As the sweltering summer slowly morphs into fall, sport fishing conditions around the entire state begin to shift. Water and air temps are cooling, predators change their behavior and massive migrations begin. Further north in the Mid-Atlantic, the change in seasons took place earlier than it did here in the Sunshine State, triggering masses of mullet to make their way out of area backwaters to the beach, where they’ll begin their migration south. While these shimmering baitfish plan to head to warmer waters to spend the cooler months, predators along the way have other plans.
During the coming months, there is perhaps no better bait on Florida’s Atlantic coast than the mullet. Whether you’re fishing them live, cut, stripped or in the form of an artificial imitation, chances are every game fish in the area has been feeding on flatheads. Naturally, as these massive schools of mullet move south, anglers fishing Florida’s First Coast get the first opportunities to capitalize on this migration.
While many area anglers often rely on menhaden schools off the beach to draw in predators, they take a back seat this time of year as the mullet take center stage, firing up a variety of coastal game fish. Along with tarpon, large jack crevalle, bluefish, big bull redfish and sharks, big kingfish have been known to make their way close to the beach to partake in the frenzy. Fishing from a boat along the beach is certainly a great way to get connected, but it’s not the only viable venue here. Within area inlets, particularly the Mayport Inlet, the fishing heats up as well. This inlet is known year-round as a bull redfish and black drum hot spot, but this time of year the fish really key in on mullet. While smaller fish will fall victim to small live finger mullet and artificial imitations near jetties, the real monsters hunting deeper in the middle of the channel will readily eat large chunks fished on the bottom, while large live mullet get their fair share of bites as well.
Further down the coast, similar conditions present themselves along the beach as every predator in the area converges on these vulnerable schools of baitfish. These are great opportunities for landing triple-digit tarpon, as these fish are in open water and won’t break you off on any structure. Similarly, mackerel and jack remain consistent targets when more sought-after game fish seem to shut down. Once again, though, in the inlets where some of the mullet seem to leak into, the fishing can be insane as well. Florida’s central-Atlantic coast all the way down to southeast Florida, particularly the inlets along this stretch of coastline, have long been known as snook hot spots. During the mullet run, these fish really turn on and while you still need to dial in your approach to get wary snook to eat, one thing is for sure, they’ll be eating mullet. Even as the mullet migration moves on and only the larger 7- to 10-inch mullet seem to be lingering, don’t be afraid to pin a big circle hook to one of these “hog legs” and hold on. Watching a 40-plus-inch snook blow up on a bait a quarter of its length is truly a sight to behold.
As you get into southeast Florida later in the mullet run, toward the end of October, the baitfish tend to linger for a few weeks, giving anglers plenty of opportunities to target a wide variety of game fish in a somewhat defined area. Tarpon and snook seem to be the most popular targets when the mullet make it to town, as anglers stand in knee-deep water in the shadow of the South Beach skyline tossing baits to feeding silver kings. While this beach and inlet bite is stellar, not to mention the overflow of mullet that seek refuge in Biscayne Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, there is more fun to be had here in the coming months.
While many anglers associate the mullet run with a few weeks of world-class inshore fishing, and rightfully so, there is an offshore bite that occurs as well. Here in southeast Florida, the edge of the Gulf Stream ventures in very close to the beach, so plenty of mullet schools seem to make it to blue water on their treks south. As a result, offshore anglers in the know will load their livewells with mullet and fish the edge of the Gulf Stream using a variety of techniques. Early season sailfish will certainly not hesitate to devour a properly presented mullet hanging from a kite, while kingfish, dolphin, tuna, cobia and wahoo feel the same way. Speaking of wahoo, these fish are popular targets during the fall months surrounding full moons, and mullet can be your key to catching one of these fish. Live mullet fished on a downrigger from a stinger rig will certainly get a marauding wahoo’s attention, as well as massive kingfish that feed in the same areas. However, when specifically targeting wahoo, many anglers like to troll to cover a larger area. High-speed trolling with large lures is a tactic of choice most of the time, but during the mullet run, we recommend pulling the throttles back a bit and dragging a few large split-tail mullet, as this essentially “matches the hatch.”
Regardless of how you fish them, or what you’re fishing for, mullet are the center of attention on the state’s Atlantic coast during the coming months as they fuel local food chains during their migrations southward. But, this thrill is short-lived, so make sure you’re ready to roll when they get here! ζ
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