Mullet – Frequently Asked Questions

(Responses prepared by Leon Roskilly • last Updated April 2003)

What tackle do I need to catch mullet?

Coarse anglers will be at an advantage tackle wise. For basic mullet fishing you will need:

· A coarse match rod, suitable for tench/chub/small carp *

· 6lb Line

· strong hooks, around size 8/10, preferably short-shanked and with a wide gape.

· If float fishing, use as small a float as conditions allow. A small insert crystal waggler is ideal

· A long-handled landing net, or drop net if fishing from a high wall etc

· A 2 gallon bucket for mixing bread mash

· Green brussel sprout sacks (or similar) for use as bread bags, and some cord to tie them with

· Polaroid glasses

· What is also handy is an unhooking mat, and a carp sack.

* For fishing close to pontoons etc, I find that a short rod with a fast taper is best, and I’ve found that telescopics can do the job beautifully (and they can be cheap too!). Look for something with plenty of give in the tip section, but stopping power toward the butt.

I’ve also found that a centre-pin reel is ideal for fighting fish that can be hooked close in.

Most centre-pins are expensive because they are designed for long-trotting rivers and need to be extremely smooth running with little drag.

For mullet, we don’t care about that. We just need a responsive ‘winch’. A cheap/second-hand centrepin is perfectly adequate. Wide spool reels are best.

Can I use a carp rod?
Mullet can fight really hard and you will be using comparatively small hooks and a light line.

Generally, a carp rod is too stiff for fighting mullet and you will find that you will lose fish more frequently if you are not using balanced tackle, through hook pulls and line-breaks.

Bearing that in mind, I know some anglers who successfully use light spinning rods, barbel rods and fly rods for mullet fishing.

The important thing is to fish as light as possible given the conditions and, where you need to step up your tackle (i.e. for dealing with a fierce flowing tidal river, or keeping fish away from many obstructions), you balance your tackle throughout.

A stronger rod needs to be used with a stronger line, and a larger and stronger hook, but don’t expect to get as many bites when the mullet are in a finicky mood.

Everyone tells me that mullet are soft-lipped. Is that true?

Unless you use correctly balanced tackle, any fish that fights as strongly as mullet, hooked on such small hooks, is going to tear away from the hook.

When you try to remove a hook, you’ll find out that a mullet’s lips are anything but soft!

The reputation has come about from the frequent experience of traditional sea-anglers, hooking fish on beach/boat/pier rods, and predictably losing them.

The ‘soft-lips’ myth excuses their lack of angling skill.

What baits work best for mullet?

A flake of white bread is by far the best and most consistent bait.

Don’t worry about using the cheap stuff. Mullet aren’t that particular, though you might find that the more expensive loaves produce flakes that stay on the hook better.

The natural food of mullet is algae and micro-organisms found in mud and weed.

They have fantastically long intestines, through which the mud they suck in progresses slowly, allowing plenty of time for the organic matter in the mud to be digested out.

They will also suck in small pieces of floating weed and any flocculent material, sucking out any micro-organisms and expelling it immediately.

In environments where there are lots of nutrient rich scraps; harbours, marinas, at sewage outfalls etc, they learn that the scraps themselves can be nutritious and take bread baits readily.

In other locations, they may need to be ‘educated’ to take bread, by introducing plenty of bread over several days.

Where the tide is likely to quickly disperse groundbait, a bread-filled sack will introduce a steady flow of particles, and the mullet will learn to feed at the sack, sucking at the mesh.

When baiting a hook, lightly squeeze a small flake of bread at the top of the shank of the hook (strong short-shanked wide gape hook patterns work best with bread), so that it folds around the hook, but remains fluffy in the water. If you want the bread to sink, dip it into the water, then lightly press the flake so that the air will be expelled, but lightly enough so that the bread stays fluffy.

Do other baits work?

Yes, in certain circumstances.

If there is a local supply of novel food, the mullet learn to feed on that, so fish scraps work well in harbours where fishermen regularly clean their catch. (Always use pieces of fish with the skin removed, so that the flesh takes that flocculent quality that mullet seem to prefer. It’s not unusual for mullet to readily take skinless pieces of fish bait, but to totally ignore baits with some skin still attached).

From a muddy beach, maddies and harbour rag might be a good bait to try.

Other baits
that have been used to take mullet are small pieces of boiled macaroni, cabbage stalk and sweetcorn.

I’ve heard that maggots are good too!

Yes, they can be deadly, but only where (and when) the mullet expect them.

In the summer, as the tides fall, seaweed is left on the tideline that begins to rot. The flies that you often see hopping about on the pebbles lay their eggs on the rotting weed and soon it’s full of maggots.

As the high tides return, they start to reclaim the rotting weed, and rafts of it are picked up and float out on the tide.

If you watch the rafts of weed with polaroid glasses, you can see hundreds of white dots drifting below. These are the maggots of the beach flies.

The mullet (and the bass) know when conditions are right for a maggot feast and a maggot used as bait can be highly effective at such times.

You can give nature a hand by taking arm-fulls of rotting seaweed down the beach, ready for the incoming tide to float off.

Does Ground-Baiting work for mullet?

Yes, it’s almost essential!

Mashed bread is the groundbait to be used for mullet. (In America ‘groundbait’ is known as ‘chum’, in Australia, it’s known as ‘burley’)

Some anglers will add a tin of sardines, liquidised mackerel, liver, marine crustacean extract etc to the mashed bread.

Around piers and harbours, it’s best to mash two or three loaves of bread in a 2 gallon bucket, then empty this into a vegetable sack (the green sprout bags work better than the orange meshed onion sacks, with the square mesh).

Fish close to the sack, and not too deep

The mullet will follow the trail of bread particles escaping from the mesh and hopefully find your hook bait.

When the water is still, and/or the tide has slackened off so that the bread bag ceases working so effectively, it’s a good time to hand feed crumbled bread.

When fishing the open sea, use a large kitchen spoon to regularly flick small amounts of groundbait into the fishing area, but be careful of sending out too much in one go, as the mullet will follow the groundbait cloud down tide and out of your fishing area.

If wading, a bait-apron is useful for holding a quantity of dampened bread-crumb to be trickled into the flow by hand.

Mullet ‘learn’.

It may take them a while to realise what good food your bait is if they aren’t ‘educated’ to it, but a few days of free offerings and they will get ‘turned on’ to the bait.

In harbours, rivers and marinas, and places where mullet anglers regularly fish, they are probably already feeding on any scraps that come by, but put out sacks of bread regularly and they will quickly learn the places to visit in expectation of a meal.

Sometimes, when they have become used to feeding from bread sacks, they will appear almost as soon as a bread sack is lowered into the water.

Where there is not much flow, it can pay to spread groundbait on the bottom. It’s interesting that, unlike most fish that feed competitively, groundbait won’t hold a shoal until it’s all gone.

The fish will pass over the groundbaited area, stop to take some, and then swim on in their apparently aimless meandering.

But they do seem to mark the spot, and return again.

Watch their meandering for a while, and see how, although apparently moving aimlessly, the shoal will habitually return again and again to certain spots, especially if they pause to feed for a moment, at those spots, each time around.

It’s my belief that fish that do feed competitively tend to attract predators with all their activity, and the predators are aware that, preoccupied with their feeding, they will make an easy meal.

Mullet don’t compete with other species for their usual food (algae) and are happy to browse a patch, move on, and come back to it, knowing that it won’t be gone if they don’t eat it now. Such laid-back feeding behaviour avoids attracting the attention of predators.

But where I fish, there’s just a sloping beach, nothing to tie a bread bag to.

You can try anchoring a bread bag to the bottom.

Use a cork on a piece of line to mark where the bag is (but avoid tangling your tackle with it), and make sure that it remains in casting range even when you are pushed up the beach by the incoming tide.

It’s also worth laying a trail of bread mash from low water, up the beach to the high water mark.

As the tide creeps up the beach, the bread mash trail will be immersed and mullet will follow the trail up the beach as the tide rises.

Fish just a little way down-tide of the trail, perhaps supplementing the bread mash introduced from the tail with the odd spoon full of thrown mash.

In constructing such a trail, you will be surprised at how much mash you will need. Maybe up to 10 loaves or so!

This can be especially effective when there is an area of weed through which the incoming tide must advance.

What is a mullet bite like?

That very much depends on their mood. Sometimes they just pick at the edge of the bait, hardly moving a float or rod tip, other times the float will disappear way down like greased lightening.

Knowing just when to strike can be a real problem.

In clear water, I’ve watched mullet swim off, holding the bait by the edge of the bread-flake, towing the float down behind them. A strike would be totally ineffective until the hook is actually in the fish’s mouth. The trouble is that they often let go when they sense the drag of the tackle and realise all is not well.

I’ve watched them suck in small pieces of silk-weed and in an instant eject it. I assume that in that instant that the weed is in their mouth, they suck out the micro-organisms from within the weed.

Particularly if they aren’t used to bread, they will treat it like silk-weed, giving a lightening fast bite that is almost impossible to hit. It’s noticeable that it is usually in rivers, where multi-filamentous weed is more common, that mullet have the reputation for producing lightning quick bites.

In the muddy estuary water that I usually fish, bites are often shy and tentative and unsuccessful strikes leave me wondering whether it’s just fry attacking my hook-bait (which they often do). Particularly as re-baiting and re-casting can immediately resume the float-bobbing antics of whatever’s lurking down there.

But then a strike connects, and I’m then in no doubt that it is a shoal of shy biting mullet that have been having fun with me!

What about fly-fishing for mullet?

It’s not something that I’ve tried, but keen fly-anglers can have success with mullet.

It seems that the patterns that work well are those that represent a flake of bread, or a maggot (when the mullet are pre-occupied feeding on maggots). Some ‘fly’ anglers are wont to ‘cheat’ by using real maggots as a ‘fly’!

For further information, try these Internet articles on fly-fishing for mullet:

http://www.hartflyfishing.demon.co.uk/mullet_fishing.html
http://www.mikeladle.com

I’ve heard that they can be taken on spinners too.

Mullet, like many other species, sometimes ‘shoal-up’ on a retrieved lure, a small shoal following the lure a couple of feet behind, but with no intention of striking at the lure.

That can be very frustrating for lure-anglers targeting bass that are unaware of the lure-following habits of mullet, or perhaps who cannot tell the difference between mullet and bass!

It’s rare to take thick-lipped mullet on lures, but the smaller thin lips can sometimes act in a suicidal way when presented with a harbour rag towed behind a small spinner. Twenty fish a session isn’t unusual.

Take a small Mepps style spinner, remove the treble, and replace this with a size 8 single hook tied to around 3 or 4 inches of mono. Bait the hook with (ideally) harbour rag, or a small piece of rag worm at a pinch.

You need to locate a shoal of thin-lips, showing themselves by rising, and cast toward the swells.

Although you can take many fish in this way, during a session, thin lips are generally smaller than thick-lipped mullet, and do not fight as nearly as spectacularly as thick-lipped mullet.

I often see mullet out of casting range of a float, short of using a really big float, how can I reach them and keep a sensitive bite detection?

For fish at a medium distance, try using a long piece of peacock quill, carrying enough weight so that only an inch or so shows above the surface. Being long and thin, it will cast like a dart quite a distance.

If you need to get out even further, attach a water filled bubble float to your main line, then attach a porcupine quill float rig to a paternoster above the bubble float. That will get you further distance, but makes a bit of a splash on landing!

For ground-baiting at distance, use a catapult; throwing stick (a piece of plastic piping can be effective. Push it into bread mash, then with it partly filled with bread mash flick it energetically at the area you are ground baiting); or long handled spoon. If you still can’t throw bait as far as you can cast the bubble float rig, try filling a PVA bag with dry crumbled bread, and attaching it directly to the rig (PVA bags are water soluble).

I’ve heard that mullet fight exceptionally hard, is that true?

The ‘British bonefish’ is a description that does them justice. I doubt that there is another British species that fights quite so hard, pound for pound, coarse or sea.

Typically, there is a period, just after being hooked, when a mullet is perplexed. Don’t be fooled!

After around 10 or 15 seconds, the fish will wake up and it will be quite a long, arm-aching time before it will be ready for the net.

The warmer the water, the harder mullet seem to fight, so don’t be lulled into thinking that they aren’t that spectacular through the relatively unspectacular fight given by an early season fish. They will be fighting a lot harder in late summer!

Have a look at this article: http://www.anglersnet.co.uk/Sea-Fishing-Articles/mullet_fight.html

I’ve had some pretty disappointing fights from some mullet, and hooked one of similar size from the same location shortly afterwards that has given me real problems.

Size is not a reliable guide to an individual fish’s fighting qualities, though it must be said that a hard fighting 5lber is a totally different proposition to a hard-fighting 3lber.

Each fish seems to fight in a different way and, although there are features that typify a mullet fight, every fish will have a different repertoire.

Only some will go for the late high speed charge, most will put up a dogged fight, similar to a tench.

But there are some differences that you can expect.

Early season fish are relatively docile.

It’s not until the water really warms up, late in July that you are likely to find the mullet fighting at their best.

Fishing from a low pontoon, or from the bottom of steps etc, close to the water’s edge, in deep water, is probably the best situation to allow a mullet to demonstrate its fighting qualities.

But if you manage to keep the mullet close in, beneath your rod, you have the kind of dogged fight that is a test of stamina for you both.

If you are fishing from a high position, a harbour wall or pier, then even more so.

It’s when you are playing the fish from low down, and at some distance, that things start to get really interesting especially if the fish makes it into a strong tidal flow.

Although mullet can sometimes be netted during the initial period of confusion, that can be a big mistake, as you will have a fighting fish to contend with as you try to unhook it etc! That is definitely not good for the fish’s welfare, or your state of mind.

A lively fish out of the water can give you plenty of problems. Mullet can really wriggle, and loose scales means that they are hard to hold and keep still.

Scales shed everywhere, and a dropped and damaged fish are the penalties of netting a fish that isn’t fully played out before netting 🙁

Most of my mullet fishing is done around barnacle encrusted hazards and it can be heart-stopping at times when a fish decides to go under the pontoon, knowing that if the line scraps along the razor sharp barnacle shells, it will part immediately, or at least be badly damaged.

Fortunately, mullet aren’t intelligent fighters, seemingly preferring to keep clear of obstacles and carry on the fight in open water.

With roach occasionally coming out at just a little way upriver from my favourite mullet spots, my one dread is that they’ll swap notes with chub one day, and swim straight into ‘cover’. With the bottom around most piers littered with barnacle covered shopping trolleys and stolen bicycles, I wouldn’t stand a chance!

What they do seem to do, is to try to reach the main current that can multiply their own efforts several fold. Not a problem if fishing a harbour, or some way from any tide rip, but a real problem in some locations.

Is it true that mullet are easily spooked?

Yes and no.

I’ve successfully fished for them on crowded piers, with plenty of noise and activity going on all around.

What does definitely spook them is movement directly above them, such as a rod being moved to reposition a float.

Best advice is to keep well back, out of sight, move as little as possible, avoid shadows moving on the water, hold your rod so that it’s parallel to the pier, not sticking out over the water.

If you see a fish, wait for it to find your bait, don’t try moving your tackle towards it.

They will tolerate lots of noise, but spook at an unusual sound. I’ve seen them happily feeding as noisy traffic crosses over a nearby bridge, but spook when a particularly loud lorry rumbles by. They’ve not been put of at all by the thumping grinding noises as a pontoon pier rises on the tide, not a transistor radio being played, or kids running about on the deck.

As far as tackle is concerned, they will feed confidently from bread bags; from a heavy metal feeder (I’ve had a fish engulf the entire feeder before now!); and on loose offerings.

But they can be extremely suspicious of a bait with a hook in it, even if well hidden and presented on an almost invisible hook length!!

On the other hand, watching mullet in clear conditions, I’ve seen them go out of their way to ‘investigate’ anything of interest in the water, such as a clump of weed, a float bobbing on the surface.

How best to handle a mullet, is there anything I need to be aware of?

Mullet wriggle, even when well played out. Their easily detached scales make them hard to grip securely, and they can be damaged if dropped, or even if allowed to wriggle on a fish unfriendly surface.

I always use an unhooking mat to lay the fish on, bubble wrap is a good and cheap alternative.

The surface that the fish is laid upon needs to be wetted.

Laying the fish on the mat, still in the landing net, dampens the surface with excess sea-water, draping a landing net fold over the fish will calm it whilst you find your camera/scales etc.

Have a large disgorger and a pair of forceps handy for easy hook removal, especially if a fish has been hooked well back in the throat, or in a particularly awkward place.

Before handling the fish, make sure that your hands are wetted. You can do this by pressing them into the wetted mat, where the water from the landing net has probably made a small pool.

When lifting a fish for a photo, it’s best not to lift it too high, in case it gives one of those unexpected wriggles. It’s best to have the photo taken whilst you are kneeling with the fish held over the mat, in case of an accident.

Particularly if a fish hasn’t been fully played out, it can ‘swim’ right out of your hands!

This is like launching a torpedo, the fish landing several feet away!

I’ve found that holding a fish, with a finger poked into its mouth, prevents this happening.

Try not to keep the fish out of the water for too long.

If you’ve played a specimen for a while, both you and the fish are likely to be tired out, and both of you will need a rest before weighing and photographing commences.

It’s worth investing in a small carp sack.

Wet the sack and pop the fish in and lower the sack into the water, making sure that it’s securely tethered.

Now you can get your breath back before preparing your camera, wetting the weigh-sling, zeroing the scales etc. It’s also handy to be able to keep a particularly large specimen safe whilst you summon witnesses / expert photographers to record the event.

When you return the fish, it will almost certainly need nursing a while, until it’s strong enough to remain upright and swim away under it’s own power. Keep the fish held by the ‘wrist’ of the tail, and pointing its head up current. Only when you are confident that the fish is fully recovered, let go, and watch the grey ghost fade back into the depths.

One of the most exciting experiences of mullet fishing!

No matter how careful I net and handle a mullet, there’s always a few scales left in my net, or on my unhooking mat!

Mullet scales are designed to detach easily.

That way, when they are grabbed by a predator, the seal, otter etc is left with a mouthful of scales as the grey torpedo disappears into the distance.

If you want an idea of how old the fish is, retain these gifts and use them to count the rings on the scales.

Although it’s hard to get an exact ‘reading’, rings represents a year of the fish’s life.

When times are good for mullet (summer) and the fish is growing well, the ring will be broad. Hard times (winter) are represented by narrow rings. Exceptionally good summers produce exceptionally broad rings, great for calibrating your dating (the splendid summer of 1976 is useful for ageing older fish, and it looks as though 2003 will be a good marker for the next couple of decades or so).

Rather than struggling to identify rings with a magnifying glass, I use my scanner.

Try scanning in the scale, at maximum resolution, then printing the image out expanded to A4 size (using both a white and a black background • see the difference!).

Then mark each ring on the printout with a pencil (it can help if you view the scale on a bright, high definition monitor at the same time).

When you’ve done the best you can, count the pencil marks. You may well be amazed at the age of the fish you’ve caught (and hopefully released!).

What depth do mullet feed?

Mullet feed at any depth in the water column, sometimes sucking at the almost invisible, but nutritious scum that forms on the surface in calm conditions, other times they will be found down deep, sucking at the mud on the bottom.

Sometimes you will find them in water that barely covers their backs, other times they will be found in really deep water.

You need to work out where you think the mullet will be feeding. Where would they be expecting to find nutrient rich mud, algae covered rocks, seaweed?

Look for ‘holding’ areas, around piers and jetties, back eddies along the river, deeper pools amongst the drowned sand dunes.

The good news is that, if you are putting in plenty of loose-feed, in the right place, they will come to feed on it. So throwing spoon-fulls of bread mash will have them feeding near the surface, and a bread-bag will attract them from the depths to feed from the mesh.

What species of mullet can I expect to catch?

In UK waters, you are likely to encounter three species of mullet.

Chelon labrosus is the hard-fighting thicklip mullet. This is the largest of the three, and the one most commonly fished for, often caught between 2 and four pounds, with 7lbers a real possibility and fish up to around 15lbs encountered by a lucky few.

(see: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/aquarium/pages/thicklippedgreymullet.html)

Liza ramada is the smaller thinlip, often encountered in large shoals and moving well up rivers into almost freshwater (thicklips can also be encountered well up a river, but don’t go as far as thinlips. Often thicklips will be seen as solitary large fish in amongst a shoal of thinlips). Thinlips can be caught in large numbers during a sesion, especially when targeted with a small spinner baited with harbour rag. But they are smaller than thick lips (usually between 2 and 3 lbs, but rare specimen fish can be taken to around 5lb) and they don’t fight so hard as thicklips.

(see: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/aquarium/pages/thinlippedgreymullet.html)

Liza aurata the golden-grey mullet, known affectionately as goldies, are the smallest of all. They are also quite rare, restricted to a few populations along the south coast and Wales. They are distinguished by golden spots, one on each side, on the gill covers.

(see: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/aquarium/pages/goldengreymullet.html)

There are many more species of mullet throughout the world that UK anglers will encounter on holiday. A particular favourite is the striped mullet of the Mediterranean.

What about Red Mullet?

Calling a fish a ‘dogfish’ doesn’t mean it’s related to dogs. Similarly there are a number of fish around the world that have a common name of ‘mullet’, that are not related in anyway to our familiar grey mullet.

‘Red mullet’ are such a species, totally un-related, and a very different proposition
for an angler.

Where’s the best place to fish for really big specimen fish?

When mullet get land-locked, they can grow huge, and there are some well known (to mullet enthusiasts) places around the UK where that happens.

They probably grow big when they no longer have to spend their energy fighting strong currents and find themselves in a food rich environment, so look for any places locally where the fish are sheltered from the sea. Harbours with lock-gates, lagoons, marinas etc.

Why do the big fish seem to appear most toward the end of the season?

For a start, females that are due to spawn in the spring are loading up with spawn (which can make up around a quarter of their total weight).

During the winter, they will not have been feeding, so their early season weight will be well down compared to their weight at the end of their summer feeding, maybe with fat to spare to see them through the coming winter.

So, the same fish will be heavier toward the end of the season.

That may only be part of the story. It’s my guess that, as the water cools, the smaller fish, with a higher surface to weight ratio, slow down their feeding first, whilst the bigger fish carry on feeding.

Whereas in the middle of the season, the one large fish has to compete with (say) 20 smaller shoal mates, to approach your hook-bait first, when the water cools, the ratio is far more in favour of the larger fish that remain feeding for longer. (In some areas, big fish are also known for being caught early in the season, before the water has really warmed).

At this time of year, the fishing becomes harder with fewer bites, often a chill wind and inclement weather to contend with, the temptation to switch to other species that Autumn brings to season. But, if you have the self-discipline, now is the time to suffer a string of blanks in hope of a really big fish.

Whatever the reason, I always beef up my tackle late in the season, ready for the big one.

Do any other species take bread baits meant for mullet?

Yes, crabs love it! And they can snip your hooklength clean off without hardly moving the float, so be careful where you fish a feeder on the bottom. (Swimming crabs will also launch themselves from the harbour wall to intercept a hook bait drifting by).

Bass can also be a ‘nuisance’ fish. (A hooked bass will usually immediately give several strong runs, but will quickly tire, whereas a mullet will take a little while to wake up initially, but then seems to grow stronger and stronger, and more organised as the fight progresses).

Blennies, coalies, smelt, flounder are common and probably many other species too.

When fishing near the mouth of a river, you might be surprised just how far down into the salt section some freshwater species move, especially near low water on a spring tide.

What is the distribution of mullet in UK waters?

Although species of mullet can be found even up into the arctic, the species that inhabit UK waters are toward the northern boundary of their range.

South Wales and the South-West hold the largest populations, but where there is a source of warm water, such as the outfall of a power station, mullet can be caught much further North. There is good mullet fishing on the Clyde, and I’ve taken mullet in the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of Loch Fyne.

What is the UK record for mullet?

There’s a list of current official British Record fish of all species at:

http://www.nfsa.org.uk/

At the time of writing, the official records are:

Thick Lipped Mullet (Chelon labrosus)

Boat : 10lb 1 0oz 4dram 564 1952 P C Libby, Portland, Dorset

Shore: 14lb 2oz 12dram 6 427 1979 R S Gifford, The Leys, Aberthaw, Glamorgan

Thin-lipped Mullet (Liza ramada)

Boat: 5lb 15oz 0 dram 2 693 1991 Mrs A Copley, R Medway, Dartford, Kent

Shore: 7lb 0oz 0 dram 3 175 1991 N Mableson, at Saltside, Oulton Broad

Golden Grey Mullet (Liza aurata)

Boat : 2lb 13oz 6dram 1 286 1999 John Case, Brixham Harbour, Devon

Shore: 3lb 0oz 4dram 1 368 1991 J Reeves, off East Coast of Alderney

Shore: 3lb 0oz 4dram 1 368 1994 D Heward, Christchurch Harbour, Dorset

However, because of the strict rules and procedures involved in claiming an official record, and the fact that, without independent witnesses to the weighing, a claim cannot be made for a fish returned alive, not all specimens make it to the record lists.

(Many anglers will not make a claim if it means killing a specimen fish, and denying another angler the chance of catching the same fish, perhaps bigger by next season, or denying those monster genes another chance at spawning)

The National Mullet Club award trophies on an ‘honour’ basis. Photographs of big fish, published in the NMC journal ‘Grey Ghost’, that I know of, include the following thick-lipped specimens.

10lb 7oz caught by Simon Walton in Alderney in 1993

10lb 13oz caught by Kevin Hewson in the River Medway in 1995

11lb 14oz 6 dram caught by Richard Simonet in Alderney in 1985

13lb 2oz caught by Dave Matthews in South Wales 1977

In
2002, young Christopher Harris caught an 11lb fish from a boat in the River Crouch that was returned alive, with only his dad as a witness to the weighing.

When can I expect to catch mullet?

Mullet don’t seem to feed when the water temperature is below 10C. In the warm water of power station outfalls they can be caught all year round, even at some sites in Scotland, and feed throughout the year in some places in the South-West.

In the river Medway, Kent, they first appear around March, with the first fish usually being caught sometime in late April to late May, depending upon the conditions for the year.

What kind of weather is best for mullet fishing?

Early in the season they will begin feeding after a settled spell of warm weather, but can quickly go off the feed again (maybe for a couple of weeks) if the weather turns changeable/colder again.

I always seem to do well in warm weather, when the cumulus clouds grow large, threatening heavy localised showers and maybe thunder. The mullet keep on feeding, even when it’s bucketing down.

A change to easterlies, or a fast approaching weather front, when the wind picks up, and the sky turns grey, seems to put them off, though I’ve caught as the rain has arrived when the wind is fairly calm.

Bright, cloudless days can be unpredictable. Sometimes the fish just don’t want to play, sometimes they do.

I think that the worst mistake is to look out the window and think to yourself ‘it doesn’t look like mullet fishing weather today’. That can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Does the tide affect mullet fishing?

Not really, though some marks may fish better at different stages of the tide, and you may have to adjust your tackle and tactics according to the state of the tide.

As low water passes, and the tide begins to creep back over the mud, mullet can often be seen swimming and feeding in water barely deep enough to cover their backs, poking around the weed and rocks, and following the incoming tide upriver.

Some marks will only hold water near to high-tide, some will fish best as the water recedes.

Exploring your local environment, looking for spots that fish well at certain stages of the tide, and with the wind in certain directions, is all part of the interest.

Knowing where to go will mean that you can confidently go mullet fishing whenever you have a couple of hours to spare, rather than bemoaning that the ‘tide isn’t right!’

Knowing a location well enough to predict how the mullet will react to the changing conditions can help tremendously.

On some venues/tides, the same tactics will work with little adjustment, throughout the day. On others conditions can change fast, and you need to constantly adjust your tackle and tactics accordingly.

On a narrow tidal river, at high water, the fish may take baits readily off the still and calm surface, but as soon as you realise this and adjust your tackle, the tide starts to rip back out again, and the mullet disappear back to the shelter of the bottom, leaving you to re-tackle to a heavy swim-feeder tactics. Knowing the venue, and how it fishes at different states of the tide, means that you can predict what is going to happen next, and be ready for it, rather than frustratingly trying to take advantage of current conditions, just as they are changing.

I’ve heard that mullet make lip marks. What do they look like?

Lip marks are a sure sign that mullet have been feeding. Look for them in algae covered mud, and especially on flat pieces of algae covered wood etc, dumped into the estuary.

The metalwork of piers, concrete slipways and wooden harbour walls are favourite places for mullet to browse algae.

The marks they make are two wavy parallel lines, a couple of inches or so long, as though someone had ‘drawn’ them by lightly running two fingers through the mud/algae.

They are made by the bottom lip of a mullet, which is dissected by a ‘V’ in the centre of the lip.

Unfortunately the length and width of marks do not correspond to the size of the fish making them. I’ve measured the mouth width of quite a few mullet, and like people, there appears to be no correlation between the size of their mouth and their overall build.

Lip marks usually fade pretty quickly, so it’s easy to distinguish between recent marks and those made several days ago.

The frustrating thing about lip marks is that they only tell you a little about what has previously happened, not what is about to happen.

I’ve fished marks covered in fresh lip marks, and not had a bite, or seen any sign of mullet.

Conversely, I’ve arrived at a mark and had my confidence dashed by the lack of any fresh marks, then caught several fish and had newly made marks exposed by the retreating tide.

Questions always in my mind:

– Have the marks been made by thinlips or thicklips?

– If the marks only appear low down the harbour wall, is that a sign that the fish were feeding deep, or when the tide was low?

– Were plentiful marks made by a small shoal of fish, feeding at the spot for a long time, or a large shoal passing through?

Sometimes I see mullet all around, and I’ve caught them before so it’s not a case of them not being ‘educated’ to my bread, but they simply ignore my hookbait and free offerings. What’s going on?

Mullet have times when they
are inclined to feed, and times when they are not. That can be extremely frustrating, watching fish after fish swim over your groundbait, and passing your hookbait, ignoring it.

At other times, they seem to be preoccupied feeding on something other than you are offering them.

The good news is that when a fish starts to feed, that ‘switches on’ the whole shoal. (in tank tests, when a shoal begins to feed, even individual fish isolated in a separate tank, in sight of the main shoal, will start to feed at the same time!).

If you can see fish, make sure that there is food for them. Sooner or later one fish will begin to peck at it and that will set the whole shoal off.

I’ve often seen mullet feeding on the surface, but I can’t see what it is they are feeding on!

They are skimming the surface film.

Especially on calm days, microscopic food particles gather on the surface, almost invisible to our eyes. The film that forms is technically known as ‘neuston’.

When conditions are right, the mullet will swim around, usually in small tight shoals of several fish, gulping at the surface film, totally ignoring anything that an angler can offer them.

That can be very frustrating and in extreme cases lead to an angler being driven mad!

I’ve tried, but I simply can’t seem to catch a mullet • why?

With most species, and particularly with experience of fishing for other species, you just need to learn the basics, fish in the right place, at the right time, with the right tackle and bait, and you will catch.

Mullet can be a bit more difficult than that, and in truth it’s often hard to determine why.

Some people new to mullet are soon catching, some people really struggle to catch their first fish.

You can’t just bait up, cast out, lay down your rod and wait for the bites to come, chatting to your mate.

You have to concentrate on what you are doing, on the conditions and how to respond when these change, how your bait is behaving in the flow, looking for signs of feeding mullet and being constantly ready for that moment when the float gives that hint of unnatural movement.

You need to be aware that, although you might not be able to see any mullet, they may be there, watching you. Keep as still as you can, and as far back from the edge as you can.

Avoid moving your rod about over the water, or casting a shadow across your fishing area.

All of this, and more, comes easily to some anglers, it’s an unconscious part of their nature. To others comes only frustration as they try to figure out why they don’t get the bites.

Try fishing with an experienced mullet angler, watch listen and learn.

Hooking a mullet, and landing it is another thing.

In the local group to which I belong, it’s almost a rite of passage that you loose the first two fish you hook.

Anglers who have plenty of experience of playing a variety of hard-fighting species, on similar tackle to that used to land mullet, are bested by their first experience or two of playing a mullet.

Nothing quite prepares you for those sudden explosive short runs, just as you think the fish is tiring, or that sudden gain of energy mullet find when they should be weakening, and always just when you are the one who’s becoming tired.

If fish are lost too often, and you are not sure why. Look to the hooks you are using. They need to be really sharp, short-shanked, wide-gaped and strong.

Are mullet good to eat?

Most people who have tried mullet (myself included) will tell you that they taste pretty much like cardboard, though I’ve come across a few people who seem to like them.

Knowing how to prepare them is part of the answer, so is the secret of cooking them in the right sauces (as the Chinese do).

For my part, if I want a fish to eat, there’s certainly fish that taste a lot better and which are far easier to catch.

The other problem with eating mullet that you need to remember is that they are a long-lived species, often frequenting polluted estuaries and sewage out-falls.

Feeding mainly by ingesting mud from the bottom, and passing that very slowly through their long digestive tracts, and remembering that a 3lb fish has been doing that for the last ten years, I reckon that there has been plenty of time for dangerous pollutants to build up in mullet flesh.

Even if they tasted as nice as sole (say), personally I’d still give them a miss, having seen them feeding enthusiastically on what comes out of the sewage discharge pipe!

Because they are such a slow-growing, late spawning species, most mullet anglers are happy to return all the fish they catch. Recaptures are quite common and if you dream (as most of us do) of catching a real specimen from the marks you fish in future years, you need to return these hard-fighting fish. There are fish to be caught for eating, and fish to be caught for sport.  Mullet are definitely a sports fish, not an eating fish.

More Mullet FAQ’s – click here