It's all in the grip. So said contestants in the Southwest Florida Mullet Toss Championship, an annual event hosted by the Matlacha Mariners this time featuring entrants from as far away as Wisconsin.
"You grab it by the gills and throw it like a football," said Antoine LaChapelle, a St. James City resident readying himself for the mullet-toss competition on Saturday at Matlacha Park. His two young daughters also participated in the charity event. "This is a big deal."
And so it seemed.
Noah Bohl takes a long, close look at the mullet he’s about to toss.
Contestants ranging from small children to seniors participated in the annual event, which involves somehow clutching a frozen and slippery mullet and flinging it as far as possible, said Rick Williams with the Matlacha Mariners, the community group hosting the event.
The playing field was lined by cheering family and visitors, each aware that a frozen mullet with a wayward throw could come flying their way. "People just have so much fun," Williams said, "so into it. This is a great event."
For the novice, throwing a fish seems slightly odd. The tradition is rumored to have started with a group along the north Florida and Alabama border, which today celebrates its mullet toss more like a Mardi Gras. The record for the longest mullet toss is reportedly 179.5 feet. By contrast, the youngest children on Saturday managed to fling a fish not much smaller than themselves a foot or two. The crowd absolutely cheered every toss, some of the fish arcing like a football and landing well down the playing field. The donated mullet were later returned, used to bait crab traps.
But some of the Matlacha contestants weren't fooling around Saturday. Mike Bates had placed second in the event the last two years. The St. James City teen arrived with a game face, gearing up for the toss in the 11-15 year-old category. Rearing back with his fish firmly in hand, Bates looked more like an outfielder firing to the cut-off man. Down the field his fish flew, landing right at about 80 feet. Bates didn't crack a smile until learning he had won the event. "I'm so happy," he said, beaming with his plaque.