With the highly anticipated mullet run in full swing, anglers should not only take advantage of the impressive angling opportunities afforded by the immense migration, but also in the procurement of fresh offerings that are both highly versatile and easy to acquire.
Mullet are often seen lethargically cruising the surface of inshore and near-shore habitats and are super effective when presented live under the appropriate circumstances. However, experienced offshore anglers know that these scaly baits really shine as tantalizing strips.
Across big game fisheries throughout the world, strip baits are highly regarded for their ability to be presented in numerous fashions while providing natural scent and inviting swimming action. Anglers targeting pelagic game fish like kingfish, wahoo, dolphin, tuna and billfish find it hard to beat fresh strip baits fashioned from juvenile tuna, dolphin bellies, squid and more, but mullet strips should never be overlooked.
In Florida waters three species of mullet ignite explosive feeding frenzies— striped, silver and fantail mullet. Striped mullet grow the largest and as a result are the ideal choice for carving sensational strip baits. During the height of the mullet run it shouldn’t be difficult to acquire fresh offerings and you should take full advantage of the seemingly endless supply. When cast netting mullet with the intention of making fresh strip baits, it’s best to be prepared with a bucket or cooler of slushy saltwater brine.
Carving strip baits out of mullet requires a razor sharp fillet knife with a thin, flexible blade. Much like you would fillet any game fish for the dinner table, start by making an angled incision in your mullet behind the pectoral fin. From here continue filleting the slab towards the tail. When you reach the tail, take your time to ensure it splits into two even sections. Practice makes perfect, but a sharp knife greatly reduces the learning curve. If you didn’t butcher the baitfish, you should be able to flip it over and repeat the process on the opposite side.
With the two mullet fillets separated from the carcass—with tailfin intact—you must now clean up the strips by removing the rib cage and shaving down any excess meat. Place the mullet strip on the rigging station or fillet table scale side down and begin trimming flesh from the fillet by working your blade from the tail towards the top of the strip. Depending on the species in your crosshairs you can also trim the length and width of the strip, but no matter what you’ll want to taper the strip with symmetrical cuts so the bait swims with a natural fluttering motion.
Mullet strips can be rigged to a hook in numerous fashions depending on the application and target species. Strips are excellent options for drifting, jigging and trolling, but no matter the end goal it is critical the hook point is inserted in the center of the strip to prevent it from spinning.
For most presentations rigging simply involves piercing the strip onto a hook, but for trolling applications the process is slightly more involved. If you are planning on fishing a single hook rig with wire leader in the hopes of snagging kingfish and wahoo, you’ll want to leave a small tag of wire after attaching your hook to the leader via a haywire twist. It’s important the tag end faces up in the same direction as the bend of the hook, but it should be slightly angled away from the point toward the running line.
With your mullet strip scale side down, insert the wire tag about a ¼ inch from the top of the strip. You can also bend or twist the wire a little to further secure the bait. Now line up the strip and insert the hook so it exits the center of the strip at the point where the hook shank starts to bend. Conversely, if the situation calls for a monofilament of fluorocarbon leader, you can use a short length of copper wire to attach the strip near the hook eye. While your mullet strip can be trolled naked, most choose to further enhance its appeal by adding a sea witch, squid skirt or small trolling lure.
Once your trolling strip is ready to go you can present it nearly anywhere in the spread. While they are extremely effective on the surface pulled out of an outrigger clip or simply trolled as a flat line at 4- to 6-knots, they are also deadly when presented below the surface with a trolling lead, downrigger or planer.
Double Hook Mullet Strip
The double hook variation of a rigged mullet strip is an excellent alternative. This rigging method requires nothing more than impaling the point of the prepared strip on the leading hook before inserting the second hook through the center of the bait.