There are many secrets to being a good mullet fisherman, and Mac Peeler knows them all.
First, you have to know where to locate them. Few local anglers are even aware that the Savannah River below Augusta teems with the striped, silvery fish.
And fewer still know how to catch them.
"My Daddy fished the river all his life - 50, maybe 60 years - and never knew mullet were in here," said Peeler, a retired forester from Wrens. "I been fishing for them maybe 12 years."
Everyone sees mullet in coastal tidal creeks. Peeler can find good mullet water in the river near New Savannah Bluff most any morning.
"You want to be on a flat, sandy area, where the current is slow, maybe three - not more than four - feet deep," he said. "They're here from April to September, but the hotter the days, the better the fishing."
He maneuvered his boat perpendicular to the current and dropped anchors fore and aft. "This is a mullet hole," he said. "Now we got to get the mullet in here where we can catch them."
His recipe for success is simple.
Peeler fills a vidalia onion sack with fish bait cubes and a few pounds of commercial catfish feed - and a brick. After pulling the drawstring shut, the bag is lowered into shallow water on a rope.
"They like anything small," he said, pouring more bait into the water. "This is meal from when I fried fish last night. They eat that, too."
After placing the chum bag into the current, there is just enough time to rig up and bait hooks before the action starts, he predicted.
Mullet have small mouths and require small bait on small hooks. Peeler prefers a whippy, nine-foot rod and spinning reels loaded with lightweight line.
Tiny red worms on a No. 8 sucker hook complete the outfit. "But don't put too much worm on there, or you'll catch a sucker instead," he said.
He dropped a pair of lines into the water until they hit bottom. "Now we wait," he said. "If you're not patient, you're not a good mullet fisherman."
Within five minutes, the first rod vibrated - but only slightly. Peeler set the hook and yanked a fat, thick mullet into the boat.
"When the water's clear, they're under the boat by the thousands," he said. "They'll always bite, but it can take four hours - or two minutes."
Soon, more mullet were hoisted into the boat and thrown into the cooler - which Peeler also keeps stocked with bottled water and Diet Coke.
"Drink what you want," he laughed. "But it all tastes like mullet."
Mullet fishing is fast-paced and requires a fast landing, or the soft-lipped fish pull free.
"People always say they enjoy playing the fish," Peeler said. "When they hit the bottom of the boat, that's when I enjoy them the most."
Mullet usually live offshore and in tidal creeks but appear in great numbers in inland rivers, said Georgia Wildlife Resources Division fisheries biologist Tim Barrett.
"The Savannah River's loaded with mullet, and the Altamaha and Ogeechee and some other ones are, too," he said.
Although the mullet have always beenin local waters, their appeal to anglers is somewhat of a a new and expanding phenomenon.
"We're finding that there are a lot of people now using striped mullet as food fish," he said. "The proportion of people who fish for mullet is growing very fast, too."
|All About Mullet:|
Usually regarded as fish that can be butchered and used as bait for larger fish, mullet are gaining popularity as a food fish.
Mullet are oily and best fried immediately after they are caught, or at least before they are frozen. Hot peanut oil is a good medium.
The striped mullet found in the Savannah River is one of the most common fish in the world, ranging from Massachusetts to Brazil.
Mullet average 12 to 14 inches long but can grow to two feet or more and weigh five pounds. Savannah River specimens average about one pound.
Mullet spawn offshore in the Atlantic, and adults swim upriver in search of cooler, oxygenated water.
Unlike most fish, mullet have a true gizzard - which they use to grind up the cellulose plant materials they prefer to eat.