Catching Sea Mullet - by Joe Malat

We catch two varieties of sea mullet in North Carolina, actually two different species. The Northern kingfish features a series of wide and distinct bars on the side of its body, and the spines at the front of the dorsal (top) fin are very long. The Southern kingfish has the same body shape but the marks on it's sides are less defined. The Southern is more abundant in Outer Banks waters, and both species may be mixed together along the beach. The North Carolina record for sea mullet is 3 1/2 pounds, the average size is much smaller. A one pound sea mullet is large enough to earn bragging rights for the lucky angler, and by any stretch of the imagination, they are not tackle busting giants.

Sea mullet have gone through periods of both scarcity and abundance, but recent years have been good with excellent numbers and encouraging catches of big fish. Their popularity is well- deserved.

Sea mullet are an inshore species, an easy target for surf casters. The torpedo-shaped body has an underslung mouth and pointed nose, a perfect design for rooting around on the bottom for food such as sand worms and mole crabs. Rarely will they hit a lure, and most of them are caught on pieces of fresh bait. Bloodworms and shrimp top the local bait menu, along with small pieces of fresh squid and mullet. Mole crabs or "sand fleas" are excellent, and you can't beat the price. Surfcasters can usually dig an adequate supply of sand fleas right at their feet.

Rigging up to catch them is simple, with the standard, two hook bottom rig preferred. with this rig, weights can be changed easily to adapt to local surf conditions, and hook sizes can be adjusted to fit the size of the fish that are available. Hook size is critical. These fish have small mouths, and you may miss a lot of bites if your hooks are too large. I like a #2 or #4 long shank, snelled hook with a small spinner blade and red beads. The spinner helps to jazz up the presentation by adding some flash and color to the bait, especially when the water is rough and dirty.

Sea mullet can be caught anywhere, but beaches that are dotted with a series of sandbars and deep holes, consistently produce most of the fish. A beach with points bordered by small "pockets" can also hold fish. Outer Banks beaches, especially Hatteras and Ocracoke, are peppered with beach profiles that match this description. Certain sections of each island will consistently have the right combination of holes and sand bars, but the exact location of these "hot-spots" may vary from week to week. Your best bet for success is to check in with any of the local tackle shops before heading for the beach.

For surfcasters, a medium weight spinning rod in the 8 to 9 foot range is a good choice, since a long cast is often not needed. I like a rod with a stiff tip to facilitate casting from one to four ounces of weight, plus a rig and bait. Every once in a while the fish will be schooled up at the edge of an offshore sand bar, and a long cast will be necessary, but I have found this to be the exception rather than the rule.

Don't overlook the possibility of the fish being literally at your feet. Frequently these silvery bottom feeders will forage along the edge of the drop-off for sand fleas and worms. They are a schooling fish, and when they're running, they are very cooperative.

The one thing I like about sea mullet is they will bite in a variety of conditions. I've caught them in clear, fairly calm water, and in a rough dirty ocean. However, it seems they tend to be more cooperative when the surf conditions strike a compromise between the two extremes.

I can't write an article about catching sea mullet without mentioning the contribution they can make to an evening meal. Their sweet, firm meat is a real treat. My family doesn't care to pick bones out of fish, so I fillet just about anything I catch. We like 'em fried lightly with a dash of lemon pepper seasoning. Just one taste, and I guarantee that you will instantly know why these little fish could be a shoo-in to win any popularity contest among North Carolina anglers.

 
 
© 2004, www.surfcasters.org, All rights reserved.