Mullet may appear apathetic as they lethargically meander along the water’s surface of inshore estuaries and canals, but rigged properly and these enticing baits really come to life! Routinely employed by crews around the world targeting large game fish, split tail swimming mullet are incredibly versatile baits that can be fished in a variety of positions throughout your spread. Whether you prefer to fish mullet off a downrigger, trolling lead, flat line barely skimming the surface or as hookless teasers for dredge adornments, you will undoubtedly catch more trophy fish with mullet in your spread.
The traditional way to rig a split-tail mullet involves cutting a wedge out of the head to create a streamlined profile. While this method is highly effective, it takes time to perfect and the result of a failed attempt will be a split-tail spinning mullet. With practice you will be able to wedge and debone a mullet with ease, but the following approach provides a much simpler technique. Like all applications that call for natural presentations, the fresher the bait the better, although flash frozen offerings from leading providers like Bionic Bait are the next best thing.
Whether you prefer to fish mullet off a downrigger, trolling lead, flat line barely skimming the surface or as hookless teasers for dredge adornments, you will undoubtedly catch more trophy fish with mullet in your spread.
A critical factor in the outcome of any bait rigging endeavor is the sharpness of your fillet knife. It’s important your cuts are precise, and a flexible, razor sharp fillet knife will make the process much simpler. Depending on the species you plan on encountering you may alter your terminal tackle to adapt to the situation. Mullet can be fished for marlin and tuna on fluorocarbon with and without a chin weight, but the following bait is destined for the mouths of hungry wahoo and smoker king mackerel. For 9-inch mullet most pros rig with a 2 oz. egg sinker, 9/0 long shank J-hook and #9 wire.
The first step involves splitting the tail and removing the backbone. Insert the tip of your fillet knife near the end of the dorsal fin and slowly slide it through the bait until it exits the stomach cavity. In a swift but controlled motion, slice along the backbone toward the tail. With the appropriate angle and a sharp blade the tail will split evenly. Flip the bait over and make the same slice along the other side of the backbone. When completed properly you will be left with a backbone and chunk of meat between the split tails. Insert the knife along the backbone and work the meat off the skin. Snap the spine and pull out the chunk of bone and meat. Fortunately, mullet are plentiful around the state so there should be no shortage of bait to practice with.
From here insert an ice pick or rigging needle through the jaw of the mullet and pierce a hole dead center between the mullet’s eyes. Place your hook alongside the mullet and measure for the proper placement. The hook eye will eventually rest in line with the hole you just pierced in the head. Once you’ve marked the spot where your hook will exit the stomach cavity, just behind the pec fins, make an incision large enough to pass the hook eye through. Sloppy cuts result in ugly baits. Work the hook eye through the hole toward the mullet’s mouth. With the hook eye in place, slide your egg sinker onto the wire leader and insert through the mullet’s lower jaw. When the leader comes out the top of the head, position the sinker under the chin and begin making a haywire twist. It’s important the leader pulls on the loop and not the hook or your bait will likely spin and swim with an unnatural presentation.
Since they provide a larger profile than ballyhoo, it’s no surprise split-tail mullet are routinely fished by crews looking to weed out small fish. While you can purchase deboned mullet already split tailed, Florida’s mullet population is alive and well. With an endless supply of mullet invading our waters during the coming months you should make an initiative to freeze a few baits for future endeavors.