The fresh water mullet is an illusive adversary. He is at one time as crafty as a fox and as dumb as a doorknob. He is adventurous and cowardly. He longs to try new things and yet is afraid to follow through. He swims the current with glee and leaps with fear from a smooth lake. He is an enigma, a mystery, and a fine meal.
Years ago, when just a young boy I used to hunt this famed creature with a fervor seldom rivaled to this day. I would spend hours on end, shirtlessly, shoelessly and carelessly following a pack and/or school of mullet up and down the dam that spanned the Dead Lakes in my boyhood haunt of Wewahitchka, Florida.
You see the technique for winning this prize isn’t complicated, but it must be carried off with great precision and a dedication so intense that it borders on fanaticism.
The mullet spend their day on the smooth side of the spillway which drops the overflow of the Dead Lakes back into the Chipola River.
On the drop off side the water is rough and large boulders have been placed there to prevent erosion. Large mouth bass love this area mainly because any little fish that comes over the top is bruised and battered and just a bit confused when it lands in the rapids and thus is an easy meal.
The smooth side is just that. It is where the water banks up just before it overflows and the resulting water up against the spillway is an eddy of sorts. The current just under the surface is strong enough to host a veritable parade of trash for the mullet to eat but not strong enough to pull them over the top, but Lord help the mullet that ventures too close to the surface. He has a wild ride ahead of him.
That being said, the mullet swim as a pack up and down the spillway just below the strong current all day long catching whatever bits of garbage come their way; and it is this tendency to bite first and taste later that gives the hunter the advantage, small as it is.
With a stout cane pole, a strong hook and the patience of Job mixed with the fortitude of Sisyphus, a young boy can bring home the bacon, if the conditions are just right.
You have to lean over the rail, so you have the proper leverage when the time comes, and lower your hook, baited with just a tad of wriggler, about four or five feet in front of the oncoming herd of mullet. The difficult part is not spooking them, number one, and determining the correct depth, number two. Oh, I almost forgot, not falling in is actually the first most difficult thing.
When you get it just right the lead mullet will sidled up to your worm, give it a noncommittal glance and then with an imperceptible intake of water make the worm disappear as if by magic only to make it reappear a millisecond later when he or she has determined that it isn’t trashy enough to eat.
It is only the hunter with the sharpest focus and lightening fast reflexes that gains the prize.
For when fishing for mullet your focus must be razor sharp. Nothing in the world exists but that lead mullet before you. You have to get into the mind of the mullet, and when you are in the zone you unconsciously and imperceptible intake air at the precise moment when that worm disappears.
With that unconscious intake of air, your body springs into action with a precision and speed that defies logic and physiology; and with seemingly one movement, that mullet is airborne.
Up he rises from the water, he performs a perfect arch above your head and then he comes crashing down on the pavement behind you.
That is, of course, if there is pavement behind you.
At eight years of age my power of focus was quite acute.
One afternoon, in the mid summer as I recall, I was hunting for mullet. I was in the zone. No mullet was safe that day. I had already sent several to the icebox, and I knew the time to head back to Panama City was closing in, so my focus heightened all the more.
As the sun began to set, the final school was before me, and the lead mullet was magnificent. As the yellow sun shown off of the silver scales, the effect was dazzling. The fine head, the graceful lines; I was mesmerized. I had to have that prize.
So with a skill borne from years of practice I lowered the perfect morsel before the intended victim, and with the now accustomed mutual intake of air and water the magic happened.
That beauty was lifted from the water, sailed through the air with a style to be envied by all, disappeared over my left shoulder in the setting sun’s glare and came crashing down with the customary thud. Or was that a crash?
My exultation at having gained such as prize was quickly tempered. For when I turned around, I saw that my new found trophy was beautifully displayed on the hood of the local game warden’s pick up truck. Right there in a mullet shaped indentation lay my fish.
It turns out that it doesn’t take all that long for an eight year old's life to flash before his eyes.
I will dispense with the rest of the story for now. Suffice it say. It ain’t all that pretty.
I’ll tell you this though. I believe my feelings at that precise moment would best be described as mixed.
I felt compelled to tell you this story, but the reason for the telling remains unknown to me. Perhaps, like me, the Lord simply enjoys reliving those simple, innocent times. Perhaps there is some deep theological meaning hidden within the interplay between mullet, current, bait and the boy, or perhaps not.
One way or the other I pray that the reading brought a smile to your face, a pleasant memory to your mind, a bit of rest for your heart and some peace to your soul.