The Key West criminal defense lawyers at Robertson & Hunter represent clients charged with criminal fishing violations. Florida Fish and Wildlife aggressively patrols the Florida Keys waters and will issue citations for undersized fish and/or over the bag limit fish (too many in one day). These citations are actually criminal charges that require a Court appearance.

The Key West criminal defense lawyers at Robertson & Hunter want you to avoid getting charged with a criminal fishing violation. Read further to learn how to avoid a criminal citation when fishing for dolphin (also called mahi-mahi).

Spring is here, which means that it is time to gas up the boat and get out deep and catch some dolphin. Not the “Flipper” man’s best aquatic friend dolphin, but rather the great eating sportfish dolphin, also called mahi-mahi.

When you are fishing in the Florida Keys for dolphin, you most likely are going to be doing so on the Atlantic side of the keys. Bring out at least two trolling rods and at least two pitch rods.

On your trolling rods, hook up some wired ballyhoo. You can buy these frozen and pre-rigged at most bait shops if you don’t want to do it yourself. The pre-rigged ones work just fine. You will want to cruise out past the reef line, and be in at least 300 feet of water. Talk to some of the locals at the bait shop and see what depth people have been catching dolphin in. Even if you find some good weed lines at a shallow depth, you’ll be wasting your time if the dolphin are not in that close.

Speaking of weed lines, what you are looking for is clumps of sargassum weed lines. These are basically clumps of a yellowish brown seaweed that have clumped together and provide bait and refuge for dolphin. When you find these in the right depth, troll your ballyhoo to the side and around the weed lines.

Once you hookup with a dolphin on the trolling rod, get your pitch rods ready. These are rods that are spinning reels that you have at the ready to pitch in at the schools of dolphin that will follow the fish that you have hooked up with. Leave that fish that you have hooked up with in the water as long as you can without losing it, because the schools of dolphin will follow it all the way to your boat. They will continue to congregate around your boat as long as you have one hooked up and still in the water.

That is when you throw in the pitch rods and try and catch the dolphin that are following the hooked up one. These are commonly called schoolies and are generally smaller, but often still big enough to be kept and eaten. Ideally have some live bait ready to throw at any big dolphin that happen to follow the schoolies. The big ones typically prefer live bait. The schoolies will eat almost anything, including frozen squid.

In order to keep a dolphin, it must be at least 20 inches long. This is measured from mouth to the fork in the tail. The whole length of the tail is not included in this measurement. Also, keep in mind a couple of common pitfalls- If you are measuring with the ruler on a cooler that has ice in it, there is a good chance that cooler has contracted slightly based upon the cold ice within it, so its 20 inches measurement may be a little under 20 inches. Additionally, when you throw the fish on ice, it will slightly contract, so be very careful with any fish that is right on the edge of 20 inches.

FWC will not care if your cooler contracted because of the cold, or if the fish contracted because it was on ice. If it is under when they measure it, they will issue you a criminal citation. Wildlife violations are general intent crimes, which means you did not have to intend to be violating the law in order to be charged with the crime.

The other regulation to keep in mind is the bag limit. This is how many fish you are allowed to keep per person fishing on your boat. In the Atlantic waters of the Florida Keys, each person fishing is allowed to keep 10 dolphin, up to a maximum of 60 per boat. So even if you have 7 people fishing on the vessel, your vessel is still limited to 60 total dolphin.

Also remember that the State of Florida requires all people fishing to be licensed. A fishing license for state residents and out of state visitors can be purchased online at or at a local tax collectors office.  The exception to this is if you are fishing with a charter guide.  These charter guides carry the license for their visiting clients and they would not have to purchase a fishing license.

If you are accused of not following these regulations outlined while fishing for dolphin, you could be issued a criminal citation. It is a very common misconception amongst our clients that they have just received a ticket. A citation for undersized or over the bag limit fish is not a simple ticket, it is a criminal violation. The officers could have taken you to jail for a second degree misdemeanor. However, instead of taking you to jail, which is not very practical for marine law enforcement, they issue you a notice to appear in Court to answer for the criminal violation.

The penalties associated with possession of undersized of over the bag limit fishing violations are up to 60 days in jail and/or six months probation. If you have no criminal history, there is a good chance the Key West criminal defense lawyers at Robertson & Hunter can negotiate a resolution in which the charges are ultimately dismissed. Additionally, the criminal defense lawyers at Robertson & Hunter, can appear on your behalf if you are from out of town. For a misdemeanor fishing violation, there is a good chance this matter can be resolved without requiring you to come back to the Keys if you are indeed from out of town.