The silver lining to the storm clouds of Hurricane Dorian is that it jump-started the fall mullet run in South Florida.
Dorian hurried up the annual migration of the baitfish, which usually take their time swimming south along Florida’s Atlantic coast before heading offshore to spawn. Mullet began showing up off local beaches, in the Intracoastal Waterway and in Biscayne Bay more than a week ago.
The schools of baitfish, which are feasted on by gamefish such as sharks, Spanish mackerel and snook, wouldn’t typically start arriving here until the very end of September and the beginning of October.
Capt. David Cohen has been taking full advantage of the early run.
“For us inshore guys, it’s a dream,” said Cohen, whose South Florida Inshore Charters specializes in fishing for tarpon and snook in North Biscayne Bay. “Mullet are what get the snook and tarpon fired up.”
Cohen, of Cooper City, who launches his 22-foot Pathfinder bay boat at the Haulover Park boat ramp in Miami, has already had two memorable trips since the mullet appeared.
A longtime customer of Cohen’s from Utah who had always wanted to catch a tarpon finally got to check that off his bucket list a few days ago. Fishing in Maule Lake, the angler caught a 30-pound tarpon, then landed a trophy silver king that was pushing 100 pounds.
The previous week, Cohen guided a couple from Pennsylvania that had done little if any saltwater fishing. The husband, whose wife surprised him with the trip for his birthday, celebrated by catching and releasing a 100-pound tarpon.
“This guy had never caught a fish over 4 pounds in his life,” Cohen said. “Then his wife caught a 40-inch snook. Then she caught a 75-pound tarpon.”
The good mullet run fishing for tarpon and snook in the bay should continue for a while. Cohen noted that mullet sometimes don’t arrive in South Florida until late October and early November, after the first several cold fronts push the baitfish down the coast. He said that having the mullet here earlier than usual means they’ll probably stick around for a month or more instead of just two weeks.
When mullet are plentiful, Cohen likes to use a live mullet as well as a chunk of mullet to catch snook and tarpon.
The Salt Life pro staffer starts his trips by looking for mullet schools — the fish often scatter on the surface when they’re being chased and pelicans will dive on them — and catches the baitfish with a cast net.
He recommended using an 8-foot net, rather than a 10- or 12-foot net, “because you can get a lot more distance,” which is helpful when mullet are on the move. For finger mullet, which are 3 to 5 inches long, Cohen throws a net with half-inch mesh. For bigger black mullet, he uses a net with 1-inch mesh. One good throw can catch 50 to 100 mullet.
With bait in the livewell, Cohen looks for feeding fish crashing into a mullet school. He then heads over and fishes a live mullet on the outskirts of the school, rather than in the middle of a school, because tarpon and snook prefer to pick off the stragglers.
He also casts a freshly cut belly slab from a mullet near the school, puts the spinning rod in a rod-holder, opens the bail of the reel and lets the bait sit on the bottom, because tarpon and snook have a hard time passing up an easy meal: “They’ll smell that mullet and think a barracuda just ate it.”
Cohen uses Owner Mutu Light circle hooks in size 2/0 or 3/0 for live finger mullet and 5/0 to 7/0 for big mullet. He places the hook through the mullet’s nostril from the bottom up, with the hook point exposed.
He attaches the hook with a double figure eight loop knot to 10 to 12 feet of 30- to 40-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader for finger mullet and 60- to 80-pound fluorocarbon for big mullet. His main line is 20- or 30-pound braid for fingers and 50- or 65-pound braid for black mullet on IRT 500 and 600 series spinning reels paired with 7- or 8-foot Black Hole rods.
As Cohen explained, you need stout tackle to handle the big fish that the mullet run attracts.
For information on fishing with Capt. David Cohen, call him at 954-684-4677 or check out @captdavidcohen on Instagram.