Fooling the finicky thick-lipped mullet

Thick-lipped grey mullet are among the commonest fish in British coastal waters. From spring to autumn you can find them almost anywhere – from rock marks and shallow bays to estuaries and tidal rivers.

While mullet have largely shed their ‘uncatchable’ label in recent years, they can be frustratingly hard to hook, and as frus-tratingly easy to lose once hooked! The main problem with hooking them stems from their natural feeding habits. They scrape algae off stonework, filter microorganisms from mud, and swim open-mouthed along the top of the water, sampling the surface scum. In other words, their natural diet consists of nothing you can put on a hook!

best way of catching thick- lipped mullet

Floatfishing is usually the best way of catching thick- lipped mullet like this beauty which fell to bodied waggler tactics.

mullet fishing

Don’t forget to take a landing net or drop-net, as appropriate, when you go mullet fishing. These fish don’t have the soft mouths that legend would have you believe, but you can’t lift them out on only 4lb (1.8kg) line and a size 10 hook!

Outfall pipes thick- lipped mullet

Outfall pipes such as this are highly attractive to thick- lipped mullet and make handy places to fish from.

Whether you’re fishing from an outfall pipe or from a rocky outcrop, watch out for treacherously slippery patches of seaweed, and be careful not to let yourself be cut off from dry land by a fast-flooding tide.


Groundbaiting is often necessary to wean mullet on to your bait. At rock marks, try filling rock crevices with groundbait or samples of hookbait at low tide.

Mullet are slow-growing

Mullet are slow-growing and increasingly threatened by commercial fishing. The National Mullet Club urges all anglers to put them back to maintain the species.

Groundbaiting ploys

Fortunately, thick-lips can usually be weaned away from their natural diet fairly easily by groundbaiting. The most commonly used groundbait is mashed bread, stiffened with dry breadcrumbs where necessary. You can also add minced fish or meat.

Occasional handfuls might be ignored, but few mullet can resist sampling the free offerings when subjected to constant exposure. Possibilities include: treading the groundbait into the estuary mud at low tide; lodging it in rock crevices at rock marks at low tide; suspending it in an onion sack from a harbour wall to be released gradually by wave and tide action; and simply throwing it into the water regularly by hand, spoon or catapult.

Alternatively, fish a mark that is already groundbaited for you. Food dumping from harbourside restaurants, fish waste dumping from trawlers, and pipes discharging raw sewage all attract mullet.

Mullet morsels

Probably 70% of thick-lips are caught on bread, usually fished as simple flake, but swivel sometimes as paste or crust.

Small cubes of fish or meat are a good choice if you use these in your groundbait. Earthworms, maggots and harbour rag-worms are very effective baits in some places, near useless in others.

Line and hooks

Mullet invariably reject baits presented on the big hooks and strong lines normally associated with sea fishing. You need to use hooks as small as sizes 8 and 10 on line as light as 4-6lbd.8-2.7kg).

In clear water it pays to use colourless line as mullet often shy away from baits presented on coloured line.

The right reel

A medium sized freshwater fixed-spool reel is first choice. Get the best you can afford, as salt water quickly wrecks cheap ones. And make sure it has a smooth drag, since a big mullet takes a lot of line at considerable speed on its first few runs – sometimes faster than you can backwind.

Mullet on the float

Mostly you catch mullet on float tackle, for which you need a rod at least 12ft (3.6m) long – to cast light rigs easily, to hold the line away from marginal rocks and weed, to keep hooked fish away from the same, and to pick line up quickly on the strike. Avoid tippy match rods (which can pull out hooks from light holds) in favour of more through-action, Avontype rods.

Bodied waggler floats in the larger sizes (from 2J4SSG up) are a good choice in most circumstances. They ride a swell well yet remain reasonably sensitive because of their fine stems. Fished as sliders, the bulk shot keeps the bait down and you can fish at any depth. In fast or turbulent water, Avon floats are better – in such swims, wag-glers sink when you try to mend the line between rod and float.

Fancy shotting patterns are rarely necessary, but it’s worth experimenting with the distance between the dropper (bottom) shot and the hook. On some days the fish want a bait falling slowly through the water and a long tail is needed. At other times, the fish are browsing on the bottom and a short tail results in spectacular lift bites.

There are no hard and fast rules about how deep you should fish. If the water is clear and you can see fish near the surface, it’s obviously best to fish shallow. If the water is murky, you just have to experiment. In general, you catch most regularly on or near the bottom – where most of your groundbait ends up. Fish overdepth where the bottom is clean, and slightly under-depth where it is snaggy.

In shallow swims, thick-lips sometimes rise to the surface to take any bits of your groundbait that float. You can also encourage them to rise by scattering pieces of breadcrust. Put all the shot at the base of the float , bait up with breadcrust, cast out and wait for a bite.

Legering for mullet

In some swims the flow is too fast, or the fish too far out, for effective floatfishing. Such swims are best tackled with leger gear, the most popular rig being a simple running leger.

In strong flows, where groundbait may be washed away quite quickly, this is best made up with a swimfeeder (the cage type holds bottom well) to ensure your hookbait fishes close to your groundbait. In weaker flows you can be confident of fishing over your groundbait using a small bomb.

It pays to experiment with the length of the tail. Some anglers favour a short tail a few centimetres long, so that the fish hook themselves against the weight of the feeder or bomb the moment they pick up the bait. Others like a long tail of around lm (3ft) so that the fish can get the bait well into their mouths before feeling any resistance. Compromising by using a tail of about 45cm (18in) is rarely successful.

When legering you often get a lot of line bites as the fish mill around the swim. There is no foolproof way to tell these from genuine bites, so strike any indication that lasts longer than a second.

The most commonly used bite indicator for legering is the quivertip, and there are many excellent 10-llft (3-3.3m) quivertip rods on the market. These are much better than screwing a quivertip into the end of your float rod, which is too long for effective leger fishing and not up to casting heavy feeders. Some quivertip rods come with interchangeable tips to allow for different strengths of flow, which is handy if you fish a variety of venues.

A quivertip rod can also be put to good use when fishing down the side of harbour walls and rock faces. A paternoster can be lowered into the water and suspended at any depth.