Article - Saltwater

Mullet Fever

By Doug, added on 27/01/2007

First of all let me state my case; I make no claim to be a Mullet expert, I have only fished for them since 1987 and anyone who does is probably at best a sprucer or worse still, a complete charlatan. However, I like Mullet and fish for them whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. I have fished for them in Turkey, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Canary Isles, England, Wales and Scotland, not always with success but always with hope in my heart! The following is for those of you interested in attempting to catch this most capricious of fish by sharing my experience(s); such as it is, to help you do so.

I'm sure, like most fishermen, you have seen Mullet cruising and disporting themselves in a provocative manner in the Marinas, Harbours, Piers and Breakwaters of Britain and thought 'they look catchable'…this is where the beginning of frustration sets in. Attempting to get these tricksy fish to take your bait is another matter. So, after your first attempt ends in failure you go home to read whatever written material you can lay your hands on and return like Macarthur armed in the 'traditional' manner with Match Rod, light float tackle, small hooks and a loaf of bread. With the written advice echoing in the canyons of your mind and the 'correct' tackle girding your loins, how can you fail? Hours later, with a second 'el Blanco' under your belt you either give up or take it personally… the battle has begun in earnest!

So, having failed again, you take stock, re-read all the material and any other work on this fish and go back with a wider selection of baits. These will include the normal quota of meat, maggots, lugworm, rag worm and anything else you can think of (I once had a minor victory using fag butts) and proceed to fish as you would on lake or river back home. Fishing in this manner may even result in limited success with a few fish taking your bait and glory of glories you may even begin to catch them. But your success will be very hit and miss, with most fish either breaking you or throwing the hook in the first few seconds. After a while you begin to accept that Mullet are wily beyond belief and all the 'traditional' tales by the 'experts', of soft mouths and seeming X-ray vision are all true because you have followed slavishly all the advice given by 'the experts', how can it not be so?

With whatever success you have achieved, this is the beginning of failure. There has been no development in your thinking, so by continuing to fish in the 'traditional' manner you merely attain 'traditional' results. I know, I was that man but after more years than I care to admit to, I decided to attempt to put the odds in my favour, especially after meeting with a fellow Mulleteer in Lymington, who got me thinking again. You know in cartoons where a light bulb flashes over a characters head, it was just like that with me! So what was this 'Damascus' experience I hear you asking? Well, to be honest it was all so obvious that I felt ashamed that I, an 'expert' angler, had not had the basic gumption to equate what my eyes were telling me.

The best place to start your Mullet career is in a smallish Harbour, which due to its size, allows you to watch the habits of your quarry. Time spent watching and following the Mullet as they cruise about means you can begin to mentally build up a picture of their habits and more importantly see where they feed regularly. So, by using the powers of observation you can begin looking for the little things, the reasons why they feed in certain areas over others. Get out at low Tide and really look hard and eventually the reason they feed there will become very obvious. It may be cover, a good weed bed, worm bed or any number of reasons but eventually the 'penny will drop'. The best feature I have found over the years is a water run off, however small, as this is like a magnet to Mullet (and Bass, but that is another story). Find the feature and you are part the way to putting the odds of a certain catch in your favour.

The next area for reconsideration is tackle. Most textbook advice is to use a 12 or 13 foot Match Rod but I feel this is not the best rod for Mullet. Let me explain this heresy from the written lore. Consider, the length of rod can present problems when fishing in a tight spot, as this is usually where Mullet feed, and in my humble opinion is not the most suitable tool for controlling the explosive initial few seconds after the take, where so many fish are lost. I recommend an Avon type rod with a 'softish' tip section, for absorbing the lunges of this powerful fish, but with enough backbone further down, to turn the fish when you need to do so - and believe me you will – the type of rod you would use for a decent Barbel.

A reliable fixed spool like a Shimano 3500 matched with a trusted line of 6lb, like Maxima Green, is the way forward. A pin is good if you are confident with them but I have found salt and grit are not good friends to expensive reels, so use gear that is easily washable. Clear plastic 'chubber' style floats are used more often than not but again I vary from 'traditional Mullet Lore' by not just fishing on or near the bottom. I vary the depth a lot and often find a mid-water, slow sink presentation does the trick. Observation is the key to success: you will know when you have got it right!

Traditional lore dictates the use of small hooks because Mullet have 'soft mouths'. This, I believe to be a complete load of old shoemakers! Mullet have an unusual method of feeding – they swallow mud and digest any animal and plant life therein. This could be the reason for the false belief but if you look at the mouth of the most common 'thick – lipped' variety they are no 'softer mouthed' than any other fish. The lower part of the swollen looking upper lip often has a large number of blister – like features called papillae and numerous small, closely packed cartilaginous teeth which I believe in combination, prevent small hooks getting a good purchase. The solution to this 'problem', exacerbated by the use of tiny hooks, is to 'give 'em some iron'. So, to put the odds of a good hook hold in your favour use at least a size 8. The other advantage of a large hook is they don't bend or straighten as easily in the fight. With this in mind, I prefer to tie the hook directly to the main line, whereas some do like to use a small swivel and fluorocarbon. If this gives you confidence - why not? Me, I fish to the 'KISS' principle. By keeping everything as simple as possible, there is less to go wrong.

The best time to arrive for the session is in the last half hour of the ebb tide. This gives you time to set up and ground bait your chosen spot. Most 'experts' dictate white bread crumb/mash but I like to ring the changes and use brown crumb and even shop bought brands. Expo works well, it can be fun experimenting to stay one step ahead of other anglers. The baiting technique is not sophisticated with most of the mash/crumb liberally applied into the edge of the water and up the bank. This will soon be covered by the incoming tide. If you are fishing a small stream as your mark, use it to carry the ground bait out to the incoming fish as a pre-taster. By being nearby when you bait up helps dissuade the marauding 'Shite-Hawks'(Seagulls) from taking advantage of the bounty you have provided.

I tend to use a large piece of white flake or crust on the hook about the size of a matchbox. I watch this rather than the float; a decent pair of Polaroid's are vital with white bait being easier to spot. Contrary to traditional belief, Mullet are not finicky feeders if they really want your bait, but like Grayling, can eject a baited hook with a speed almost beyond belief if they suspect anything. With a big lump of bread on the hook, by appealing to the 'greedy pig' principle it does seem to buy you a little extra time to strike. I can't stress this point enough though, watch the baited hook at all times as Mullet really are masters of disguise and can snaffle bait in the wink of an eye!

By using a reasonable hook size and striking immediately through the bread, the Mullet are usually hooked in the side or roof of the mouth. In the initial part of any fight the stronger rod allows you to dictate the battle outcome. It is the first few vital seconds that can mean the difference between success and failure; you can't do this with a match rod and light tackle.

Finally, treat Mullet with respect and take time to make sure the fish is fully recovered before you let it go as they 'gas up' Barbel and Grayling. As you watch your fish swim off, your mind will replay the fight, wow the fight, you will be drooling for more – Mullet Fever has set in, you have been warned!

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