By Steve Waters
You know autumn has arrived in New England when the leaves turn different colors.
You know autumn has arrived in South Florida when tarpon turn cartwheels off the beach.
While many locals head north to catch the fall foliage, Palm Beach County anglers head to beaches, fishing piers and jetties, as well as offshore in powerboats and kayaks, to catch the annual fall mullet run, which starts with a trickle in late September and really gets going in October.
The mullet migration offers some of the best, most frenzied fishing of the year, as a variety of predator species show up to feast on the schools of mullet, which swim south before heading farther offshore to spawn.
Tom Greene of Lighthouse Point, who started fishing the mullet run more than 60 years ago when he worked at Boca Tackle on East Palmetto Park Road, one block west of the Intracoastal Waterway, said Oct. 15 is traditionally when schools of mullet show up in force off area beaches.
“Boynton Inlet has always been great,” said Greene. “Boca Inlet has been good the last 10 years, the north side and south side. Fish early in the morning at Deerfield Pier and Pompano Pier.”
During the mullet run, tarpon and Spanish mackerel will crash into a mullet school, then they and other fish gobble up the stunned and maimed mullet. Bluefish and jack crevalle will tear through a school, and snook will lurk underneath and pick up the pieces. Sharks and ladyfish also get in on the fun.
Meanwhile, pelicans and seagulls attack the mullet from above, which makes locating a mullet school easy.
Live mullet are the preferred bait, but Greene said a number of soft-plastic lures that imitate baitfish will catch their share of fish during the mullet run. Feather jigs, topwater plugs and 5/8-ounce Krocodile spoons, cast just beyond or in front of a mullet school, are also effective.
Greene recommended using a 6½- to 7½-foot fishing rod with 12- to 20-pound monofilament line or 30- to 40-pound braided line.
A teenage fish tale
Greene was a teenager when he pedaled his bicycle to a pavilion at the end of Palmetto Park Road on a Sunday morning. He was going to be in church later, so he left the trousers that he was going to change into with his bike, leaving his wallet in a pocket. Casting live mullet that he’d snagged with his fishing rod, he caught several small jacks off the beach. Then he hooked a fish that he’ll never forget.
“That fish ran out and almost took all the line off my reel,” said Greene, who followed the big fish along the beach to the north jetty of Boca Inlet. “When I got to the inlet, I wasn’t about to let that fish cut me off. My rod had a cork handle and I put that in my mouth. Although the tide was ripping out and sharks were swimming through the inlet —you could see their fins — I swam to the south jetty, then I fought the fish all the way to Deerfield Pier.”
Greene landed the fish, which turned out to be a huge jack, after a three-hour fight. He got a ride to the tackle store, where the fish weighed 43.5 pounds. Then he got a ride to the beach to get his bicycle, where the police were looking for him.
The incoming tide had swept over his bicycle and taken his pants out to sea. A swimmer found the pants floating in the ocean, discovered the wallet and assumed young Tom Greene had fallen overboard offshore.
“One of the cops said, ‘Tom, what are you doing here? We heard you were lost in the ocean,’” Greene said. “Then I had to call my mother. That was the scariest thing, but fortunately nobody had called her to say I was missing.”
Outdoors writer Steve Waters can be reached at email@example.com.