Text//Photos provided by Skye Burkhardt
The smell of autumn, the change of colors, leaves falling at your feet, a cool breeze in the air. Yes, it is that time of the year that all us anglers wait for – the mullet run!
Every fall in Florida as the temperatures begin to cool, fishing is on fire. The fall temps trigger the natural instincts in mullet to head south along the Atlantic coast. These migrating mullet will stay in large schools that are irresistible to large predators, including most game fish.
WHAT ARE MULLET?
Mullet are a silver/grey fish. They are a ray-finned fish found worldwide in coastal temperature and tropical waters. There are 80 species of mullet – can you believe that?! They can be found in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters around the world. The massive amounts of mullet that are found in the surf and intracoastal waterways during the fall mullet run send fish into a frenzy, including masses of inshore fish such as snook, tarpon, redfish and seatrout. Hooking up to fish is nearly nonstop!
HOW TO FISH THE MULLET RUN
This is really a no-brainer and just about anyone could land fish during the mullet run.
As for myself, I follow the schools of mullet casting on the outsides of the schools hooking up and landing nearly every cast. I find that casting in the middle of the school is less successful because predators will often wait to pick off any fish that swims away from the school. It is that simple!
MULLET IS THE BAIT!
During the fall mullet run, mullet is the bait to use during this time of the year. Full-grown mullet are great for shark and tarpon fishing. I prefer to use finger-sized mullet, free-lined, which lands me just about anything. When targeting bull reds, large snook and tarpon, I up my liter to 80-lb+. For the most part this back country lady angler enjoys sight fishing and scouting Mosquito Lagoon and the marshes of the Tomoka Basin!
I myself will be targeting the bull reds on occasion in the inlet, but spending most days targeting snook, tarpon and slot reds in the back country and flats. I enjoy artificials and keeping busy while on the water, enjoying the art of angling artificials and sticking to light tackle is what I do, occasionally targeting what the mullet run has to offer. So what are you waiting for – get out there and fish!
CATCH AND RELEASE
All year, I specialize in the grassy flats studying, following, reeling and releasing redfish here in Mosquito Lagoon, the estuary where these big beautiful breeders give birth and keep their young safe from predators. It is a treat for an angler such as myself to reel in one of these beauties and take in the moment, as I know how important our breeder fish are, for they give us more life. Please remember during the mullet run when reeling in a bull red how important the act of catch and release and proper handling is.
KNOWLEDGE OF OUR BREEDER RED DRUM
Red drum, or as most of us call them – redfish, are Florida’s most popular sport fish and the state’s most wide-spread estuarial fish. How did red drum get their name, you ask? Because of the “drumming” sound they make when taken out of the water during spawning. Redfish inhabit the inshore and offshore waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Key West. Red drum in Florida can reach up to lengths of 52 inches (that being my largest personal record) and weighing up to 51-plus pounds.
During the fall, large red drum move into the Gulf beaches during the months of September through November. Tides carry them into an estuary where fish can spend their first few years between the ages of three to six years. The out-of-slot limit of 27 inches is when fish leave the estuary and join the spawning stock.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CATCH AND RELEASE
There are many opportunities the mullet run presents to us anglers from boats to piers, beaches to docks and bridges. Landing a bull red this time of the year comes quite easily. With the mullet running, you can simply free-line mullet or drop weight and land that trophy redfish! This is the time of year us anglers have been waiting for. One tug of that big red drum and we’re hooked but we need to greet these beauties knowing they MUST be released. This doesn’t necessarily happen due to lack of knowledge of our breeder red drum or the care to learn how important these fish are to our fishery.
I understand some are limited to where they can fish and not everyone has a boat, but I cannot explain how heartbreaking it is to see a breeder fish floating dead due to one’s carelessness. It is devastating seeing “fishermen” on piers and bridges reeling in our breeders and pulling them up hitting rocks hanging vertically. There is no way to to safely release her back to her waters when doing so and tossing her over the side is not okay. There is no way to ensure that she survives so that she can bless our estuaries with future fish!
PROPER FISH HANDLING
As we all know, fish swim and live in the water horizontally. Due to the lack of knowledge or just trying to get that epic shot for social media a large percent of “lady anglers” make themselves the focal point, but they don’t understand the damage they are causing our future breeders. I am deeply passionate and my catch and it will always be my focal point, handling them properly and being sure of a safe release back to their habitat. Have you ever considered the physical impact to that fish and what happens to it once it is released?
Think about it…while fish are in the water their natural buoyancy of the liquid medium holds and supports the fish’s organs in the correct position. To hold them in an absolutely unnatural position by holding the fish vertically can cause unnecessary stress on the heart and other organs. So, the next fish you catch and release, remember the damage you can prevent by properly handling the fish.
RESPECT THE FISH
It isn’t just a saying or a quote. I myself am a deeply passionate angler and practice proper fish care. When on the water, I become one with nature and the feeling I get when out there sight casting reds is unexplainable. Since it is the mullet run, bull reds are the target and as we all know, must be released back to their habitat. They are the future of fishing. I hope us anglers can come together and understand the importance of our estuary and breeders. So, please do everything in your power to ensure the healthy release of your fish.