The morning was a washout. Nobody had caught any fish. I sat sipping coffee in the parking lot of a Jersey Wawa about noon when I got the call. “Get down to Seaside, man. Mullet are being destroyed,” said Charlie’s Bait and Tackle shop owner Pete Kupper. I hit the road. As I pulled up to the sand dunes, I saw gannets and gulls diving about and disappearing behind the dunes, a sure sign something was going on out there.
When I walked over, a vista of the Atlantic opened up in front of me encompassing mayhem the likes of which are the making of legend. Striped bass to 30 pounds and bluefish to 15 pounds were absolutely crushing mullet schools in and outside the breakers. It was an a-thousand-casts-a-thousand-bass type of day, all sparked by the run of silver mullet in the surf.
While more-southern waters have striped mullet crashing about in bombastic fashion, their smaller silver mullet cousins run along the Northeast and mid-atlantic coasts in a more sublime fashion yet attract the same attention from predatory game fish.
During springtime, silver mullet fry about 1 to 2 inches long grow in the ditches of Jersey backwaters. By fall, they are finger-size, while full-grown year-old mullet seem to show up in July, riding the warmer oceanic currents that bring them inshore.
“Mainly, we see silver or white mullet up to 6 inches long; those are the bait mullet in tackle shops,” says Capt. Dave Showell of the Absecon Bay Sportsman. “Occasionally, we also get a few striped mullet, or corncobs, 8 to 12 inches long, but silver mullet are the main species in Jersey.”
From June through September, silver mullet stack up in shallow bays: Barnegat, Great Bay, Absecon and Cape May Harbor, where northwest winds keep them pinned against the sod banks as bluefish, striped bass and weakfish hammer the schools. Anglers jump on the chance to fish the schools in the bay before they head seaward.
“It’s pretty easy to find schools of silver mullet,” Showell says. “Look for the pods V-waking in the shallow
is to get fresh ones to use as bait.”
To acquire the freshest baits, Showell recommends
3 ⁄ 1 throwing a 8- to ⁄ 2- inch mesh, 1 ⁄ 2- pound, 8-foot cast net on top of the schools when they are balled up. With fresh baits in the livewell, Showell employs a rig consisting of a 36-inch section of 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a 1 ⁄ 2- ounce in-line sinker and a 3/0 to 6/0 Octopus circle hook, to settle the score with bass, blues and weakfish. Hook the mullet through the nose for a natural drift with the current.
“Now that you have the right bait, go with your knowledge to find each
PICK ’EM OFF: Stripers busting bait schools make ideal casting targets. Long A, to the size of the mullet.