by Lenny Rudow
Feel that chill in the air? Yeah, the fish feel it too. And as the water temperatures drop many species are beginning their yearly migration. One such behavior shift that coastal anglers should take note of is the fall mullet migration.
Since there have already been a few cold nights, these baitfish have already moved out of the shallow creeks and coves in many coastal areas in the northern range of the Mid Atlantic. Instead of seeing the finger mullet cruising along grass lines and over muddy flats where they were a few weeks ago, now you’ll spot small schools darting around in the bays. As the season progresses many
of these small schools will join together to form larger schools, which then move out through the inlets. And you’re not the only one taking note. Up and down the coast fat ocean-run stripers, blues, redfish and trout have been waiting for this exodus--and they’re in fatten-up mode.
In the surf, the most obvious advantage you can apply to the mullet migration is to match the hatch. Cast finger mullet, and when the fish are up top throw relatively short (four inch) pencil poppers or swimming plugs that imitate mullet. Note that if blues are in your area--and right now they probably are--you’ll go through a heck of a lot of finger mullet in the surf. Bring twice as much bait as normal, and if the blues are chewing it up consider throwing artificials.
Look for the hottest fishing action to take place on the north side of the inlets on a north-east wind, which will drive the mullet which recently moved through the inlet up near the breakers. When the wind’s out of the south-east, hit the surf on the south side of the inlet.
At night, consider fishing from the rocks of inlets that have artificial lighting during the mullet migration. Cast lures or live-line finger mullet to take stripers in this situation, and if you’re a fan of sea trout, try casting and retrieving with four-inch chartreuse, purple, or black screw-tail jigs. The weakfish will often be hovering right around the light-lines where the light fades into blackness, ready to ambush mullet that dart just a little too close.
Mullet migration bonus: you can find truly huge flat fish right now, in the northern range of our region. You’ll find them from the breakers to a couple of miles off the beach, from Montauk, NY to Shinnecock, NY, as they feed hard on mullet beginning to migrate south. This is the place and time to catch your real trophies in the 10-lb range.
Get the Site Right
Although anglers in New York and Jersey will gain the most advantages by concentrating their efforts on and near the surf by this point in the season, southern mullet are on a slightly different schedule. In the inlets along the coast of Delmarva the migration is in the mid stages, and will probably be in the later stages within the next few weeks. Surf fishing has been pretty good for blues but so far most of the keeper sized stripers have come from the inlets, and mostly at night. Remember to fish where there’s artificial light: At Indian River try casting from the north jetty near the bridge and in Ocean City fish the north side of the inlet near the parking lot toll booths, and under the Rt. 50 bridge. Keep your eyes on the Tidalfish boards, of course, to find out when and where the bite heats up.
Down in the Carolinas you can get in on some awesome redfish action--but you’ll have to hurry. The mullet here haven’t moved out of the bays yet and along the shoals and contours of the Pamlico Sound, there are some huge bulls. Find a 12’ to 18’ edge--just north-east of Point of Marsh in the mouth of the Neuse River, at 35’05.00 x 76’29.40, has been hot lately--anchor over it, and cast out mullet chunks on circle hooks to catch and release trophy sized fish that regularly reach 40-lbs. or more. When these fish move out of the area shift your focus to Oregon Inlet and surf fishing. Again, keep your eye on the boards to get a feel for the exact timing of the peak of the run.
We’ve been waiting for a long time to feel that nip in the air. Finally, it’s here. You know it, and the fish know it. The fall feed is on--so grab your rod, and get in on the hot October action spurred off by the great mullet migration.
About the author You can find more specific Atlantic coast, bay and ocean hotspots and how-to/where-to fishing information by getting Lenny Rudow’s latest book, Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Mid Atlantic. It features 38 custom-marked charts which detail over 300 hotspots (including GPS numbers) from New York to North Carolina. The book includes sections on how to target specific game fish, tackle, tactics, and techniques for coastal bay, inlet, and blue water fishing. Check it out at www.geareduppublications.com.