There are 78 species of mullet and each one has a unique appearance and behavior. Imitating them, some of the most common backwater baitfish, is key to fooling the wariest inshore sport fish.
Anglers who chase the annual mullet run, when huge schools of the small cigar-shaped fish migrate along the coast, learn to track the arrival and movements and recognize the many different sizes, colors and behaviors of the little fish. Mullet colors vary from region to region, matching the purple, black, browns, green, yellow, gray and silver is the first step in pulling off the deception.
Mullet also have characteristic behaviors. Sometimes mullet swim on the surface creating a small wake on calm water. Other times, the fish root around the bottom kicking up mud. Mullet also hover at mid depths, hanging in the water almost motionless. Then, an injured mullet will spasm, dart and pause until a predator finishes it off. The best mullet lures imitate the fish’s many shades and moods. Since there isn’t room in the tackle box for a hundred lures, our picks cover the bases when the mullet run arrives.
Top Mullet Hard Bait: MirrOlure 52MR
One of the most iconic inshore lures perfectly imitates mullet. The MirrOlure 52 MR sinking twitchbait can be worked several ways. To cover water and find fish, cast out the 52 MR and retrieve at a steady pace. To entice finicky fish, use a pause and twitch return: give the rod tip two sharp twitches followed by a pause to let the lure sink slowly. Crank in the slack line and repeat the twitch and pause. This tactic leaves the lure in the strike zone longer, so redfish, speckled trout and striped bass can zero in for the kill. To seal the deal, the 52MR comes in a dozen colors and patterns. Each lure uses a shiny foil insert to imitate the mullet’s flash and sparkle. Three super-sharp treble hooks snare any fish that smacks, strikes or sniffs the 52MR.
Top Mullet Topwater Bait: Heddon Saltwater Super Spook
One of the mullet’s favorite moves is swimming just under the surface creating a tiny V-wake on the water. The Heddon Zara Spook was designed to imitate this behavior. In fact, the Zara Spook pretty much invented the walk-the-dog topwater retrieve. Cast out the lure, point the rod tip at the water, slowly crank the reel while twitching the rod tip left, right to make the lure zig-zag across the top of the water. The five-inch Super Spook’s cigar shape presents a life-like profile of a mullet swimming on the surface. The saltwater version has three corrosion-resistant treble hooks to nab short-striking predators. Heddon expanded the color choices to include three-dimensional flash and dozens of mullet-imitating patterns.
Top Mullet Soft Bait: Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ with Trout Eye Jighead
A soft plastic paddle tail on a lead-head jig is a classic mullet imitation in every inshore angler’s tackle box. Z-Man took the classic to the next level with the DieZel MinnowZ. First, a slot between the dorsal fins fits a weedless or jighead hook without interfering with the hook point. Then, the soft plastic floats to keep the tail suspended when the lure is resting on the bottom. Captain Dave Lusk, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, likes the DieZel MinnowZ for durability and versatility. “The Diezel MinnowZ comes in 46 color combinations to match the conditions,” he says.
When the water is clear, he goes with a natural color like Wright Stuff or Green Pumpkin. If the water is dirty or stained, he chooses a brighter color like sexy mullet or lime pearl. The best feature of the DieZel MinnowZ is the soft, stretchy Elaztech plastic, which is 10 times tougher than comparable materials. Lusk says, “The DieZel MinnowZ will catch dozens of fish and stand up against bluefish and pinfish.”
Top Mullet Swimbait: LiveTarget Mullet Swimbait
The LiveTarget Mullet Swimbait is an exact copy of an actual mullet. But making a lure look like a baitfish and getting it to act like a baitfish are two separate challenges. LiveTarget killed two birds with one lure. The Mullet Swimbait is designed to be a 100-percent anatomically correct copy of a real mullet. At 1 ounce, the lure swims shallow, which is perfect for skinny water. The stiff dorsal fin makes the lure weedless, so it can go deep into the grass without snagging. But looks aren’t everything. The Mullet Swimbait has a unique hard-plastic tail that produces a tight wobble like a fleeing baitfish. The LiveTarget Mullet Swimbait is easy to use. The best way to entice a bite is with a steady retrieve, the realistic look and action will draw fish to the mullet imitation.
Top Mullet Surface Swimmer: Strike King Saltwater Sexy Dawg Hard Knock
Captain Mike Frenette has been a guide and tournament angler in Louisiana’s backwater for decades. Last year, he invested all of his experience into the Strike King Saltwater Sexy Dawg Hard Knock. Using a walk-the-dog, zig-zagging retrieve, the Sexy Dawg imitates a wounded mullet trying to escape. “The hard knock rattle adds the sound dimension to excite gamefish,” Frenette says.
To survive the rigors of salt water fishing, the new lure uses Mustad hooks connected with split rings. “I’m most partial of the colors,” Frenette adds. “Bait fish colors vary greatly and the color contrast will fit in anywhere around the world.”
Top Mullet Darter Bait: Tactical Anglers Hot Mullet SubDarter
“Mullet come in a million different colors, but they all share one color in common,” says pro angler Alberto Knie. After observing mullet for years, Knie noticed the baitfish turn a bright purple and green when they are being chased by a predator. “I call the color hot mullet,” he says. Knie matched the look with his Hot Mullet color for Tactical Anglers lures. His favorite model is the SubDarter, a wide-body plug with a slanted head.
“I can work the SubDarter straight, pause and crank, twitch, work it across the surface or deep dive,” he says. “Big fish eat big baits.” The SubDarter’s internal sound chamber and deep gill ridges create vibration to attract fish in dark and dirty water. The bait comes in 7 and 5.5 inches.
Top Soft Plastic Mullet: D.O.A. Bait Buster
“It isn’t pretty, but this is a fish-catching machine,” is how D.O.A. Lures describes its Bait Buster, a soft plastic swimbait and jighead hybrid. The soft plastic body has a large pocket to hold the jig head and hook shank. This allows the angler to change the hook size and weight to adjust how the lure works.
To target tarpon off coastal Georgia, Captain Greg Hildreth uses a D.O.A. Bait Buster with the ⅞-ounce trolling hook. Hildreth explains, “The trolling model has a beefier hook and it sinks fast.” To tempt Georgia tarpon, Hildreth uses a slow and steady retrieve. The 4.5-inch lure is a perfect match for a mullet and the double curly tail creates vibration and gives the lure a tight swimming action. Hildreth’s favorite colors are green back and silver body or black back and silver body.
Top Lipped Hard Bait Mullet: Bomber Saltwater Grade Long Shot
To imitate a large mullet fleeing for its life, Captain Greg Hildreth relies on the Bomber Long Shot. “I use the Long Shot more than any other lure,” he says. To match the size of a large mullet, the Long Shot comes in 5- to 7-inch models. When he’s targeting feeding tarpon, Hildreth uses a slow and steady retrieve and lets the Long Shot do the work. The lure dives down to four feet and swims with an exaggerated side-to-side wobble. To mimic regional variations of bait color and pattern, the Long Shot comes in 10 color combinations. Hildreth favorite colors are black and green mackerel.
Top Mullet Fly: Popovics Bulkhead Deceiver
The bulkhead deceiver fly, popularized by legendary fly designer Bob Popvics, uses bucktail saddle hackles to create a long and full profile. The fly is a popular mullet imitation all over the world and a favorite of Chesapeake Bay fly fishing guide Capt. Chris Newsome. “The bulkhead deceiver is a breeze to cast and it has a round mullet profile with a lot of movement,” he says. When tying the bulkhead deceiver, Newsome suggests using less material so it spins evenly and is easier to trim. He uses the deceiver for a variety of species including sight casting to cobia. “I like a bright color I can see on the surface,” he says. When he’s enticing a cobia, he uses a sharp strip followed by a long pause. “The change in speed elicits a reaction strike,” he says.
Top Scented Mullet Lure: Gulp! Alive! Swimming Mullet
No list of mullet lures would be complete without the Gulp! Alive! Swimming Mullet. Almost 20 years ago, Berkley introduced the scent infused soft plastic and it became an instant classic. Starting with a 3 ½-inch curly tail soft plastic, the Swimming Mullet has a heavy body with molded fins and scales for a natural, textured look. Berkley worked for years to develop the absorbent soft plastic material and optimized fish attractant. Use the Gulp! Alive! Swimming Mullet with an ⅛ to ½ ounce jig head to imitate a mullet bouncing along the bottom or swimming through the water. The Swimming Mullet is so effective at attracting fish, many anglers rig it on a Carolina rig or bottom rig and fish the soft plastic like a live mullet.
Bonus Bait: A Largemouth Bass Swimbait for Salt Water
The Shimano ARMAJOINT 190SF Flash Boost swimbait is a big bass catcher that’s also perfect for the mullet run. The new bait is intended for mega freshwater largemouth bass. Mullet-run anglers will like it because it casts plenty far. That means anglers fishing with their feet in the sand can reach fish beyond the breakers. With help from its ArmaBoost technology, the plug uses internal magnets to force a compact shape during the cast. In the water, the bait swims in an S-pattern because of its ArmaJoint design. With seemingly endless amounts of flash, this swimbait is definitely worth a try.