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Multiple uses await for mullet

When mullet move through coastal shallows, they stir up baitfish and crustaceans. Speckled trout, redfish and snook often shadow the schools to pick off the easy meals.

DAVID A. BROWN | Special to the Times

When mullet move through coastal shallows, they stir up baitfish and crustaceans. Speckled trout, redfish and snook often shadow the schools to pick off the easy meals.

Okay, some folks actually catch mullet on pieces of corn, oats and other down-home baits, but the big-eyed vegetarians are not considered a hook-and-line species.

That does not mean the mullet has no recreational value. On the contrary, anglers who know their stuff hold this fish in high regard.

From a basic scouting perspective, mullet are the measurement for an inshore area's viability. Rugged and durable, this fish can tolerate a wide range of conditions. Therefore, their absence reflects poorly on an area's potential for attracting more discriminating species such as snook, trout and redfish.

More than once, I've watched a fishing guide survey a seemingly lifeless flat or bay and then pack up to leave with this analysis: "I don't even see any mullet moving. There's nothing here."

That being said, when you find the telltale splashes and "nervous water" signaling the presence of mullet schools, you're usually in a good area with lots of gamefish potential.

Worth a note is the mullet's movement. Redfish anglers often "sight fish" their quarry by looking for shallow water wakes. Many have mistakenly followed mullet, so note the differences.

Redfish move with clear purpose. It's a Point A to Point B deal for them, so theirs is a distinctive V-shaped wake. When multiple reds move together, the larger wake is equally decisive.

Mullet, on the other hand, are just happy to be there. Capricious and easily distracted, these guys just roam with a pleasantly oblivious disorganization that makes the water look more like a pot of boiling macaroni.

Nevertheless, mullet mean good things to anglers and those who like fresh fish dinners. Here's why:

Mobile Snack Supply: Reds, trout and snook follow mullet schools to pick off the crabs, shrimp and baitfish these rumbling vegetarians displace. Quietly follow mullet schools in a skiff, or wade their perimeter for nearly nonstop action (especially during the fall/winter gatherings).

Light jigs with shad or grub bodies, artificial shrimp and topwater plugs commonly draw the big strikes around mullet schools.

Big Baits: As a thick bodied fish, the mullet provides a tempting target for large pelagic predators. Trolled with stinger rigs for kingfish and wahoo, or saddled with a big circle hook for billfish, a mullet can yield big results offshore.

A well-placed cast net will nab a dozen or more mullet in a single throw. These fish do fine in a live well.

The other option is to fish dead mullet. With their backbones removed and their tail ends split, deceased mullet will actually "swim" when trolled at sufficient speed. Brining and freezing fresh mullet keeps them ready for duty.

Cut Bait: Grouper, redfish and sharks readily gobble chunks of fresh or frozen mullet fished on the bottom. You'll need only a few for this deal, so if you'd rather skip the cast net chore, just sling a weighted treble ("snatch hook") into a mullet school until you connect a handful of times.

Cut your mullet into steaks right down the backbone and size the chunks to the size of fish you're pursuing — maybe an inch-wide for redfish and grouper and double that for sharks. Use circle hooks — it's the law for grouper, but also a good idea for easily releasing reds, sharks and anything else you catch.

Table Fare: Liberal limits make it easy to feed a family, as long as you can sling a big cast net. Even with the snatch hook method, you can put several mullet meals in the box. Fried, smoked or stirred into fish dip, this fish hits the mark.

Consider this seasonal opportunity: Mullet roe (the egg sacks) are a delicacy in some parts of the world, so each fall finds commercial netters diligently seeking the egg-laden females. These "hens," as they're known, fetch top dollar at fish markets, while the males (a.k.a. "whites") bring minimal meat rates.

Commercial guys sell both genders to fish markets, but if you know a netter, you may be able to sweet talk your way into a few of the whites if you're willing to show up at the boat ramp at the end of a run. (Offering to chip in on the fuel bill helps.)

Multiple uses await for mullet 11/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 6:42pm]
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