By George Poveromo



There are all sorts of lures and baits that appeal to offshore fish. Yet when it comes to natural baits that provoke an extraordinary number of hits and have exceptional hookup-to-fish-box conversion ratios, especially on striking fish like wahoo and kingfish, few can top the stinger-rigged swimming mullet.

There's something magical about trolling a meticulously rigged mullet, which swims in an enticing, pulsating and lifelike fashion. Add in the bait's plump girth — much deeper than a ballyhoo or squid — light-reflecting silver sides and fairly compact body, and it's easy to understand why it's often the hottest bait in the spread.

There are several ways to rig a mullet for offshore trolling. In my opinion, the swimming option is by far the best, especially if you're gunning for trophy-class wahoo or even king mackerel closer to shore. And the swimming mullet can be fished in four fashions: straight off a flat line and just inches under the surface; on a wire-line outfit, from 10 to 30 feet deep; in conjunction with a trolling weight, some five to 10 feet deep; or off a planer or downrigger, the latter allowing you to precisely position the bait in the water column. However, the one denominator, to foil the short-striking antics of wahoo and king mackerel, is a stinger rig.

You'll need No. 10 single-strand wire (127-pound-test), either a 10/0 or 11/0 (based on the size of the mullet) long-shank lead hook, a 9/0 to 10/0 long-shank stinger rear hook, a 300-pound-test barrel swivel, a 6- to 8-ounce egg sinker, a rigging needle, waxed thread, a sharp knife and a fresh mullet that has been brined for at least 12 hours.

Swimming Lessons
Don't be intimidated by the swimming mullet. If you take your time and follow the steps below, you'll find that this rig is not that complicated or difficult to master after a few practice rounds.

PREPPING

 

STEP 1: Lay the mullet flat, and split its tail by inserting the knife into the vent and through to just ahead of the rear dorsal fin. Be careful not to sever the backbone. Work the knife toward the tail, and fillet the meat from the backbone. At the base of the tail, angle the knife sharply downward and slice through the tail to split it. Flip the mullet over and repeat the procedure on the other side. Leave the backbone in place.
 
STEP 2: Scale the "soft spot" on the mullet's head with the backside of the knife.
STEP 3A: Make a deep incision to one side of the centerline of the head, working forward to the eyes and angling the knife slightly inward.
 
STEP 3B: Repeat this step on the opposite side of the head, and remove the wedge of meat.
STEP 4: Push the knife into the wedge and along one side of the backbone, separating it from the rib cage and meat. You will hear a crackling as the ribs separate from the backbone. Repeat the procedure along the other side of the backbone, and then run the knife between the top of the backbone and the skin. Finally, pull out the entire backbone from the rear of the bait. If this is done properly, the internal organs will be attached.

RIGGING

 

STEP 5: Lay the lead hook alongside the mullet to visualize where it will ride. The eye of the hook should sit slightly behind the eyes of the bait. Make a small incision on the belly, where the bend of the hook will emerge, and insert the hook eye into this incision. Push it into the head of the bait, stopping just short of the eyes.
STEP 6: Lay the stinger hook next to the bait, and visualize where it will lie in relationship to the lead hook. Measure the length of the wire between the hooks.
STEP 7: Fabricate the stinger leader using haywire twists to connect the hook and the barrel swivel.
STEP 8: Use the rigging needle to pull the swivel on the stinger rig through the split tail and body cavity and out of the mouth so the swivel rests on the eye of the lead hook. Remove the needle, and run the needle through the head of the bait to line up the eyes of the barrel swivel and the lead hook, which makes it easy to run a wire leader through them.
STEP 9: After running the wire leader through the head, the swivel and the hook eye and out through the lower jaw, slide on a sinker, and then complete the rig by making a loop with a haywire twist or barrel wrap. Secure the jaws by stitching each side of the mouth with waxed thread. To keep the eyes from filling with water and bulging, pass the needle and thread through them, and finish with two overhand knots.
STEP 10: Make a couple of tight wraps around the head of the bait with the waxed thread, forcing the gill plates shut. Then cinch down the thread.
STEP 11: To keep the stinger in position on a strike, make two stitches above the shank and two stitches below the shank. Leave enough wiggle room so the stinger hook doesn't bind.