Species spotlight: Pompano dolphinfish

The pending world record pompano dolphinfish was caught out of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. by Charlie Noonan. It weighed 11.34 pounds.
The pending world record pompano dolphinfish was caught out of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. by Charlie Noonan. It weighed 11.34 pounds.

The pompano dolphinfish gets little respect from anglers. So much so, that many anglers think it’s an April Fool’s Day prank. Others think it’s just a small, oddly-shaped dolphin.

Still others believe it’s a hybrid between two separate species — a pompano and a dolphin. But the pompano dolphinfish is indeed an actual fish that is not a hybrid of any species. It is, however, a cousin of the common dolphin (a.k.a. mahi mahi) that anglers are far more familiar with.

Although they do look quite similar to the common dolphinfish, they don’t grow nearly as large. The current pending world record pompano dolphinfish stands at a little less than 12 pounds compared to the world record dolphin, which is 87 pounds.

Pompano dolphinfish have elongated bodies with brilliant blue-green colors on their backs. Their sides range between blue, green, silver and gold, but quickly fade to muted colors when removed from the water. They have compressed heads and long dorsal fins that extend the entire length of their bodies. Their tales are deeply forked.

Fast swimmers, short lives

The mature males (relatively speaking — their life expectancy is only between 3 and 4 years) develop protruding foreheads, somewhat like common dolphinfish, though not as noticeable.

These fish are one of only two members of the Coryphaenidae family — their common dolphin cousins being the other. Like dolphinfish, they can be found throughout many places on the earth’s tropical and subtropical oceans.

While dolphinfish often move fairly close to shore at certain times of the year, pompano dolphinfish prefer to stay in the open ocean much more. Anglers along the U.S. east coast and Gulf Coast states catch them infrequently, and most are misidentified as common dolphinfish, which they sometimes intermingle with. Catching them often leads to fishing reports of “weird looking (or deformed) juvenile dolphins.”

Pompano dolphinfish are not picky eaters. They eat a wide variety of smaller fish and squid. They are fast swimmers and have no trouble catching prey.

The spawning rituals of pompano dolphinfish are much different than most other fish species. Instead of congregating in an area and mating in groups, these fish pair up with only one mating partner. They spawn several times a year.

As stated earlier, these fish are often misidentified as common dolphinfish. They have several nicknames, including tiny dolphin, blue dolphin, little dolphin and small dolphin. Their meat is firm and sweet, and is known as good table fare.

Neither Louisiana nor Mississippi list the pompano dolphinfish in their state record books, but anglers who catch one in the 8-pound range or better are encouraged to apply.

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