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The Perplexing Mullet

Last autumn long time friend and fellow mullet enthusiast John Avery and I visited Ireland to target grey mullet along the Copper Coast an area famed for its bass fishing. But also home to vast shoals of grey mullet, I had seen the mullet on a bass fishing trip the previous year and vowed to return armed with bread and suitable tackle.

As the tide pushed in the mullet came with it their silver sides catching the autumn sunshine as they twisted in the waters of this mini estuary. We placed our baits and waited with anticipation, a whole weeks fishing ahead of us. Day-trippers paused to watch or to enquire as to our luck. The occasional dog irritated us by investigating our tackle bags. Children threw stones into the river, as children will, not greatly conducive to successful mullet fishing. A boat owner decided to rearrange his moorings; we wondered if this would spook the mullet? As high water came and went our confidence began to ebb with the tide. Then an hour back my rod tip plunged over and I was into my first fish of the week. To my horror the line fell limp and the fish charged off with my feeder attached. It appeared that the line might have become entangled with the sharp fins upon the mullets back?

A cry from John indicates he too has hooked a fish and after a spirited tussle I lift a plump mullet from the water that is obviously far heavier than we at first estimate. At 4lb 12oz it’s a great start to the week.

John Avery with a 4lb 12oz Irish mullet
John Avery with a 4lb 12oz Irish mullet

Early next morning we stand on a damp harbour-side as Irish mist descends after a cool dawn. After just a few minutes my float sinks decisively beneath the surface and with a flick of the wrist the hook is pulled home. The surface erupts in spray and the rod takes on an impressive curve as a specimen mullet dives beneath the boats and moorings. Heavy pressure is applied to prevent the fish reaching sanctuary and for the next four or five minutes the battle ebbs and flows. Eventually the fish is coaxed into the waiting landing net. At 5lb 1oz it’s a very pleasing start to a damp drizzly day in Southern Ireland.

5 lb plus mullet caught on a morning of Irish mist.
5lb plus mullet caught on a morning of Irish mist.

We fish the tide back and land a couple more mullet. In the clear water we can see the mullet as they push the baits about nudging and nibbling without troubling the floats as they bob optimistically upon the water. Eventually the water gets too low and our 3.5 metre long handled net will not reach the water, its declared time for a full Irish breakfast and a welcome coffee.

We decided to take a look around the harbour and investigate our options. It is apparent that the whole harbour and estuary is rich in life. A kingfisher flashes past in a streak of vivid blue. Herons stalk the margins along with egrets and numerous smaller wading birds. Fry are abundant and we glimpse a large bass hovering almost stationary in a quiet corner, I estimate it as close to double figures. The tide is now starting to flood and mullet can be seen streaming up river with the tide. As we wonder along the quay we glimpse some very large grey mullet their deep flanks illuminated by the afternoon sunshine that penetrates the water. John and I are both in awe at the size of some of these fish that we estimate as double figure specimens. Witnessing these fish we are amazed that the Irish record is not higher than 9lb 1oz. But there are two main reasons for this. Very few anglers target mullet in Ireland and as we find, catching them can be hard work.

It’s not long before John and I are back rods in hand trotting our floats where we have just seen these huge mullet. A shoal of mullet materialise close in to the harbour wall and a large fish of perhaps 6lb engulfs John’s bread flake, John lifts the rod and is dismayed to see the bait come out of the fishes mouth. The fish shakes its head and swims off with the rest of the shoal. The margin between success and failure is tiny and the missing of such an opportunity can be the difference between a successful week and a disappointing outcome.

We return to the harbour several times during our week. Large mullet can be seen on each occasion tantalisingly out of reach basking beneath boats and pontoons. We introduce ample quantities of bread groundbait to try and entice them out. We drop our baits to within inches of the boats our casting accuracy improving dramatically as the week progresses. We enjoy occasional success but the large fish elude us.

Floatfishing in an Irish harbour
Floatfishing in an Irish harbour

Twenty odd miles along the coast is a large estuary mouth where our two bass fishing comrades report seeing very big mullet and numbers of smaller fish. We arrive at this venue as the tide ebbs the vast panorama of sand stretching out before us beneath blue skies populated by fluffy white clouds. In the clear waters huge numbers of mullet are present. We eagerly cast out floats and the water erupts as the mullet disperse before immediately reforming in a tight huddle. After a short time without a bite I am convinced that these are golden grey mullet totally uninterested in our bread flake offerings?

We chat with a bass angler who has enjoyed a morning on the rocks landing three bass. He tells us that the mullet are always here but he has never seen them caught, no one fishes for them.

Further along the coast we visit a harbour with a working fleet of fishing boats. When we arrive the tide is low and peering over the wall we spy a group of large mullet. We consider casting a line to them from high up but the prospect of hooking a fish and walking it to the nearest vantage point fifty yards away via a wall ten metres above the water is considered unwise.

We elect to try from a secondary harbour wall where we glimpse a mullet as we peer into the clear water. We introduce a steady stream of mashed breadcrumb and after a while witness several mullet feeding in the clear waters. After missing a few bites John eventually connects and lands a pleasing mullet of 3lb 12oz. I get a few chances but end the day with a blank scorecard.

Tantalising glimpses of Irish Mullet
Tantalising glimpses of Irish Mullet

All too soon it’s Friday and our week is coming to an end. We are back at the harbour flicking our baits towards the mullet as they ghost around the boats and harbour structure. As the tide ebbs our confidence begins to drain. Passers by stop to chat engaging in friendly conversation regarding Irish fish; mostly bass! Some locals offer advice freely keen for us to succeed. There is a general puzzlement as to why we fish for the impossible to tempt grey mullet. John’s friendly manner endears him to a wide spectrum of the local population.

We move a little further along the harbour side. The water is getting very shallow now little more than a couple of feet. Suddenly out of the blue down goes my float and a flick of the wrist engages with a large mullet that thrashes on the surface shaking its head. The rod hoops over as the fish attempts to reach the sanctuary of boats and moorings. A few tense minutes later John successfully slips the net under the fish. At 4lb 14oz it’s a pleasing result. A couple of casts later the float again delights with its disappearance. Connection this time is with an even bigger fish that again thrashes the surface testing my tackle to the limit as it lunges for freedom beneath the boats, ropes and pontoons. The battle is tense as I can see this is a special fish that could make my week!

After a successful conclusion to the battle I cradle a mullet that pulled the scales to a couple of ounces under 7lb. At 6lb 14oz it’s a new personal best. Having seen this fish in the water and on the land I again wonder just how big some of those mullet we saw earlier in the week would have weighed for I know they were much bigger than this fine specimen.

Grey Mullet 6lb 14oz
Grey Mullet 6lb 14oz

These two mullet were caught in a fifteen-minute spell when luck was on my side. The fish had obviously dropped out of their sanctuary as the tide dropped and my bait was in the right place. Such luck can make a week.

The following day was our last in Ireland and we elected to again fish the harbour. Our floats remained disappointingly buoyant throughout the day. Leaving us wishing we had perhaps tried a different venue but as John said you have to play the odds.

It is now springtime and with winter behind us John and I head to a local harbour on the North Devon coast. We had intended to fish for the mullet through the winter but weather and conditions had conspired to keep us away from the waters edge.

Embracing the lighter evenings we had squeezed in an after work session arriving two hours before top of the tide as it pushed into the narrow estuary mouth. It was a relief to don the Polaroids and to gaze into the clear water glimpsing the shadows of mullet as they cruised nonchalantly to and fro as mullet do.

I hurriedly assembled my tackle eager to get the baits into the water. I carefully squeezed a flake of Brace’s white sliced onto two size 8 hooks and swung them out. Gazing into the water I was mesmerised by the numbers of mullet present. Fish of 2lb to 6lb plus tantalisingly visible and seemingly oblivious of the baits as mullet often are no wonder they have a reputation as being uncatchable.

Spring time - First mullet of the season
Spring time – First mullet of the season

The rod tip trembles frequently as the mullet brush against the line and occasionally nudge the baits. Every now and then there is a more positive indication and I lift the rod in hope to no avail. Eventually the rod rattles fractionally more and this time I make contact. The fish lunges on the end of the line and a battle commences the fish giving a spirited account on the feeder rod and 8lb line. John wields the net and the fish is eventually secure. The scales read 3lb 11oz a pleasing start to the season. A few minutes later John also gets the season’s scoreboard ticking over with a fish of a couple of pounds.
And so another season of frustration begins with the perplexing mullet testing our patience. There are times on the open coast when the mullet will feed without fear the floats frequently plunging beneath the surface. These fish that drift into estuaries and river mouths are the same species yet they act differently. We have tried many baits but none seems to beat good old white sliced. We have watched vast shoals of mullet swim around our baits ignoring the offerings and the loose feed we introduce. Then suddenly one fish will swim up the bait, open its mouth and engulf it dragging the rod tip decisively over!!!