To Kill or Not to Kill

The release

by Scott Sadil

The dorado eats, as dorado often will, in a flurry of prismatic colors, blues and yellows and greens, that vanish as quickly as they first appeared, an instant of kaleidoscopic chaos now suddenly transformed from a chiaroscuro wash into a single hard line slicing the surface of the wind-scuffed sea.

Moments later, the fish airborne, a luminous watch hand pointing at one on the dial, a loop of knotted fly line leaps from the deck of the panga and rattles, luckily, through the rod’s guides.

We’ll deal with that later, I think, watching the dangling cat’s cradle headed out to sea, chased by backing melting from the reel. 

When later finally arrives, and my captain, Efren Lucero, from Baja’s Agua Amarga, can’t undo the knotted fly line, and yet we somehow still manage to thread the wad all the way back to the reel, where I bury it beneath a dozen turns of line, praying the fish is too tired to run yet again, we finally address the unspoken question that accompanies a long fight with a big dorado. 

Dead or alive?

Or, better, the question pending when some—but by no means all—fly anglers bring a good dorado to hand.

Do we kill it or do we set it free?

The good news is, nobody asks this question anymore when Baja roosterfish are brought to the boat, even the trophies, the shocking, world-record-class beasts that grace the lines of anglers fortunate enough to fool one now and then with their flies.  The meat of roosterfish, dark and oily, was never desirable, although, in a pinch, it could keep you alive.  More important, however, is the fact that the Baja flyfishing community, both anglers and local panga captains alike, somehow reached a consensus: Roosters are too valuable as gamefish to kill.  

Ready for release

But dorado, known elsewhere as mahi-mahi or dolphinfish, Coryphaena hippurus, have long been considered superb table fare.  Just as important, perhaps, was the understanding that the species as a whole breeds prolifically and individual dorado grow at astonishing rates, creating the impression that dorado populations are never in danger, especially from angling pressure put on them by visiting sportfishers.   

You know where that thinking gets you.  

Over time, in Baja, limits were set, and today it’s legal to kill two dorado a day.  Given, at times, the apparent abundance of dorado in waters along the Baja peninsula, both in the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, many anglers—not to mention their captains—never question whether to kill or release a dorado before the gaff goes in and the fish is hauled in over the gunwales.

Especially the big ones.