Catching dorado in KZN

[Originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

By Justin Paynter

WITH the sun rising earlier each day as we head towards summer, anglers who drive on the M4 highway in Durban parallel to the sea eagerly scan the water. We also scout around to find out who has fished the last few days so we can ask what the water temp is doing on the outside.
Then we also watch social media with huge anticipation, waiting for the first pictures of the summer fish to be posted. KwaZulu-Natal offers an abundance of gamefish species to target, but this article is aimed at the green and gold acrobatic fish that we all love to catch — the mahi mahi, dolphin fish, popcorn bream or dorado. It is also known as the chicken of the sea, so you know it’s one of the best eating fish around.
This article is aimed at sharing info on how to target these fish, when to target them and what baits/lures are most effective.

Dorado are pelagic fish that move with the warm ocean currents, travelling in large shoals, hunting schools of baitfish. On the east coast of South Africa, we wait for that warm Moçambique current to start making its way down the coast before we start looking for dorado. When the water starts to change to that deep purple colour and our temperature readings start to go above the 24 degree mark, it’s game on.
Sodwana and Cape Vidal are very good indicators of when these fish have started to make their appearance. The odd picture is normally posted early in October from the above mentioned areas, and come December good catches are reported all the way along the coastline, right down to Shelley Beach and even the Wild Coast.
The dorado normally stay around until late April, or for as long as we have warm water of a decent quality.

Some of the spots where you should look for dorado are:
• Bait marks
• Along colour/current lines
• Wherever there are major changes in contour lines and drop offs
• Where there’s a change in water temperature
• Shipping lanes; dorado love a floating object, and ships are the perfect place for them to hide and surprise attack their prey. Please ensure that you adhere to marine regulations and that you stay a safe distance from the ships.
These fish can be caught in pretty much any area that has good water quality and reasonably warm water (24˚C and up).
In some parts of the world anglers are allowed to use fish aggregating devices (FADs) to catch these fish, but please note that this is illegal in South Africa, and FADs cause major damage to ships and ski-boats if they get caught in their propellers. Please refrain from this sort of fishing.

There is always much debate over what rods and reels to use, so I’m just going to give you my preference for trolling and pitching a bait. I like to use the Daiwa Saltist 40H multipliers, paired with the Daiwa Grand wave boat rod or Dorado Ski for trolling.
Line class is up to you. Socially most guys will use the Maxima Ultra green either 14- or 16kg line. If you are a competitive angler, use either 6- or 10kg line. Remember, these fish generally range in size between 4- and 10kg so you don’t need heavy tackle to winch them out the water.
They are extremely enjoyable to catch and put on quite an acrobatic performance.
For pitching a bait or throwing stick baits for them, I like to use the BG 762MS rod and a BG 5000 grinder paired with 40-pound braid.

Trolling for these fish is extremely exciting because dorado normally hunt in large shoals and you will usually get multiple hook ups at once.
These fish like a fast-moving object, and at the end of the day you are trying force a reaction bite. A normal spread on my boat will be either two Rapala Magnum Dive Baits (Saltwater X-Rap) or two Williamson Speed-Pros. In the Rapala range, my two favourite colours are the Red Head UV and the Silver Blue Mackerel, and in the Williamson range my favourite is the bright pink.
I normally have these lures close to the boat (8-12m), and you will be surprised how often you get a pull on the close lures.
Many anglers believe that the engines scare off the fish, but some believe that the disturbance caused by the engines and the aeration of the water makes the dorado curious, and when they see what looks like a fish they see it as a great opportunity to attack.
I then have two lines further out (15–20m back) with small “softies/ konas” on. Purple and pink are your go-to colours.
Then, in the middle, I have a “Hong Kong” (25m back) which is a bigger kona. This rod is normally stood upright in the T-Top. I set this rod to pick up a sailie, marlin,wahoo or even a big tuna while targeting dorado.
Trolling speed differs from boat to boat and will also depend on sea conditions/current which also play a major part. There is no ideal speed; I just like to pull the lures as fast as I can, giving them the optimal performance in the water. If a lure starts to jump out the water or not track nicely, you must adjust your speed accordingly.

As I mentioned earlier, dorado hunt in shoals, so when you are trolling and get a hook up, your crew needs to be awake and ready for what’s to come.
First things first — clear all the lines and put all the rods away. Then get your crew to take a spinning rod with a grinder and pitch a bait in the vicinity of where the hooked fish is. Your crew member must have the bail arm up. Nine times out of ten, another fish will pick up the live bait.
The way you strike is determined by the type of hook you use. If you are fishing with a circle hook, as soon as the fish attacks your bait, count to three and flip the bail arm closed. In theory, the fish should have hooked itself. Don’t strike it like you are sliding a bait from the beach or you will pull the circle hook right out the fish’s mouth.
If you are using a J hook, count to ten before fipping the bail arm over; this allows the fish to swallow the bait and then it’s game on.
Another crew member can then either throw another bait or a stick bait. A stick bait is a great way to get them to bite if the fishing is slow.
Once one fish has been boated, repeat the process as this ensures you keep the shoal of fish with you while you are drifting and fighting the fish.
Another good option is to keep a bucket of chopped up 5kg sardines and, while you are fighting the fish, get a crew member to throw over a few chunks as a time. This will help ensure that the shoal sticks with the boat and you are able to capitalise on the fish you have found.

Something that I am going to try more this season is to identify a specific drop off or area that has produced fish in the past. I am going to drift live baits on the surface and chum while doing so. It is not something that I have done much of, but I have heard of some great success stories using this method over the past few seasons.
My plan will be to fish four rods, one on the Scotty downrigger at around 15m, the next on a 3 ounce sinker, and two on the surface. On two of the rods I plan to use a Pulsator duster, either the Pink HD65 or the Live Glow CD60. I will use anything from a No 4- to 6 hook, and I guess only time will tell whether it works.

• Use five trolling rods.
• Set up four spinning rods (two with hooks for live bait and two with stick baits).
• Make sure you have two gaffs.
• Use lots of pink and purple lures; in my opinion these are the dorados’ favourite colours.
• There’s no need to go heavier than 40-pound leader.
• Carry a wet towel on the boat. These fish go crazy when they are brought onboard. If you throw a wet towel over their eyes, they calm down and it is much easier to remove the hook.
• Fish with a long leader if you are using a J hook. If you plan on keeping the fish you catch, it is much easier to cut the leader and retrieve your hook when you get back to the beach and fillet the fish.

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