The delicate bite and timidity of mullet have made them the sea shore equivalent of the carp. Anglers become obsessed with the species simply because it is so difficult to catch big fish.
The thick-lipped mullet is as straight-forward to catch as most other species. Its natural foods are algae and plankton, but it is also an opportunist feeder, eating any food available in sufficient quantities. For example, in harbours, where scraps, fish offal and bread are thrown into the water, the mullet have long since given up their natural diet and have become preoccupied with this ‘new’ food.
Harbours are therefore one of the best places for mullet. Not only are the fish conditioned to take a food which anglers can use as bait, they are also used to noise from boats and people, and are not as wary as fish in estuaries and tidal creeks.
Survey the harbour at low and at high tide, looking for food traps. Fish-loading bays and inlet pipes are often good areas. Boating marinas composed of floating pontoons are also good, if permission is granted to fish from them. If it is, keep your tackle off the gangway. Clutter only angers boat owners and is the reason you often see ‘No Fishing’ notices on such places.
It is worth questioning the locals. They will not only know the best places but also the best times to fish. Some harbours fish most pro-ductively on flood tides, others on the ebb or at some times between tides. Only experience or local help will tell you when.
The ideal tackle for harbour mullet is a light 12ft freshwater rod, a fixed-spool reel loaded with 100 yards of 6 or 7lb b.s. Line (depending on the amount of snags) and a sliding-float cocked by five or six BB shot 6in from a short-shanked, side-twist No 8 hook, honed very sharp. Some anglers use a paternoster rig with a No 8 hook on a 4in snood. The snood is attached 9in-lft above a foz lead.
I prefer bread for both ground and hookbait because, although mullet will bite on fish and worm baits, other fish, such as pouting and pollack, like them as well. For groundbait, I use about half a dozen, slightly flattened (so they do not roll) tennis-sized balls of well-kneaded fairly stiff, stale (but not mouldy) bread. Loose groundbait just floats away, taking the mullet with it.
Crabs break up the groundbait balls into little pieces which attract the mullet shoals. Fish the hookbait 9in-lft above the groundbait so it is near the mullet but away from the crabs, which would strip it.
As soon as bites start, hold the rod in readiness all the time and meet definite bites with an instant firm strike to put the hook home in.
With the boat record for thick-lipped mullet at 10lb 1oz and the shore record at 14lb 2f oz, a fish (either thick- or thin-lipped) of over 5lb can be regarded as a specimen.
Light 12ft freshwater 11-12ft Avon-type
b.s. 4-7 lb
No 8 short-shanked, side-twist
Bread paste, flake, floating crust, sea slater, ragworm, maggot
Bread—balls or cloudbait
Slider float, with or without paternoster, trotting, floating crust, paternoster ledgering the fish’s thick rubbery lip. More fish are lost through halfhearted striking than anything else. But make sure your slipping clutch is set to give line, for mullet are extremely hard fighters. The hardest bites to hook are ‘lift’ or ‘flat-float’ bites produced by a fish coming towards you. These call for concentration and instant striking on the first sign of the float lifting.
After about an hour, the crabs and mullet will have whittled away your groundbait, so replenish it with another half dozen balls. Groundbait not only holds the mullet shoals where you want them, but also wins the confidence of the specimen fish. But add it with the minimum of disturbance, for mullet are easily scared away by flashing.
Shotting near surface
Sometimes mullet come to the sur-face to feed on flotsam or bread that has floated up from the groundbait. When this happens, quickly slip the shot up the line tight under the float and cast to the feeding fish. This way the shot cannot sink the floating crust bait, but you have enough weight to cast. There are few more exciting sights to the mullet angler than a big fish sucking in a surface bait and then diving with a great swirl as the reel screams on the strike.
When mulleting in slow tidal rivers and estuaries, you need tackle not much different from that for har-bour mullet. The most suitable rod is an 11-12ft Avon model, which both allows fast striking and has the pliancy to take the shock produced by a fighting specimen. A fixed-spool reel is again suitable, but line of 4 or 5lb b.s. Is strong enough, as rivers usually contain fewer snags than busy, polluted harbours.
The best floats are peacock quills, 8in for small rivers and 10in for large ones. Give the quill a coat of clear varnish to make it waterproof and strong, and paint 2 in of the tip with fluorescent paint. Such a float will carry about five BB shot. It should be set about 7in above a sharp No 8, as you would do for har-bour fishing.
You will also need a large exten-ding landing net, a rod rest, and a tin of line floatant. For comfort, a reclining chair is ideal for the rather steep mud or gravel banks of tidal rivers. Remember, half the art of mulleting is to remain still, and tread stealthily and blend in with the bank below the skyline whenever you change position.
Walk along the river bank looking for surface boils (whelms) caused by feeding mullet, and select the pool with the most fish. Then station yourself some eight yards upstream, and, using a rod rest, lay your rod so that it is fully extended over the river at right angles to the bank. Then let the float trot down the river until it reaches your chosen swim and hold it there. The float can now be used as a target for the balls of groundbait described earlier.
You need to lay the groundbait before the hookbait because mullet are extremely nervous before they begin feeding. Make sure you are comfortably seated and do not move about when settled. Now, reel in your tackle, bait the hook with bread flake or paste set to trip the bottom, and let it trot down again to your hotspot.
Do not strike at the first bite, in-stead throw a heaped tablespoon of loose, finely mashed, bread cloud-bait about 2ft upstream of the float. This cloudbait disperses in the water and, with luck, will make the mullet feed frenziedly, their nervousness gone. From then on, keep hold of the rod and strike every bite. Provided you replenish the groundbait every hour or so, you can take fish after fish—specimens too, for it is always the small mullet that feed first.
Retain all your catch in a keepnet until the sport has finished. Only then can the fish be safely returned. If you put one back while you are still fishing, you will scare off the shoal which has gathered to feed.
Many miles of mullet
Fast and deep rivers need a different approach to shallow rivers. Fast-flowing rivers, such as the Dart, with a large head of freshwater coming down them, are best fished during the flood tide. Then, the opposed forces of tide and current slow the river to a reasonable float-fishing pace. Big, deep rivers, like the Sussex Ouse, however, flow out almost as fast on the ebb as on the flood. On such rivers, many anglers paternoster with either bread or ragworm. Alternatively, you can usually find eddies and slacks where you can use float tackle. Tributaries, too, are well worth exploring so it is a good idea to have a detailed map of the area to hand.
There are many hundreds of miles of tidal inlets, creeks and lagoons in Britain in which mullet can be caught, provided you put in a little spadework. Shortly before you go fishing, walk along the bank on a rising tide looking for eddies, slacks and bays out of the main flow, especially in areas where there are a lot of mullet furrows (V-shaped fur-rows caused by mullet scraping algae off the bottom) in the mud. Mark likely looking swims above the high water level with sticks and, when the tide is high, look for shoals near the surface. Remember the most promising swims for the subsequent day’s sport.
Start fishing just before the flood tide runs up and take a plastic bucket full of kneaded stale bread with you. Draw a straight line in the mud from the low tide mark to just ort_vivu_i N I luniinvj below the high tide mark and make small holes in the mud every 2-4ft along this line, depending on the slope of the bank. (On steep banks make the holes closer together.) Pack these holes with groundbait. Now put a stick at the end of the line above the high water mark, so that the swim can be easily seen from at least 25ft away.
As the water rises, crabs and the current dislodge a continuous supply of bread particles from the buried groundbait into the stream with no disturbance, so attracting the mullet shoals. Simply station yourself about eight yards upstream and trot float-fished bread flake down to the groundbait. At times, bites can come so fast that you could easily believe that these normally nervous fish had lost all caution. Nevertheless, you can still scare them, so keep a low profile and put all the fish you catch in a keepnet some four or five yards upstream.
A similar method of ground-baiting can be used when fishing for mullet from rocks. In the west of Britain there are many such venues, often little inlets known to the locals as ‘mullet holes’. Most can only be fished in fairly calm conditions and great care must be taken to ensure that you will not be cut off by a quickly rising tide.
Stream of bread
Arrive at low tide and push some well-kneaded bread into cracks and faults in the rocks at intervals from the low to just below the high water mark, so that the waves take out a continuous stream of groundbait. Now floatfish at various depths using flake or paste. On hooking a fish, try to play it away from any sharp rock edges that might threaten your line.
Sometimes spring tides wash out maggots from seaweed washed up in rock gulleys and the mullet can become preoccupied with these. At such times, use maggots instead of bread as hc;k’_»ait. The groundbait is free, after all!
Good night fishing for mullet can be had from summer beaches. When the holiday season is in full swing, picknicking families drop tons of breadcrumbs and other food on beaches. The mullet keep away during the day, but come in to search for food when the madding crowds have left in the evening. Start to fish from the groynes as the light fails. Use a paternoster rig with a No hook on a 4in link 9in from a |oz lead. Put pilchard oil on your finger and thumb, then bait the hook with flake. Now simply feel for bites.
You may find sea slaters crawling about on the groynes, and if you do, catch some and use them for bait. Many fine specimens have fallen to these little louselike creatures.
In the lower reaches of most tidal rivers the vast majority of mullet are thick-lipped mullet, Chelon labrosus, but farther upstream, where the water is less saline, most are thin-lipped mullet, Liza ramada. These fish are just as sporting, but require a very different technique.
The best bait is not bread but ragworm. Before you go fishing, dig up some of these in the lower brackish regions at low tide—there are no ragworms in upper, fresh- water reaches. Then make your way upriver looking for the boils and swirls on the surface which indicate shoals of mullet. Fish two ragworms 18in-3ft deep on float tackle in the general area of the shoal. If the fish are feeding, their response is usually very quick, so strike fast. ‘Mud blowing’
If you see no signs of fish, you must resort to trial and error, fishing many places at various depths until the fish bite. Occasionally, however, you can see the mullet ‘mud blowing’ as they stir up the mud while scraping algae off the bottom. If you see this, set the bait to fish on the bottom and cast into the middle of the mud clouds. Then be ready for almost instant action as feeding mullet meet your bait.
The National Mullet Club is for anyone interested in catching mullet, whether expert or novice. If you are interested in joining you should write for further details to the Secretary, Mr Frank Fowler, 136 Birdham Road, East Moulsecoomb, Brighton, Sussex.
Many harbours contain mullet, but few can compare with the large natural harbour of Christchurch where the average size of thick-lipped mullet is over 3ilb and where every year many specimen over 5lb are taken. Not only are the fish large, but there are thousands of them, and because the famous coarse-fishing rivers Stour and Avon run into the harbour, the mullet know what bread is all about and love it.
Lagoon with double tides
Christchurch Harbour is a large shallow lagoon, landlocked except for a narrow outlet into the sea called the ‘Run’. Because of backwash from the Isle of Wight, there is a double, but shallow, high tide of between 3ft and 4ft 6in. At low tide, much of the bottom of the harbour drains to reveal vast mud flats covered in green weed, and the fish fall back into a deeper channel, formed by the combined beds of the Stour and Avon, which leads out to the run. As the tide floods, the fish move back into the bays and creeks to browse in the shallow water, rather like cattle moving on to new pastures. The fishing rights of the harbour belong to the Christchurch Angling Club, but day and weekly fishing tickets and a map of the area can be obtained from Taylor’s Tackle Shop, 258 Barrack Road, Christchurch, Hants.
There are three ways to fish the harbour: by boat (hired from Chub Keynes, Christchurch Quay), by wading, and by long-range ledgering from the bank. Because I suffer from asthma, I choose the easiest way, namely an outboard-powered boat, which I take downstream until I arrive at the large bay marked X.
There are usually a lot of fish showing on the surface in the bay and, at high tide, I simply anchor the boat at right angles to the flow, throw in a few bread balls and then trot Avon tackle downstream of the groundbait with the bait just set to trip bottom. As the tide drops and the bottom of the bay becomes visi- ble, I move the boat just over the edge of the deeper river channel so that I remain fishing in some 5ft of water. On one day I have taken eight mullet to 5lb 3|oz, plus two sea trout of Hlb, in 3i hours.
Wading in the river channel and long-trotting a baited swim can be just as productive, though you have to watch the tides and the tops of your waders, especially when boats go by. Casting foz paternoster tackle, baited with bread or rag-worm, 30-40 yards out into the bay from the bank is also productive, and is how most local anglers fish. But they miss the wonderful sport which can be had with light float tackle from a boat.
Phill Williams writes:
Stanpit Marsh near the entrance to Christchurch Harbour holds a massive head of thin-lipped mullet. When the tide changes and much of the marsh dries out, the fish are confined to the channel where, for about an hour, seemingly every one of them goes on the rampage.
I anchor the boat in a narrow gap to give complete coverage of the surrounding water. Spinning tackle and 5lb lines are a must, as spinners are the undoing of these fish. It is possible to buy spinners for the job, but I modify them by removing the bodies and replacing them with small red beads and size 10 treble hooks, and baiting the hooks with small pieces of fresh ragworm.
The lure is worked very slowly, and fish can be felt plucking the worm without taking it. Many will follow the lure right up to the boat, and then veer away, but every so often one will grab the lure. An average size is around 2 lb; an average catch around 15 fish. I haven’t figured out why this lure is so effective, but without the ragworm on it, the fish just don’t want to know. Perhaps it looks like a small fish making off with a tasty morsel. Whatever the reason, fast and furious sport can and often does result. Give it a try.