Anyone who complains that Florida has no seasons has never witnessed our fantastic fall mullet run. When the days get shorter, water gets cooler, or a storm brings a drop in barometric pressure, striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) get the urge to breed. Enormous schools of mullet leave their estuarine safe places, like the Indian River Lagoon, enter the ocean and head south. Tarpon, snook, red drum, sharks and other big, hungry fish follow. From the beach you can see hundreds of mullets go airborne in unison to avoid being eaten. The big fish launch themselves into the air in pursuit. This is the season to watch five foot tarpon fly through the air or catch one from the beach.
Colin Ekhoff works at Black Dog Bait and Tackle in Melbourne Beach. During mullet run season, if he’s not at Black Dog, he’s fishing off the beach. “I have great luck when the mullet come in.” Ekhoff claims, but did not verify, that he’s caught “tons and tons” of snook since the mullet started running in early September.
The mullet eventually veer offshore and out of sight to deep water. A giant spawn fest ensues as females release up to a million and a half eggs and males release clouds of sperm into the water. Mission accomplished, the adult mullet return to the estuaries they came from. The eggs hatch into larvae in a couple days. These transform into tiny fish and make their way back to the estuaries. They move into intertidal zones where salinity ranges from zero to super salty, temperatures soar, and oxygen is low. This is where predators don’t venture. Young mullet eat constantly. They eat anything they can fit in their mouths, including plastic. When they are larger and less likely to be eaten, they move to deeper waters of the estuary. In a few years, when they are sexually mature, they will be lured by the change of seasons, join hordes of other mullet, and migrate down the coast in the mullet run.
Our fall mullet run season is an exciting time to be at the beach, but it’s not a good time to swim. When fish fly and Pelicans dive, get your pole or camera, but don’t risk swimming through a feeding frenzy of big fish with sharp teeth. Instead, grab a bag from the BlueTube at the beach. Pick up trash. Throw it away. We can keep plastic off the beach and out of the ocean. We can help keep plastic out of the guts of mullet and out of the fish we bring home for dinner.