An ode to the mullet

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“Here they come!” one fisherman shouts. “You guys ready? There they are!”

Annie Blanks @DestinLogAnnie

DESTIN — On an oppressively muggy Tuesday morning at Clement Taylor Park, five fishermen stand still on the dock, brail nets wrapped around their hands and draped over their shoulders, eyes on the water below, waiting.

Then, they see it. The shine on the top of the water and the black cloud of mullet underneath.

“Here they come!” one fisherman shouts. “You guys ready? There they are!”

In synchronized succession, one by one as the black cloud passes just below the pilings, the men heave their nets over the water, the 20-foot net spreading and sinking.

Then, they pull, fast and hard. Some harder than others — one fisherman got a haul of 35 fish in his net, while another netted just nine.

“I didn’t get a good throw that time,” the latter man huffed.

The mullet, sometimes thought of as the “trash” of the sea as Fort Walton Beach fisherman Jason Sky put it, can be a delicacy of a particular sort if you know just how to catch and cook it.

“When you split open a mullet, they got this black stuff around their stomachs you’ve got to scrape out,” Sky said as he opened up his net to examine his catch. “Scrape that black out, you’re all right.”

Sky said he comes to the dock to mullet fish three or four times a week when he gets off work. He said the thrill of the catch is part of the reason he enjoys mullet fishing, but the main draw is, of course, the good eating.

“You can fillet them, smoke them. Just put a little seasoning on them and go from there,” he said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission doesn’t regulate the size and length of caught mullet like it does other fish, only quantity — each recreational fisherman is allotted 50 mullet per day. The FWC even provides tips for cooking the fish on its website: “Mullet have a very high oil content so they are excellent for smoking.”

Cleve Dowdy, who lives in Andalusia, Alabama, but comes to Florida to fish and visit his brother, said he thinks people perceive the mullet as a “lowly fish, because there’s so many of them.”

“But to me, they’re the best,” Cleve said. “They’re not something you want to eat all the time, but they’re good at least once a week.”

Danny Dowdy, Cleve’s brother who lives in Baker, said he started mullet fishing about six weeks ago because his doctor told him he needed to get active, and mullet fishing is a workout for him.

He said he wouldn’t be eating the fish he caught Tuesday, but would be “finding someone to give it to.”

“I’m not good at it yet. Everybody does it a little differently,” Danny said of the fine art of mullet fishing. “I’ll find someone to give this fish to. For me, it’s just something to do.”

Fishing for mullet typically requires a net and a strong arm as opposed to a hook and bait, mostly because mullet consume algae and microscopic invertebrates that are much too small to be hooked. Additionally, because they jump out of the water and travel in large schools near the surface, they are easy to spot from a boat or dock and can be caught en masse with a net.

Carl Godwin, who lives in Baker and comes to Destin every so often to fish mullet, said the fish caught in Emerald Coast waters are superior to other places.

“There’s a lot of areas they say they’re not good to eat, but in Destin with the tight water they’re in and the white sand, they’re real good to eat ‘round here,” Godwin said. “When you get further down south maybe they’re not so good. But these sandy white bottoms make them good.”

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