So, it’s still 2020 and we know by now and even expect that nothing is normal. We are now trapped with Rod Serling in a present-day Twilight Zone.
The cry of “mullet blow” last week on Sept. 1 was normal and on time, but that’s where normal flies out the window. The winds were calm or even light from the southeast, nary a triggering northeast breeze in sight, and the surf and sound water temperatures in the mid-80s.
As usual, I went to Bogue Inlet Pier to get my daily water temperatures, and what did I see? No, not eight tiny reindeer, but I might well have. What I saw was a sea of finger mullet extending from the surf to well beyond the pier and a mack attack on them in full swing.
I guess when you gotta go, ya gotta go, biologically speaking. We all know the feeling. Over the weekend, we were finally blessed with a brisk, cooling northeast wind, and by late Sunday into Monday, the mullets responded in the expected usual epic proportions. I once calculated that during a major mullet event, as many as 100,000,000 might pass by us daily in the surf.
The first mullet blow on the first day of September was meek and mild. The second wave was not. It was robust. These cool northeast breezes have gotten finger mullet and the hardhead mullet deciding it’s time to head south and out into the ocean for their winter spawn, their fall/winter biologic imperative.
Over the years, this biological migratory phenomenon has taken place from late August to early September, driven by shortening of the hours of daylight, lowering of water temperatures and triggered by a good northeast blow. Not fall, you say? Well, don’t tell the fish that. The massive migration of these forage fish out of our creeks and sounds rings the dinner bell for fall to begin, and the drum, flounder and speckled trout are following their tails out the inlets and along our beaches.
Dates over the last 20 or so years for the FIRST mullet blow (there will be others to follow) are: 9/1/1999, 9/6/2000, 8/25/2001, 9/1/2002, 9/6/2003, 8/24/2004, 8/26/2005, 9/2/06, 8/29/07, 9/1/08, 9/01/09), 8/28/10, 9/2/11, 8/25/12 8/25/13 and 8/26/14, 8/25/15, 8/30/16, 8/27/17, 8/26/18, 8/26/19 and this year 9/1/20, with an average surf temp for those dates of 81 degrees, sound average at 80 degrees and an average date of Aug. 29 for the initial emergence of the mullets.
This year, as does often happen, it was coincident with the emergence of recently spawned anchovies, those brown clouds of small baits in the surf and nearshore ocean.
So, who are these fish of forage you ask? First of all, they are NOT in any way related (except via fins) to the sea mullet, aka kingfish, whiting, also called the Virginia mullet. Those sea mullets are Sciaenids and not in the drum family. The mullets are actually in the Mugilidae family, which contain nearly 70 species of fish worldwide. North Carolina is home for two of these species, which make up some of our most favorite and widely used natural baits. The striped mullet, also known as hardhead, Popeye, or jumping mullet, are the celebrated stars at the annual Swansboro Mullet Festival. The other and more diminutive member of the family is the silver or white mullet, most commonly known on the beach as the finger mullet, are finger food for many foraging fish.
Named for horizontal stripes that run laterally along their body, the striped (jumping) mullet can be found along the West Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to Brazil and often grow to 3 pounds or more with a maximum of 3 feet and weighing in at an astonishing 12 pounds. The silver, or finger mullet, are similarly caught up in this yearly spawning pilgrimage to the sea.
Please note, although sometimes assumed, the finger mullets are NOT juvenile striped mullets. They are silver and have no stripes, do not have a flat head or popeyes and only attain a diminutive stature of inches and ounces and not feet and pounds.
Since both these fish feed on bits and pieces of living and/or dead vegetation (detritus), neither of these mullets are routinely caught on hook and line, although there are many stories to the contrary, particularly with the striped mullet. Striped mullets have been known to suck up dough balls with a concealed hook inside, and I’ve actually landed one on a fly. And yes, the mullet was hooked in the mouth! Cast nets are the primary mode of mullet fishing.
Next week, I will discuss harvest and use of these important species.
As far as fall fishing goes, things are already showing signs of firing up.
On Bogue Inlet Pier, slot puppy drum and bigger flounder to nearly 5 pounds were weighed in. Bottom fishing, including croakers and spots, is picking up. Big Spanish are taking the king mackerel rigs, and right after the first mullet blow, speckled trout were caught in the surf just east of Bogue Inlet Pier.
Fall fishing has started. I mentioned the bay anchovies, that reddish brown haze of small bait fish along the surf and out off the beach have now fired up the Spanish mackerel bite and drawn in the false albacore nearshore from Cape Lookout to the beach. So, at the Cape, albies, Spanish and blues are all in a feeding frenzy together. Some of that action has appeared around Fort Macon for Spanish and blues and to a lesser extent The Point area of Emerald Isle.
The flounder action has cooled off a bit, probably because they have been really pounded, but things should pick up again with the bait luring them out of their hiding places. Harkers Island marshes still are yielding some big fish. Ditto for New River creeks, and I know this sounds like a recording, but it’s hard to beat the Morehead City Port and Turning Basin with live finger mullet. And who knows? There are trout and reds there too on live mullet and sheepshead and black drum on crunchy baits.
Core Creek is still giving up some keeper drum and trout, as well. Again, live bait has been best, especially around docks and other structure and best early and late in the day. The Newport River has been slower. Emerald Isle and Swansboro marshes have some red and black drum, and at the bridges, sheepshead as well. By the yay, sheepshead will start to move out later this month, so start checking around the ocean fishing piers for them as they go out to winter on the reefs and ledges.
For reasons unclear, the Neuse River old drum bite has faded a bit with most people going old school for old drum with mullet and menhaden baits and bottom fishing. One nice plus about the new school use of popping corks and artificials is that you pretty much cut out the annoying “by-catch” of big rays, and yes, sharks.
For our Topsail and Bogue Banks fishing piers, Oceanana Pier reports flounder, croakers and a hooked-up tarpon. Yikes!
Bogue Inlet Pier fishing is slow, but there are some signs of life with several flounder to just under 5 pounds and slot red drum in the mix with the bottom fishing picking up, including spots and croakers.
Seaview Pier reports flounder, black drum, sea mullet, a few blues and Spanish.
Surf City Pier reports slow, late-summer fishing with BIG Spanish, but no kings, some croakers, sea mullet, black drum and a few spots.
Jolly Roger Pier also reports BIG Spanish (4 to 6 pounds), slot red and black drum, some over slot reds and flounder. In the dark of night, there are spots, sea mullet and croaker.
We should have an enhanced report next week as the mullet blow-induced fishing catches on.
Be kind, be safe, catch fish leave the turtle nests and unexploded ordnance alone and enjoy.
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.