“You should come to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores this April. I will make you a celebrity tosser at the Flora-Bama mullet toss,” said Kay Maghan, Director of PR for the Department of Tourism.
That’s all I needed to hear other than an explanation of what the hell a mullet toss was. And what qualified me as a “celebrity”, as the only fame-worthy thing I have done was blowing up my high school history teacher’s mailbox.
The Redneck Riviera
Situated on the Gulf Coast, Gulf Shores, Alabama, Orange Beach, Alabama, and Perdido Key, Florida, are cities that make up the area known as the “Redneck Riviera”. Orange Beach is home to the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar, made famous by country singers like Kenny Chesney. As well as countless spring breakers who may, or may not, remember their time on this stretch of white sand shoreline. You’ll find sunbaked southern belles in bikinis, salty sunglass-tan-lined anglers, moms and dads, kiddos skimboarding, and guys who remind you of your favorite uncle wearing cutoff jeans on the beach. All having a good time respectfully intermingled. If a utopia of good old fashion fun still exists, this is it.
With the perfect mix of adult debauchery and family fun, the area offers something for just about anyone. Even your buddy’s new bougie girlfriend who “only drinks wine from Napa”. Tell her to head to Fisher’s Upstairs: one of the best restaurants in the area. Fisher’s is led by Chef Bill Briand, a five-time James Beard semi-finalist. Chef Bill trained under Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans for many years before moving to the beach to open his own must-taste, fine-dining experience.
Serving Up a Variety of Entertainment
Though the Flora-Bama gets the lion’s share of the notoriety, it serves more as a landmark than the definitive destination for the area. The towns serve up entertainment well beyond the Flora-Bama’s bra-laden and marker-stained walls. Our trip was more than a Bushwacker fest. It was an opportunity to see the whole area from land, air, and sea.
Landing in Pensacola, Florida, we piled into the rental car, cranked the tunes, and headed west to the state line. Warm salty air filled the car, and with the windows down reminiscing times of spring break beach trips flowed back to mind as Nelly’s “Ride with Me” blared through the speakers. The girls were dancing in the backseat. And we all sang our favorite songs at the top of our lungs on the just over 40-minute ride.
Though in our late thirties, we are just far enough removed from our sleep-on-the-couch-with-20-of-our-friends-strewn-about party days (aka we had our kids with us and now retired parents arriving later on) that the condo Kay had arranged at the Turquoise Place Resort was a welcomed accommodation. Placing us just close enough to partake in the shenanigans yet far enough away to escape back to calmer sands. A luxurious property, it served as a home base for our adventure, complete with a full kitchen, spacious bedrooms, and even a jacuzzi on our seemingly endless ocean-front balcony.
The next morning, we awoke well before sunrise and headed to Fort Morgan Marina for some outstanding inshore fishing. A full-blown angling adventure with Intercoastal Safaris awaited. The waters around Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are teaming with catches. These range from the usual suspects of reds and specks but also sheephead and even rays, all equally tasty. Guide Stephen Lee and Captain Perry skillfully maneuvered us to their favorite honey holes, while presenting a shoreline history tour highlighting sunken ships and forts of days long past. The fishing was consistent with bites and catches as often as the waves lapped against the hull of our skiff. It wasn’t long until we reached our limits. With full ice chests, we headed back in to enjoy our bounty—blackened of course.
The next day, the Superbowl of southern fun was kicking off, and I am not talking about ‘Bama vs LSU. I am referring to the annual Flora-Bama Mullet Toss.
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The Flora-Bama Mullet Toss
So, what is the Mullet Toss exactly? Thirty years ago, Flora-Bama musician Jimmy Louis was at an event in Arkansas where visitors flung cow chips across a field and measured them for distance. (If that isn’t “Arkansas” I don’t know what is…). Louis brought the idea back to the Flora-Bama team.
Trying to mimic the “throwing something” idea, the team agreed upon mullets. This smallish saltwater fish isn’t very popular to eat but can be found everywhere in the coastal waters around Alabama and Florida. The first Mullet Toss, held on July 4th weekend in 1985, was far from the event it is today. Soon though, the event exploded. All it took was the news airing footage of former University of Alabama and NFL quarterback Kenny Stabler throwing the fish in 1988. There was no turning back.
Today, the Mullet Toss draws huge crowds, like tens of thousands kind of crowds All there to catch some sun and a buzz. The actual toss is a charity event used to raise money for numerous local charities, including one that helps those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, with each toss costing the fish-flinger 10 bucks. But the event as a whole, has taken on a life of its own. There are bikini contests, hundreds of tents set up along the beach hosting anything from beer chugging to wet t-shirt contests, boats tied up, concerts, cornhole tournaments, and more participants wearing mullet wigs than you can count.
My toss you ask? Well, I am certainly no NFL quarterback nor am I father-of-the-year it seems. I was hoping to include my two-year-old son Jack in the festivities. Holding the young boy, I got a running start launching the slimy fish about 60 yards. Luckily, Jack didn’t go flying too, but he certainly was not ready for the toss. Hat flying and body whipping around, let’s just say he wasn’t as thrilled as the crowd cheering us on. The upside to it all was I am sure it won’t be the last time he and I will make less than well thought out decisions at the Flora-Bama. And that is totally ok there, maybe even encouraged.
Mullets aren’t the only thing that soared though. On the final day of our trip, we took to the skies in gyrocopters with Beach Flight Aviation. Also known as a gyroplane, these super cool and extremely nimble aircrafts use an unpowered rotor in free autorotation for lift. Forward thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller behind the cockpit. Here’s the best part: the experience didn’t set us back much more than a run-of-the-mill parasailing trip but was infinitely more exciting and lasted much longer. It is a must do when in Orange Beach or Gulf Shores. Nothing beats seeing the Mullet Toss from above. That and all the girls waving to you as you soar overhead…
So you want to get Bushwacked?
As they say in the Redneck Riviera, “We didn’t invent the Bushwacker, we just sell a thousand every day.”
Originally from the Virgin Islands, this liquored up milkshake made landfall in Florida before making its way to the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area. Mix up a blender full of rum, ice, amaretto, coconut cream, and chocolate syrup, and you’ll have the Bushwacker basics down, but today’s concoctions have all kinds of variations so it’s really important to try them all.
Five places to get Bushwacked:
Flora-Bama: “Flora-Bama Bushwackers will give you the best time you do not remember.”
Lulu’s: Because it’s Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s Bushwacker.
Pink Pony Pub: As they say, “We’ve been surviving Hurricanes since 1956.” This is old school Gulf Shores. Not fancy, just hip, like their Bushwackers.
Pirate’s Cove: Pull up here on your boat, listen to live acoustic music, drink Bushwackers, then pay someone else to tow you back.
Tacky Jacks: With locations in Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, and Gulf Shores, this hangout serves Bushwackers for breakfast. Tacky Jacks’ version includes white rum, coconut rum, coffee liqueur, and a little 151 proof rum over vanilla ice cream. Good morning!