Published On: May 6th, 2019Last Updated: March 24th, 20223.8 min read

Florida Keys Dolphin Tournament Fishing

The first weekend of May every year, the Marathon Bull and Cow tournament kicks off the start of Mahi Tournament season. You’ve probably already read about how the Main Attraction Fishing Fleet prepares for sailfish tournaments, but now we are switching gears and starting dolphin season. Tournaments are different from standard charter fishing as the stakes are higher and the fishing days are longer. Just like with sailfish tournaments a well-qualified and well-prepared Captain and Mate are an absolute must for success.

First, many hours are spent behind the scenes, prepping the equipment. Each reel is checked and maintained and re-spooled with fresh line, leaders and hooks. Extra supplies are ordered and on hand, ie. Sharp J-hooks, copper wire for rigging, and plenty of brined ballyhoo. Fresh live bait is loaded onto the boat and ready to attract a big Bull or Cow Mahi.

A Captain’s meeting is held the night before the tournament to make sure the anglers are properly registered, the tournament rules are distributed and reviewed, and tournament items are picked up. Typically, when you fish a tournament, shirts and other door prizes are given to each angler. Also, at the Captain’s meeting, the Calcutta is paid which is basically a side pool where you can bet on you and your crew often for something like catching the largest fish of a particular species.

The tournament rules must be carefully reviewed. The rules should spell out when it is legal to place lines in the water and when lines must be removed, how many lines are allowed at one time, what type of line is allowed, and the fishing boundaries. When large amounts of money are on the line, polygraphs are issued to the winning captain, to reassure all rules have been followed.

Tournaments are longer fishing days than the typical charter. Captains prefer to leave early and get to the fishing grounds for the lines in time. Captains and Mates are always looking for large debris that hold bait fish, low flying frigate birds, 2-4 birds working an area, and weeds. With a tall tower, like most of our vessels, our Captains and Mates can sometimes spot fish swimming on the surface. A good Captain/Mate will have a pitch rod ready and several live bait rods rigged and ready. When a Captain sees fish, it can be seconds before they are pointing in a direction for the mate to cast to the fish. Sight fishing is very exciting and hooking into a huge slammer sized Mahi is always an adrenaline rush for everyone onboard.

Main Attraction Charters are currently entered into the Marathon Tom Thumb Dolphin Tournament / Bull and Cow, Habitat for Humanity Mother’s Day Tournament, ECA Private Tournament out of Hawk’s Cay, Electrician’s Private Tournament out of Hawk’s Cay, Roofer’s Private Tournament out of Hawk’s Cay, and Father’s Day Dolphin Derby. If you have a Mahi tournament that you’d like Main Attraction to fish for you, we highly suggest reserving sooner then later. We book tournaments 6-8 months in advance. Please contact us to find out how we fish tournaments and how we can fish for you!

Update: Congrats to Captain Marty Lewis and Mate Digger Rodamer of the Main Attraction 1 for winning the Calcutta for largest Cow and taking 2nd Place in top 3 combined Mahi weight for the first Mahi tournament of the 2019 season, the Marathon Bull and Cow tournament. Good luck to them this season, and track their progress this year here on our tournaments page.

Commonly used Florida Keys Mahi related terms (some used in this article)
Mahi – Hawaiian name for a Dolphin Fish. Often used so as not to cause confusion with the Dolphin mammal.
Bull – A male Mahi.
Cow – A female Mahi.
Slammer – A Mahi over 30lbs.
Gaffer – A Mahi large enough to gaff but under 30lbs.
Lifter – A Mahi large enough to keep (20 inches to the fork) but not big enough to gaff. Hence, they can be lifted into the boat using the leader.
Schoolie – A smaller Mahi caught in a group of other similar sized Mahi.
Peanut – An undersized Mahi not legal to harvest.
J-Hooks – also commonly referred to as longshank hooks in the Keys these are technically called o’shaughnessy hooks which feature an extra long shank allowing quick removal of the hook from a Mahi in order to reuse on the remaining fish in the school.

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