Activities and Objectives
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:
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.
Can they be caught on spinners? - all three species can be caught on spinners on occasion, but it is most often thinlipped mullet and golden-greys that are targeted with lures.
Can they be caught on flies? - again, all three species can be caught using flies; there are a number of specialist flies which are tied specifically for mullet. Here's a link to some popular examples, at Selectafly.
What's the 'season' for mullet? - this will depend upon where you are, and how mild the weather has been. In Cornwall and Devon, 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, although April usually sees the first captures, 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 a minute or so before totally surrendering to the net - there was absolutely 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 what seemed an age.
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 unlikely 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"
MCS Good Fish Guide 2020 - still lists grey mullet as a 'red rated' species to avoid; click here for the full guide (.pdf)
Marine Conservation Society - guide to sustainable seafood - for an explanation of the MCS ratings, click here
"More management is required to protect grey mullet. Avoid eating them as there is insufficient management to protect the species."
National Mullet Club - 2012 conservation paper
National Mullet Club - copy of presentation to Defra
GOV.UK: Monthy Commercial Landings*
* in most past instances, it is clear that grey mullet are separated from red mullet, although not so in the most recent reports
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 6lb mullet makes for a very special day, a 7lb fish is rare, and for most anglers, an 8 or 9lb mullet would be the fish of a lifetime.
For thinlips, 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):