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Mother Nature flexing her muscles

It would be a brave soul contemplating a fishing trip this weekend. Mother Nature is starting to flex her muscle and there are plenty of signs that the summer is over and that winter mode will set in.

It can happen rather suddenly and considering the cold weather that has affected much of North America and Europe, it is to be expected. Say ‘goodbye' to the long hours of sunshine and warm weather; what nature doesn't change, the reversion to standard time next weekend will.

Although largely fine, much of the weather has been against offshore expeditions and the fact of the matter is that the commercial operators are focusing on spiny lobsters, a few boats have demonstrated recently that it is possible to manage a mixed bag of sorts.

These have consisted primarily, as one might expect, of wahoo and barracuda. Although the latter are not the most desirable fish in the world, they have been a real staple in the fillet world for many years. They are a white meat fish and although they don't give much in the weight to size ratio, there are plenty of commercial fishermen who will say that a fair portion of their late season sales have been comprised of barracuda.

Although the ‘cuda are numerous and fairly willing to please: cutting live baits to shreds and not turning their noses up at traditional trolled offerings either, it is the other species in the mixed bag that are of interest.

Some of these are what you might predict: yellowfin and blackfin tuna, large mackerel and rainbow runners (yes, they do take trolled lures) and bonita/amberjack. Something of a surprise is the occurrence of a few dolphinfish, aka mahimahi or what we used to call just plain “dolphin”.

In more recent times, we have used the term ‘dolphin' to relate to the mammal. Actually, that old television series about Flipper, the bottle-nosed dolphin, and an overall increase in awareness of marine mammals especially whales and dolphins, has done a lot to change the thinking of the ordinary person.

Now, you can put yourself at risk by telling a land lubber that you caught and killed three dolphin. And all you did was go fishing for a long-acknowledged game fish species.

Happily, the Hawaiian name for dolphin was mahimahi, so that found its way into the English angling language and although some effort was meant to integrate the Spanish name dorado, that also leads to confusion with some freshwater species already having laid claim to that name.

As to this tropical species itself, it is certainly well-travelled.

The term ‘tropical' is used because that is where this fish is most often found and found throughout the world's oceans. A true pelagic wanderer, it is known to be a very fast growing species with juveniles and adults found in many locations, often ranging into the more subtropical regions of the world. Apart from being recognised as having gourmet value, this species is best known for its association with floating objects.

In any account of being lost at sea for weeks, drifting about in a raft or dinghy, almost always the fish that shows up and gives the narrator some hope is the dolphin.

In Bermuda, although dolphin are regularly encountered, there is no real season. This is different from many parts of the rest of its extensive range where certain weather conditions or seasons are associated with influxes of the fish.

Notably off the east coast of the USA, the arrival of large mats of seaweed are associated with the arrival of dolphin. That does not seem to be the case here, although just about any other bit of flotsam might well harbour a school of dolphin. Naturally, the problem is that you cannot predict when and where flotsam is going to show up, not to mention, it can take all forms.

Because of the general inconsistency of this species, most catches come as something of a surprise, with the finding of a floating object surrounded by them just about the only time that they can be caught in numbers. Size also varies widely from “grasshoppers” in the one-two pound range to much larger fish that can seriously challenge light tackle although the world records are probably never threatened by the fish that show up here.

In Bermuda a 40-pounder is a large specimen. In areas like Mexico, Costa Rica and elsewhere where the baggies are found, it takes something in the 80-pound range to even be considered as having record potential.

Quite possibly it is the warm water all year round that lets the dolphin attain its greatest sizes in the tropics. They are not thought to be long-lived fish but they are recognised as voracious feeders that will take just about anything. Anglers will attest to this as dolphin have been known to grab at bare hooks! Not a particularly selective creature.

In any case, cold-blooded organisms like fish have their metabolism affected by the water temperature, so warm water all year long, has them in maximum feed and grow mode all year round. That could easily lead to larger sizes, especially if this is taking place in an area where food is abundant.

And, just to keep things complicated, there are at least two species of dolphin, both of which can be caught here.

The less known one is what is called a “pompano” dolphin (aren't fish names great?). They are smaller than their counterpart, show more of a silvery colouration although there are plenty of greens and blues and yellows as well. They also have a more rounded head although the fact that males' head structure can differ markedly from a females' makes this an unreliable form of identification. They are much less common here but they can and do occur.

Even though a few have been caught lately, do not even thank about going on a dolphin expedition. Offshore fishing here, at this time of the year when pickings are slim, has to concentrate on the more reliable game species and that does not include our bright yellow friends.

Any venture offshore using the usual trolling tactics should offer the angler at least a fair chance at catching any that might happen to be in the vicinity. Some argue that they prefer bright colours like green and yellow (ever wonder if they might be cannibalistic?) but they are not at all fussy.

Baits and lures intended for wahoo or tuna will do just fine and, should they suddenly show up in a chum line, just about anything will do.

One quirk worth remembering is that if a school shows up they will usually stay as long as at least one of their number remains near the boat. So the usual tactic is to hook one and get it to the boat but keep it in the water so that the rest of the school hangs around within casting range. Sometimes this can lead to catching the entire school — no mean feat, but certainly a successful one that can involve lots of Tight lines!!!

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Published October 26, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm)

Mother Nature flexing her muscles

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