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Here are some mistakes to avoid in catching sea mullet

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

The Brunswick County piers are seeing their best run of sea mullet (whiting) since the 1980s, although not many anglers are taking advantage of it and not many of them are doing the exact right things.
I can tell you the sea mullet are there, though, since I spent last weekend catching them until I couldn’t lift my arm and saw other folks having similar results.
I was at the Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach piers but the reports are the same up and down the coast. Sea mullet big and small are running all along the southern North Carolina coast in unusual numbers.
Sea mullet are called by many local names, which often confuses people. I grew up calling them Virginia mullet, which is a term many still use. A lot of folks from here call them whiting. Northerners and scientists refer to them as kingfish.
There are three species: the northern, southern and Gulf kingfish, which all look about the same and all overlap in the Carolinas. They range as far north as Maine and along down into Texas waters. They are not related to real mullet (also called striped or jumping mullet, or finger mullet in the small size), which are a vegetarian fish caught in cast or gill nets but not usually on hooks.
In usual years, sea mullet are mainly an incidental catch by pier and surf bottom fishermen trying to catch spot or just anything. Sometimes they run in good numbers, though. This year the numbers are astounding. The best time to catch them (especially the larger ones) is at night, though most of the piers aren’t staying open at night right now, an alarming fact I found out when I had to leave them biting several times over the weekend.
Although the numbers of sea mullet in the water are strong, you can still fish on the pier all day and not catch one if you aren’t doing the right things. I saw this happening to some people, who were making simple mistakes and didn’t understand why they weren’t catching them.
First comes the rig. The best rig is a standard two-hook bottom rig with very small (number 6 or 4 is best) hooks and about a 2-ounce pyramid or bank sinker. But don’t use the pre-made rigs with all the swivels, where you add your own hooks and for goodness sake don’t use wire leaders. You need to tie your own without the swivels or buy them pre-tied that way.
The tackle shops and even Walmart now sell the pre-tied rigs (marketed for spot, mullet, croaker, perch and/or pompano) made by companies like Sea Striker or Mustad, or tied by the tackle shop owners themselves. You should only have to add the weight at the end. Rigs with too much hardware on them will get far fewer bites from swivel-shy sea mullet.
For bait, use fresh shrimp or Fishbites bloodworms or both. When I say fresh shrimp, I mean fresh shrimp from the seafood market you would normally eat. Do not buy previously frozen “bait” shrimp or buy shrimp from the supermarket unless you know it is local. It may sound silly, but fish know the difference and really fresh local shrimp will out-fish frozen shrimp 10-to-1.
The Fishbites bloodworms are a great bait because the small whiting can’t tear them off easily. Sea mullet hit real bloodworms, of course, but those are too expensive and don’t stay on the hook long. If you can’t find fresh shrimp or artificial bloodworms the next best choices are squid or fresh cut fish from a fish you just caught. In fact, sea mullet will hit cut sea mullet if you can’t find anything else.
Sea mullet strike hard for a fish their size, trying to grab your bait and run away. Keep your rod in your hand and set the hook as soon as they hit.
Although fishing should be good for these fish again in the fall, the time to get in on the run is now. Throw back the little ones and keep the big ones. You can fry them whole or fillet them. Sea mullet are perhaps the best tasting panfish in the our local waters.
Jeffrey Weeks, author of “Surf and Saltwater Fishing in the Carolinas,” is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. You may reach him at saltyweeks@gmail.com or follow updated fishing reports at www.saltyweeks.com.