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
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.