A nyone who doesn’t feel a baitfish qualifies as one of the most important species in the Gulf likely hasn’t fished enough.
Although I am equally sure there are fishermen—successful fishermen—who use only artificial lures, or only live shrimp, such folks are eliminating some really productive possibilities.
To understand the importance of the mullet, you should first realize that almost anything that swims in salt water, from crabs to marlin, will feed eagerly on mullet. Mullet are common all over the Gulf, in shallow water or deep, along the shoreline of both bays and Gulf, and also in deeper water away from land.
Mullet are probably the easiest bait species for an angler to capture, yet they can be purchased nearly everywhere on our coast. Mullet make perhaps the ultimate live bait—or can be used as a cut bait, a trailer bait on a cast or trolled lure, or rigged as a bait on their own.
Mullet can be used for surface feeders or bottom hunting gamefish. And, if all else fails, the mullet itself can be more than decent table fare.
My first and almost finest moments in a long life of salt water fishing were spent seeking bull reds and other hard fighting fish in the surf. For this sport, the mullet has no equal as a bait. Live finger mullet will draw strikes from flounders and speckled trout, stingrays, gafftop catfish, or any other small- to medium-sized salt water battler.
Many times when small mullet were all I could catch in my cast net, I would rig them two to the leader for bull redfish. Some of my largest reds were taken on the smallest of mullet.
Large live mullet will be taken by sharks of almost any size, big stingrays, and tarpon—and I have occasionally caught a stray king mackerel on a big live one in calm, green surf. Jack crevalle and big surf running bluefish seem to pursue mullet above all other bait species.
When you’re bottom fishing offshore, a large live mullet might be taken by a sizable red snapper or grouper, and big amberjacks love them, also. As cut bait for snappers, mullet are very hard to equal, and kingfish eagerly attack either live or fresh dead mullet of practically any size.
The largest dolphin I ever caught hit a huge dead mullet I was drifting for sharks in a tournament. The 24-pound bull was nearly four feet long. It first hit the big bait and ran off strongly a good distance with it before pulling the hook. Then it waited in the shadow of the boat for me to throw the bait back out after I reset the hook. The bull took it as soon as it entered the water. I fought this battle on a tight line close to the transom. Big ling also love live mullet, and a de-boned mullet is a great trolling bait for wahoo and billfish.
In contrast, perhaps,of the large bull reds I have taken on small finger mullet, the biggest flounder I have ever taken completely swallowed a very large mullet I was fishing off the back of my boat in the canal I docked in, hoping to hook a big alligator gar.
The sight of jacks and/or tarpons slashing through a huge school of rafting mullet in the surf is as exciting as any feeding frenzy you are likely to see. I’ve also enjoyed watching big schools of over-sized mullets slowly swimming in the channel between jetties and occasionally being excited by an unknown attacker from below.
I mentioned that mullet are normally rather easy to catch, and a decent cast net can pay big dividends in fishing success—as well as being good exercise. I once met a “gentleman” from Florida visiting Galveston near San Luis Pass who had an 18-foot cast net of the type and size used in his home waters by commercial fishermen to catch mullet for market. He was simply enjoying throwing it that day, and kept several fishermen supplied with bait.
Along most of the eastern coast of the Gulf, mullet are a prized table fish, especially smoked. I have cooked them like this on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed them, and also tried them filleted and fried with excellent results.
If there is a more useful fish than the mullet, I need to find him. We’ve used chunks of cut mullet as trotline bait for big blue catfish in freshwater, and a live mullet or two left in a crab trap they wandered into will soon be sharing that space with as many hungry blue crabs as can squeeze into it.
Just the sight of mullet jumping in calm surf, or torpedoing inside big breakers in rough surf is a good sign the fishing will be worthwhile that day. Since I used to dump fish scraps in the woods, I have no reason not to expect mullet to be a good trap bait for ‘coons, as well. If a rare day finds no gamefish wanting to bite your mullet bait, “mullet on the half shell” cooked skin side down on a grill is not a bad “fail-safe” position.
Location—The surf is “hot” in more ways than one. Jetties, rock groins, and piers are good places to extend your fishing area beyond a long cast.
Species—Trout, reds, flounder, croaker, and others keep anglers busy “inshore”.
Bait—Live mullet, croaker or shad can just about always be depended on, and shrimp should be fairly easy to find. Man-made offerings that imitate these species can produce just as well at times.
Best Time – To dodge the heat of the day, fish early and late—or at night. Always pay attention to tidal movement.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]