19 Sep Mullet The Mystery Baitfish of Fall
Mullet – The Mystery Baitfish of Fall by Dave Anderson
I remember the first time I ever saw mullet. It was late-September, and I was walking down Second Beach in Newport looking for these mystery baitfish that everyone was talking about. I spent a large part of that early morning looking out into the water. I was hoping to see schools of bait being blasted out of the waves, I was hoping that my blind-casts with a pencil would raise something—I saw nothing, I raised nothing. I walked pretty much the entire beach and saw NOTHING. Second Beach has a very shallow slope, and as I was walking back to my car, dejected, I started to look at the water a little differently. Instead of wading in 2-feet of water I splashed through the foamy tips of the edges of each wave, in mere centimeters of water. I was walking west, but looking back to the east, using the rising sun to my advantage.
Mullet – In the Skinny
I saw something. In water no deeper than four or five inches, I saw a patch of v-wakes. The patch was about the size of a car hood, and these little fish were moving in a zig-zag pattern, as the waves surged and receded, so did the school. All at once I realized that these things had most likely been swimming around behind me all morning—facepalm moment. I took my 2-ounce Pencil off and pulled an eel rig out of my belt pouch. I cut the 7/0 Gamakatso Octopus Hook off at the knot and clipped it onto my snap. No, the Lamiglas 1201M is not rated to throw a 3-gram hook, but I was able to ‘false-cast’ it into the pod of bait and snag one. When I reeled it up, I thought I had snagged a young-of-the-year striped bass, but closer inspection revealed the squared head and cigar body of a corncob mullet. I rehooked the mullet through the nostrils and pitched it into the 2-foot depths I had been wading through all morning. I was on instantly.
A few years later a nasty tropical storm was spinning out just east of Nantucket. Huge waves were battering the shoreline, and the water looked like Yoo-Hoo. I really wanted to fish, but I felt that there was no chance. I drove to a few spots looking for signs of life, but all I was seeing was dirty water and massive waves. I made one last stop, feeling like I was wasting my time, I left all my gear in the car and made the long walk to the shore. It all looked the same, but I saw one gull hovering just a few feet above the waves—then I saw a little spray of baitfish, they were silvery and about 5 inches long. “Mullet!” I actually said it out loud and sprinted back to get in my wetsuit and grab my gear.
Mullet – Lure Observations
The fishing that day was awesome. But the better takeaway came from observation. I was catching fish on just about everything I threw, but with the amount of fish I was seeing in the surf and the sheer numbers of bait, I should have been catching a lot more. Whenever I’m faced with a high competition feeding scenario, and I’m not doing as well as I think I should, I stop fishing and watch. I watch to see how the bait is reacting to the situation. These little finger mullet were FAST—fanning out in speeding v-wakes as the gamefish crashed through the shallows. The bass (along with a few big blues) seemed to be super keyed in on that burst of speed.
Mullet – Options for Imitation
Then the solution came to me: a Super Strike Bullet I even went so far as to remove the belly hook, just to facilitate faster unhooking. My first cast with that little white bullet was met with multiple fish cartwheeling to catch up to it. I have a distinct freeze-frame in my mind of one fish slapping it into the air and another one snaring it before it landed. The bite was ferocious after that because I was giving them what they wanted. I didn’t catch any giants that day, but I had several nice bass from 20 to 26 pounds with a good mix of smaller bass and a few teen blues to show for it. Nonetheless, the bite was awesome, and it provided just one of the many examples in my time as a surf fisherman where fishing FAST was the key to unlocking the true potential of the bite.
Mullet – When and Where
If you live and/or fish anywhere from Aquidneck Island west, mullet swim in your waters. They almost never show themselves in Buzzards Bay or points east. While both Long Island and New Jersey have similarly also enjoyed mullet runs of varying magnitude over the years. It’s the first hard cold snap of the fall that seems to get them moving and the moon that follows that seem to usher in the bite. Some years we see them well into November, other years the run comes and goes in just a few weeks. Don’t miss it and don’t forget to mix in a few ludicrous speed retrieves—striped bass don’t always like it low and slow.