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Matching the Hatch on the Beach

Big Flies for Big Fish During the Fall Mullet Run
Author: Josh Idol | Featured Fly: Beach Mullet | August 2020
Preparing for an early fall afternoon on the sand. The Beach Mullet in purple, size #2/0.
One muggy August morning several years ago I found myself battling clouds of obsessive no-see-ums in an empty, windless parking lot on Florida’s southeast coast. It was thirty minutes before dawn and I was cursing myself for failing to rig my rod the night before; paying for my laziness in blood.

By the time I walked up the beach access my sanity was hanging by a thread. As I crossed the dunes and caught the first stirring of a light onshore breeze I felt a sense of reason return to the morning. I made my way down the beach to a wobbly driftwood stump and sat down with my coffee to wait on the sun.

The Hatch to Match on a calm South Florida morning early in the Mullet Run.
That sunrise revealed a scene I’ll never forget. Dark clouds of baitfish swirled and surged south down the beach at the edge of the wash, broken at regular intervals by giant tarpon exploding out of the water and fast-moving Jacks surfing down the faces of waves. It was like a scene out of a National Geographic. I had inadvertently stumbled onto the first surge of the annual Mullet Run, the conditions were perfect, and I had the beach all to my self.
Feeding big Beach Tarpon on a quiet stretch of South Florida sand.
Imagine a 100 pound tarpon so close to your feet you can reach it with a roll cast. Get the conditions just right during the Mullet Run and you’ll have shots at big Tarpon and Snook right from the sand. The key to converting those shots in to eats is knowing how and what to feed the fish. When natural prey is abundant predators tend to key in on what’s readily available to them. To successfully feed fish during the Mullet Run you have to “match the hatch” just as you would on a trout stream.

My go-to fly for the Mullet Run is a pattern I call the Beach Mullet. It’s my take on Lou Tabory’s famous Snake Fly using David Nelson’s excellent Squimpish Hair for the tail rather than the fussy and delicate ostrich hurl of the original. The spun deer hair head has enough buoyancy to keep the fly suspended near the surface with a floating line or suspended off of the bottom with an intermediate line while providing the profile a mullet imitation requires.

There’s always at least a handful of Beach Mullets in my fly wallet. I usually carry purple and white versions for low light and high sun respectively. Early season I start with 1/0’s about 4” long and progress to 2/0’s about 6” long later in the run.

Jumping an early season Beach Tarpon. Sometimes it all comes together.
Fishing the beach during the mullet run can range from miserable to an incredibly special experience. It’s usually closer to the former than the latter, but when the stars align there’s nowhere else I’d rather fish. If that sounds like your kind of challenge, grab a handful of Beach Mullets and join the rest of us lost souls on the sand this fall.

Conservation Note: If you manage to jump any size Tarpon from the sand this season make sure you give that fish the best possible chance at survival. If there are sharks around, break your fish off immediately. If you manage to get one safely to the beach, don’t haul it out of the water. Wade in, remove your fly, revive the fish and let it swim off. As fishermen it is incumbent upon us to preserve our most precious resources. Let that fish live on in your memories rather than on social media. Keep ‘em wet.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but when it’s good it’s really good. The Beach Mullet in olive, size #2/0.

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