Spend any length of time along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and you will eventually see a small silver fish leap from the water briefly, then splash back into the depths. This same fish will often repeat this trick a few more times within the span minute or so. This fish is known locally as a mullet and commonly referred to as Biloxi bacon.
But the thing is, it’s not really a mullet at all, it’s a kingfish. And they are delicious.
What is a kingfish?
The real mullet, the only member of the Latin order of Mugiliformes, are found all over the world, but aren’t the fish in question here. In Mississippi waters, what is commonly called either ground mullet, whiting, or white mullet, are actually both types of kingfish, which are members of the Sciaenidae family that includes croaker and drum.
Ground mullet are silvery gray to coppery with irregular blotches on sides. They have a single barbell whisker under the chin. Gulf kingfish are characterized as having grey to silvery sides with a dusky patch on the first dorsal and the caudal fin.
Mullet are held in good regard by many anglers as nice little fighters. They make excellent fillets are great when smoked on a grill. Smaller cigar sized examples are premium bait for larger gamefish including bull Reds, Macks, and Yellowfin.
These fish have been registered with DMR for several years. The champion Mississippi Southern Kingfish in the state’s record books was a 1 lb. 14 oz. fish caught back in 1985 by Scott A. Walter. The record Gulf Kingfish by the state was a respectable 1 lb. 15.36 oz. specimen caught in 2009 by Tony Fimiano.
The reason these mullet jump is unknown for sure. It’s thought that they may be trying to shake off parasites, running from larger gamefish looking for a meal, or just because they enjoy it, but no one knows for sure.
Whatever you do, don’t confuse these tasty little guys with the big King Mackerel, which confusingly enough are also called Kingfish. The Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) chases these large (up to 90-pound) voracious, opportunistic carnivores, and not the small and humble ground/white mullet. With that in mind, don’t show up at a SKA Tournament with your #6 hooks looking to enter.
For the sake of argument we will just call them mullet for the rest of this article (and won’t mention the kingfish/mullet confusion anymore)
Tips and Tricks
A whole subculture of mullet wranglers exist along the Gulf Coast. In shallow water, cast net aficionados try their hand at hurling for Biloxi bacon. They aren’t expensive, typically about $35 for a six-foot net and sizes range from 4-12 feet in diameter. It’s advisable to learn to toss a cast net in a smooth patch of grass in your yard before heading to the beach. While you will see legions of cast netters around the old Broadwater in Biloxi, it’s normally a good rule of thumb to not throw your net around structure and obstructions if you want to keep it.
Rod and reel anglers use light tackle, small reels, and small hooks for these dainty but tasty little fish. Optimum bait is small shrimp, jigs, and just about anything from a coastal runner with a small mouth will go after.
While the coastal bays, piers, and bayous are abundant with these little guys, they can be found almost anywhere in the Sound. Just offshore at locations such as Whitehouse reef and the Birdcage, both whites and ground mullet are often found in great numbers. If you are catching good numbers of mullet, be prepared to get involved rapidly with large gamefish such as wahoo and dolphin as mullet is one of their primary snacks. This is so well known that almost every coastal angler uses mullet for bait. Commercial artificial bait companies such as Berkeley with their Gulp Alive series, use imitation swimming mullet for some of the most popular lure designs.
Be sure if fishing anywhere south of I-10 that you have your valid saltwater license on hand. For recreational anglers with the license, there are no Mississippi size or possession limits on mullet.
With that being said, it’s easy to see why mullet is often referred to as Biloxi bacon. Heck in Gautier they even have the annual Mullet Festival, which includes the ever-popular mullet toss, and tons of these humble little fish cooked up every way imaginable.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it