Dolphin and the Birds
One of the best places to find these drag burning green screamers is on the edge of the worlds mightiest river, the Gulf Stream, which flows from southwest to northeast off the Florida Keys. The northern edge can vary from a couple of miles south of the reef to as much as forty miles, depending on season and wind. The Stream carries floating debris, weeds and all sorts of habitat for pelagic species such as dolphin. Birds, namely the frigate or man-o-war bird cruise the Stream edge looking for a meal. The frigate bird is your ticket to big dolphin. These large birds have wingspans of up to six feet and can hover or circle on the thermals for long periods of time. It is said that a frigate bird can see down in the water up to 100 feet. This bird is our spy in the sky for finding dolphin. When a frigate spots fish, it will start flying in lazy circles over the spot, very high up. The frigate will continue circling until the fish come up to feed or they go deep and the frigate loses sight. When you see the frigate bird start circling close to the water or maybe come right down on the water, this is when you want to get to that spot fast and get some baits out. This means the fish have come up to feed and the frigate is there to pick up the scraps or chase down a tasty flying fish. The frigate will sometimes stop circling and fly off in a straight line. This is a good time to pick up lines and follow the frigate bird. Watch the surface under the frigate bird and you may see some weeds or other floating objects with smaller birds called terns working the surface.
The terns, tuna birds or bonito birds, as they are sometimes called, can be seen singly, in large flocks or just three or four birds. A large flock of birds diving into the water or actually sitting on the water and looking down into the water usually means tuna. They could be little tunys, skipjack tuna or black fin tuna. These large flocks can be very frustrating, as they move very quickly from spot to spot chasing the feeding tuna. The only way to work these tuna is by trolling very fast with very small weighted bait such as a Tackle Box Tuna Killer. Place the baits at least 100 yards behind the boat, get you speed up to at least 10 knots and try to circle around the feeding birds dragging your Tuna Killers right through the feeding tuna. When you see these birds singly or in-groups of 2 to 10 birds and they are sort of diving and swooping over patches of weed or a weed line, they are following feeding dolphin. The terns will not dive into the water when dolphin are feeding because the dolphin will sometimes eat a diving bird! The dolphin feed on the small fish that hide under the Sargasso weed and the birds swoop in to pick up the scraps or perhaps grab a flying fish that is being chased by a dolphin. The trick is to get around to the west of where you see these terns working and troll your baits in a circle around where the birds are working. Triple D lures are the best because they can be trolled fast without washing out the bait. You must be very mobile to work the birds. Now that you have hooked up a dolphin it's time to work the school. Some simple rules for keeping and working a school of dolphin are:
1. If the fish is over 20 pounds, get him in the boat!
2. Keep the freshest dolphin in the water, two are even better.
3. Have at least 2 doz. fresh ballyhoo cut up and ready to go, nobody wants to cut bait when the dolphin are feeding around the boat.
4. Rig your schoolie rods with snap swivels, so that rigs can be changed quickly and have plenty of schoolie rigs ready (3 feet of 50 pound leader a 6/0 3407 Mustad hook, very sharp, tied with a surgeon's knot loop on the other end).
5. Have a live bait ready to cast when the big dolphin shows up.
6. Don't panic!
Always keep a watchful eye beyond where the school action is happening as you may see a 40-pound plus dolphin circling looking for a schoolie or other live bait to eat. Schools of dolphin in a feeding frenzy attract all kinds of attention from other large fish including blue marlin, wahoo and sharks. One crewmember should also keep track of where the birds are. That way if you loose the school, you can move right back to where the dolphin are feeding and continue your quest. You can also ues the Man Overboard feature on your GPS to get back to you last strike.
Remember, for good dolphin fishing it's preparation, preparation and more preparation. No body likes to cut bait or rig hooks when the school is at the boat!