By RICK FRAZIER
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000
Have you ever wondered why mullet jump? I've heard all kinds of reasons and have come to the conclusion it doesn't really matter.
What does matter is that they do, and that's great because I know where and when to throw my net over them. Every fall, just like clockwork, black mullet migrate from the back bays and rivers to the deep waters of the gulf to spawn. Schools of jumpers snake their way along the coastline just like salmon on their way upstream. If you have never seen it, it's truly remarkable.
Mullet can be netted all year, but from October to January the fish are more concentrated and larger, making them an easier target for those who chase them from bridges, docks and sea walls. Even waders, who normally have a difficult time getting close enough to a school, can cash in this time of year.
Cast nets made for mullet come in a variety of lengths, normally 6-12 feet. The most important part of a net, besides being able to throw it correctly, is the weight of the lead line. Normally, longer nets have more lead, causing them to sink much faster than smaller, lighter ones. Mullet can see a net coming and will outmaneuver a slower-sinking one.
A good starter size is 8 feet. It's not real heavy, easy to handle and much easier to clean out than a 12-footer. It also can be used wading or be thrown off a sea wall. Longer nets are harder to throw when wading. There is a variety of throwing styles, but as I once was told, there is only one way to throw a net: open! If the net doesn't open right and looks like a banana when it hits the water, then practice, practice, practice. Throw in the back yard until every cast looks like a pancake.
There's nothing more frustrating than having a wad of fish coming right at you and throwing a banana on top of them. I speak from experience. Some mullet fishermen say an incoming tide is best. Others say outgoing. I say go when you can and you'll find out which tide is best for the area you fish. Wading the flats, the incoming may be better. Off a dock in a residential canal, outgoing might be better. One thing is for sure: When cold fronts start coming down from the north and the wind starts blowing out of the northwest, the jumpers start moving to the gulf. If you like to eat fish and never have had fresh smoked mullet, you don't know what you're missing. Restaurants have made a living off smoked mullet for years. Care of the fish once they're caught does make a difference in the taste. Many anglers prefer to break the fish's neck so the blood runs out. If the blood is not removed, it can make the fish taste much stronger, or as some people say, it gives it a fishy taste. If you bleed fish, pack them in ice shortly after the bleeding process. Even if you don't bleed them, put them on ice. Smoking mullet is quite easy. Begin by cutting the heads off and leaving the skin and scales on. "Butterfly" the fish by cutting down the backbone until you reach the body cavity. Once you've reached the cavity, the fish opens and the halves are connected by the belly.
Cooking mullet doesn't take a fancy commercial smoker. A charcoal barbecue grill with a lid will work fine. Fish is a delicate meat and doesn't require high heat, so a moderately low heat is the way to go. Build the fire and put hickory or oak chips on it until it gets really smoking. Put the fish on the rack as far from the heat as possible and cover.
If you prefer, coat the fish with seasoning. It's not a bad idea to put a small container of water in the smoker to keep the fish moist.
- Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters in St. Petersburg. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with our readers, contact the LUBBER LINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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