It all started with an old article from The Fisherman. The article talked about various pelagic fish that come into our waters every summer. These tropical visitors are typically found in the canyons but venture into our nearshore waters most years. The author wrote about finding such dream species like mahi mahi, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, sharks, bonito, false albacore, cobia and so many others, and it created a dream for my brother John and me. A dream that had us constantly asking my dad about mahi mahi, bonito, and Spanish mackerel. For some of you this may be old hat, but to a couple of young fishermen like us, this became a dream and later an addiction. We finally got my dad and uncle onboard with the idea and soon a plan was being formulated.
We knew that the fish we were targeting liked blue warm water. We watched the weather and were encouraged as a weak mid-summer nor’easter made its way up the coast. This would surely push warm blue water inshore – the question was just how far inshore? A little about my dad and my uncle first. They are your typical inshore fishermen, spending most of their time chasing striped bass, blues and of course fluke. So as the time came for my birthday fishing trip, we asked for a shark and mahi trip. My dad and uncle agreed that we could look for sharks around the bunker pods on our way to a wreck or reef that they wanted to fluke fish.
Many different species of sharks are found along our nearshore beaches following the bait fish. These are not typically your tournament winning makos and threshers of spring. We were planning to target some inshore species, maybe a black tip or spinner. Yup, while brown sharks are normal, even blacktips and spinners make their way into nearshore Northeast waters. So we scaled down our gear to accommodate the size of the sharks as well as our capabilities. We opted to forgo buying any chum figuring that we would snag bunker and then chunk them up to create our slick.
As we approached the first pod of agitated bunker, we saw firsthand why they were spraying out of the water. The bunker pod had a 4- to 5-foot shark laying on top of the bunker. It was the craziest thing that this 11-yeard old had ever seen to that point on the water. We snagged some bunker. Filleted one and put the filet on the circle hook. On the second rod, we put a bunker that was butterflied. The last rod we deployed a live bunker. Unfortunately, the sharks were more content to hang out and never took our offerings. We won’t be deterred by that though – 2021 will be the year that we catch our shark.
Next we moved on a little deeper and saved the best for last in my opinion. Not only are mahi beautiful but they are delicious to eat. During that trip, my dad decided that he wanted to hit one of his fluke spots on our way in. He told us two dejected boys that there were some fish pots that may hold mahi, so my brother and I started gathering up whatever spearing we had left and chunking up bunker into small chunks. As we approached the first pot, my dad said to throw a few chunks and see if there was any life around the marker. As we drifted up to the pot, the water looked like an aquarium as all of the jacks and triggerfish came out to investigate their new found dinner.
We hooked some small chunks and proceeded to catch a jack right away. While my brother was reeling that jack in we saw the iridescent blue fins deeper down. The cries came out of mahi and then that’s when my birthday wish came true. I was hooked up to my first ever dolphin. These weren’t big by mahi standards but they were plenty of fun for two young boys. We were using light spinning tackle with 10-pound test power pro braid on Penn Battle 3000 reels. We kept the leader at the same 20-pound flouro that we had been using earlier. We battled mahi after mahi while other boats drifting by were trying to jig fluke. I bet if they had read this same article that we had, then they too may have added mahi to their dinner table that day. In a few short hours, we caught a few mahi for the table and released dozens more.
It was an amazing summer birthday trip. When the doldrums of summer are calling and you want to spice up your catches use these tips to add some variety to your cooler. There are other southern visitors that come visit us but these are the more popular ones in our area.
Editor’s Note: The author, a seventh grader from New Jersey, won a national Angling Awareness Award from the American Sportfishing Association in 2019 for his first published work, “Make Fishing Fun Again: Lessons from a 10-Year Old,” which ran in The Fisherman in March of 2019.