Spurred on by research into the San Fermín festival and other strange Spanish displays of faith or fury, Kareem Yasin and Adam Fischer started wondering whether there were similarly odd domestic events. Exhibit A: mullet throwing.
On the last weekend of April, tens of thousands will make their way to a beach on the 16-mile-long island of Perdido Key. The aim? To throw a dead fish, across the Alabama-Florida state line.
Now in its 28th year, the Interstate Mullet Toss has become the signature event of the beachside roadhouse Flora-Bama Lounge, Package, and Oyster Bar, which straddles the state line between Pensacola, Florida, and Orange Beach, Alabama.
As participants eight years and up chuck striped mullets across a stretch of white sand beach, a diverse crowd of families, retirees, college students, and local celebrities mingle in a party atmosphere.
“It’s something everybody in Georgia, Alabama, and north Florida know about,” says Joe York, a native Alabamian filmmaker with the Southern Foodways Alliance, which celebrates the diverse food culture of the area. “When I was in college, everybody would head down for spring break to kick off the summer.”
Last year, York shot a short film about the contest, Deadliest Throw (see below). “The whole thing is completely absurd, everybody gets that,” he says.
Joke or not, the event raises up to $20,000 a year, which gets donated to local youth charities. “It’s all about fishing, family, and giving back to the community,” says Valerie Tyson, head of marketing and events at Flora-Bama.
While the residents of the two states are rivals during college football season, the roadhouse, founded in 1964, has come to symbolize their unity. When the bar was completely destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, community members banded together to have it operating again within 24 hours.
“The common thread is that everyone is so giving,” says Tyson. And the giving doesn’t stop there—all 250 tossed fish are fed to the seagulls.
The current toss record holder is Michael “Woody” Bruhn, with a throw of 189 feet and nine inches. But what is the secret to throwing a mullet?
“There are all kinds of techniques,” says Tyson. “Some people grab it by the tail and do the Spin-and-Throw, like they’re doing the shot put. Others fold the fish and grab it by the head and the tail. There is only one rule in the rule book: stay inside the 10-foot-wide throwing circle.”
The striped mullet has been central to the fishing industry between Key West and Pensacola since the 19th century. It remains a strictly Southern fish.
“The mullet is so indigenous it can’t be eaten anywhere other than the Gulf Coast,” says York of the fish, which is usually enjoyed smoked, steamed, or grilled.
Plus, says Tyson, “it stays together well when you throw it.”
The Interstate Mullet Toss happens this year April 27–29. Flora-Bama, 17401 Perdido Key Dr., Pensacola, Florida.
Photo courtesy of the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package, and Oyster Bar.