The start of December combined with colder water starts a change of season for many of Bradenton's charter captains.
Many will put down the fishing rods and reels with clients while picking up mullet nets and crab traps to make a living during slow fishing times.
Not many clients want to fish with guides this time of year. The fishing can be difficult with cold and unpredictable weather, making it hard to schedule days for clients in advance. For this reason, captains turn to commercial fishing to make a living, mainly selling roe, mullet or stone crab claws.
While most rod-and-reel anglers prefer a mild winter and calm weather, fishing for mullet is better when the weather turns. Changing weather gets them moving in large schools and out in areas to be caught.
As fronts approach, mullet school together in anticipation of heading offshore for spawning. Mullet white roe (sperm) and red roe (eggs) use the rough weather and higher seas, mixing the roe together and increasing their chances of reproduction. For this reason, mullet head offshore following cold fronts when Gulf waters are their roughest. Millions of mullet make this migration each year.
Red roe from mullet commands a high price overseas, as East Asian buyers drive up the market price. The price has started high this year, while the catches for mullet have been slow to start the roe season.
Much was made of the recent gill net situation in Tallahassee. With the gill net ban still in place, the cast net mullet anglers will be able to catch more of the bounty during the west coast mullet run. Gill nets would have meant huge catches of mullet for those who possessed them, yielding a lower market price and fewer fish for those who don't.
For local anglers, this is for the better. Other states that still allow gill-netting would have most likely come to our local waters with gill nets ready. This would have created tension among local anglers and those who come in without much concern for our local stocks. With that off the table, it will be business as usual for those cast-netting mullet.
When large schools head offshore, boats aren't far behind. During good days, 5,000 pounds or more can be caught. Great days could yield 10,000 pounds. Lifetime best days for a boat of two or three anglers could be 15,000 pounds or more. It's a fishing gold rush, as thousands of pounds brought to the fish house at prices ranging between one dollar and two dollars a pound means paychecks in the thousands for a day's work.
The mullet run can be a dangerous fishery, as small skiffs head offshore in rough weather following mullet, loading boats down with thousands of pounds of fish. For this reason, it's best left to the experts.
Selling mullet requires a restricted species (RS) license. The recreational limit is 50 per person (or vessel, whichever is less) from Sept. 1 until Jan. 1.