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Mullet Fishing: Info Sheet

 
 

There are many myths and frequently-debated questions regarding the enigmatic grey mullet, often deservedly referred to by anglers as the 'grey ghost' - here are some observations and opinions which I hope you will find helpful and reliable.

 

 

    Species - there are three commonly occurring species of grey mullet in Northern European waters - thick lipped (Chelon labrosus), thin lipped (Chelon ramada, formerly Liza ramada) and golden grey (Chelon aurata, formerly Liza aurata). These belong to the family Mugilidae and are not to be confused with the red mullet, which is something else entirely, belongs to the genus Mullus, and is of absolutely no interest here. Follow this link to the National Mullet Club ID Guide which explains the differences between the 'grey mullets'.

    Uncatchable? - definitely not, but they are certainly the most challenging and frustrating (but ultimately rewarding) species that I've fished for. There are a number of factors that can tip the balance in your favour:

     
  • local knowledge - watch the local anglers and talk to them, see what baits and techniques they succeed with, what times and states of the tide they fish - also talk to dog walkers and others who frequent the location, as most will be more than generous in sharing their knowledge and observations

  • learn the venue (tidal states / water levels, differences between spring~ / neap tides, and local features - these are often best identified at low tide)

  • learn the habits of the local mullet (their behaviour during different tidal states, times of day and weather conditions, where they congregate, what baits they will take, when they feed most readily)

  • try early mornings and evenings - the mullet will often feed more readily at lower light levels (also if the water is less clear, but not excessively muddy, and not too well-lit)

  • read internet posts - many mullet anglers share their knowledge, experiences and observations on the 'net

  • stealth and presentation - keep off the skyline, be prepared to fish 'light' and use smaller hooks and floats when bites are hard to come by. Avoid alarming the fish by dropping tackle and baits right on their position, if possible (although they will sometimes respond to a splash by investigating the cause, and that can lead to quick results)

  • watch what the fish are doing and where they are, and be prepared to react and adapt - capitalise upon the opportunities that present themselves rather than sticking with a method that may not be yielding results on the day

  • try different baits - whereas bread will very often succeed, it will sometimes be totally ignored. Depending on the venue, you may succeed with fish baits (cut from mackerel, sandeel), worms (ragworm, garden worms), maggots, sweetcorn, cheese paste, macaroni etc

  • identify the species - thin-lipped mullet will usually ignore bread, although this is not so in some locations, and can be tempted with baited lures. Golden-grey mullet are reported to take 'maddies' (also called 'reds'), the small harbour ragworms, and can be captured using small spinners - I've caught a fair few of these on bread, also. Another bait that all of the three species will take is a fly - the 'Ghostbuster' is a popular example

  • patience, persistence, observation and ingenuity should all bring results, eventually

  •  

    Soft lips / soft mouths? - definitely a myth. If you hook a mullet firmly in its rubbery top lip, or in the corner of its mouth, you should have a very good chance of landing it, after some 'fireworks'. That said, I've seen pier anglers try and 'lift' mullet vertically without the aid of a net, which is almost certainly going to end badly. The real problem is that sometimes, mullet are very careful when taking the bait - it's amazing how quickly they can spit it out, also. I once watched one mouthing a 'fish' bait for over a minute, four feet under a small quill float in clear water and a very calm sea, and the float hardly moved. If I had struck, I would have probably hooked the fish on the outside of its lip, at best, and almost certainly wouldn't have landed it. Very often, mullet bites will result in a lot of small float movements before the float finally submerges - in most circumstances I would recommend waiting for a positive take.

    What state of the tide is best? - this will depend upon the venue. Mullet can be caught at some locations during all states of the tide, whereas at other places, the window of opportunity can be incredibly narrow.

    Do they feed at night? - most definitely. There are several pictures of mullet in the 'photos' pages that were caught at night / after dark, including this, at 5/12 in weight.

    Do they feed in the rain? - again, most definitely, although surface activity often seems to diminish dramatically in heavy rain. That said, this 5lb fish was hooked whilst surface feeding during a sudden torrential downpour. There are a couple of pictures of mullet being played in the rain in the 'photos' pages.

    What's the 'season' for mullet? - this will depend upon where you are, and how mild the weather has been. In Cornwall, I've seen that mullet can be caught all year round. In the south east of England, there can certainly be good opportunities even as early as March, and these typically continue into November. If the cold weather holds off, fish can still be caught into December, although it will become increasingly difficult as the colder days set in.

    How do they compare with bass? - it's difficult to generalise, as each fish hooked has the potential to behave entirely differently from others caught. A bass will often fight quite hard for a few minutes, but there comes a point when it can be brought to the net without too much fuss. They very often thrash about at the surface when put under pressure. By contrast, mullet will occasionally seem to react with a distinct lack of 'alarm' when first hooked, and then after a short while, will 'go hard' with a ferocity that's difficult to believe. The power of each run can be amazing, and even when apparently beaten, the sight of the net will send them off again, with line streaming from the reel. Alternatively, some fish will bolt like a hooked torpedo at the strike. The best comparison I can offer is two fish caught during 2011, both at the same location and same point in the tide, using the same equipment. The first was a 3lb 10oz bass, which fought hard for about two minutes before totally surrendering to the net - there was no fight left. The second fish, a few days later, was an exceptionally strong and determined 4lb 8oz mullet. When first hooked, it ran hard and deep, and each time I tried to gain line, it pulled doggedly and powerfully towards the 'cover' of the pontoons and boats. A couple of times, I thought it was tiring and brought it in close, and each time it found new reserves of power, surging back into the channel. When I eventually got it to the net, it still continued to fight with all of its remaining strength, and I finally landed it after a total of just over fifteen minutes.

    Landing net types? - I prefer a net with a very fine mesh, as this tends to inflict less fin damage, and fewer scales are dislodged. Nets with a more open mesh seem to damage the dorsal fins, tearing the soft elements between the spines, also the pectoral fins can become split. If it's possible to prevent the fish from rolling or struggling when lifting it in the net, this will further minimise fin damage.

    Catch and release? - definitely. I want to release all of the mullet that I catch - it's always rewarding, a large part of the 'buzz' even, to see them swimming away, with the possibility of a future encounter with a much larger fish.

    Please take the time to visit the following links for more information regarding the importance of mullet conservation - thank you. The Marine Conservation Society now lists the grey mullet as the number one fish which needs protection from commercial pressures, as at October 2017

          Marine Conservation Society advice   -  "Five fish you shouldn't eat"

          National Mullet Club - 2012 conservation paper

          National Mullet Club - copy of presentation to Defra

          Marine Conservation Society - guide to sustainable seafood       - mullet are rated '5' / 'Avoid'    - for an explanation of the MCS ratings, click here

              "This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed .... is the least sustainable fish to eat and should be avoided."

    We absolutely and uncompromisingly need to make sure that populations of this truly exceptional fighting fish are preserved for the benefit of the species and for the enjoyment of future generations of anglers, and put a stop to incidents such as the ones shown in this photo.

    What would be considered a good mullet? Although each one of them is totally excellent, if we purely consider size, that would very much depend upon the species and upon the location. In very general terms, and looking at the venues that I fish, a 3 or 4lb thick lip is not uncommon, although still a very nice fish. Anything over 5lb is not so common, although I would expect to catch several fish of that size each year (5lb is the NMC 'gold standard'). A 6 or 7lb mullet makes for a very special day, and for most anglers, an 8 or 9lb mullet would be the fish of a lifetime.

    For thin lips, the NMC 'silver' and 'gold' standard weights are 3lbs 10oz and 4lbs respectively, and for golden-grey mullet, 2lb 4oz and 2lb 8oz.

    What are the current records for the three UK mullet species? - last updated 12.12.19 (info checked and photos added):

      Thick-lipped - Chelon labrosus:

      lb/oz/drams

         kg

      Year

       

      Boat

      Shore

      10/01/00

      14/02/12

      4.564

      6.427

      1952

      1979

      P C Libby - Portland, Dorset

      R S Gifford - The Leys, Aberthaw, Glamorgan

      Thin-lipped - Chelon ramada:

      Boat

      Shore

      8/07/04

      8/03/08**

      3.834

      3.728

      2015

      2017

      Ollie Stenning - East Coast, Guernsey

      G Le Page, St Peter Port, Guernsey

      Golden-Grey - Chelon aurata:

      Boat

      Shore

      2/15/04

      3/08/08*

      1.340

      1.601

      2013

      2005

      Ms Naomi Coulson - Brixham Harbour, Devon

      D Woolcombe - Christchurch Harbour, Dorset

       

    * I'm almost embarrassed to say that three very large golden-grey mullet were caught by me during 2014, on 17/05/14, 03/08/14 and 11/09/14, weighing in at 3lb 8oz (not sure how many drams - my digital weighing scales don't show those), 3lb 7oz and 3lb 2oz respectively

    * A few years later, during 2016, a superb golden-grey of 3lb 12oz was caught and released by Terry Pooley, 3.5 ounces larger than the official UK record

    ** In addition, two very large shore-caught thin-lipped mullet were reported during 2012, potential record fish, at that time:

       7lb 9oz, Shaun Sillett - Oulton Broad, Lowestoft

       7lb 0oz 3dr, Steve Maliska - Nr Truro, Cornwall

       and another couple in 2017:

       8lb 1oz 7dr, Tim Cotterill - Guernsey

       7lb 14oz, Ruby Wells - Christchurch, Dorset

 

Last updated 12.12.19