August 10, 2023
When it comes to mahi fishing, every captain on the ocean has a love/hate relationship with seaweed, and more specifically, sargassum.
I was told for many years that mahi love shade. They supposedly hung out under seaweed to get out of the sun for a while. I totally believed that theory until I started noticing there’s different kinds of seaweed, and while they all provide shade, they most definitely don’t all provide mahi.
Weedlines are formed by two bodies of water colliding. This is most often caused by tides around river mouths, or two bodies of water coming together offshore, often as a result of the Gulf Stream current off the east coast, or the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico.
When two active, rapidly moving currents collide, the weedlines are often choppy and tight, and full of life. The sargassum will be tan in color, and the line easy to follow. Flyingfish, birds and various kinds of baitfish will all show you you’re in the right place, and your fishing should be easy and productive. Those are truly the days I live for. If the weeds are darker, and possibly have a reddish tint to them, the sargassum is dead, and isn’t usually productive. I have also come across what appeared to be fantastic lines of sargassum from a distance, only to find out it was made of eelgrass that had apparently been uprooted from inshore flats. Once again, pretty and shady, but generally unproductive.
Here is a classic video on how to prepare a ballyhoo for rigging and how to rig a ballyhoo for trolling that has the most productive hook-up ratio, but it is not weedless. See below for a weedless variant of this method.
Sargassum is best because it serves as the ultimate haven for tiny shrimp, crabs and just about every fish in the sea. If your kids ever get bored offshore, have them scoop up a batch of sargassum in your livewell dip net, and shake it out on the gunnel. Chances are it will look like a mini Sea World. I have dipped many a tiny mahi, and even a few baby sailfish, along with other unidentified billfish.
The hardest, but often quite productive, landscape to fish is an area of scattered seaweed. That can drive your crew crazy trying to shag weeds and keep baits in the water. I don’t remember how many years ago master rigger Doug Scott showed me the simple trick of turning the spike on an old-time ballyhoo rig upside down and burying it in the back of a ballyhoo. It makes it possible to avoid lots of weeds, and shake off what does catch on your ballyhoo. It is, however, more difficult to get the hook into the jaw of a schoolie dolphin, than it is when the hook protrudes out the belly.
Captain Alan Sherman of “Get Em” Sportfishing Charters in Miami was the first one who got me thinking like a freshwater bass fisherman. “Those guys fish in the thickest weeds possible every day by choice,” he once remarked. If rigging a swim bait weedless works for bass, why not mahi? They’ve never been the pickiest eaters. If you can get a swimming bait in front of them, especially in an area too weedy to troll through with your regular spread, there’s a good chance they’ll eat it.
Using an Owner “Beast” 7/0 hook makes it simple to rig a good swimbait, such as a DOA Cal Shad, to cut through the weeds. Rigging it plain gives you a good surface action while a half-ounce bullet weight will give it the great swimming action the lure is famous for.
Alan fully believes the swimbaits are just as good as ballyhoo when it comes to fooling mahi.
Captain Ray Rosher, also in Miami, is another big fan of lures for mahi. Rosher says his R+R Tackle Company Mahi Magnet is deadly at finding mahi for him because he can pull it faster than ballyhoo.
So I guess the question is, if swimbaits are so lifelike, why are 95 percent of us still paying for ballyhoo, not to mention the time we have invested in rigging them? I guess up to now it’s been impossible to replicate the scent of a natural bait. Well, if that’s the case, Scott Jones with Fishbites says they have a new Dirty Boxer model curly tail that stretches out to about 9 inches, when on the troll. Berkley makes a powerfully scented Gulp! Grub in 6 inches, also a great candidate. Rigging any swimbait with the screw-type Twist Lock on the Owner Beast hook keeps it virtually weedless. I have found a single drop of Super Glue placed at the base of the spring keeps the hook in place.
Now, I’m going to keep on pulling ballyhoo, mullet and strips every time I’m in clear water, or I’m trolling along a tightly defined edge. I will never again, however, leave a fishy-looking area, just because it has too many weeds to troll the area with conventionally rigged ballyhoo. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine August/September 2022