The South’s event calendar is chock full of sophisticated gatherings: the Kentucky Derby where white-gloved ladies in $200 custom-made hats delicately sip mint juleps from sterling silver cups; balls where clouds of debutantes float around in frilly white dresses; fancy fox hunts. Even our region’s “down-home” oyster socials, tailgate parties, and other out-of-doors happenings often exhibit a more luxurious level of tradition.
And then there is the opposite end of the Southern spectrum, way on the other side: the portion that includes the odd, offbeat, and just plain silly things we sometimes get together and do.
The annual Interstate Mullet Toss at the infamous Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar in Pensacola, Florida, is the king of such events, and with a huge dose of humor and an even bigger stockpile of booze, it has been embracing everything the rest of the country packs into its stereotype-driven view of the South and putting it on display with pride for more than a quarter century.
The 2016 Mullet Toss is coming up on April 22–24, and this craziness combines a stretch of beautiful Gulf Coast beach, a whole lotta beer and bushwhackers, and a wonderfully weird competition to draw crowds in the thousands and raise money for local charities.
If you’re making plans to attend the Mullet Toss for the first time, arm yourself with these time-tested do’s and don’t’s.
Do: Respect the fish. Fish? Yes, fish. If you were thinking “mullet” referred to the awesomely awful haircut favored by those who take their redneck status seriously, you were wrong. In this instance, mullet means a little silver fish. Fun fact: It is the only fish with a gizzard. Some folks use them to catch other fish. Lots of folks like to fry ’em up and eat ’em. Others just like to throw them across the Florida-Alabama state line on the beach where the Flora-Bama has resided since the 1960’s. And don’t worry: no fish are harmed during the Mullet Toss. (They meet their demise before the event ever begins.)
Do: Know what you’re up against. Your foe is everyone else competing in your age group. Your weapon? Your level of soberness and your upper-body strength. You’ll stand in a circle drawn in Florida sand and, without stepping out of said circle, toss the mullet you grabbed out of a bucket as far into Alabama as you possibly can. Techniques and their rates of success vary. You could go quarterback style and try to rocket the fish, headfirst, into a perfect spiral. Trouble is, fish are bendy, and wobble is a definite risk. Holding the tail and flinging the sucker face-over-back-fin is worth a try, as is the shot-put method. But in the end, it’s best to just go with your gizzard.
Don’t: Cheat. There are Mullet Toss rules. Mullet can be slippery, and a firm grip is essential to a really good, long throw. But you’ll have to rely on your bare hands. No gloves and no “sanding” of the fish are allowed.
Don’t: Overdo it. The festive atmosphere has tempted many a practical person to over-indulge in drink, and the relentless rays of sunshine bouncing off the beach only make matters worse. You’ll need at least a few of your faculties to win this thing, so pace yourself and save some party for your victory celebration.
Do: Hang out and enjoy your surroundings. Whether you’re “in it to win it” or have zero intention of even trying, the Mullet Toss is worth your time since visiting The Flora-Bama is one of those things you really have to do just once. Made up of little more than shacks, tents, and decks connected by walkways, this roadhouse offers a slice of the amusingly strange that makes the South special and serves it up with ice-cold beer and live music on the edge of sugar-white sands and a sparkling blue-green sea.
Do: Bring a sharpie marker (or buy one in the gift shop next to the package store) and feel free to write your name pretty much anywhere you please at what locals and regulars call “the Bam.” That way, future generations of fish throwers will know that you too came, saw, and hurled (mullet, that is).
SEE MORE “FLORA-BAMA MULLET TOSS” PHOTOS HERE