How to Catch Mahi Mahi in a Kayak

If you're up for an exciting new fishing challenge, consider learning how to catch Mahi Mahi in a kayak. Mahi Mahi, also known as Dolphin, are a beautifully colored, hard-fighting ocean fish, highly regarded for their sweet, mild-flavored meat. Fishing for Mahi Mahi in a kayak does require that you venture offshore, so there are some preparations you must make before paddling out into the open ocean.

Here's a video of a guy who landed a good size Mahi from his kayak.‚Äč

Gear for Mahi Mahi Fishing

The world record Mahi Mahi weighed in at 88 pounds, but most are in the 10-40 pound range. When hooked, Mahi Mahi make high-speed runs that will rip line off your reel, so you need a reel with a good, smooth drag that will let line out evenly.

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Rod and Reel

If you do a lot of inshore saltwater fishing, your heavier gear will work just fine. A 7-foot, medium/heavy weight rod paired with a saltwater spinning reel loaded with 30lb braided line is a good go-to setup.

Many anglers opt for baitrunner-style reels, as fishing live bait or chunk bait is often used to catch Mahi Mahi.

A baitrunner reel is also great for fishing in a kayak, especially when trolling, as you can leave your rod in the holder, and when a fish takes your bait, you'll have plenty of time to react without your reel going overboard.


When fishing with either live or cut bait, many anglers prefer to use circle hooks. When trolling or drifting live or cut baits rigged on circle hooks, when a fish takes the bait, all you need to do is tighten the line and the circle hook will practically set itself in the corner of the fish's mouth.


Fluorocarbon leaders are generally best when fishing for Mahi Mahi as the water they frequent is typically clear green or blue and fluorocarbon is less visible. A 4 to 5-foot fluorocarbon leader in 25 to 60lb test will give the bait a more natural presentation and be strong enough for a powerful Mahi Mahi.

Bait and Lures

Live bait and cut bait are great for catching Mahi Mahi, but artificial lures can be very effective as well. Live and cut bait are often trolled or drifted. Artificial lures work best once you've located a school of Mahi Mahi that you can cast to.

You'll want to source your live bait from the same locale you planning on fishing, either by cast netting in the shallows or by purchasing bait from a local bait shop. As far as artificial lures go, you can get creative because once you find Mahi Mahi that are actively feeding, they'll hit just about anything. Top water plugs, poppers, bucktail jigs, soft plastics... the brighter and flashier, the better.

Your Kayak

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Unless you're an experienced ocean kayaker, a sit-on-top kayak is the vessel of choice. The ocean can get rough, and there's always a chance you'll get knocked overboard or flipped. With a sit-on-top kayak, you'll be able to climb back in your kayak much easier than a sit-inside kayak.

Your standard inshore fishing kayak will work for offshore fishing for Mahi Mahi, but longer kayaks tend to handle better in the ocean.

Several manufacturers make ocean-specific kayaks for fishing, and if you foresee much offshore Mahi Mahi fishing in your future, one of these specialized kayaks would be a wise investment.

Safety equipment

For most kayak fishermen, paddling in the ocean is a whole new game, and certain precautions must be taken. Here is a minimum list of safety gear you need on your kayak when paddling offshore:

For longer trips that take you farther away from civilization, it's recommended that you bring the following:

Head Out at the Right Time

When planning your Mahi Mahi kayak fishing trip, it's important to time it right to increase your chances of hooking into fish while at the same time staying safe.

Water Temperature

Generally, Mahi Mahi travel away from the equator when the water starts to warm up in the springtime. They will move into near-offshore waters that are accessible by kayak as the water reaches the ideal temperature range of 78.8 to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you head out, be sure to look at a sea-surface temperature map to make sure your area is within the ideal temperature range.


Kayaking in the ocean can be dangerous if done in hazardous conditions. You need to plan your trip according to the weather, and it's safe to be on the conservative side when doing so. Summer thunderstorms, frontal conditions, high winds, and heavy swells are conditions you'll want to avoid when planning your offshore paddle excursion.

Launching Your Kayak from the Beach

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You'll most likely be launching your kayak from the beach and you'll need to paddle through the surf to get where the fish are.

When waves get above 2 or 3 feet, you'll have a harder time getting through the surf.

The best time to launch off the beach is when the waves die down and it's relatively calm.

If all the other conditions are good, but the waves are bit higher than you'd wish for, if you time the waves right you'll have a chance at getting through the surf. Typically, waves come in sets of 6 to 8. After a set, there is usually a calmer period during which you'll be able to paddle out.

You need to be careful when handling your kayak in the surf zone. Try to keep your kayak facing the waves head-on. If your kayak goes sideways, there is more mass for the wave to catch and your kayak could knock you or someone else over.

Finding Mahi Mahi

Once you paddle out past the surf zone, your mission is to find the Mahi Mahi. Luckily, when the water temperature is right, your chances are good, as long as you know a few key tips.

Find Structure

Mahi Mahi like to hang around structure, both for protection from larger pelagic predators and for their own hunting purposes. Anything floating in the ocean is a prime feeding station for Mahi Mahi -- buoys, weed lines, floating grass, floating timber, pallets -- anything that floats is fair game.

Find Changes in Water Color

A change in water color is usually a sign of a change in water temperature. Your goal is to find those zones of water that are in the prime temperature range for Mahi Mahi.

Catching Mahi Mahi

It's good practice to move around a lot when searching for Mahi Mahi. And the nice thing about fishing from a kayak is that when you're moving, you can be trolling. Set up your rods off the back of your kayak with either live or cut bait on circle hooks, drift them out the back and start seeking out structure.

If you find good structure and the right water temperature, you're bound to find schooling Mahi Mahi. The fish in schools will generally be similar in size, anywhere from 1 pound up to 20 pounds.

Once you find a school, you can tie on your artificial lure of choice and cast away. Larger fish are often solitary or in mating pairs. However, there are times when you'll find larger fish near schools of smaller fish.

The Fight

Once you hook a Mahi Mahi, get ready for long runs at lightning speed. Be sure your drag is set properly to allow the fish to take the line it needs.

Mahi Mahi are also known to put on quite an aerial show, leaping high out of the water several times in a fight. You need to be extra alert when the Mahi Mahi leaps, as it could throw the hook. The key to keeping an airborne Mahi Mahi on the line is to keep pressure on the line, while following the fish with your rod tip, especially as it re-enters the water. Some anglers call this "bowing to the fish."

Landing a Mahi Mahi in a Kayak

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If you plan on releasing your catch, you can simply pull the fish alongside your kayak, pull the hook out of its mouth, revive it and let it swim away.

But, if you want to keep your catch, there are two main methods that work well for the larger fish: gaffing and netting.

Gaffing. Larger Mahi Mahi are referred to as "gaffers." Of course, to gaff a Mahi Mahi, you will need to carry a gaff on board your kayak. To land a Mahi Mahi with this method, grab your leader to bring the fish alongside your kayak, then hit it with the gaff and hoist it on board.

Netting. Grab your leader to bring the fish alongside your kayak, and scoop it up with a wide-mouthed net.

Bringing Your Catch Home

With small and medium-sized Mahi Mahi, you can store them in a cooler or a fish bag. But with larger fish, you'll need to secure it to your kayak. Using a stringer is not recommended as it can attract sharks.

To store a large Mahi Mahi on your kayak, wrap it in towels or a burlap sack and strap it to either the bow or stern of your kayak, where ever you have space. Wet the towels or burlap sack to keep the fish wet and control the slime.

Final Thoughts

Fishing for Mahi Mahi in a kayak can be quite a thrilling pursuit, and the rewards of such a quest are sure to be delicious. By taking some precautions and timing your trip right, you'll safely find your way to hungry Mahi Mahi, and you'll have one heck of a story to share! Then, once you know how to catch Mahi Mahi, you can share what you know with your fellow kayak anglers.

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