Southeast Florida’s Amazing Mullet Run
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire
Hutchinson Island on Florida’s southeast coast is a bit of a secret spot in a state where there are hardly any secret spots left. This 23-mile-long spit of sand and sea has so far evaded the high-rise madness to the south, while still providing enough of the comforts of civilization to make it a great vacation spot.
With Fort Pierce Inlet at one end, St. Lucie Inlet at the other, it’s surrounded by water, with the blue-green Atlantic and all its gamefish on one side, the shallow Indian River Lagoon on the other.
And while the south end of the lagoon has had its woes due to algae blooms and sea grass die-offs in recent years, the waters along the beach still provide top quality angling as well as white sand beaches that are not nearly so crowded as those in many other parts of Florida these days. In fact, there are stretches where, even on weekends, you may have a mile or two solely to yourself, especially if you’re a sunrise surfcaster as I tend to be.
Mullet Run Madness
Prime time to go is coming up, with the mullet run usually getting underway along the beaches in late August and continuing until Halloween. When the mullet flow past in their annual migration toward South Florida, just about everything that swims in the ocean here shows up right on the beach to feed on them.
The finger mullet show up first in the fall run along Florida’s east coast, followed later by much larger baits–both sizes are great for gamefish that swarm along the beaches to feed on them. (Frank Sargeant Photo)It’s common to see 100-pound tarpon, 40-pound kingfish and 20-pound snook all feeding right on the surface within casting distance of the shoreline–sometimes the water literally boils there are so many thousands of baitfish being harassed by the gamefish. The fleeing bait occasionally jumps right out on the beach, particularly when a horde of bluefish or jack crevalle gets in on the chase.
The fishing is dead simple when the run is on–you cast a large weighted treble into the balls of mullet, give it a snatch and hook a couple, haul them ashore, drop one into a bucket of sea water and put the other on a 4/0 to 6/0 extra-strong live bait hook, either hooked through the nose or behind the anal fin, and put it back out into the melee. The bite is often instantaneous–a wounded bait is immediately picked out by the prowling gamefish. (If you can handle a castnet, you can usually net several dozen on a short throw as they swarm in the surf.)
If you’re a devout plug flinger, you can also catch plenty on big topwater plugs worked with a fast zig-zag motion, and also with large, 8-inch swimmer-type soft plastics on a 1/2 to 3/4 ounce jig head with heavy duty hook in the 3/0 size or larger. (Don’t use freshwater jigheads for this–the hooks are likely to get straightened.) The DOA Swimmin’ Mullet and the DOA BFL in 8-inch size are killers for this–they’re made right in the area specifically for this fishing. The LIVETARGET Finger Mullet wakebait is also a good choice.
You need stout spinning gear to handle the fish here–40-pound braid is the minimum, 65 better. Medium-heavy action spinning rods 8 feet or longer and 5000-sized reels can handle most of what you’re likely to stick, though if you want snook and only snook you can downsize the tackle a bit–expect to get spooled by a tarpon on any given cast, though. If you’re looking for a king mackerel to put on the grill, a foot of number 6 wire ahead of the hook is a must to prevent cutoffs.
Surf casting often gets the job done, but there are many days when the fish are too far off the sand to reach–that’s when a kayak launched off the beach can put you in the action. Or, if you have a powerboat, you can run out St. Lucie Inlet and quickly be on top of the fish either north or south. In calm weather with moderate swell, the inlet is a pussy cat and even a 16-foot flats rig can get you to the fish. When wind and tide oppose, however, it can get very gnarly very quickly–keep an eye on the weather and the tide chart anytime you go outside the pass in a small rig.
The inlet itself is a prime spot for snook to ambush the bait–cast around the rocks and jetties, particularly on outgoing tides early and late. (The snook season is open Sept. 1 to Dec. 15 here, but the slot is 28-32 inches–many you will catch will be over that size during the run.)
Other than Fishing, What?
If mom and the kids are more into swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing than fishing, Bathtub Reef Beach is the place to go. A near-shore reef protects a clear water lagoon, taming the surf and fears of sharks for those new to ocean swimming and snorkeling. The beach has adequate parking except on weekends. There’s a bathhouse with showers to wash off salt and sand. On the inland side of the park, there’s a fishing pier on the Indian River. It’s located off the south end of A1A–Google 1585 SE MacArthur Boulevard in Stuart.
There are also numerous beach front parks north on A1A, and these are frequently super spots to fish, with little competition–you not only get a shot at the mullet run madness by hopping from one to the next along the entire 23-mile stretch, but can also find pompano, whiting and sometimes Spanish and blues in the cooler months.
Where to Hang Your Hat
Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina is my favorite spot to stay here because it has a marina on the lagoon as well as a great stretch of beach for surfcasting. It’s just across the A1A bridge from the swank village of Sewall’s Point. It sprawls over 200 manicured acres including an 18-hole golf course and lots of tennis courts, which I don’t use, with winding lagoons loaded with mullet and sometimes snook and baby tarpon, which I do use as often as possible. (A number 5 flyrod and a white bucktail catches these little guys when they’re active.)
It’s an easy walk to the beach from anywhere on the property, but there are also regular trams to get you where you want to go. The 77-slip marina can handle anything up to 50 footers, and it’s in a protected location where your flats skiff will be happy in the water overnight. It’s about a 3-mile run down to the inlet. The resort restaurants are great, though pricey; get resort details here.
If you can’t bring your own boat, there are numerous good light-tackle charter guys working in this area–Captain Mike Holliday is one of the best, and an expert in timing the mullet run to perfection. He stays busy when the run is on–book early. (You may recognize the name–Mike is also a regular writer for Florida Sportsman Magazine.)