This week, we’re on to mullet. No, not the kingfish, aka sea mullet, but the baitfish, which include both the white or finger mullet (Mugil curema) and the bigger striped mullet (Mugil cephalus). And no, finger mullet aren’t just small striped mullet.
The bigger striped mullet, commonly known as hardhead, Popeye or jumping mullet, have been celebrated at the Swansboro Mullet Festival since 1954 and is the oldest such festival in the Crystal Coast.
These are also the fish caught in stopnets set along the Bogus Banks ocean beaches in October and November each year.
The striped mullet is named for its distinctive horizontal stripes along the body and can live up to 13 years and attain weights into the teens of pounds. Along with the stripes, they have a flat, black head and big Popeyes. The fish are found from Cape Cod to Brazil and are abundant here in North Carolina.
These fish are not meat eaters but feed on living and dead vegetable matter, detritus, sucked off the top layer of the bottom sediment. Adults migrate offshore from late summer into the winter to spawn.
Does the cry “mullet blow” sound familiar? This is my personal official start to fall fishing. They come out of the sounds and brackish backwaters in incredible numbers, and their run of massive numbers along the beach is indeed an incredible sight.
They make great bait as cut or whole live fish, and of course, are featured in barbecued, smoked and other culinary ways at the Swansboro festival. Catching them is mostly by net, but they have been known to be caught on hook and line from time to time, sometimes foul hooked and even on a fuzzy fly, so I’ve heard. By the way, they are great fighters.
So, the obvious question is why do they jump? Many theories abound: to eliminate parasites, to coordinate spawning, to escape predators, and my favorite is that there is some evidence that it aids in respiration. In low oxygen waters, they jump and gulp air, up to a five-minute supply!
Now in the famed “mullet blow,” the striped mullet are joined by their smaller cousins, the white or silver, and are most commonly known as finger mullet. These smaller mullet have an olive-colored back, no stripes and no Popeyes and only rarely achieve a length of 12 inches. Like the striped mullet, they also feed on detritus, live in the brackish-water estuaries and spawn offshore in the fall and winter. Over the years, I have watched and documented mullet blows, I have noticed that the first mullet blow, one of many, occurs around the last week of August to the first week of September and fires up the fall-feeding season for trout, drum, flounder, blues, Spanish and other meat eating fish.
Next week, more forage fish: glass minnows!
This past week, we had a weather reprieve from Mother Nature with cooler overnight temperatures in the 60s, brisk dry northeast winds and no rain to speak of.
The pier and surf fishing remained very slow, but the inside fishing for red drum and especially speckled trout remains hot.
This summer has been one of the best summer bites of speckled trout that I remember. With the warm water, the best fishing is at night or at daybreak to 7 a.m.
And that includes live baits, finger mullet, shrimp and mud minnows, soft plastics like Gulp! baits and Z-Man Trout Tricks, and yes, a great topwater bite until the surf takes over the day.
On the brisk northeast wind, anglers working the docks on the north side of Bogue Sound have caught nice fish, including citation winners up to 29 inches. Areas like the Bluffs and the Carteret Community College and Marine Fisheries docks have produced quality fish, along with Middle Marshes and marshes around Harkers Island and up Core Creek.
Catches in the New and Neuse rivers continue to hold up well, these both being primary spawning areas locally for speckled trout.
There are also some smaller fish caught in the Highway 24 creeks and from Bogue Inlet Pier. I even found some 13-inchers in Schoolhouse Creek, which is full of baits of any kind you would want, including finfish big and small, crabs of various flavors and shrimp.
I did watch a crab unsuccessfully try to grab a shrimp, but the shrimp would have nothing to do with that hungry crab. That’s life and death in the creek!
I’m thinking and hoping for a great fall trout season.
By the way, if it’s gray trout you want, nice specimens are still holding up at AR 315 in the 2- to 4-pound class.
It may be ironic, but we are currently having one of the better flounder summers in years with fish, of course, on any nearshore structure.
But nice catches are also in inside waters as well, along the Morehead City port wall and train trestle. They are being caught mostly on live mullet, but bucktails tipped in Gulp! works well too. There were also some doormats in the Haystacks and other marshy areas.
I have fished the surf in Emerald Isle from The Point to Bogue Inlet Pier and the eastern ocean access with only lizardfish to report. Not even any blues or Spanish.
However, if you get to Fort Macon early, there continues to be a good Spanish bite there. I may have to make an early-morning field trip.
If you want to soak some bait, sheepshead up to 8 pounds are being caught on fiddlers and sea urchins along the port wall, docks and oyster bars in the sound and creeks.
And don’t forget, you will likely find slot (14-25 inches) black drum in the same locations.
We are on the verge of August as I write this report, and thoughts of “old drum” come to mind.
Already, there have been good catches reported by Capt. Gary Dubiel in the Neuse on popping cork rigs. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some big fish are showing up in the New River as well, both spawning grounds for the red drum. It’s time!
Kings and Spanish remain in decent numbers off the beach out Beaufort and Bogue inlets and out to Cape Lookout with citation Spanish on lie bait.
There was a 30-pound king caught in the Beaufort shipping channel and still fish being caught on the east side of Lookout shoals.
How about pier fishing? Still summer slo-o-o-o-o!!!
Oceanana Pier sadly reports only pinfish, lizards and crabs.
Bogue Inlet Pier has plenty of crabs, some small bottom fish, croakers, spots, sea mullet and pompano ... SMALL!
Over the weekend, however, there was a nice keeper flounder pushing 3 pounds and finally a couple of kings too. Surprisingly, there was also an 8.9-pound triple tail. Every year or two, one shows up!
Seaview Pier reports blues and Spanish, small mullet and croakers and a few flounder.
Surf City Pier reports some small blues and spots after dark.
Jolly Roger Pier reports blues and Spanish early and late and small bottom fish. With the fin fishing slow, maybe you should give crabbing a try. They are plentiful right now and worth it on the dinner table. Just a string, a chicken neck and a net or one of the many crab pots and traps will do just fine.
2) “Ask Dr. Bogus” is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. The show is also replayed on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Callers may reach me at 800-818-2255.
3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in Sea Dunes, just off Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. The mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at any time and say “Hi” or call 252-354-4905.