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You've seen them jumping, especially this time of year. Late fall and early winter are the best times around the west coast of Florida for mullet fishing. They are fat, full of roe and prime for the smoker.
Mullet, unlike other fish, do not have a stomach. They have a crop and gizzard just like a chicken. Mullet are vegetarians, eating plankton, grasses and algae. All they consume is taken into the crop, separated by the gizzard and deposited directly into the intestines, which can be up to a few feet in length.
Since mullet are vegetarians, catching them on hook and line is almost impossible. Some native Floridians have mastered a technique of using dough balls or oatmeal on a very small hook to catch them, but around here, the cast net is your best bet.
Mullet cast nets range from 6 feet to 12 feet. Recreational netters generally use an 8-footer. This size is easy to handle and, better yet, easy to clean out. Larger nets do have advantages, however. They are heavier and sink much faster. And with mullet having exceptional vision, they will sometimes outrun the slower-sinking nets.
Nets also have different mesh sizes, ranging from 1 inch to 3 inches. Two-inch is a good all-around size. Most fish will not get gilled, and the net will still sink quickly enough that the mullet will have a hard time escaping. Just remember, the smaller the mesh the slower the descent.
Good mullet nets range from $60 to $200. The more expensive nets are usually handmade, and if you're serious about catching mullet, they are the way to go. These nets are made from pie-shaped pieces of mesh, have more lead and open much easier than cheaper nets. Most inexpensive nets are made from circular pieces of mesh that bunch up during opening, causing a lot of "bananas" or openings that have a half-moon shape.
With each passing cold front, mullet move out from inland bays and estuaries to deeper gulf waters to spawn. When they are on the move is the perfect time to target them. Schools of more than a thousand pounds are common and can be easy targets for anglers who know where to find them.
The best places are bridges over the passes that lead to the gulf. Actually, the sea wall under the bridge is the place to be. That way, you're not too high, but will still be high enough above the schools to get a good throw on them. Plus, you'll be able to see the schools coming.
The Sunshine Skyway, Bayway, Tierra Verde and Bunces Pass bridges are excellent locations. So are the Bellair Bridge and Memorial Causeway. Mullet will follow the coast right around the "shoulders" and can be easy pickings.
Polarized sunglasses are a must when mullet fishing. Cutting the glare off the water will enable you to see the schools coming. Another easy way to detect their movement is, of course, by their leaps out of the water. Lead mullet will continuously come out of the water as if saying "follow me, I know the way." Actually, it's a mystery why mullet jump as they do.
Mullet have a very generous bag limit throughout the year of 50 per person. Some restrictions do apply, so it's wise to contact the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement at (813) 272-2516 to learn of special regulations.
-- Capt. Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the LUBBERLINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org