Top 10 Most Popular Saltwater Gamefish

Dolphinfish, sometimes called dorado or Mahi-Mahi are just one of the most popular species pursued by saltwater anglers; here are the Top 10.

Saltwater fishing is rapidly becoming one of the most popular enthusiast sports on the planet. And, as might be suspected, most anglers have their personal favorites when it comes to selecting a target species. While many of the most avidly pursued fish are found offshore, that is not always necessarily the case.

DOLPHINFISH - Commonly referred to as Mahi-Mahi in Hawaii and dorado in Latin American countries, Coryphaena hippurus, is generally called dolphinfish in the southeastern United States.

It is one of the fastest-growing fish species in the ocean and packs on well over 10 additional pounds every year that it is alive. But no matter what name you choose to give them, they are truly one of the golden treasures of saltwater sportfishing. These fish love to congregate under floating debris like flotsam, Sargasso grass, and, in the waters of northern Baja, beneath selected kelp paddies found drifting offshore during late summer. Dorado are not particularly picky eaters and will generally take just about any kind of offering when they are hungry. They also have a reputation for making a series of spectacular leaps after the initial hookup. Dorado are found throughout the world and can be caught by sight casting using light or medium tackle. As an added bonus, their fresh fillets are delicious when prepared a variety of ways.

WAHOO - If there is one, single species of gamefish in all of the world’s oceans that deserves the title ‘tiger of the sea’, it is Acanthocybium solandri.

Known as wahoo in the continental U.S., 'ono' in the Hawaiian Islands and as 'guahu' or 'peto' in Mexico and Baja California; this is undoubtedly one of the fastest fish that swims. Six-foot wahoo are not uncommon, and the world record for this fish is over 150 pounds. Wahoo are thought to be relatively fast growing.

In one study, a wahoo that was tagged and released, and when recovered it had grown almost 22 pounds in less than a year. Trolling with dark colored Rapala Magnums or Marauders on wire leaders is probably the best technique to use on these toothy denizens, but more and more anglers are starting to pursue them with heavy-duty fly tackle. The most common method of fly-fishing for wahoo is to troll a large, brightly colored streamer. When a strike occurs, the fish is quickly reeled in and a fly is cast along with some live chum. These fish usually travel in packs and will often hang around as the hooked fish is brought to the boat. After the cast is made, allow your fly to slowly sink. Your drag must be set light; when a wahoo finally eats the fly, you will only have a split second to mentally prepare yourself for the fight of a lifetime.

BLUE MARLIN - Of the several species of billfish that are available to offshore anglers, the blue marlin, Makaira nigricans, is a longtime favorite of those with the skill to hook and land one. These powerful fish are smart, fast and big; females are significantly larger than males, and can reach 14 feet in length and weigh more than 1,900 pounds. Recreational anglers first discovered blue marlin in the Bahamas during the late 1920s.

In the 1930’s famed author and angler, Zane Grey, regularly fished for them in Tahiti. The majority of the blue marlin hooked are taken on trolled lures or rigged baitfish. While most billfish are excellent candidates for ‘catch & release’, the blue marlin stands out as the one most recognized as fine table fare.

ATLANTIC SAILFISH - The Atlantic sailfish, Istiophorus albicans, is also a top rated target of billfish anglers looking for a scrappy fight. Although they are smaller than the black, blue and striped marlins, they are powerful adversaries once they are hooked. Just like members of the marlin family, they are suckers for a properly trolled lure, a rigged bait or a well-placed fly. They are true speedsters, and have been clocked at over 65 miles per hour. Atlantic sailfish, as well as their Pacific cousin Istiophorus platypterus, are renowned for their exceptional acrobatics, often leaping repeatedly well beyond the surface once they feel the hook.

Not known for their food value, sailfish should always be released once they reach the boat.

ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA – With the coming of popular television fishing shows, the giant Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, has become a bit of a celebrity. Nonetheless, it is one of the biggest, baddest gamefish that swims the seas; the world record is nearly 1,500 pounds. Generally hooked while trolling, these beefy tuna are equipped with the strength and stamina to give you a battle that you will never forget. Due to heavy demand and commercial pressure from Japanese fish buyers, the species is now being carefully monitored and regulated to keep it from becoming endangered. Whether grilled over the coals, lightly seared or served as sashimi or in sushi dishes, the mighty bluefin is a treat to the gourmet palate.

YELLOWFIN TUNA – Although they are not quite as big as the giant bluefin tuna they are related to, yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, can still reach weights of nearly 400 pounds. Found in tropical or subtropical seas, these pelagic roamers are responsible for putting an indelible grin on the faces of countless anglers on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The largest recreationally caught yellowfin, however, are found well off the southern coast of Baja California and beyond. Although they can be taken by trolling lures, the most effective offerings are live regional baitfish such as caballito, Spanish mackerel and small skipjack, which are caught fresh on Sabiki rigs and then either flylined to the fish or presented on a kite rig.

ROOSTERFISH - The roosterfish, Nematistius pectoralis, is an exotic and popular gamefish species that spans from Baja California all the way down the coast into Peru and the Galapagos Islands. However, Baja’s famed East Cape is one of the closest venues where anglers have one of the best chances to catch one of these prized, elusive and hard fighting gamesters. Known as Pez Gallo in Mexico, this formidable cousin of the amberjack, jack crevalle and yellowtail migrates into the Sea of Cortez each spring, and then hunts along the shoreline in small schools while feeding on various forage species, such as sardinas, mackerel and striped mullet, referred to in Baja as ‘Lisa’. While roosterfish are most often caught from small boats and kayaks, this is one of the larger gamefish that will often situate itself within range of the shore angler as well. The biggest trick is being in the right place at the right time. After successfully bringing a roosterfish the boat or shore, it is important not to injure the fish before returning it to the water. The flesh of the roosterfish tends to be dark and gamey, hence, it is not an attractive candidate to take home for dinner.

GAINT TREVALLY - The giant trevally, Caranx ignobilis, is the largest member of the Jack Family and is also a prime target for avid blue water anglers in search of a frenzied, and occasionally frustrating battle with one of the top predators that swims in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. Known as Ulua in the Hawaiian Islands, they are highly prized by adventurous locals who often fish for them from precarious volcanic outcroppings using heavy gear and long poles to help them cast out past the rocks.

While giant trevally can reach a weight of around 200 pounds, fish in that class are nearly impossible to land and one even half that size making it over the rail is considered a grand trophy by rod and reel anglers. When going after theses hard fighting gamesters, take additional measures to make sure that each and every link in your chain of tackle is in top notch condition. Not doing so can virtually ensure that you will be broken off. Onshore anglers often fish with baits like baby octopus, cut bait and side slabs with the skin left on, but in areas where deep, turbulent water can be accessed from the cliff above, the use of surface poppers and subsurface stick baits can be devastatingly productive. Although smaller Travelly are certainly edible if they are immediately bled out and placed under ice as soon as they are caught, this species is not one that often makes it onto restaurant menus because of its strong flavor. Therefore, after a successful battle with a giant trevally, it is a good idea to try and carefully release the fish so that it can live to fight again.

TARPON – The tarpon Megalops atlanticus, is one of the most popular gamefish on the east coast of North America, although they have also recently migrated into Pacific waters through the Panama Canal. These large scaled fish can grow to 8 feet or longer and almost appear to be plated in chrome when the sun reflects off of them during one of the energetic leaps that they usually perform during a frenzied battle after being hooked. Usually taken on live baitfish or flies, they are wily and powerful but almost always released by the anglers that catch them because of their extremely bony flesh.

BONEFISH - The bonefish, albula vulpes, is an extremely wary, long bodied and large scaled fish that can be member of any one of eight types of morphologically indistinguishable, yet genetically distinct species of bonefish, depending upon where you happen to be fishing around the globe. The most common way to locate bonefish is to look for tailing fish in the shallows. But just because you see them, does not necessarily mean that they are in a feeding frame of mind; that needs to be determined by the angler who gingerly puts an artfully placed fly, jig or live shrimp right under its nose. Since the bonefish does not rank high on the culinary scale, it is much easier to release one than it is to put back a 25 pound goliath grouper, which probably bodes well for its future sustainability. But, no matter whether you are targeting them in southern Florida or off the coast of Africa, the bonefish is one species that, once hooked, will put a bend in you rod and a smile on your face.

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Your Citation
Gatch, Tom. "Top 10 Most Popular Saltwater Gamefish." ThoughtCo, May. 7, 2015, Gatch, Tom. (2015, May 7). Top 10 Most Popular Saltwater Gamefish. Retrieved from Gatch, Tom. "Top 10 Most Popular Saltwater Gamefish." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 23, 2017).