By Paul McInnis
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nglers along Florida’s east coast have been anxiously waiting all year for the fall mullet run. It’s here! Now is the time to grab your rod and head to the coast for some of the most exciting, frenetic fishing of the year. Best of all you don’t even need a boat to cash in on this incredible action. Want to try it out but don’t know where to start? Here are the basics.
Shorter days, cooler weather and other factors we don’t understand trigger a mass exodus of mullet from their summering grounds in the estuaries of Georgia, the Carolinas and beyond. Black and silver mullet of all sizes from fingerlings to full grown adults exit in masse through the passes and turn south on a months long migration. Their journey ultimately takes them to the southern tip of Florida where the adults gather up in schools and move offshore to spawn.
Mullet don’t run alone. A host of hungry predators move in to feast on this moving piscatorial buffet. Bluefish are the most prevalent followed closely by jacks. Spanish mackerel can be incredibly thick at times, especially late in the season, and sometimes huge ladyfish, often the biggest of the year, can be found harassing the mullet schools. Snook, redfish, seatrout and flounder can be found in the first trough right off the shore although you might have to weed through some blues and jacks to catch them. Those interested in bigger game will find plenty of sharks, especially blacktip and spinners, plus tarpon show up often enough to keep things interesting.
The mullet run lasts from late August until mid November with the peak being mid September through the end of October. Mullet tend to come through in waves. Some days there is barely a trickle while other days acre sized mullet schools darken the water as far as the eye can see. Logic says you need to be fishing the beach when the mullet are there. Tackle shops near the coast and fishing piers can be great sources for the latest status of the run. There are also excellent online surf fishing forums like those at www.surffishingflorida.com and www.floridasurffishing.com.
Mullet migrate down the full length of Florida’s east coast so they will pass every beach along the way. That being said, not all beaches are the same. Beaches that drop off steeply, especially if they have a nice through near shore, tend to congregate the bait and predators closer to the beach within reach of surf fishermen. Jetties form a natural barrier and mullet schools bunch up along the north side. Piers have a similar effect although not as pronounced as jetties. Inlets in particular can go absolutely crazy during the mullet run. Not only do you have ocean predators tagging along with the mullet schools but masses of inshore game fish like redfish, seatrout and snook invading the inlet to join the feeding frenzy.
It goes without saying a live mullet is the ultimate bait. Full grown adult mullet might tempt tarpon and sharks while the fingerlings will catch just about anything. Mullet can be freelined, fished on the bottom and sometimes even under a float. What matters most is using a presentation that gives you the best chance of keeping your bait in the vicinity of the mullet schools. When the surf is rough you might need a heavy sinker to anchor your mullet in the zone. On the other hand, a nice offshore wind can sail a mullet under a balloon out far from shore where the bigger fish sometimes lurk.
Thirty to fifty pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders work for most applications. You’ll want to up the leader to eighty pound test if tarpon are your target and switch to wire if sharks are your goal or if toothy predators like bluefish or mackerel are cutting you off. Reels holding at least 200 yards of twenty pound test braid or monofilament line are the minimum recommended for mullet run surf duty to give you a chance in case something big grabs your bait. If you want to specifically target sharks or tarpon then you’ll need at least 300 yards of line testing thirty pounds or heavier.
When it comes to lures it is pretty simple. Just about anything in your tacklebox that looks like a mullet will likely get eaten like a mullet. Topwater plugs, diving plugs, sinking plugs, spoons and jigs all work. Topwater plugs can be a blast, especially early in the morning and during low light conditions. Sharks love to crush big topwaters in the surf so if you want a chance of landing one add a foot or so of wire leader (number 8 single strand stainless steel wire works good) and use rugged, thru-wired plugs like the Rapala X-Rap Walk or Williamson Surface Pro. Spoons are another great choice because they cast far, track well in rough surf, and just plain catch fish. Heavy, slab style spoons like the Hopkins and Crippled Herring are especially productive off the beach.
Keep in mind fall is the prime time for tropical weather systems and cold fronts that kick up strong winds and rough seas that make the surf unfishable. The most consistently successful anglers are flexible with their schedules and are always ready to hit the beach whenever the combination of weather and mullet supply is just right.