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A Rare Abundance of Golden Treasure for Local Anglers

Hemingway’s Santiago probably didn't eat a dolphin

Kayak angler Matt Rabasco with his first dorado caught from a kayak outside of La Jolla.
Kayak angler Matt Rabasco with his first dorado caught from a kayak outside of La Jolla.

Dock Totals 8/15 – 8/21: 5,486 anglers aboard 247 trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 84 barracuda, 1,322 bluefin tuna (up to 75 pounds), 1 bocaccio, 694 bonito, 2,761 calico bass (1,689 released), 4,632 dorado, 1 halibut, 4 lingcod, 1,637 rockfish, 131 sand bass, 23 sculpin, 200 sheephead, 1 skipjack tuna, 1 striped marlin, 1 thresher shark, 221 whitefish, 7 white seabass (6 released), 169 yellowfin tuna, and 6,969 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Mahimahi, or the common dolphinfish, are often called ‘dolphin’ by east coast anglers. In Latin America and southern California, they are commonly known as ‘dorado’, which translates to ‘golden’. By whatever name, the fast-growing fish found in most of the world’s oceans are highly sought as gamefish by recreational anglers. In fiction, Hemingway’s Santiago created a bit of an uproar among readers when the wizened character of Spanish descent killed and ate one during his epic battle with the giant marlin. Hemingway maybe should have known better when he used the term common to Florida, ‘dolphin’ when his character would have more than likely said ‘dorado’. Either way, some cringed at the thought of Santiago eating a marine mammal rather than a fish.

With that oversight aside, eating a raw dorado may indeed be cringeworthy. As Santiago mused, “What an excellent fish dolphin is to eat cooked,” he said. “And what a miserable fish raw. I will never go in a boat again without salt or limes.” With nearly flavorless gray-white meat when raw, dorado are not that appealing as sushi fare. Cooked, however, the fish’s resulting firm white filets are served and enjoyed in restaurants throughout the world. Right now, in our area, dorado are being caught in numbers rarely seen this far north of their usual tropical and semi-tropical haunts. There were an almost unheard of 4,632 dorado reported caught this past week by the San Diego fleet, up from 372 caught during the week previous. Some of these fish are moving close enough to shore to be targeted by kayak anglers launching out of La Jolla.

As a surface-living species, dorado do not dive during battle as do our more common tunas and yellowtail, but rather put on speedy runs to over 50 miles per hour punctuated by tumultuous spinning and flipping leaps. They are very exciting to catch and strong for their build, living up to the Hawaiian language meaning of mahimahi: ‘very strong’. Dorado are brilliantly colored, having golden sides, blue-green backs, and cobalt-blue pectoral fins. When hooked and fighting, their colors brighten and change rapidly. Blue dots appear and fade in seconds along their bodies when first brought aboard still ‘lit up’. This is due to chromatophores, or cells of light-reflecting pigment which allows the instant changing and flickering of colors usually found in cephalopods, such as squids, cuttlefish, and octopuses. This colorful display is common to both male and female dorado while alive and excited, when they die, they turn to a dull gray-green.

Dorado are among the fastest growing fish in the ocean and rarely live more than five years and can achieve weights of up to 70 pounds and five feet long. They are prolific reproducers and reach sexual maturity when very young at a few months old and as small as 10 inches long. Unlike many gamefish, dorado are an easy species to sex on sight; males have a bulging head that protrudes forward beyond their mouth, females have a more slender, rounded head. Dorado swim in packs of one or more males and up to a dozen females, which keeps them from being targeted by seiners. Long-liners often catch them as by-catch and they are hunted by harpoon in some places, but mostly they are caught by rod and reel. For these reasons, dorado are one of the most sustainable species of fish in the ocean to target both commercially and recreationally. When caught from a crowded sportfishing vessel, the erupting battle usually brings cheers from the passengers and crew. As their fighting style is so erratic, they will often tangle anglers together and create a lot of work for the crew when several are hooked at a time.

Usually, dorado are found hanging around any floating debris, from storm-strewn flora and dead whales to sargassum and kelp paddies but are also found free-swimming while trolling. Frigates in the tropics and terns in waters further north will often follow dorado foraging on the surface, hoping for a snack driven up within reach of diving or swooping birds. Spotting for birds and kelps is the normal method for anglers targeting dorado. Kayak angler Matt Rabasco peddled his sail-rigged kayak out of La Jolla this past Saturday in the hopes of catching a near-shore bluefin.

At least one bluefin tuna was reported caught within 2 miles of La Jolla Shores by a private boater the day previous. Thus inspired, Matt headed out, made bait, and began trolling a mackerel. At about 4 miles offshore, he hooked up. Instead of the deep hard dive of a tuna, water exploded behind him and the unmistakable golden hue of a dorado leapt spinning into the air. For his many years on local waters in various kayaks, this was the first kayaked-dorado he has landed. For those who would rather fish from a larger platform, and as long as current conditions hold, rides as short as the local half day boats will get you in range of dorado and tuna. If ever, this is a great time to get out on the water and get some.

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Kayak angler Matt Rabasco with his first dorado caught from a kayak outside of La Jolla.
Kayak angler Matt Rabasco with his first dorado caught from a kayak outside of La Jolla.

Dock Totals 8/15 – 8/21: 5,486 anglers aboard 247 trips out of San Diego landings this past week caught 84 barracuda, 1,322 bluefin tuna (up to 75 pounds), 1 bocaccio, 694 bonito, 2,761 calico bass (1,689 released), 4,632 dorado, 1 halibut, 4 lingcod, 1,637 rockfish, 131 sand bass, 23 sculpin, 200 sheephead, 1 skipjack tuna, 1 striped marlin, 1 thresher shark, 221 whitefish, 7 white seabass (6 released), 169 yellowfin tuna, and 6,969 yellowtail.

Saltwater: Mahimahi, or the common dolphinfish, are often called ‘dolphin’ by east coast anglers. In Latin America and southern California, they are commonly known as ‘dorado’, which translates to ‘golden’. By whatever name, the fast-growing fish found in most of the world’s oceans are highly sought as gamefish by recreational anglers. In fiction, Hemingway’s Santiago created a bit of an uproar among readers when the wizened character of Spanish descent killed and ate one during his epic battle with the giant marlin. Hemingway maybe should have known better when he used the term common to Florida, ‘dolphin’ when his character would have more than likely said ‘dorado’. Either way, some cringed at the thought of Santiago eating a marine mammal rather than a fish.

With that oversight aside, eating a raw dorado may indeed be cringeworthy. As Santiago mused, “What an excellent fish dolphin is to eat cooked,” he said. “And what a miserable fish raw. I will never go in a boat again without salt or limes.” With nearly flavorless gray-white meat when raw, dorado are not that appealing as sushi fare. Cooked, however, the fish’s resulting firm white filets are served and enjoyed in restaurants throughout the world. Right now, in our area, dorado are being caught in numbers rarely seen this far north of their usual tropical and semi-tropical haunts. There were an almost unheard of 4,632 dorado reported caught this past week by the San Diego fleet, up from 372 caught during the week previous. Some of these fish are moving close enough to shore to be targeted by kayak anglers launching out of La Jolla.

As a surface-living species, dorado do not dive during battle as do our more common tunas and yellowtail, but rather put on speedy runs to over 50 miles per hour punctuated by tumultuous spinning and flipping leaps. They are very exciting to catch and strong for their build, living up to the Hawaiian language meaning of mahimahi: ‘very strong’. Dorado are brilliantly colored, having golden sides, blue-green backs, and cobalt-blue pectoral fins. When hooked and fighting, their colors brighten and change rapidly. Blue dots appear and fade in seconds along their bodies when first brought aboard still ‘lit up’. This is due to chromatophores, or cells of light-reflecting pigment which allows the instant changing and flickering of colors usually found in cephalopods, such as squids, cuttlefish, and octopuses. This colorful display is common to both male and female dorado while alive and excited, when they die, they turn to a dull gray-green.

Dorado are among the fastest growing fish in the ocean and rarely live more than five years and can achieve weights of up to 70 pounds and five feet long. They are prolific reproducers and reach sexual maturity when very young at a few months old and as small as 10 inches long. Unlike many gamefish, dorado are an easy species to sex on sight; males have a bulging head that protrudes forward beyond their mouth, females have a more slender, rounded head. Dorado swim in packs of one or more males and up to a dozen females, which keeps them from being targeted by seiners. Long-liners often catch them as by-catch and they are hunted by harpoon in some places, but mostly they are caught by rod and reel. For these reasons, dorado are one of the most sustainable species of fish in the ocean to target both commercially and recreationally. When caught from a crowded sportfishing vessel, the erupting battle usually brings cheers from the passengers and crew. As their fighting style is so erratic, they will often tangle anglers together and create a lot of work for the crew when several are hooked at a time.

Usually, dorado are found hanging around any floating debris, from storm-strewn flora and dead whales to sargassum and kelp paddies but are also found free-swimming while trolling. Frigates in the tropics and terns in waters further north will often follow dorado foraging on the surface, hoping for a snack driven up within reach of diving or swooping birds. Spotting for birds and kelps is the normal method for anglers targeting dorado. Kayak angler Matt Rabasco peddled his sail-rigged kayak out of La Jolla this past Saturday in the hopes of catching a near-shore bluefin.

At least one bluefin tuna was reported caught within 2 miles of La Jolla Shores by a private boater the day previous. Thus inspired, Matt headed out, made bait, and began trolling a mackerel. At about 4 miles offshore, he hooked up. Instead of the deep hard dive of a tuna, water exploded behind him and the unmistakable golden hue of a dorado leapt spinning into the air. For his many years on local waters in various kayaks, this was the first kayaked-dorado he has landed. For those who would rather fish from a larger platform, and as long as current conditions hold, rides as short as the local half day boats will get you in range of dorado and tuna. If ever, this is a great time to get out on the water and get some.

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