Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

Mullet fishing

I've written quite a bit about mullet over the years but a recent email from my friend Alan Bulmer in New Zealand has prompted me to take another look at these fish. Mullet are more or less worldwide in distribution and although they are essentially saltwater fish (that is to say they breed in the sea) many species tolerate fresh or brackish conditions.

Alan sees lots of mullet in the course of fishing around Auckland and it seems that they are just as awkward as the ones over here. It appears that they have two species - the yelloweyed mullet and the grey mullet. Alan says that the grey mullet, which I think is the same as the North American flathead mullet (Mugil cephalus) grows up to half-a-metre in length and may be well worth fishing for (no one seems to). Alan also says that the fish are reputed to feed on plant material and no doubt that they are the same as most other mullet being adapted to dealing with fine particles of detritus, bacteria and microscopic algae. The grey mullet swim well up into rivers (just like our thinlips) so I shall describe my approach to catching thinlip mullet first - it must be worth a try for the New Zealand counterparts.

Thinlip mullet tend to enter freshwater in the warmer weather. On the Dorset rivers they often appear at about the end of March and stay until November. In this case they enter the rivers to browse on rich growths of diatom algae which coat the surface of mud and plant stems. Diatoms show peaks of abundance in spring (April-May) and Autumn (September-October) and these are the times when the fish make their greatest upriver movements. I have seen and caught them many kilometres above the reach of the tide.

They usually feed either by grazing over the surface of mud and stones, by pumping water through the gills and extracting the fine particles from it or, occasionally, by skimming the surface of the water for concentrations of detritus and algae which form a scum in the surface film. Whichever way they are feeding they are susceptible to angling.

The thinlip mullet are obviously used to picking up insect larvae, worms and other small creatures with the mud that they suck in. Presumably these little , high protein, packages are a real bonus for the fish which are used to simply skimming the nutriment off the surface of mud particles. Anyway, whatever the reason, thinlips will occasionally feed on ragworms and can sometimes be induced to take one floatfished or legered. There is, however, a much more consistent method for catching them. Like many species of shoaling fish mullet will at times follow anything that looks like a shoalmate including plugs, spoons and particularly spinners such as Mepps which both flash and vibrate on the retrieve. Of course these fish are not predators so they don't bite at the lure. If, on the other hand, there is a piece of ragworm attached to the hook they will often try to pinch it.

The mullet follow close behind the lure and it is even possible to see them vibrate their lips, presumably sensing the juices from the worm, as they approach it. When they try to suck the piece of worm from the lure, if the hooks are suitably arranged, they frequently hook themselves. Using this method it is possible, at times, to land one fish after another and given the time it takes to play and land them it may be possible to catch as many as fifteen or twenty fish in an hour.

Now I've never caught a flathead mullet or a yellow eyed mullet but assuming that there are some suitable (nereid?) worms for bait (small shrimps and clams also work as baits for thinlips but are not as good as worm) down in New Zealand, these tactics MUST be worth a try. Dont worry if the fish show no interest at first - this is normal. It may take several 'passes' with the spinner before they become distracted from their mud grubbing activities. Then there may be a few minutes of following before you get a bite. The best scenario is when several fish are following and competing to get the bait. If they begin to suck at the worm DON'T STRIKE! The fish will hook themselves - provided there is a hook suitably disposed near the back end of the worm (about five or six centimetres of worm is usually enough). I rig the spinners with a couple of small hooks arranged 'pennel fashion' about six centimetres apart. A steady wind of the reel handle is best - just enough to keep the spinner ticking over. I replace the metal body of my Mepps with plastic beads to allow a slower retrieve. Useful alternatives to Mepps are mackerel spinners and wooden devon minnows - again rigged with two small hooks and a bit of worm.

That's enough for now but one thing's for sure. Many other species are susceptible to baited spoons and I'm now well into the teens of different fish I have caught using these tactics. I would be astonished if snapper, trevally, flounder, etc. don't take them. You can't really go wrong by giving it a try and it may prove to be the answer to catching those elusive mullet.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Mullet fishing.

Thinlipped mullet.

I've caught these by spinning both in salt water and in fresh - they can be slow to get going but once they start to feed they are easy to catch.

Caught on a spinner.

The hooks I use are a size 10 at the front and an 8 at the back.  The worm shold not trail behind the bend of the rear hook.