While presidential candidates engage in political debates this spring, there’s an even bigger debate stirring along the Florida-Alabama state line. The topic of this particular debate may not be as sophisticated, but the logic and antics behind it are just as ridiculous. So what is it Florida folk are pondering over this time of year? To fry or to fling…that is the question as it relates to the fish that shares a name with the “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle: the mullet. For those who’ve grown up along the Florida Panhandle, eating fried mullet has probably been a regular occurrence. The flaky white fish, which some compare to catfish or grouper, is plentiful in the Gulf waters and served deep fried at almost every hole-in-the-wall and casual seafood restaurant you find. (My personal favorites are Marina Oyster Barn and Jerry’s Drive In.) Yet, others see mullet as a “bottom-feeder” fish, that’s cheap and not worthy of your taste buds. To some, it’s better served as entertainment, rather than nourishment, this time of year — which is sacrilege to many local mullet eaters. What type of entertainment? Throwing it! Yes, you read that right. This strange phenomenon of hurling a dead fish through the air as far as you can throw it happens every year (while drinking beer and partying on the beach) at the Flora-Bama Interstate Mullet Toss.
The toss takes place the last full weekend in April, and this year’s dates are April 22, 23 and 24. For three days, more than 35,000 people will head to the famous honky tonk venue, the Flora-Bama Lounge, on the Florida Alabama state line to participate in the year’s biggest fish flinging contest. You might be asking yourself: Why?
Why not? It’s fun! It’s definitely a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, it also raises money for local charities. You pay $15 to throw a dead mullet over the state line and vie for the “longest throw” trophy in each age division. And, when it’s not your turn, you relax and partake in the biggest beach party around with plenty of food, live music, sand and skin (daily bikini contests). The mullet toss record still stands at 189 feet. But records are made to be broken, right? Contestants have all kinds of theories on what makes the best toss — some fold the fish in half to get a proper grip, some fling it by its tail, some spiral it like a football — no method is incorrect.
So if you find yourself reading this and wanting to get in on this great debate on the best use of mullet, I advise you to get down to the Pensacola Bay Area in late April and taste our Southern specialty — then head over to the Flora-Bama. Stick your hand in the bucket, grab a mullet, and toss! Only then will you be able to weigh in on which is the better use of our locally loved fish… flingin’ it or fryin’ it? My politically correct vote, for what it’s worth, is both. Feel differently? Please share your thoughts!