Match the Hatch – Mullet

We have all seen it, fish aggressively feeding, but on what? Throw every fly in the box at a rainbow, yell at both deckhands to change out every lure in the spread to get that blue to jump on, or watch your buddy catch fish on every cast while you tie on yet something else.

When you are the guy smoking everyone else around you it is pretty cool thing, when you watch the guy take you to school, it is humbling at best.

But chances are it isn’t you, but a simple choice of having the right live bait or imitation, and presenting what the fish are eating.

In Alaska when the red salmon were spawning on the endless rivers, the rainbows and dollys would stack up down stream from the spawners and gorge themselves on the eggs escaping from the gravel. I have seen trout so full of salmon eggs that the eggs would get blown out the bow’s gill plates and yet the fish would grab up another egg. I don’t care what you try to feed fish in these conditions if it is not what they are eating, you are not bowed up, but if that fly or bead is the right size and color, it is game on.

Our most recent encounter with feed specific fish took place just last week, and this fish story happened to reinforce how in fishing, teamwork can really pay off. The last two weeks of March and going into April we have been setting a side ‘Flat Friday’s’ to go explore the vast coastal flat lands of West Central Florida. We have been waiting for the late warming of the Gulf of Mexico this spring, the water has been in the low 60’s the past few weeks, the cobia have yet to arrive and the best game in town has been chasing trout around from New Port Richey to Cedar Key.

A couple ‘Flat Friday’s’ ago the window was small couple hours after day light when the trout ate everything we tossed at them. During those two hours it didn’t matter, fish were hungry. Last week, we lucked into it right off the bat, and that does not happen very often, my fishing partner on Fridays is a local expert who has fished these flats his whole life and just so happened match the hatch on the first cast. After Adam released his 4th trout in so many casts while I had yet to even get a strike I knew I was done. We had only brought one single, yep just one, of that type of lure with us to test out that day. It just happened to be the only thing the trout, reds, snook and even bloody flounder had eyes for.

Adam just crushed the fish, I took pictures of him crushing the fish, and I caught nothing! The bite lasted about the same time as last week the first couple of hours of daylight and then the switch was thrown and it shut down. Adam was using a sub surface mullet imitation by ‘Live Target‘, a ½ oz. lure that is designed to work the first 6 inches of the water column.

On this morning, I don’t think a live finger mullet would have worked better than this thing. This lure looks more like a mullet than a mullet and it was on the menu of every fish big enough to eat it.

Adam and I started out the morning using two totally different offerings and this is where good teamwork comes into play. Adams surface lure and my weighted savage shrimp were about as far apart you could get. Before the sun even warmed us up, I had already switched out baits about dozen times. I should have just broken out the fly rod and been done with it, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so bad getting skunked. The fish wanted to eat finger mullet that morning, nothing else, and the only thing we had on board that looked like a mullet was on Adam’s Shimano. Lesson here for every one of us, always bring two of everything. Man, I know this, and I gotta admit I’m the knuckle head who gave Adam that lure before the trip.

Mixing up offerings when you explore new waters just makes sense, having two or more anglers who fish well together, really cuts down the search time to dial in a feed pattern. Even with live bait, throw out a pinfish and a live shrimp and see what gets eaten first. The days when the fishing is just wonderful and everyone is bailing the fish on board is a great thing, but the days when you need to be on your game and you can take a fishing partner to school are “remember-able” ones.

I have to end this one with just one more fish story because it just fits. Years back we raised this small blue marlin in Hawaii. This fish went right down the line bill whacking everything in the spread, then swam across the port side, beat the hell out the ballyhoo on the fly trap, even dropped way back and broke the band on the shotgun before charging back into the starboard spread. This went on for a couple of minutes, we ran back naked ballyhoo, large noisy stuff, the fish attacked everything but ate nothing, pulling drag off reel after reel, breaking rubber bands and just being mental.

Out of desperation Stanley ran a 5-inch chrome head wahoo jet out on a 30, it seemed like that what was what that little bill fish was waiting its whole life for.

I think we measured three feet of leader missing when we cut the fish loose, we couldn’t even see the lure the fish was so gut hooked. Another lesson, you never really know; what billfish wouldn’t eat a naked ballyhoo but creamed an Ono jet?

Don’t be afraid to think outside the tackle box, and always, always take that spare one along…….

Capt. Mark S. “Corky” Decker is an IGFA-certified captain, freelance writer and a proven world-class billfish guide. He grew up commercial fishing on the East Coast, prior to quitting college and relocating to Alaska to cash in on the booming fisheries of the 1980s. After almost 20 years of incr...