Advanced Mullet fishing techniques ;)

We (Hamish and Lee) are going to start a series on posts on catching bread and butter species for beginners, with hopefully enough know how to also be useful for more experienced fishermen. So to start things off we are going to begin with the most humble of estuary species. The Mullet. I’m sure most fishermen can remember cutting their teeth on this mainstay of junior fishing, but I do think they deserve a little more attention from the older more experienced angler. Given the plethora of other options that are available in our esturies and harbours, its very easy to overlook the humble mullet. I know from experience, until the last couple of years, I also overlooked them and only ever fished for them if I wanted fresh bait. It was during some of those sessions that I learnt that the mullet isn’t just a baitfish, but a worthy target and a fish that definitely in my opinion deserves a little more attention. Targeting them can be great fun.First of all to a bit of background about mullet in general and the species mainly targeted in the Southern states (as well as one Northern species given the name of this blog is progressively becoming less and less relevant :)).

Mullet (Photo by Mark Robinson, who owns all rights to this photo)

Species

There are a number of species of Mullet in Australia (16) and they are available as a target almost all the way around the country. The main species targeted in the eastern states are yelloweye mullet, Sea or Bully mullet and sand mullet. Poddy mullet is a name used for all small mullet of various species and they are a staple bait in south coast esturies when chasing big flathead and jewfish.

Yelloweye Mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri) – As the name suggests, the eyes of the Yellow eye mullet are bright yellow. They are found in Southern Australia as well as New Zealand . They form large schools in summer and commonly enter bays and can be found along beaches. They are also slightly more carnivorous than some of the other mullet species and respond well to flesh baits (pippies, prawns, fish flesh) at times. They are a moderately sized species growing to about 40 cm and 1 kg, but given their abundance and responsiveness (and lack of fussiness seen in other species) to a wider range of baits than some other mullet species are a staple of recreational mullet fishing and are often caught as by catch when chasing other species. They will at times also respond to lures, I have had a fair bit of success catching yellow eye mullet on small metal slugs and soft plastics during summer.

Sea or Bully Mullet (Mugil cephalus)- Sea mullet are the largest species of mullet available to eastern anglers and are found all the way around the Southern half of the continent. They can get as big as 75 cm and 8kg, although a 5 kg model would be considered a beast by most. They are mythically hard to tempt due to their diet which mainly consists of microscopic organisms such as various species of algae, diatoms and other zooplankton. At times catching them does seem impossible. The key is finesse, light leaders and very carefully presented baits (bread, weed, small invertebrates are all worth a try). Given their size, chasing them is well worth the effort. Hooking a large (greater than 3kg) Sea mullet on 2kg gear is a great sport-fishing experience.

While Sea mullet spend most of the year in estuaries, extending right up into the freshwater, adult fish make an annual migration out to sea and North towards their spawning grounds between late summer and early winter. This behavior is supposedly triggered by strong westerly winds and falling ocean temperatures.

Sand Mullet (Myxus elongatus)- Sand mullet are a common mullet species found all the way around the Southern half  of Australia. They reach a maximum size of roughly 40 cm and 1kg and are commonly caught by anglers. If you begin mulleting its only a matter of time before you catch one 😉

Diamond scale mullet (Liza vaigiensis)- This ones for our Northern readers. Diamond scale mullet are a tropical species that occur around the Northern half of Australia, from Northern NSW to central WA. They can grow as large as 55 cm and 5.5kg. They can be identified by their distinctive diamond shaped scales and I think they are definitely the most attractive mullet species. They are also I have been told the best eating mullet, so if any NT readers can tear themselves away from the plethora of other options available to you, them might be worth chasing. 

Diamond Scale Mullet, the prettiest of the mullet species (Photo by Arthur Chapman who holds copyright over this image)

While these are some of the more common species and would make up a large percentage of the recreational catch you will likely come across other species of mullet from time to time, depending on where you live. Generally, all species of mullet will respond well to very similar fishing techniques although some tweaking of techniques is recommended when targeting specific species of mullet. 

Habitat:

Most species of mullet live in shallow near shore environments such as harbours, bays, estuaries. They can be found in saltwater and freshwater environments and it isn’t uncommon to be able to catch mullet in almost completely fresh water. In some areas in Victoria, it isn’t uncommon to be able to catch Carp and other freshwater species alongside mullet and bream.  However most species of mullet in Australia are mainly marine/estuarine species. They are generally found over soft bottoms, such as sand, weedbeds or mud.

Diet:

Mullet eat numerous small critters such as zooplankton (e.g. diatoms), algae (both macro and micro), detritus (dead plants and animals), and small invertebrates. Given the small size of their diet, their mouths are small in comparison to their body size.

Tackle:

Light tackle is the name of the game when it comes to mullet. If your just starting out handlines and kids Kmart rigs will do the job on smaller fish. But ideally the 2-4kg bream stick, the all rounder of any estuary fisherman’s arsenal,  is my weapon of choice when chasing mullet and it a formidable mullet weapon. Given their small mouths, small hooks, (smaller than size 8 ) and light leaders, less than 2kg are the name of the game. Their accessibility means they are catchable on almost all estuary gear and really are a great fish for kids to start targeting given their abundance.

As you’d know if you’ve read the blog, I recently had success catching poddy mullet on my tenkara. I still have to perfect it, but I think this could possible be the most fun way to target them but more to come in the future.

Baits:

White bread (the cheaper and doughy-er the better), dough (if you want to make your own, personally I’m too lazy), beach worms, nippers (and nipper pieces) and prawns are good baits for all mullet species. Yellow eye mullet will also respond to fish flesh baits. The most important part of mullet fishing is berley to get them in the mood. There are numerous options for berley. I usually use the bread, but you can use wheat germ, chook pellets or any other substance you think may bring them in.

Approaches and rigs:

 There are lots of approaches for targetting mullet. The most left field apprach I have heard of is a float with a reflector and no bait, the hook is directly under the float and apparently its dynamite although I’m mildly skeptical (I haven’t tried this but the idea is the reflection attracts the fish and they eventually bite the hook, I’ll test it at some point and see if there is anything in it).

The most conventional approach is a small float suspending a small hooker between a 1-6 feet long below the float (depending on wind, float speed of your bait and where the fish are holding). I have had lots of success using this method in the past but given I don’t regularly carry floats these days and the success of the method below, now rarely use this technique. That said it is definitely the recommended technique for anyone starting out chasing mullet.

Our favourite technique is probably the simplest of the lot and I think the most fun! and is simply a hook tied to the end of a light leader (1-2kg). The rig relies on fluffy doughy white bread. The idea is to get a floating berley trail going and to wait until the fish begin picking the pieces of bread off the surface. Then you simply tear off a piece of bread close to the size of the pieces of bread in your burley trail and mould half the bread into a dough around your hook, leaving the other half nice and fluffy. The fluffy half acts as your “float” and means the bait can be floated down your berley trail along with the berley, providing an impressively finesse presentation when done well. Then its just a matter of waiting till your booby trapped piece of berely is taken from the trail.

Mullet on poppers. Ok this isn’t a go to technique, its more a way of increasing your by-catch when poppering for whiting on the flats. Often schools of mullet will follow your popper and usually, you probably won’t catch any. However, you can slightly increase your chances. I’ve found if you bloop your popper quickly and wait till a nice school is following then stop the popper dead, you’ll get the odd mullet. Often a tiny twitch after its stopped will induce a “strike” and you’ll get a few more. Its not going to catch you heaps of mullet  but even if you get one or two it can be enough to save you from the emptiness of a fish-less session. These experiences have inspired Lee into inventing a yet untried Mullet technique. Mullet on flies using poppers. Ok it sounds strange but the idea is simple. Connect a small fly to your popper, get the mullet following and then stop and hope that they eat the fly. Garfish also follow poppers regularly, but are almost impossible to catch on poppers, so I imagine this technique will fool some of them too. We will report back on the results of the field tests in the near future.

This is a very strange one, you will probably never get the chance to use, however its worked for us a number of times and one of those sessions is still up there with my most memorable so its going up here. Small metal slugs (10-20 grams) cast at sea running/spawning sea or bully mullet. For this technique to work, the fact is everything out of your control has to go in your favour. It must be mentioned that its NOT an adaptation of the classic old timer method of “jagging” mullet, which is of course illegal. Both times this technique has worked all fish have been caught in the mouth. So what is it. Well its pretty simple, cast small slugs into the schools of sea running mullet, wind really fast and then stop and repeat. The fish will attack the lure on the pause. I assume the over-sexed mullet attack what they think is a small baitfish that is getting in the way of them getting frisky. Whatever the reason, when things go right it is surprisingly effective and has resulted in our biggest mullet, of roughly 4kgs.

Authors with two nice Sea mullet

The last technique is mullet on fly. Given I caught my first fish on fly last week, I’m hardly the person to be going to for info on this although after the ball I had last week catching poddy mullet on dry fly with the tenkara, I’ll definitely be out and about regularly perfecting my technique and trying to find a good spot in Melbourne close to home to get my fishing fixes in the mornings and afternoons between proper fishing trips. There are some good articles out there on flyfishing (part two) for mullet (there is even a forum if you’re interested). If this is what your interested I suggest you check those out, a lot of them are from the UK bar the first link which is Australian, but given that their habits will be similar all over the world they are definitely worth a read.

Eating qualities.

Mullet are a very under-rated table fish. The different species do vary in eating quality and time of year as well as environment can effect flavour. For example, fish caught in clean salt water are usually far better to eat than fish caught in freshwater at the head of estury systems which can be a bit muddy.  In general though when treated well, I think you’ll probably surprised at how nice they can be. They can have a strong flavour, but “deep” skinning, to remove the fat just under the skin results in far more delicately flavoured fillets. Personally, I don’t mind more strongly flavoured fish so rarely go to the trouble (and think that BBQ crisp skin is the best bit of a BBQ’ed mullet fillet), but if thats your thing its easy to do and you’ll end up with  fillet far more too your liking.

In general Mullet have  high fat content (especially just before spawning) so they respond well to BBQ’ing and smoking. Smoked mullet are a real treat and if your lucky enough to catch sea run fish with roe, KEEP it and smoke that too. Its a highly prized delicacy, so you should at least give it a go.

In the future I’ll post up a couple of in depth mullet recipes to help you get the most out of your catch.

Anyway hopefully thats useful and good luck chasing the humblest fish in the ocean. I think you’ll enjoy it!!! I’ll (Hamish) will be doing a number of posts detailing the learning process catching them on fly, both on the tenkara and Lee’s unused fly rod which i think i might borrow 😉

Lee and Hamish 2011

Note: Rig photos to come 🙂

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