds by the time they are two. Three year old Dorados usually exceed thirty pounds even though few Dorados live beyond the fourth year. The world record is 87 lbs. Once the fish reach maturity they spawn every six weeks and the eggs hatch in about 60 hours.
This fast growth rate, keeps them eating constantly and they are very aggressive biters most of the time. They feed on baitfish of many sizes and gobble sardines, flying fish, mackerel, krill, garfish, squid and small tuna.
Once Dorados have been located and the boat has been placed considering the wind and the sea current, long casts won't be necessary. Casts of 25 to 70 feet, avoiding tangling the floating structures and keeping the line tense with the help of the current, will be sufficient to fish for Dolphin Fish. If we want to fish deeper we will let the fly and line sink but without losing the tension or contact with the fly. They regularly attack, striking hard and fast. If the fish takes the fly when it drops free or is drifting and the line has no tension, it will be easy for the fish to spit out the fly without the angler being aware of the take.
Retrieving with the tip of the rod pointing in the water, or even better, under the water is very important. This way the hook up will be more effective and you will miss less fish. The hook up should be done firmly with the hand not holding the rod and must keep retrieving line without lifting the rod until the hook is set up firmly in the fish's mouth. If the timing is wrong and you lift the rod late, you will risk breaking the line. The rod and the reel's drag have to absorb the first strong runs. When hooked, the fish runs hard and jumps spectacularly, slugging out all the way to the boat, only saving a bit of energy to thrash about madly whilst you attempt to either release, or land the fish.
These fish are strong and they can cause a lot of damage to you and your equipment if you land them green. The landing is much more effective if you use the bottom part of the rod instead the tip. The fight will be shorter, the fish will have more chance to survive after the release and you will soon be ready to land another fish. As they swim in groups, if you get one on the line and leave it in the water, the other members of the school will swim next to the hooked fish and your mates will have the chance to cast out the flies to a sighted fish. Once a school is around the boat, you could throw in sardines and then get them to eat flies that look and behave like sardines.
There are different flies used to target Dorado. Some are easier than others to tie but, used at the right moment, all of them will awaken the fish's appetite. As Dorados are surface fish, you can fish for them with poppers. Ideal flies in terms of effect and ease of tying are Clouser Minnows and Seaducers. The size varies between 1/0 and 5/0. The popular colours are the combinations of white/yellow; white/blue; white/chartreuse and yellow/red. Dorados can be picky. Often they will have one favourite type of food. It pays to have a range of sizes and types of flies that imitate the range of food that Dorados eat. Ordinarily the bigger fish like to feed on larger flies.
A 9 foot, 7-8 weight, fast action rod will be enough to tackle small and medium size fish, although if you want greater success at landing big ones, you will need the help of more powerful rods - 11 or 12 weight.
Use floating lines mainly with poppers. I'd rather use fast-sinking lines (III, IV and V sinking rate). These lines are designed to fish deep but if you want to fish next to the surface you only have to retrieve the line just when the fly touches the water.
Any reel that you want to use in salt water must have some quality. With a good drag and 200 yards of backing you will be able to fish comfortably in almost any saltwater expedition trip. The Hardy Gem MK II reel is a good example.
As the mouth of the Dorado has multiple groups of wicked little teeth that can chew your leader and flies, it is advised that when large fish are expected a shock tippet of 50-60 pound test is used. For small fish you can use a plain 20 pound leader, but with larger individuals you will need wire or 50-60 pound hard mono. A simple leader formula is as follows: 12 inch shock tippet, 16 inch or more of 16 or 20 class tippet, 3 foot of 50 butt section. Sections of leader can be assembled with surgeon's knots. Smaller fish can be landed on straight 20 pound test tippets.
A hat, polarised sunglasses, sun cream, forceps, clippers, rigging kit, landing net, gloves, radio or mobile phone and plenty of water should be always on board. A gaff is needed to handle large fish.
Many passionate fly fishers will never leave their fly tying kit behind but you set your own limits.
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