The Mullet Are Coming!
The mullet are coming… the mullet are coming…
September should be one of your favorite times of the year to get on the water. If it’s not, well, you’re seriously missing out on some of the most productive and exciting fishing Florida has to offer. I’m talking about the mass floods of mullet, both big and small, that we get passing through this time of year. As the water starts cool off up North, the mullet start to head south. I’ve heard quite a few ideas about why the mullet do their thing in the fall. One that seems reasonable is that as the water cools off, the amount of available food for the mullet such as algae and grasses becomes scarce. Thus, the fish push south to find better concentrations of the stuff they like to munch on. Water temperature and the need to get south to spawn are also big factors, I’m sure. Whatever it is that makes them do what they do, let’s hope they keep coming because it definitely makes for some awesome fishing! Let’s talk about a few of my favorite fish and why they tend to shine during the fall mullet run…
Tarpon… Even if you don’t want to catch a silver king just watching these giants busting through the schools of mullet is about as cool as it gets. You’ll want to look for the bigger mullet towards the end of the month as they start to show up along the beaches, inlets, and around the bridges. It’s not hard to find the tarpon; just look for the 100lb silver streak flying through the air and crashing into the water like someone tossed a VW bus out of an airplane. All joking aside, you can pretty much bet that there are some poons hanging under just about every pod of large mullet this month. Whether at the inlets, beaches, or bridges, there’s a few different ways to target them. First, make sure you have some beefed-up tackle as there will be a lot of fish upwards of 100lbs. I like to use a 6000-8000 size Shimano spinning reel paired up to an extra heavy Shimano spinning rod. Anything smaller than that won’t allow you to put enough pressure on the fish, which wears them out unnecessarily and could be harmful to them. As for terminal tackle I like to use an 8-10ft, 60-80lb fluorocarbon leader, and a 7-10/0 circle hook depending on bait (mullet or pogy) size. You can simply free-line a mullet back to the edges of the bait school or, and most people don’t try this, you can put a mullet on the bottom on a fish-finder or knocker rig. Just because you see the tarpon feeding up top doesn’t mean they aren’t looking down deep as well. In fact, after talking to some of the best tarpon fisherman in NE Florida the bait on the bottom trick seems to be the preferred method when fishing around mullet schools. If tossing a lure is your thing, the obvious choice would be something that looks like a mullet. Big sub-surface plugs from Rapala and Mirrolure are popular tarpon lures. I like to toss a big soft plastic like the 5” Die Dapper from Saltwater Assassin on a big swimbait hook. It looks just like a mullet and with a slow steady retrieve the tarpon can’t help themselves. No matter how you do it just don’t forget to bow to the king!
Redfish… There is no better time to get out and catch some redfish than during the mullet run. The top-water bite peaks this time of year and the reds will really key in on those baitfish. If watching a big red inhale a top-water plug off the surface doesn’t get you going you might need to check your pulse! The smaller “finger” mullet have already started to invade the flats and creeks all across NE Florida. Finding some hungry redfish can be as easy as finding the bait this time of year. Look for large concentrations of finger mullet along the spartina grass lines on the high tide and then along the ICW banks on the lower tide stage. If it’s early in the morning or late in the afternoon you can bet I’ll have my clients tossing that top-water plug through those schools of mullet. The Rapala Skitterwalks are my go-to but just about any top-water plug that resembles a mullet will work. If you are fishing in the middle of the day, a soft plastic like the Saltwater Assassin Lil Boss paddle tail is a dead match for a finger mullet. I’ll pair that up with a 1/4oz jighead, then it’s just cast and retrieve right through or to the edges of the mullet schools… couldn’t get any easier. Of course, a live finger mullet on a fish-finder rig or jighead is hard to beat, and if the water is murky or the bite is a little slow don’t be afraid to chop that mullet up. A little mullet stink can go a long way on stubborn redfish. The bull reds will be in on the mullet action as well. Last year we had an incredible bull red bite along St. Augustine Beach as the reds were hanging out under the pods of mullet coming down the beach. In that case, we fished a live mullet under the schools. The inlets will be stacked with bull reds as well, and when you see the tarpon busting through the schools of mullet, guess who will be hanging out underneath picking up the scraps?… umm… redfish, among other things. A big cut piece of mullet can’t be beat on the bottom for those inlet bulls.
Flounder… I almost always catch my biggest flounder of the year over the next couple of months. The bigguns will move into the inlets and deeper water docks looking to get in on the mullet run. Big flounder like to eat big mullet so don’t be afraid to size up on your bait if you’re looking to catch a doormat. I’ll sometimes use a 10” mullet at the inlets this time of year to find those big flatties. Just know that you’ll most likely need to use more weight to hold that guy on the bottom. Those big flounder will stack up along the rocks at the St. Marys, St. Augustine, Mayport, and Matanzas inlets just to name a few. Prepare yourself to lose some tackle because you will need to be fishing right in the rocks. A fish-finder rig with a 8-12” leader and enough weight to hold the bottom is my go-to rig. A kahle hook matched in size to your bait has been a flounder favorite for years. Just remember to let the flounder chew for awhile before setting the hook or you’ll be getting back the dreaded scaled mullet with no flounder to be seen.
You know, you have to respect all these mullet… can you imagine having to make your way down the coast while being chased by fish, birds, and humans? If a big mullet could tell stories… But actually, I’d rather be the one telling a story about a huge tarpon that ate him off my line!