by George Poveromo

What do rod swishing, rhythm chunking and hose spraying have in common? They're great ways to make dolphin eat.
George Poveromo

JUMP SHOT: Sometimes it takes unconventional tactics to get dolphin on the feed.
Photo: Richard Gibson/


It used to be that to hold a school of dolphin near the boat, all you had to do was leave a hooked fish in the water. And while that's still an excellent tactic, it doesn't work nearly as well as it once did. Credit that to the astonishing rise in angling pressure on these fish. In short, they've caught on to us.


Dolphin, though, are still quite gullible. To successfully hold a school around the boat, you must alter your approach and focus on their curious nature. It's not so much the tried-and-true tactics that net the best results these days, but rather some "different" methods.


Too much of a good thing can hurt your hookup rate.

A big mistake many dolphin anglers make when they hit a school of fish is to begin immediately broadcasting chunks of ballyhoo or squid. By doing so, they put the school fish onto a mostly selective feed in which they might not hit bucktails or lures quite as aggressively.


AND CHUNK, TWO, THREE: Setting a rhythm when chunking often puts more dolphin in the box.
Photo: Tom Richardson

Save the chunks for when the artificial bite slows, or if the fish begin to leave. Then, toss in just three or four chunks to bring them back around and create a feeding competition. If you chunk enough to feed every fish in the school, you'll amp up their aggressiveness too quickly, and that will only hurt you when the hook baits are presented.

Should the school leave, toss a couple chunks way out, then progressively shorten the distance of your chunking. If fish are on the outskirts, they may be lured back in by well-placed chunks.


Think outside the box when running your boat.

Knowing that billfish sometimes rise to prop noise, I've since done a lot of experimentation with dolphin and found that aggressive boat maneuvers sometimes bring fish back.


An effective tactic for a twin outboard boat involves dropping one motor into forward and shifting the other motor into reverse, and throttling up to pivot the boat in place-all the while churning up a mass of whitewater and commotion. The more aggressive the throttle speed (within safe parameters, of course) the more white water you'll create.


After four or five in-place pivots, shift into neutral and sit for a few minutes. Often, all that white water creates the illusion of a big feeding spree and can lure in curious dolphin. At the very least, throttle hard in reverse or forward for ten or so feet, then stop and see what comes up. You just may be surprised.

Raise a fuss and chances are you'll raise the school.

Working on the same principles of creating splash, vibration and commotion, try using a raw-water washdown system to pique the curiosity of schoolie dolphin.

Simply turn on the hose and either lay it over the gunwale, where the water makes a constant splashing sound, or use your thumb and spray the water farther out. The sound of water hitting the surface travels far and has the ability to pull in fish from a considerable distance.

The neat thing about this tactic is that you can direct the commotion anywhere along the boat. If you want fish around your transom, spray the water behind the engines. If you want the fish amidships, direct the water flow there. The bottom line is that the hose trick will bring fish back near the boat, or at least within casting range.

A little swish in your presentation can ignite the bite.

If dolphin seem to drift off and lose their aggressiveness, begin swishing the surface with your rod tip. The more aggressively you do this, the more excited the dolphin will be when they return.

Radically splashing and swishing your fishing rod emits sounds and vibrations, which dolphin interpret as a feeding blitz. Being the gluttons they are, they're apt to circle back for a closer look.


Just be sure your fishing line doesn't become wrapped around the rod tip during the process.

When the fish come back around and swim right up to your bait or lure, don't get overly excited and try to immediately hook them. Lift the bait from the water and make sure the line isn't tip-wrapped. Then make your cast. The rifle-shot sound that you'll hear because of a parting tip-wrapped line, followed by the sight of a ten-pound dolphin in the air, doesn't do much for your pride-or the fishbox.


Rev up the motors to rev up a hungry school of fish.

Another tactic that draws dolphin back in and rekindles their interest is one that I learned by mistake. Many years ago, and some 20 miles offshore, one of my engines started to run rough.
We were in a school of dolphin and had shut down both outboards. When the fish ultimately left us, and it was time to go back on the troll, I had difficulty keeping that one motor started. I put it into neutral, advanced the throttle and started the engine. As long as I kept it revving up high, the motor remained running. What happened next caught me off guard. I instinctively looked back at that rough-running outboard, which was blowing out a lot of air and water in addition to loud noise, only to see the school of dolphin return. The engine noise had brought them back. Ever since then, I rev my motors for a minute or so and take a hard look around before heading off on the troll.


Hookless plugs create a hard-to-resist dolphin ruse.

One tactic I commonly rely upon when dolphin bail on us is to cast a large, hookless chugging plug as far as possible, and work it back to the boat with radical action. I'll take an eight-inch, cup-faced surface plug and tie it to a 12-pound spinning outfit. The big lure combines with the light tackle to really let me cast a long way. This can be the key to bringing back dolphin that have moved off a good distance.
Remain stationary and fancast a full 360 degrees around the boat in an attempt to cover as much of the water as possible. Dolphin will key in on the deep chugging sound emitted by the plug and often follow it right back to the boat, where they can then easily be switch-baited with another outfit that's rigged and ready to go. Multiple hookups are common.


Catch more dolphin by keeping it fresh.

Hooking a fish and keeping it behind the boat is still a good way to initially hold the rest of the school, but I prefer to use this tactic with a few different twists. I designate the first fish I hook in the school as our decoy, and keep it within 15 feet of the boat-unless, of course, it's a 20-plus-pounder that is boxed.
I'll catch a couple school fish, and then swap out my decoy fish with a fresh one as I hook up. By changing out the decoy often, I'll maintain the strong action and vibrations of a freshly hooked dolphin, which I believe is critical in keeping the remainder of the school in feeding mode. Should the school disappear, free-spool the decoy fish and let it swim out and down a hundred yards or so. Let it remain there for several minutes before slowly reeling it back to the boat. Many times, it will bring the school back up again.