It’s time to take your fishing pole for a walk on the beach. But I’m warning you, it’s September, this will not be a leisurely stroll where your attention is divided between pretty shells, skimpy bikinis and the odd flicker of a fish swimming in the suds.
Most likely, you’ll feel like you’re fishing in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, The Birds. You may find yourself knee-deep in the shore break amid a feeding frenzy of voracious predators, including tarpon, bluefish and, yes, sharks. You’ll probably find yourself sprinting down the beach after the frenzy, getting farther and farther from the car, without giving a hoot how far the walk back becomes. Why? The fall baitfish run is on!
This annual migration is often referred to as the “mullet run,” but in reality the surf zone becomes a buffet for birds, fish and dolphins that includes anchovies, sardines and pilchards as well. It takes place all along Florida’s Atlantic coast each in the late summer through early fall each year, and is one of the most incredible wildlife migrations on earth.
The water is generally clearer the farther south you go, and the waves are generally smaller, so the action is more visual and accessible. Still, anglers from Fernandina Beach to Miami Beach keep lines of communication open so that they can intercept these schools of baitfish and predators as they move south.
Top beaches in Northeast Florida include St. Augustine, especially near the Anastasia State Recreation Area. Along the Space Coast, you can’t beat the worm reefs off Satellite Beach. Along the Treasure Coast, the beaches on the north and south sides of Sebastian Inlet, within Sebastian Inlet State Park, are primo intercept spots. Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge is a great bet along the southern reaches of the Treasure Coast. It’s tough to beat Juno Beach in Palm Beach County, unless you fish south of the Lake Worth Pier and around the Ocean Inlet Park in Boynton Beach. Farther south, try Red Reef Park in Boca Raton, and the waters around Anglins Pier in Fort Lauderdale. Miamivisitors should focus around Haulover Inlet.
The mullet run attracts a hardcore following of anglers. Besides staying in communication with each other, we also cruise the beach road, A1A, in search of the blitzes, stopping in to look north and south through binoculars atop favorite crossovers. Frenzied, shrieking flocks of diving birds are dead giveaways.
If it’s calm enough, fly anglers do exceedingly well. The baitfish are often just a foot or two off the beach. Surf-fishing tackle capable of throwing large plugs, heavy spoons and big live baits is a must when it’s rough.
You never know what you might catch during the run. Bring something to transport fish. Delicious Spanish mackerel and bluefish are in the mix. You may catch big mangrove and mutton snappers in the hardbottom areas. Snook are in season. Catch-and-release opportunities include tarpon, sharks and ladyfish. You never know what you might hook during the fall baitfish run.