By Jonathan Booysen
THE most highly anticipated arrival of any summer gamefish species is most probably that of the dorado. I consider dorado to be my all-time favourite gamefish; they are abundant, fast growing, exciting fighters that are as beautiful as they are good to eat. Dorado are relatively easy to catch and will eat everything from large lures trolled for marlin to chunks of sardine on bottom rods.
I still get viskoors whenever I spot those blue pectoral fins in the water. That sight can change a totally calm and collected person into a fumbling, shaky wreck trying to get hold of anything that can be cast to the free-swimming fish. This is part of what makes a dorado one of the most popular summer target species.
WHERE TO LOOK
Dorado are fond of hanging around any floating debris such as logs, containers, ropes etc. The longer the object has been floating at sea, the more growth it will have on it and it will house a number of smaller fish. These small fish will be the draw card for hungry dorado and it is not uncommon to find large shoals nearby.
As one might imagine, a ship that has been anchored offshore for an extended period is a magnet for dorado. Anglers can use apps on their phones to check which ships have been around the longest and head straight to them with excellent results. When fishing around the ships, the shoals tend to hang around the anchor chain, so one needs to practice caution when getting close.
Another dead giveaway for where dorado will be found is wherever there’s a strong current line, temp break or colour line. Pieces of debris gather in these areas and provide refuge for baitfish. Dorado patrol these lines looking for bait shoals to feed on.
My favourite conditions for catching dorado are when there’s a south-westerly wind of 10- to 15 knots, causing a slight chop on the water. A good north to south current with blue 25°C (or warmer) water is ideal.
Trolling is probably one of the best ways to find fish because you can cover a lot of ground and get a good idea of the water conditions over a larger area.
Dorado will eat just about anything that is trolled behind the boat, but definitely show a preference for surface lures. Small squid daisy chains and medium size lures in a variety of colours are a sure-fire way to catch them.
Soft head lures rigged with strips of tuna or dorado belly or squid make an excellent combination and give you second chance at a fish if it missed the first time.
Lures should be rigged on nylon leaders of about 100 lb. When dorado are around, there is also a good chance that billfish will be in the area. Many marlin and sails have been caught while fishing for dorado, so make sure your tackle is up to scratch.
When you find an area that is holding a few dorado and the bite slows on lures, switch to a different method to work that area.
Slow trolling is a very popular way to fish for gamefish and is definitely my favourite. One can pull live bait or fresh dead bait just slow enough speed to work an area properly.
Live maasbanker and mackerel are my favourite live baits to use when slow trolling. I use a standard ’cuda trace with a 1 metre section of #5 piano wire from a power swivel to the 2/0 nose hook. From there I connect two #1 VMC treble hooks with #7 wire. If the baits are smaller, I only put one treble in the body. Some baits are rigged with dusters and others just have a small green bead on the nose.
When mainly dorado are around, I swim most of my baits on the surface but always have one deep line out just in case. If I can’t get live bait then quality dead baits will work just as well and on the odd occasion even better than livies. I rig them on the same traces as my livies, but I add a small chin weight or bait swimmer to improve their presentation.
While moving along at a slow pace, I like to cast surface lures such as stick baits; the sound of a lure landing on the water draws fish in from a distance and improves your catch rate. I also always have two spinning rods rigged with a single hook on nylon leader, ready for pitch baits.
If the weather conditions are very calm and the sun is bright, it pays to change to a nylon or flourocarbon leader with a single J-hook through the nose of a livie. Fish with a loose drag like you would do for garrick and feed the fish when you get a strike. This change improves your strike rate but often means losing any other species with teeth. I have tried circle hooks but they tend to gut hook most fish as they swallow the bait so quickly.
When you have found a shoal of dorado or an area where other boats are catching them, it’s a good idea to drift. If there is little wind, I stop the boat so that I can fish off the side, then I put out two deeper baits and three surface baits. Sardine, mackerel and halfbeaks are my favourite dead baits for drifting, especially if they are good quality.
When drifting it is important to set up a chum line using any oily fish like sardines or mackerel. Not only does this attract the fish, but it also creates a visual marker for you to see where to set up your next drift. Once again I keep a surface lure in the water to draw in fish and two spinning rods ready to cast a livey or a sardine or mackerel chunk at free-swimming fish.
At the end of a drift, I put out some surface lures and fast troll back up to the beginning of the drift and start the process over again.
DON’T BE HASTY
Regardless of which method you have used to hook the fish, it is a good idea to keep it in the water for a few extra minutes to see if there are any more dorado following it. If you spot a second fish, either throw a handful of sardine chunks into the water to keep the shoal around or cast out a hooked bait. Make sure to give it some time to swallow the bait before striking. When the second fish is hooked up, proceed to load the first one and repeat the cycle.
Dorado are notorious for causing havoc on the deck of a boat especially when a lively fish jumps off the gaff, so make sure you’re properly prepared before gaffing the fish. When the fish is presented next to the boat, gaff it close to the head and lift it into the boat.
Try not to let the fish touch the boat gunnel or deck as it will start thrashing. Have the hatch lid already open so that the fish can be put inside as quickly as possible.
Once it’s off the gaff, close the lid straight away. Don’t worry about removing the hooks until the fish has expired; if you are lucky, by the time you open the hatch the hooks will be loose already.