Stu Apte caught a 58-pound dolphin on 12-pound tippet in 1964. I’m pretty sure it’s the longest-standing International Game Fish Association fly-rod world record. In 1990, Rufus Wakeman caught an IGFA record 53½-pound dolphin on 16-pound tippet and has been chasing Apte’s 12-pound record ever since.
However, 58-pound dolphin are pretty hard to find, much less catch on a fly rod. Apte caught his record at Tropic Star Lodge, in Pinas Bay, Panama. Wakeman found his in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, but a review of the IGFA fly-rod records told him that five of the men’s and women’s dolphin records came from Tropic Star Lodge. After he found that little tidbit, it wasn’t long before Wakeman, Scott Loper, Rick Herpel and I were on a plane headed to Tropic Star, with a whole lot of 12-pound tippet.
Owned and operated by Terri and Mike Andrews, Tropic Star Lodge has been in business for over 50 years, which is in itself amazing, especially when you consider that it is located smack in the middle of a Panamanian jungle. The lodge is practically a second home to renowned artist Guy Harvey, and it’s the sort of place that anglers return to year after year. It maintains a fleet of 31 Bertrams with native captains and mates and is considered by many the best place in our hemisphere
to catch black and Pacific blue marlin. There also are sailfish, big yellowfin tuna (from 60 to 300 pounds) and — during the winter months — lots of huge dolphin. In fact, captains chasing marlin consider 40-plus-pound dolphin pests and try to avoid them.
In most of the places I’ve fished for dolphin on fly, the typical routine is to run around looking for flotsam, weed lines or birds. Sometimes you can spot dolphin and chum them over to the boat, but many times you have to troll until you hook one — the school will usually follow the hooked fish to the boat and stick around if you keep one fish in the water. Unfortunately, this works only with smaller fish. The largest dolphin normally travel in pairs, and by hooking one, you can usually bring the other one into fly-rod range. Last summer, Tony Nobregas and I were fishing with Capt. R.T. Trosset and his son, Chris, out of Key West, Florida. We were hoping for a big dolphin on fly and found a nice weed line south of Cosgrove Light. We trolled one bait, hoping to see what was around, and ended up hooking a very big cow. As I fought the fish, Nobregas got his fly rod ready with a 6-inch streamer and a 60-pound fluorocarbon shock tippet. Dolphin don’t have a lot of teeth, but they do have some, so a shock tippet is necessary.