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Mullet run garnering attention

Published December 30, 2006


Although the water has temperature has begun to drop again, there have been some interesting things taking place on the inshore scene. Topping the list is the record mullet run of 2006 which hit its peak last weekend.

Every year at this time, black mullet come out of rivers, estuaries, and backwaters and gather in massive schools to spawn. These aggregations hang around the mainland shore, building in size and numbers until a cold front approaches. As winds shift to a southerly direction, the typical precursor to a cold front's arrival, the mullet begin to move toward the Gulf. When the front hits and the winds turn northwesterly, giant pods of the roe-laden fish move to open water where the spawning takes place. This ritual takes place several times before it is finished, which in the Nature Coast area is generally around Christmas.

Late last week, commercial cast net fishermen from Tarpon Springs to Palm Harbor began reporting the biggest and densest schools of mullet seen in many years. Unbelievable mullet masses containing tens of thousands fish hovered along miles of coastal flats. Birds, dolphins, and even sharks bombed the thick pods from below and above. When the fish reached deeper water and stacked atop each other, some incredible commercial cast net catches were made. Last Friday, one boat with two fishermen landed 9,000 pounds of mullet in a single day with hand thrown nets. One of them said "we caught 100 pounds per cast, every cast, for five hours".

Before long, word had spread and commercial netters from several counties poured in. Some fished legally; others risked arrest by running illegal gill nets or linked seine nets in an attempt to cash in on the lucrative, but short, roe season. The arrival of well organized poachers drew the attention of law enforcement officials who logged many hours tracking them at night. At least one felony gill net arrest was recorded in northern Pinellas County and Sherriff's officials there said large scale illegal net fishing was happening nearly every night from Tarpon Springs to Dunedin. One gill net, abandoned in a failed attempt to escape arrest, was found with five turtles tangled in its mesh. All were rescued and released.

Far removed from the late night cat-and-mouse games between the marine police and poachers, early morning rod and reel anglers have found great redfish catches in very shallow water. Waders and kayak fishermen report catching reds from 16 to more than 30 inches in less than 2 feet of water. During low tides, reds have been feeding in water too shallow to float most boats, even those designed for flats fishing. In some areas wading is the only way to get close enough to get a shot at these fish.

Speckled trout fishing has been excellent, particularly during warm periods between frontal systems. As usual, smaller specks have been in water from 4 to 8 feet while bigger fish prefer the shallows.

When the weather has allowed anglers access to offshore waters, grouper fishing has also been very good. Most gags have dropped back out of the shallow rocks and shifted to 50 to 80 feet of water, where temperatures are more stable. The key has been to find spots that have not been worked over. If you catch grouper with preexisting hook marks in their mouths, pick up and move right away. Trying to squeeze one or two keepers out of a spot that has been hammered is the wrong way to go. Staying on the move and looking for one great spot almost always leads to the best catches.

Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call 727 944-3474 or e-mail

[Last modified December 30, 2006, 06:52:08]

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