FISHING THE RIVER OF SILVER
FLORIDA’S ANNUAL FALL MULLET RUN
with Capt. Jim Ross of Fineline Fishing Charters
Capt. Jim Ross catches and releases a tarpon during Florida’s annual fall mullet migration.
Get in Line for the Bait Buffet!
Light tackle anglers in east central Florida have a fantastic opportunity to catch a variety of saltwater species during the fall months along the beaches of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Satellite, Melbourne, and Sebastian each year. Falling air and water temperatures that occur during the September through December time frame create a massive migration of silver and black mullet along this stretch of coast line.
This “river of silver” is like a buffet line for the various predatory species that all attend this banquet of baitfish. The list is like a “who’s-who” of southern coastal game fish species. Spanish mackerel, redfish, bluefish, shark, crevalle jack, snook, mangrove snapper, flounder, ladyfish, and tarpon are just a few targets that fisherman can encounter feeding on the wads of mullet swimming southward just outside of the surf break. These predators all know that the mullet run is their best opportunity to fatten up for the winter months, and they go about feeding on the hapless baitfish with reckless abandon.
Just the other day while out fishing near the tip of Cape Canaveral, my clients and I witness 16 or 18 “free jumping” tarpon, and about that many spinner sharks. These apex predators were launching themselves through the acres of mullet that were present during the upper portion of the tide. While fishing from a boat you can look in all directions some days to see mullet being constantly spooked and harassed by ladyfish, jack, Spanish, and blues that streak through the schools are they feed. This causes the mullet to spray out of the water as they flee the impending onslaught. All of this feeding activity brings pelicans, terns, seagulls, and even osprey at times, and makes finding where the best bite is occurring fairly easy for most anglers.
Baiting up for Mullet Run Fishing
The obvious bait choice for fishing the mullet run is a live finger-sized mullet. I like to “free line” these baitfish most of the time if I’m targeting bluefish, ladyfish, tarpon, and jack because these predators like to ambush the mullet from behind. My tactics change and I prefer to fish the mullet on a sliding sinker rig or ½ or ¾ ounce jig head when targeting snook, redfish, and flounder. These species will typically feed closer to the bottom, and are often in the surf break itself. The weight of the sinker or jig head allows me better feel and control over baits that are being fished in the surf. I generally use a 50-pound test Sufix fluorocarbon leader, but if the toothy critters start taking too much of my terminal tackle, I’ll place a small wire trace about 5-inches long between the hook and fluorocarbon.
Lures that imitate the mullet can work extremely well at times, especially during low light periods. Make sure you have plenty of ½ to 1-ounce silver Krocodile spoons, Rapala X-Rap diving plugs in sizes 10 through 14, and even a few top water and sub surface plugs like the Skitterwalk, Twichin’ Mullet or Subwalk models that Rapala has been producing for the past few years. These can be fished really fast and draw strikes from a majority of the species I’ve mentioned so far. Good color choices are green, blue, or black backed models with silver sides and a white belly. During sunny mid-day periods, I like using the glass ghost color. It seems to match the natural color of the mullet during that portion of the day, when they’ve got an off-white or slight pale-green tint to them. Work all of these lures with a fast, erratic retrieve. You do not want the predator fish to get a close look at any of your artificial lures. When they do, they often veer away at the last second of their attack run and do not actually strike.
No Boat? Go Truck Fishing
Although boaters often have the advantage of staying on a hot bite that is occurring by following close to the action, land-based anglers can score some fantastic catches during the mullet run as well. There are multiple city and county parks, and a variety of paid parking options from Canaveral southward to the Sebastian Inlet that are available to anglers that want to “truck fish.” This is true run-and-gun fishing. For gear, I recommend keeping it simple. Most of the fish you will be catching weigh less than 25-pounds, so a 7 to 8-foot medium to medium heavy action rod, and a 4000 to 5000 size spinning reel capable of holding 250 to 300-yards of 20 to 30-pound test braided main line are really all you need.
The Memory Stix model 793 S coupled with an Okuma Azores 4000 reel is one of my favorite light tackle combos for this type of fishing. It’s comfortable to cast all day, and allows you to run up and down the beach casting to fish as they chase the ever-restless pods of mullet. If you run into tarpon, shark, and other large species step up to a 6000 or 8000 sized reel and heavier rod. I also recommend a backpack for extra items, like tackle trays containing plugs, spoons, jigs and terminal tackle, leader material, pliers, a dehooking device, and bottle of water. You’ll want these items with you to make changes or repairs on the fly, without having to return to your vehicle to do so. Another extremely important piece of equipment needed when you truck fish is a good pair of binoculars. These allow you to scout for feeding activity from the boardwalk or crossover before deciding to grab your rods and head down to the beach.
Fishing the Tide
Another important thing to remember is that the tide will often “start” a bite for you, but sometimes it will shut it off as well. Although a bite can occur at any time, I prefer to fish the last 3-hours of the rising tide, or the first 3 to 4-hours of the falling tide. Slack tides usually don’t produce well, so plan your trips accordingly and you should have a great time catching fish during the annual fall mullet run.