There is no doubt in my mind that I am once again obsessed with mullet. I had forgotten just how addictive they can be and just how hard fighting they were. It had been some years since I had spent significant time on the bank chasing them. As a child and into my late teens I could be found on the banks of my local river Dart obsessing over them. There was no place i would rather be than sat on the river bank dreaming of big thick lipped mullet. I’d caught some real specimens, with a PB Thick lip of 6lb 2oz, taken way back in 1984. I never caught a 5lb fish, but several 4lb plus specimens graced my net. As is per usual, chasing girls took over and it wasn’t long before I met my wife. We moved away, had a family and I really only fished for mullet on the odd occasion with my late father.
Fig1: Only a couple of pounds, but it fought hard all the way to the net!
Sadly a few years ago my father passed away. He had been my fishing inspiration and our final day together was spent fishing for mullet. I had been a couple of times since and caught a couple of fish, but had not had the time to fish more, as my wife was struggling with cancer. Once again life was unkind and she bravely lost her fight. She was a wonderful woman, who had always encouraged my fishing and understood this other passion of mine. She understood that fishing grounded me, helped me deal with life and therefore allowed me to enjoy life even more. She knew that she would always come first, but the man that went fishing was a better man for it, a more relaxed and centred man.
Early last year I returned to my home town and upon walking over the Old Bridge, I once again peered into the pools below. There swimming around without a care in the world were two good sized fish. Truth be known, I had been scrambling around, trying to find some solid ground upon which to stand since my wife’s recent passing. I once again needed something to ground me. Something to focus on. I don’t know why I hadn't thought of it before. Mullet fishing would give me that connection between the man I was before I met her and who I was now. It would help ease my mind and help me deal with life without her. Sorry to lament but I needed to put this article into context, writing actually helps.
Fig 2: A nice fish of 3.5lb caught on a beautiful summer day.
So having seen these fish and since many others even bigger, where did I start? For me it had to be the float. As a kid I had spent many hours staring at a Porcupine Quill or Avon Float. I used to work in a local tackle shop and was so obsessed with the Pete Drennan Float range, I spent all the money I earn't trying to buy every float in the range. I used to use them in totally the wrong situations, just because I wanted to. There's nothing like making things difficult for yourself! This turned out to be a good thing though, as I soon learned a Stillwater Blue was no good in flowing water, but I could use it in the slacks around high tide. I could fish small bits of bread flake and it would register the tiniest of bites . I did managed to collect the entire range, but unfortunately I turned my back for too long one day and they were gone. I was gutted to say the least.
The next problem was where to fish for them. Well it turns out that even after nearly 40 years they could still be caught in the same areas. There were a few swims where erosion had so significantly changed the river that they were no longer productive, but in general the fish were where they always had been. Unfortunately there were also places I could no longer access. Surprisingly landowners were not so forgiving of a 50 year old man as opposed to a young whippersnapper of a kid. Now all I needed to do was establish when there might be a steady flow in the swim and trot my float through with my bait an inch or so off the bottom. I prefer a bit of flow, however at times I like to fish slack water over high tide. Although you may not get so many bites it can result in some big fish.
I generally use mashed bread with added fish oil for groundbait. I particularly like Dynamite Baits Smoked Salmon Oil. In my particular river Seals are a problem and they love to munch their way through a Salmon or two, thus releasing fish oil into the water and I guess attracting mullet to the area once they have departed? Could this be why the Salmon oil works so well? Just a theory I know, but there might be some truth in it. I am a big believer in fish oils, as I feel they get into the bottom debris and prolong attraction in the swim; in effect keeping fish grubbing around for longer. The best mullet angler I ever knew was a chap called Gary Wills and if I remember correctly he used to dip his baits in the oil he had cooked his bacon butties in. Oils certainly do not repel fish. Trouble is crabs bloody love the stuff and will give you plenty of false bites if around.
The first few trips were spent below the bridge fishing in the pools created at low tide. It’s quite turbulent water so I had opted for an Avon float as its body would provide the stability I needed; this combined with the bulk shot fixed two thirds of the way down would pick up the current whilst not being affected by the wind, which was generally in the opposite direction. I would need to switch floats if the wind direction changed as this is not what Avon floats were designed for. If this were needed I would switch to a large Waggler, fixed bottom end only to sink the line. This worked to an extent but it had been a while since I had done any serious float fishing, so old skills needed to be re-learnt. I have now invested in some handmade Ducker Floats to help combat this problem even more. At this point I haven’t had time to use them, so will let you know how I get on.
To start with I had great success, catching several fish each trip up to almost 3lb. I was fishing a long trot and decided a longer rod would help with line management, whilst also allowing me to pick up line quicker on the strike. Surprisingly my reflexes were still sharp even if the rest of me was falling apart! A good pair of overfit polaroid sunglasses helped me spot the bites in what was turning out to be a decent summer. Sat on the banks, swinging my legs, chewing grass, took me back to those blissful, carefree days of my childhood. It was great to relax and reconnect with the river. Kingfishers whizzed by, bumblebees buzzed, swallows dipped their beaks at the water's surface for a drink and up above swifts chirped as their dance caressed the skies above me. Every so often the float would shoot under, waking me from my daydream as I struck to connect with another hard fighting silver flanked fish. The fish soon started to wise up, but before they did I had managed to introduce a couple more mates to the wonders of Mullet fishing. Sorry guys, you will now be Mullet anglers for life! What a thing to do to a chap?
I would catch a few and then I needed to follow the fish up river and intercept them in areas I had already earmarked. This is where the fish oils gave me an edge. I could liquidise some bread, add the fish oil and introduce it into these swims as I walked downstream. Even if the birds ate most of it the oil would get into the river bed and linger. I could then start fishing downstream in the knowledge that my loose feed would be doing its work in the swims above. It was just a matter of following the tide upstream and dropping into these swims that hopefully had fish grubbing around in them. All I had to do then was adjust the depth of my rig until it just tripped bottom, thereby creating as little disturbance as possible. This worked surprisingly well and enabled me to catch more than the odd fish.
As is often the case the summer passed by all too quickly and the mullet were gone with the first heavy rains of Autumn; leaving me to once again long for those long hazy days of summer.
Fig 3: A streamlined torpedo of about 3lb.
So where am I now with my Mullet journey? Well sitting here in early February, I'm thinking I need to relearn my legering skills. I have so many ideas, but I know deep down keeping it simple will be best. I also want to fish more of those high water slacks where I used to pick up big fish, try fishing super shallow water with a Trent Trotter float, maybe float legering and even try some open coast marks. I almost forgot to mention that last year I found a deep swim where I lost countless big mullet, up to an estimated 7lb, but that’s a problem to solve and a tale for another day.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and listening to me lament about life and my rekindled love of mullet fishing.
The Constant Angler