Kent Mullet Fishing; The River Medway 1998/9

Article by Rob Ness

98 Season

Following a five-year "experiment"of fishing the river Medway for carp, and having achieved a progression of ambitions from initially catching a river carp, to eventually catching fish to over 25lbs, I began to look for a fresh fishing challenge within the Kent area. Having previously lived in Christchurch and Poole for 8 years I had often fished for Mullet and was aware of the sport that they could provide. After several inquiries I was eventually given Paul Frid’s telephone number as a Mullet Club member who would be able to give help in identifying local venues. With Paul’s guidance I began fishing Ramsgate harbour with some limited success, catching fish to 4lb.09oz. The 2 hour round trip, however was a limitation, and I began to look locally for Mullet fishing.

I investigated a number of likely looking areas of the local tidal Medway, and was lucky to see fish almost immediately at a spot known as Gillingham pier. The name does not describe the area accurately as Gillingham pier is actually a small walled harbour, which provides some 20ft of water at high tide and is just about empty at low water. I began baiting the area 2-3 times a week using breadbags, though it was some time before fish were actually seen feeding from the bags. I began fishing Gillingham late August 98, with the first fish being caught in early Sept 98. I soon realised that although quality fish were evident, there were only a few small shoals within the harbour. The fish were easily spooked, and required an extremely cautious approach even to be able to watch them. A pattern of behaviour soon became apparent with the fish only feeding for around an hour before high water. My fishing sessions were now scheduled around these times, and I soon began catching on a regular basis, mainly on float fished bread at depths of 6 – 24 inches close up against a bread-bag. At this time I was using a method of presenting bait developed from my carp fishing experience, consisting of tying a hooklink of two equal length strands of 2.5lb line to the hook. If tied correctly this provided a presentation that had a breaking strain of 5lb (2*2.5) but when in the water, the two strands would fan out and be less visible than an equivalent single 5lb mono hooklink. I had also begun experimenting with bait additives, using a crustacean extract, both in the ground bait and where appropriate as a hookbait dip. Results immediately improved and I started to pick up better quality fish. This resulted in the capture of the best thick lip of 98 at 7lb 06oz, backed up by two other fish of 6lb (repeat captures).

During a chance trip to the Gillingham area one lunchtime, I decided to quickly visit the Pier to see if the breadbags required filling and more importantly were there any feeding fish. I walked the full length of one side of the harbour without seeing any signs of fish. On returning to the car, I spotted a fish 10 yards out moving slowly to the bay at the end of the harbour, the fish was massive, and at first I thought it was a salmon! But with the aid of Polaroid’s, it was clear it was a huge mullet, certainly over 10lbs and quite possibly over 11lbs, I rushed to the car where in the boot I had some bread, I threw some small pieces of bread towards the fish, and without hesitation it began feeding, and where was my rod? 15 miles away at home!.

Having seen this fish and subsequently being told of a 10lb fish caught close by to this area (see K.Hewson fish issue no 6) I decided that during the 99 season I would concentrate all efforts into locating and hopefully catching a large Medway Mullet.

99 Season

Preparation began on my return from holiday in early May, I decided to start the baiting up process at Gillingham Pier. On my first trip down locals told me that the Mullet had been present since early March! So much for my early preparation plan! Fish were evident on every baiting trip, but despite a number of fishing sessions I was unable to get the fish feeding. I changed tactics to those used at the end of the previous season, and began adding a "Marine Crustacean Extract" to both the ground bait and also using it as a hookbait dip. Results were almost immediate, with fish being caught on most sessions including the capture of fish of 6lb 02oz and 6lb 03oz. It was at this point that my luck changed. The local Harbour Master informed me that the area I was fishing was out of bounds, except during weekdays when impressionable kids would not be around to see me catching from a "No Fishing" zone. My season had only just began and effectively appeared to be at an end. After all the hard work and costs incurred in the preparation I was now only able to fish at a time when I was going to be sat behind a desk at work!

Although I was now fairly despondent and was considering a return to carp fishing, I decided to look at other venues such as Sun Pier, as described in a previous issue by Leon Roskilly. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as Gillingham Pier, and despite being frequented by a high proportion of undesirables, and situated in the red light district of Chatham, I decided that I would now concentrate on this venue.

On my first trip arranged with Leon, we were both lucky enough to catch fish, both small 2lb but an encouraging start. Both fish were caught from the end of the pier, which is actually a floating pontoon. This was an area from which Leon had not caught from before, being overlooked because of its orientation and position near the main tidal flow, meaning that the area is really only fishable on the rising tide. The right hand side of the pier, creates a small back eddy that allows fishing on the flood and the ebb, this is an area from which Leon has caught several fish (to date I am still to get a bite!).

On talking to the locals they described a large fish which was often seen swimming in and out of a couple of gapes within the structure at the end of the pontoon. This was the area I decided to put all my efforts into. Again like my experience at Gillingham it was the last hour before high tide which provided the majority of bites, Sessions were cut to around 2.5hrs including travel, and for the first time ever became time efficient!

Fish were caught fairly regularly during July, with fish to 4lb 06oz landed. I had however failed to spot the known large fish, until the day of the Sussex "fishin" Aug 3rd, when despite a number of hours spent in traffic jams on the M25 attempting in vain to get to Shoreham, I was forced to turn back and return home. Approaching the Maidstone turn off, I decided that having arranged a days fishing and being fully loaded with tackle and bait, I would spend a few hours on a new wharf that I had recently discovered. With two hours to high tide and having set up in the "new" swim, I found that I was unable to settle and despite Leon having landed a fish and lost two others earlier in the week from the very same swim, I lacked confidence and decided to pack up. On returning to the car I decided to drive the short distance down the road and take a look at Sun Pier. There w
as a group of 6-8 youngsters fishing from the very end of the pier directly out into the main river channel. This left "my" swim vacant. I collected my gear from the car and was soon fishing, enjoying the sun and the welcome sea breeze, which is a constant feature of fishing the exposed point of the pier.

After about half an hour of constant attention from the kids which included hanging over the railings of the pier to look directly upon my float, I noticed a fish appear from a "gap" within the pier’s structure around 10 yards from where I was fishing. I concentrated on the area where the fish had been seen, but after about five minutes with no sign of the fish, I returned to fishing the baited area. Almost immediately a large fish appeared close to the float, feeding on small pieces of floating bread that had broken away from the breadbag. In order to put the bait close to the surface-feeding fish, I carefully lifted the float from the water; the fish turned towards the hookbait, only to veer away at the last second as it saw the line. Despite using the "double strand method" for better presentation the sorrel coloured line was quite obvious in the crystal clear water. As the fish turned back towards the breadbag, I quickly lifted and held the rod steady, allowing the hookbait to rest on the water without any of the line touching the surface. The fish turned again, the bait was directly in front of it, and although I was almost above the fish holding the rod, it confidently moved forwards, it opened its mouth below the bait and I gently lowered the rod allowing the bait to drop into the mullet’s mouth. Seeing the bait engulfed by its mouth I immediately struck upwards and felt the weight of the fish on the line.

The fish was initially disorientated. I pulled it towards the waiting landing net, up to this point the fish had done nothing but wallow on the surface, as I drew it over the front of the net, the fish suddenly burst into life, shooting out of the net across the water surface for some 15 yards almost dolphin like. I thought at this point that I had lost my opportunity to land the biggest mullet I had hooked in the Medway. The fight was intense, as again and again it sought sanctuary below the snag laden, barnacle encrusted pontoon. At times the 9 foot purpose built "pier" rod was bent double as I gave the fish as much resistance as the 5lb line could take, during the fight the centrepin reel came into its own, as every dive and movement of the fish was relayed to my rapidly tiring arms

A crowd had built up behind me and I was given a constant coaching lesson of how to play a fish! . Eventually 20 minutes after hooking the fish, it was netted. It is always difficult to relay the emotion of landing a large fish, happiness, relief, concern for the fish, all I wanted to do was sit down and relive what had just happened. After unhooking the fish it was immediately weighed and came at 7lb 08oz, 2oz heavier than my previous best Medway fish. I retained it in a large carp sack and I called Leon (who was busy organising his daughter’s 18th birthday party). He said he would come down to do some photos for me, as did Mike Shepherd who was recovering at home from Saturday’s Sussex fishin. Within half an hour the photos were taken and the fish was returned swimming away strongly. Myself, Mike and Leon then retired to a local pub to talk mullet and celebrate what for me was a memorable capture.

Note

All fish described were caught on bread in conjunction with the Marine Crustacean Extract, both floatfishing and ledgering. The methods employed have been a development from my carp fishing background, which I aim to describe in specific detail, together with the more recent fish they have accounted for, in a future article.

Rob Ness – 2000