Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mullet Part Three: What to do with your mullet

Just a quick note: I'm sorry it has taken so long to write and post part three of this series. I have already written 3 papers for my English class alone this year, so my writing time and skill is usually taken up by those. One I am writing right now is about the Florida Skunk Ape, and I may post it on here when I finish. I'm still aiming for at least one post per week throughout the school year, though. Now, let's get started on part three of our series on the mullet.

So you have your mullet and you're wondering what to do with them. Many people at this point will take this great food source, butcher it in many horrible fashions, and use it for bait to catch other fish. My very resourceful family does not see the logic in this...Why catch fish to bait other fish when you can just catch fish and eat those fish instead of going through the trouble of catching the other fish? Know what I mean?

Many people will argue that mullet tastes bad. These are the same people that will tell you catfish tastes bad. I believe that they are just judging the fish on the people that eat it: The mullet (along with the catfish) is widely considered a "poor man's fish." This is partly true, as I have never seen a rich man order the fried catfish or smoked mullet at Singleton's Seafood Shack. Well I guess I've never seen a rich man at Singleton's Seafood Shack, but that is beside the point...You will be hard pressed to find a rich man anywhere who will lay their soft hands on this fish. This does not mean the fish tastes bad! Mullet is not nearly as powerfully fishy-tasting as tuna, and I know you will be hard-pressed to find an American who has never eaten tuna before. Mullet simply suffers from a bad image, this does not mean it's a bad fish!

Getting away from that rich man/poor man spiel, the point is, DO NOT USE THIS FISH FOR BAIT.

COMING SOON: Mullet Part Four: A Recipe for St. Johns River Mullet

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

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mullet Part One

A couple months ago, I was driving down the road on my way to visit some family in the city of St. Augustine, and I came across this advertisement for our local newspaper:

You Floridaphiles are probably having a nice chuckle. Oh, how that fish has defined our culture here in north Florida! For those of you who are not enlightened on the subject of Mullet Culture, please allow me to tell my story...

When my ancestors came to Florida in 1768, they were treated as slaves for nine years on the plantation of the tyrannical Englishman Dr. Andrew Turnbull. They worked year-round in the hot, humid, mosquito-infested hell that Florida was years ago. The majority of the Minorcan colonists died of dieases and famine, and those that managed to survive barely did so. The mullet, a species of saltwater fish that "runs" in schools along the beach during the summertime, was a very important part of the Minorcan diet during those rough years.

When the mullet "ran" along the beach, it meant that food would be pleantiful, and that life would not be quite as miserable as usual. This led to the common Minorcan expression "Mullet on the beach!" which means "Good times ahead."

This is the beginning of a multiple-part series on the Mullet. I will add that this is likely the only blog in the blogosphere on which you will find a multi-part series on this fish...Only from a Minorcan! You will find out why later.

Have a good Sunday! Go Pittsburgh Steelers!