Grey mullet are a southern species that cruise into British waters in summer time and congregate around sheltered harbours, sandy beaches and sewage pipes. In the South West they can be caught in winter, too. They are extremely common in estuary harbours, since they are comfortable in brackish water. You can think of mullet like Mediterranean visitors on holiday, that are desperately seeking out the warmest patches of water. When estuary mudflats have warmed up, they love to soak up the heat and move over with it. At low tide, you can see where the mullet have been feeding by looking for impressions in the mud when they have been scraping.
Mullet fishing tackle
- Polaroid sunglasses are essential for spotting fish
- Tiny mepps spinners tipped with ragworm can be highly effective
- Fresh water feeder rod (12ft is ideal)
- Fresh water float set up
- Fly fishing for mullet with small gold head nymphs
How to catch mullet
Mullet are notoriously challenging to catch on rod and line, and aren’t much easier with nets, given that they are prone to leaping meters into the air to escape danger. These fish are tantalizing in that they are often perfectly visible and will swim right by your bait with an infuriating nonchalance. This type of behaviour, along with their tendency to vanish completely when spooked, has seen them dubbed as ‘grey ghosts’.
The habits of mullet vary depending on the location, but they very often lead lives of routine, dictated by the tide and feeding at specific stages of it in specific ways. Often mullet with follow tidal debris as it floats up an estuary, feeding on the surface as they go.
Mullet are mostly targeted with the use of fresh water floats and fresh water quiver tip rods, which have the extremely sensitive tips. The mouths of these fish are said to be mushy, but that isn’t the case. Rather, their lips are non-committal! They will sometimes inhale a little bit of bread crust or maggot and then exhale it back out again! It’s sort of like nibbling. They are notoriously fussy eaters, which seems unreasonable given that in the right mood they will happily eat from sewage outflows. When you do get a bite – and it helps to have polarised sunglasses so you can see when you get a bite more easily – you should strike promptly but not so aggressively as to spook all the fish in the area. Typically when sea fishing with floats it isn’t necessary to strike. The float is buoyant enough to create resistance which sets the hook on its own. With tiny fresh water floats and fish that can reach 10lb, this is not the case.
Once hooked, mullet will bolt fast for structure, like boats, ropes and all kinds of snags, so you need to be quite firm to play these fish in without trouble.
It’s also important to avoid making loud noises and approach the fish slowly so as not to spook them if you’re fishing closer in. They can see everything and are easily spooked. You want them to be feeding and unaware.
Using ground bait can help to get the mullet confident feeding. Traditionally, minced oily fish, finely chopped worms or fish guts would be used. Bread is more readily available and can be consumed by the angler to pass the time… It’s a good idea to feed the fish gradually, rather than in one big go, otherwise your bait isn’t going to seem particularly precious surrounded by an abundance of free food.
Mullet species ID: Thick lipped vs Thin lipped vs Golden Grey
There are three types of true mullet in British waters (the red mullet is not related to them, despite its confusing name). You have the thick-lipped mullet, the thin-lipped mullet and the golden mullet, also referred to as golden grey mullet. The difference between these species is slight but still fairly obvious – the thickness of the lips and a golden marking make each species conveniently named for identification. The diameter of the lips on a thin lipped mullet is less than half the diameter of its eye, whereas on a thick lipped it is considerably thicker than this. The easier ID method is that if you find yourself wanting to kiss it, it’s a thick lipped mullet. If it’s golden its golden. If you don’t want to kiss it it’s thin lipped. Most mullet caught in the UK are the thick lipped variety, and these grow larger (<10lb) than the other two species.
From above, they look very similar to bass and are often mistaken for them. Sometimes bass and mullet will even shoal together, making it even harder to tell the two apart.
Mullet feed on algae, sucking up the slime that covers harbour walls and the undersides of neglected boats, as well as eating actual soil. Most of what these fish eat isn’t even digestible, but their exceptionally long intestine’s and specialised digestive system allows them to eat what no other fish can.
Mullet live for a long time and a 40cm fish will be at least 8 years old. The different species spawn at different times of year, with Thick Lipped spawning in Spring and think-lipped in Autumn.
Best Bait for Mullet Fishing
Bread, worms, maggots or even pasty crust in the west country can be used as bait. They are sort of like filter feeders and so their mouths are used quite differently from those of other fish species. The digestive system of these fish is very long for trying to get whatever nutrients they can from the mud and algae they feed on. It’s impressive that a fish so magnificent to look at is sustained on such a restricted and dismal diet. They are the vegans of the sea.
Given all this, you’re lucky to even get a kiss from a mullet, let alone a hook up, without the right gear. However, their coyness can be overcome with the use of extremely small hooks, such as size 16 hooks, with very light weight leaders of about 5lb. You then rig up some white bread in such a way that you cover the hook entirely, and proceed to feed the mullet with tiny bits of bread, until one of the fish takes the bread with the hook in it. Younger mullet are much less cautious and far easier to catch than older fish, and if you catch mullet in a feeding mood, they aren’t necessarily challenging to hook if you have the correct tackle and approach. Mullet do seem to be able to learn when food will be available, if there is a sewage outflow at a certain time or a time of day when a restaurant routinely discards food waste into the water, mullet will congregate at that time. For this reason, some hardcore anglers have taken to feeding mullet routinely over a week before their fishing session. This is salt water fishing for fresh water anglers, really!
It’s important to fish with a landing net for mullet, because hooks are likely to pull if you bully the fish too much.
Mullet fishing season
The peak season for catching mullet is May to October. They are more common off sandy beaches towards the end of summer when the water is at its warmest.
Catching Red Mullet
Red mullet are not actually very closely related to the mullet at all, so their name is quite misleading. They can be caught in mid to late summer over sandy ground and areas with light weed or weed close to clean ground. These fish are also found in the Mediterranean and around the coastline of North Africa.