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Sea mullet make another good target in November

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By Jeffrey Weeks, Fishing Correspondent

Thanksgiving is almost here and that means the last gasp of pier fishing and most surf fishing and the start of the real inshore cold-water season.
Everyone knows speckled trout and red drum are the two big targets everyone turns to about this time, but there are other inshore fish worth chasing as well.
One fish that usually puts in a strong showing before the water gets really cold is the sea mullet (whiting) and this year has been the best sea mullet year on the piers and in the surf I can remember. Some really nice November sea mullet have already been caught. It almost makes up for the fact that the spots didn’t run that well in Brunswick County again (almost).
Sea mullet have been chewing on sand fleas since midsummer and that has been the top bait for them for those in the know. Now sand fleas will dwindle away but whiting will still continue to feast on small shrimp and other crustaceans (and sea worms) until they are gone for the winter, too. When the shrimp and sea worms are gone, the sea mullet will be as well. Until then, fresh cut shrimp is the best bait for them.
Whiting will hit on the piers until they close (most around here will be done next week at Thanksgiving) and in the surf until mid-December. Some big sea mullet are always caught in early December. If the water stays warm, whiting will continue to hit longer; if it gets too cold, they will shut off. But they will be the first panfish back on the piers in the spring.
When you can’t get fresh shrimp anymore for whiting, then Fishbities artificial bloodworms and frozen squid are better than frozen shrimp, as it is harder for sea mullet to strip the bait from your hook.
Whiting are a grab-and-run fish if there ever was one. Like croaker and spot (other close cousins that are grab-and-run fish) a whiting has an underslung mouth that looks a little a vacuum cleaner when they are feeding off the bottom.
Sea mullet strike fast and hard, then run off with the bait on a lot of occasions. They will strip previously frozen shrimp before you can set the hook. Two things you can do to stop this: Use those other hard to strip baits and make sure you are using small hooks. Sea mullet hook can be short or long-shanked, but they should be size No. 6 or No. 4 and no larger.
Thanksgiving is also the start of what I would consider real black drum fishing. Black drum will hit around structures like docks and bridges inshore all year, but when the water gets cold and the pinfish begin leaving, it gets much easier to target them with natural bait like cut shrimp. Pinfish are even better at stripping your bait than sea mullet, so I usually save the serious black drum fishing for the cold-water between Thanksgiving and February.
Black drum hit any shellfish bait fished around the pilings near the bottom. They will hit almost any bait when really hungry (even live minnows) but most are caught on shellfish baits. I like to use cut shrimp backed with Fishbites bait or fresh clam meat. They’ll strike fiddler crabs and cut blue crab as well. I’ve cleaned many black drum that had stomachs full of whole, small crabs. You can catch the largest ones on live shrimp until the live shrimp are gone for the winter.
Black drum are also cousins to the se mullet, but they are
the opposite of a grab-and-run fish. A black drum has its teeth in its throat and goes around swallowing crabs, clams, mussels and oysters then grinding them slowly up and spitting (most of) the shells back out. There are times a black drum can have your entire bait in its mouth for a good stretch and you won’t even know it, unless you have a finger on the line and are feeling for the telltale vibrations on the line.
Feeling for that strumming and then setting the hook is the key to black drum fishing. Otherwise, you will miss a lot of fish. Yes, black drum do sometimes hook themselves and then you have a strong pull on the line. But for every one of those there are likely three that come along and taste your bait without you knowing it, spitting out your hook.
So pay attention and keep a finger on the line. This also can alert you that a sheepshead is probing your bait, but sheepshead are much harder to hook than black drum. Good luck with sheepshead. They mostly confound me.
Sea mullet and black drum are great fish to eat. Sea mullet are good at any size, and black drum are good unless they are too big and have lost their stripes. Most people fry sea mullet cleaned whole and cut fillets from black drum.
A lot of saltwater anglers put the rods away at Thanksgiving, and I have never understood this. Winter in Brunswick County features some of the best inshore saltwater fishing there is: fewer crowds, fewer bait-stealing fish, beautiful scenery, and some really nice fishing if the water doesn’t get too cold. Don’t quit fishing at Thanksgiving, start!
On a last note, the sales of my new book have been wonderful and I have appreciated all the positive responses from readers. The critics’ reviews are also in and positive, so if you are looking for an inexpensive Christmas present for a Carolina angler check it out at my website www.surfandsalt.com.