Talk to any offshore angler and you'll hear at least one story about a big dolphin. Most tell of the one that got away, but the occasional report of victory at sea gives us all hope. Rarely do you find the fisherman who can stand up and honestly say, "I am good at catching big dolphin."
When you find such a bullish angler, it's a good idea to pay attention and take notes. Sport Fishing sought out some of the best anglers and captains in the world with true big-dolphin experience. These talented men share important info and insights about chasing trophy bulls in their home waters so that you can adapt and apply their techniques wherever you fish.
Big Bait, Big Fish
To find Raleigh Werking when the bulls are running, you'll have to concentrate your search in the waters surrounding Tropic Star Lodge in Piñas Bay, Panama. Handling public relations for the popular fishing lodge, Werking's position affords him time in the field chasing world records on light tackle.
Some of the best big-dolphin fishing on the planet occurs along Panama's Pacific coast from December through March, so he often schedules important "business trips" at this time. His yearly sojourns have provided hefty rewards for him and his wife, Trish: The couple have accounted for numerous IGFA marks, including a men's record 53-pound bull dolphin on 8-pound-test and the women's 6-pound mark, a 541¼2-pounder.
So what's their key to success when targeting trophy dolphin? Large natural baits, both live and dead.
"The Panamanian dorado act differently than those in other places I've ever fished," says Werking. "You generally only get one shot at them. If you're trolling a conventional bait-and-switch spread and the dolphin get a taste of the plastic, they're gone."
His preferred setup involves slow-trolling several large dead bonito teasers, sewn for durability. The stitches help baits withstand numerous attacks from jumbo dolphin, sailfish and even the black marlin that prowl the Zane Grey Bank. When a worthy fish crashes the teaser, Werking drops back a Panama strip bait rigged on a circle hook.
"The Panama strip bait is probably the single-best offering in the world for dolphin," he says. "We use them to pluck dolphin off the teasers or for straightforward trolling - and this bait works anywhere, not just in Panama."
Belly strips may also be used to spruce up plastic offerings, providing a little natural taste to keep big dolphin interested. The added attraction often gives anglers a second or third chance at hookups with artificials when fish get finicky. (For details on how to prepare Panama belly strips, see the June 2006 issue of Sport Fishing or click here.)
Strip baits work wonders, but Werking also warns against discounting the effectiveness of a sizable livey. Big baits more effectively target bull dolphin because they all but eliminate the possibility of attacks from smaller fish. "My 53-pounder took a large, live bonito," he says. "Big dorado can eat large baits. You just have to give them time."
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