(PNJ.com) - More people wear them on their heads than eat them.
But here in Northwest Florida, we look at the much-maligned mullet a little differently. We're talking the fish, not the haircut. The haircut is much-maligned for good reason.
Most people unfortunate enough to snag a mullet on a fishing line throw them back or use them as bait. But here on the Gulf Coast, we bread them, we fry them, we grill them, we eat them with gusto — and, once a year, we gather their slimy bodies and throw them across state line. Why?
The annual Flora-Bama Mullet Toss, a fish-throwing hootenanny, takes place Friday through Sunday at the venerable Flora-Bama Lounge & Package on the Florida-Alabama border on Perdido Key.
There also will be live music, bikini contests and plenty of food and drink.
The mullet is the only small thing about this
big beach bash, which lures tens of thousands of people and packs an economic boon in the millions.
"Around here, the mullet is a delicacy," said Pat McClellan, one of the owners of the Flora-Bama, which started the Mullet Toss in 1985 as a small beach party. "And it's the only fish with a gizzard."
VIDEO: How to properly throw a mullet
That gizzard, adding a little extra weight to the small fish, might be a reason they fly so well. Not that the Flora-Bama folks have tried throwing other fish to test their aerodynamic capacity.
"The best way to throw it is like a softball," McClellan said. "Let the wind catch it."
But there are a variety of ways to throw a mullet. McClellan, a former discus thrower, tried the discus method of throwing mullet early on.
"I was not very good," he said.
He's seen people break the fish's backbone, then fold it in half to try to get more distance.
He watched former NFL great Kenny Stabler dig his big fingers into the fish and try to throw it like a football, but the hoped-for "spiral" became a gooey mess.
"His fingers were digging into the fish," McClellan said. "It was flying, entrails going all over. It just broke apart."
The Flora-Bama Mullet Toss might be a big, stinky, fish-throwing party, but there's a boon to area businesses and nonprofits as well.
The Mullet Toss proceeds benefit numerous local charities, including area drug and alcohol abuse programs. Each year, $20,000 is given to local charities.
Last year, the Mullet Toss attracted 35,000 people to Northwest Florida, according to a Majority Opinion Research survey, which found that those attending booked 5,558 hotel rooms and spent more than $10 million.
The survey did not include locals who came for the event.
"That shows you how big this is," McClellan said. "People have chosen to make this a vacation destination and event."
Two people who will be attending, and maybe throwing mullet, are Ken and Renee Majors, visiting from Sandusky, Ohio.
"We're here for a few weeks, and we have to throw a mullet," Renee Majors said Tuesday, while enjoying a beer with her husband at the Flora-Bama. "We never even ate mullet until we came down here. It's actually really good."
She wants to throw a mullet. But she doesn't like "to hold fish" unless, she said, "it's in a sandwich."
Not that either of the them predicts a winning toss.
"I used to play baseball when I was a kid," said Ken Majors, 56. "But I'd probably throw my arm out now."
For the record, the Mullet Toss record is held by Josh Serotum, who in 2004 tossed the mullet an amazing 189 feet, 8 inches in his preliminary toss and 174 feet, 3 inches in his final toss.
His prize? The same as this year's prize: A mullet dinner at the Original Point Restaurant at Innerarity Point near Perdido Key.
OK, there will be wooden plaques given to the top tossers, as well. But a mullet dinner? Better than any plaque.
If you go
• WHAT: The Flora-Bama Lounge & Package's annual Interstate Mullet Toss.
• WHEN: Noon Friday; 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The party and fish throwing continues all day.
• WHERE: Flora-Bama Lounge & Package, Perdido Key at the Florida-Alabama line.
• ADMISSION: $10, $15 for those under 21. Yes, children are welcome and there are Mullet Toss divisions for youngsters as well. There is a $15 fee to toss the mullet.
• NEED TO KNOW: The mullet are dead. They're fed to birds afterward.
• DETAILS: www.florabama.com.
Parking is extremely limited. Expect to pay for parking; prices vary by location. Organizers urge visitors to carpool, take a taxi or ride one of the Flora-Bama buses. Buses, $5 per person, run from 9 a.m. to closing each day and stop at the Winn-Dixie in Perdido Key and at Publix in Orange Beach, Ala.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cheerleaders braving the elements