The mullet is one of the deadliest trolling baits around for everything from school kings to 500-pound marlin, but it’s also one of the most underutilized.
If you were to check with most offshore anglers who don’t pull mullet as part of their everyday trolling spread, the reasons would probably center around preparation and rigging problems.
At the top of the list would be the fact that the traditional mullet rig has required a new leader or at least a new, crimped-on hook after every strike. It takes time–time that could be well spent fishing instead of rigging.
The solution is to rig them as you would ballyhoo, with the hook run under the gill plate. The key is a couple of pieces of No. 14 electrical wire with the coating stripped off (easily performed with a wire stripping tool or a simple pocketknife). Several tackle manufacturers have started making a longer, heavier copper ballyhoo wire that will also work with all but the largest mullet.
Before you do the actual rigging, you’ll need to consider some preliminary preparation of the mullet. There are several methods, and I suggest you become acquainted with at least one of them.
The bait that’s used in the accompanying illustration was deboned in the traditional manner–with a deboning tool run from the back of the head around the spine, essentially coring the bait. The hole was stitched with rigging thread. Field editor Eden White wrote an excellent seminar on using a deboner in the July, 1996 issue (“Swimming Mullet,” p. 56). He described in detail how to remove the backbone from a dead mullet from under the gill plate instead of behind the head to give it lifelike swimming action. Senior Editor Vic Dunaway also has a great section on the classic mullet rig in his book Baits, Rigs & Tackle.
But whether you troll mullet just like they come out of the water, split-tail them Palm Beach-style or break out the deboner, rigging them with the ballyhoo-style quick rig will make your job a lot easier.
You’ll need two pieces of wire approximately 10 inches long. Start by crimping the appropriate hook size for the quarry you’re after to a matching monofilament leader. Then wrap the first couple inches of each piece of rigging wire around the shank of the hook. Use an ice pick to poke a hole from the lower jaw of the mullet out the top of its head, and slide an appropriate egg sinker (1/2 to 2 ounces) on one piece of the wire.
It only takes seconds to insert the hookpoint under one gill plate and slide it down into the stomach cavity just like you would with a ballyhoo. Then it’s only a matter of running one piece of wire out through the hole in the top of the mullet’s head while the piece with the sinker closes the deal from underneath. Wrap each strand of wire tightly around the mono to keep the hook in place and hold the bait’s mouth closed.
With this setup, you can rig a mullet twice as fast–and use the same rig over and over again. You can also put the egg sinker (which keeps the bait upright so it swims properly) below the chin where it belongs, instead of out in front where it could spook gamefish.
Once the bait is secured to the leader, a piece of dental floss or waxed thread should be used to tie the gills closed. If the gills and mouth are secured, water should run around the swimming bait and not through the mullet. The result will be a bait that will just keep on swimming until it runs across a hungry billfish, tuna, dolphin or just about anything else that swims.
Aboard Hard Labor, a St. Augustine-based sportfisher, Capt. Kyle Kirton and mate Brian Dufek keep a swimming mullet in their spread 90 percent of the time. Brian says, “As many mullet as we pull, we’ve just got to be able to rig ’em quick when fishing’s hot. Our biggest yellowfin, as well as countless wahoo, dolphin, and especially billfish come to our mullet.”
Brian says his favorite size mullet is from 6 to 9 inches, depending on what he’s fishing for. Personally, I’ve seen sailfish turn their bill up at everything bigger than a finger mullet. Fortunately we’re just beginning a time here in Florida where we can pretty well pick the size mullet we want to catch. Moreover, the price of ballyhoo and cigar minnows seems to be rising in some ports, while the success of the net ban has made fresh mullet available to anyone with a cast net and a little time on their hands.
Personally, I’m never satisfied with a natural bait trolling spread unless there’s a swimming mullet in it. I’ve probably never outgrown the memory of my first sailfish falling to a mullet, or maybe it’s just the fact that I can use a different size mullet to attract just about anything that swims.
Whatever the case, I’m convinced it’s worth your time to master the quick rig. Ultimately, it’ll make the most of your time on the water, catching fish instead of fumbling with rigs.