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By Peter Hinck
Take mullet from the backwaters to the bass lakes.
Fishing on Lake Okeechobee recently, I was surprised at how many mullet I saw jumping. The thought came to me, why not use these fish for bait?
During the fall mullet run, I decided to keep a half dozen mullet in the livewell to see how they would work in a freshwater lake by my house. After cleaning the salt off the boat and rods, I found myself tired and decided to release the mullet into the lake, to fish with them another day. I dumped the mullet and within a minute, two of the mullet were blasted under the dock. The other four swam off, only to be crushed by hungry bass within minutes. All of a sudden I was not tired anymore and was in the truck with a cast net. I netted a bucket full of mullet and took them back to the lake. After five minutes I had a blowup on the mullet and landed a 3-pounder. I spent the rest of the day looking at how the mullet reacted to the fresh water. I worked through some different ways to rig them.
The true test came when I called a friend, Richard, from the Sebastian Fishing Club and set up a time to fish the famed Stick Marsh with mullet. We fished in the afternoon and freelined our mullet. It took 4 minutes to land the first bass, a fat 4-pounder. We landed 6 bass from 3 to 5 pounds and Rich lost an 8-pounder. Not bad for a short afternoon trip. As we cranked up the boat to head in, a large mullet jumped three times in front of us. I looked at Rich and smiled. This is nothing new to the bass; the mullet have always been in here. Mullet roam far up all of Florida’s coastal rivers. They will traverse locks, culverts and tiny feeder streams to enter freshwater bodies.
I knew bass would eat the mullet but what was the best way to rig them? I tried traditional live shiner techniques as well as saltwater methods for snook and sailfish. One way stood out from the rest. Using a baitcasting reel with 20- to 30-pound braided line, tie on a 4-foot, 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. On the end of the leader, tie a light wire circle hook. Use the smallest hook you think you can get by with and hook the mullet through the lips. The mullet will stay on the surface and swim away most of the time. If the mullet swims to you, cast him out from where you are. Keep your reel in free spool and let him take out line. At some point put the reel in gear and slowly reel him back. Repeat this if needed. A strike could come at any time and it could take up to 10 crazy topwater strikes before the bass catches the fast-moving mullet. Don’t set the hook, but reel in when you feel the bass is on. If the bass misses the mullet, it is still in the zone and more than likely will be hit again.
Try to catch your mullet in brackish water and keep your bait in the water from the location where you caught it. You can mix the water with fresh, but be careful not to stock the baitwell full of bait. If you catch your bait the night before, make sure that your air stone is off the bottom of the baitwell. About 3 inches from the surface is a good choice; it will keep the water aerated and will let the mullet rest at the bottom. Air stones left at the bottom can, over time, stress the bait, leaving you with weak or even dead mullets.
Unlike shiners, mullet tend to stay on the surface, so a float is not needed. This can lead to some explosive topwater strikes. Lip-hooking, as mentioned, is good for casting the bait and slowly reeling in, or slow trolling.
Placing the hook in the rear underside allows you to walk the mullet away from you. Give a light tug on the line; when the mullet feels the tug, it will swim away. This technique will allow you to swim your bait up to structure or swim it away from the shore line. A circle hook from 3/0 to 7/0 works. Optimal hook size will depend on the size of the bait. FS
First published Florida Sportsman February 2016