Do you love to eat fish? Do you have friends or neighbors who love to eat fish? Do you find it hard sometimes to catch enough fish to feed your family or share with others? After all, daily bag limits are tight these days. Do you wish you could bring more fish home?
Well, then — let me tell you about a fish we have right here in Southwest Florida that is easy to catch, easy to clean and tastes great. Also, it has the one of the most generous bag limits of any edible fish in our great state. And did I mention it’s delicious?
The mullet — that’s right, the mullet — is one of our state’s most abundant edible fish, and probably one of the most underrated. Mullet are found throughout Florida, and around the world for that matter. They live mostly in warm tropical to subtropical environments (that’s us, by the way) and can live anywhere from the open ocean to brackish rivers and creeks. There are also a few species of mullet that thrive in fresh water.
There are around 80 known species of mullet, but in Florida we basically have two: The striped or black mullet, and the silver mullet. The average size of a black mullet (the larger of the local species) is 1 or 2 pounds, but they can reach weights of over 6 pounds. In captivity, where they grow fat and lazy, they have even been known to exceed 12 pounds.
If you’re looking to bring a pile of fish home for a party or family get-together, mullet are ideal. With a daily bag limit of 50 fish per harvester, you can bring home 50 to 100 pounds of fish — and with no size limit to worry about, you really can’t go wrong.
The best way by far to catch mullet is by netting them. There are a couple of different ways to net mullet, but the good old tried-and-true castnet is still the best bet. Mullet nets differ from bait nets because they have larger mesh and more weight. Both of these changes allow the net to sink faster, which is important since mullet are very fast and will swim out from under a regular bait net.
Now for you sporting types, the most exciting way to catch a mess of mullet is to trick them into biting a hook. This is not an easy task, seeing as mullet are basically vegetarians. Mullet will eat corn and bread balls on a small No. 1 hook, and they have also been known to take small flies that imitate very small insects.
It may not be all that easy to catch mullet on hook and line but it is be worth your time and effort to give it a try, I promise. Once hooked, mullet put up quite a battle — especially on light line (although, oddly, they don’t jump).
For you not-so-sporting types, snagging mullet is perfectly legal and can be quite productive, not to mention fun. I personally have been known to snag a mullet or two in my day, usually when the other fish are refusing to cooperate. Hey, it beats coming home empty-handed.
Mullet are not a prized catch like a snook or a redfish, and I’m not saying you should start targeting mullet like you would your favorite game fish. But learning to catch them can really pay off one day.
Let’s say you have family coming in from out of state. Let’s say there are 10 of them coming in and they invited some of their old friends to come over when they get into town. Now let’s say they really want you to give them a good old-fashioned southern-style fish fry “because they are homesick.”
What are you going to feed them when they arrive? If you have the freezer space, you could go out and start trying to load up on sheepshead or pompano. It might take a few trips, or even a few dozen. Alternatively, you could go out just once and net 50 mullet. If you do, there will be plenty of fish to go around. That sounds like a better (and cheaper) idea to me.
I’ve had quite a few people tell me over the years that mullet are not a good eating fish. But when I ask them if they’ve tried mullet themselves, 9 out of 10 times the answer is no. I have fed mullet to many an unaware friend and have never had one of them not like it.
One of the biggest reasons mullet are one of Florida’s biggest sought-after and exported fish is because they are very good to eat along with the fact they are easy to catch and clean. But there are three tricks you want to know.
First, you need to bleed them right away. Florida Crackers call this “breaking their necks,” and they usually do it by inserting a finger into the gills, pulling the head back and popping the strand of tissue between the gill slits (the closest thing a fish has to a throat). You can use a knife if you prefer. It needs to be done while the fish is still alive, and it will be a bloody mess. Point the fish away from you.
The other two things you may already know. As with any fish, removing the darker meat as you clean them will help to reduce any fishy taste. And all fish in Florida should be iced right away, and kept iced until you fillet them (and then refrigerated or put back on ice immediately). Smoking is a popular way to prepare mullet, though many native Floridians usually fry them.
Give mullet a try — you won’t be disappointed. If it turns out I’m wrong and you hate the taste, at least you’ll have plenty of bait for your next fishing trip.
Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Having fished the waters all along the Southwest Florida coast for more than 40 years, he has the experience to put anglers on the fish they want. His specialties are sharks, tarpon and the nearshore Gulf waters. For more info, visit ReelShark.com or call Capt. Mike at 941-416-8047.