Black or striped mullet, are a versatile fish that can be found throughout the world in warm, coastal marine waters and sometimes in fresh water. They are abundant in Florida waters, especially in Choctawhatchee Bay and its bayous in and around Niceville.
These fish, well known and held in high esteem for centuries, were often included in the writings of ancient Romans. They were cultivated along the Nile River, and native chieftains of the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands had large numbers of fish ponds built throughout the islands to raise the fish.
Mullet are sometimes called jumping, or happy mullet because the fish leaps out of the water and skips along its surface with great exuberance.
Mullet have elongated, rather stout bodies. They are a dark bluish color on the top part of the body and have silvery sides. The head and mouth are small with closely-set teeth in the jaws. Mullet have large scales and, on the sides of these fish, the scales have dark centers which give an appearance of dark, horizontal stripes. Mullet range up to 2-1/2 feet in length (that’s a real big one) and have an average weight of 2 to 3 pounds, though they can get up to 6 pounds.
Mullet, which feed on vegetation, algae, plankton and such, take on the flavor of its surroundings. In most areas, dirty, muddy or polluted waters render mullet inedible. The reason mullet is no longer a prize delicacy in Rome is because Italy’s canals and coastal waters became polluted (that’s why there’s no Roman Mullet Festival).
Mullet taken from Niceville’s sandy-bottomed waters are fat and clean. It’s firm-textured flesh has a mild, almost sweet, nutlike flavor.
During the depression, mullet literally saved the Boggy Bayou area by providing pioneer families with the means to barter with farmers in nearby Alabama and others for needed goods and services.
These days, mullet is largely caught by individuals with small cast nets who watch and listen for the leaping fish and spot schools beneath the surface of Niceville’s crystal clear waters. The best fishing months are from April to November, with the heaviest run usually in September.
These versatile fish adapt readily to deep-fat frying, oven frying, baking, broiling or smoking. Mullet are exceptionally good smoked!