Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mullet Part 2: How to Catch Mullet

Naturally, after reading Part One of the series on this great fish, and becoming enlightened about its extensive history in Florida, you will want to go catch one for yourself. There are three things that you must have or know how to do in order to catch this prize fish:

1. Saltwater anywhere along the Atlantic or Gulf coast (in the U.S.) south of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.
2. A good, durable castnet with 1-inch mesh. At least 6-foot radius recommended. You also must have the knowledge to throw the net.
3. The knowledge of how to "snag" mullet?

1st Requirement: Saltwater
Mullet are considered saltwater fish, but they can also be found in brackish rivers, including the St. Johns River, which flows slowly through my homeland. They can be recognized as the fish that leap out of the water for no apparent reason, and fall back down with a nice splash. It is thought that they may jump to get away from predators or to be able to breathe better when they are living in waters that have a lower oxygen concentration. Although mullet can be found in brackish river water, I have been told to NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, eat a "St. Johns River Mullet". I've been told that they are disgusting...Horrible...Foul...Rancid...Abominable...Repugnant. On the contrary, my good friend and cousin, Stuart Pacetti, has shared with me a recipe that tells how to prepare St. Johns River Mullet. That recipe will be posted in a future instalment of this series. However, the recipe can only be successfully made be Minorcan Crackers (the recipe calls for Datil Pepper), so others should only attempt to prepare mullet caught on the beach.

2nd Requirement: Castnet
My mom has fond memories of going to the beach when she was a child. She and her family would drive right onto St. Augustine Beach in the middle of the night to go "turtle eggin'" and mullet fishin'. (Turtle eggin' is something for a future post.) To catch mullet, my grandfather would stand at the ready with his net in hand, while my grandmother would shine the headlights of the car into the water. The bright light would spook the mullet, and they would begin jumping, indicating where their schools were located. My grandfather would throw his net so that it fell over where the mullet were jumping, and hopefully would haul in a load of fish for the dinner table. Today, the beaches are, for the most part, closed to vehicular traffic, and this method can no longer be used. However, native Floridians still catch mullet with castnets on the beach. The video below shows how a castnet is thrown. [I'm sorry for the poor video quality, but it's the only video I could find that uses the same technique I use. It was filmed casting for shrimp in the St. Johns River.)

Most nets today are handmade, but I am learning how to knit castnets by hand from Stuart Pacetti. Coastal Living Magazine featured him in this article in June 2006, and I also wrote about this dying art in this archived post. This is my castnet as it stands right now: coming up on 4-feet-long and aiming for a goal of 7 feet. I'll have it finished by next summer.

3rd Requirement (can take the place of 2nd requirement): Snagging Mullet

I had not heard of this technique of catching mullet until today in my English class. My English teacher said he used to tie two large fish hooks together, cast into a school of Mullet, and "snag" one of them with the hooks. It is necessary to do this because a Mullet will never (okay, rarely) bite a baited hook, as they are bottom feeders. He did not eat the mullet, though, he would use them as bait for snook and other large game fish. This leads into the next instalment:

Mullet Part 3: What to do with Your Mullet


SophieMae said...

What a blessing to have people to teach you these things! There are so many tings my parents and grandparents didn't pass down. Good on ya for having the good sense - 'specially at an age when so many shun the old ways - to go for it.

If you get a chance, take a quick look at my first pic today. I should've posted a better one, but I think you can tell what they are.

Cathy S. said...

Are you going to tell us how to eat them, too? I need a good receipe for mullet spread.

SwampAngel65 said...

That is incredible that you are making your own cast net! Wow, that is ALOT of work! I have thrown a cast net plenty of times, but only manage to get it open about 1/2 the time. It takes lots of practice. I usually take the cheat way out and snag them with a large treble hook...IF they are schooled up tight enough. If they're not tight, then trying to snag them is a waste of time.

I've heard that our mullet down here in Biscayne Bay are no good for eating. But the finger mullet make a fine bait!

Hurricane Teen said...

sophie - I am very blessed, and I realize that. The great thing about learning southern cultural things is that the people who teach them are southerners! Thus, they are all very welcoming and accepting. I have it very easy. I looked at your pictures. I actually really need to catch up on a couple blogs.

cathy - That will be in the next post!

swampangel - You bet it's a lot of work! Stuart Pacetti once estimated that we tie upwards of 40,000 knots on a single 6-foot mullet net...The reason why one of them will cost you $400!
Learning to cast a net can be extremely easy, or not so easy, compared to who is teaching you. I have the ultimate Master Caster teaching me, so I have it easy. Keep working at it, you'll get it!!
If Biscayne bay is only brackish, they may not be good to eat. If it's pure saltwater, though, they're fine to eat...most people just see them as a "poor man's fish."

Paintsmh said...

I'm not entirely sure how to take these constant posts. It is wonderful. lol

Hurricane Teen said...

paint - well, I have made a whole list of things I want to post...It should last me a couple months!

Paintsmh said...

Yippy!! Constant posts from a WARM place, where things are just so much different!!

jojo said...

yup!yup!yup! that is how i was taught to snag mullet, too. long time ago!... :)

very refreshing to see someone so young be so enthusiastic about something, anything other than themselves.. and their ipod. :)

book recommendations. Totch brown.
a life in the everglades.

matthiessen- Killing Mr. Watson.

Both really good books on the everglades and life back then.

Floridacracker said...

Actually, they bite pretty good if you use a tiny hook and bread balls or a tiny bit of white plastic worm.
The cane pole crowd slays them on the St. Johns and along quiet waterways over here.

I still prefer the castnet. I learned to knit them from the book, Knots, Nets, and Smoked Fish.

Good job with your Mullet 101 course.

Hurricane Teen said...

FC - Huh, I've always been told that it was almost impossible to do so, but it's nice to hear it can be done! I've got the tiny plastic worms, the bread, and the cane pole...Now I just need the TIME! Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

man i got a nine foot mullet castnet i get big schools of em off this dock i live near and there big
sincerely, anthony ritto

Anonymous said...

How about a shrimp perlo recipe?

Tad and PJ said...

I catch mullet by cast net all the time out of the St. Johns and haven't found one yet that wasn't delicious. Gut 'em, scale' em, and throw 'em whole on the grill or smoker for a little while. They're amazing with some Everglades seasoning after being smoked and they make a great dip.