Mullet Fishing 2020: Review

 


 
So, England was in lockdown for 28 days from 05/11/20, and by no stretch of the imagination can I really justify my travel, being neither 'necessary' nor 'local', so that was it for 2020. There may have been a slim chance of a December fish, but...

The highs and lows of 2020     (in no particular order)...

 

 
  • This has been a distinctly odd season, blighted somewhat by COVID, and by the unfathomable actions of the Public At Large, but perhaps even more so, by my unusual lack of enthusiasm, which may have arisen as a result of getting into the habit of finding stuff to do at home, and often, just avoiding the unappealing weather. That said, there have been other factors, described below...

  • The unexpected effects of COVID #1 - folks who probably never ventured to the river previously, ever, seemed intent on drowning themselves and their family members with the aid of newly-purchased paddle boards.

  • The unexpected effects of COVID #2 - the unanticipated appearance of so many paddle-boarders, kayakers and other 'new' river-users resulted in vastly-increased demands upon parking and bankside space, so a number of boatyards and homeowners totally spat the dummy. Signs were erected, cones were placed, parking was prohibited, and a few irate householders shouted and raved like maniacs, confronted by the sight of unfamiliar parked vehicles and men with fishing rods...

  • The unexpected effects of COVID #3 - maybe not entirely unexpected, in this instance, but the numbers of visitors on most days was in keeping with something between weekends and bank holidays, and it was often difficult to find a spot away from the disturbance caused by their activities. Even when some modicum of separation was achieved, it was usually not long before there would be some unwelcome and unnecessary encroachment, very much to the detriment of any fishing opportunities.

  • The unexpected effects of COVID #4 - there was an apparent surge in angling effort, quite concerted in some instances, and inevitably, some marina staff and owners of riverside businesses and homes were not at all happy. A degree of sensitivity to the effects of our often-unwelcome presence is key, and although some individuals who asked anglers to leave had clearly exceeded their authority, this can usually be avoided if some common sense is applied.

  • To summarise the short-term and / or lasting effects, there were three venues where future parking is likely to be contentious or prohibited, three more venues where fishing is now no longer allowed, and two others where anglers have been asked to leave, now requiring careful situation handling in future.

  • The unlisted, but most significant effect of the above, for me, was that I became totally p*ssed off with it all, fairly early on in the season, and chose to fish elsewhere (where, for the most part, there were very few issues, other than the over-presence of 'holidaying' FCPs - future-COVID patients).

  • All that said, the one thing that I've really missed most was the planned visit to fish with Phil in Devon, usually the highlight of the season; really hoping that normal service can be resumed in 2021.

  • On a much more positive note, I've enjoyed some great days out with KeithG, and sometimes, more often than not, we've even caught a few fish, including one particularly memorable occasion in August. Having lost a few on the day (see below), I finally put something chunky in the net, at 6lb 1oz; Keith came over to join me, and for a while, not much happened. Just as it was all starting to look a bit unlikely, he was into a strong fish that gave him an impressive amount of grief before wallowing - totally knackered - in the net - a superb 5lb 8oz - not a bad day in the salt mines, for both of us.

  • To get another big 'negative' out of the way, the Southern IFCA netting / MCRS review has not yielded the conservation-led measures that were hoped for; the draft proposals contain a few welcome improvements (e.g. a netting ban in key areas of some - but not all - southern river estuaries), but on the whole, they do very little to increase the protection of our mullet populations, and fail to introduce the science-indicated 47cm MCRS that is badly needed, for all three species.

  • I was unable to exceed the 2019 catch total, for a number of reasons already described; I don't think that any shortage of fish being present was a factor, on this occasion.

  • Again on a very welcome positive note, in terms of the larger fish, this has been a fairly typical year. The best specimens were two 'sixes', only seven days apart, and from two different counties, in late August; the first was 6lb 0oz, on 20/08/20, and the next, the 6lb 1oz mentioned above, on 27/08/20 - and both were from new venues.

  • In addition, there were three 'fives' - 5lb 2oz on 16/07/20, a 5lb 8oz on 31/07/20, and the third, 5lb 0oz on 09/10/20. The last two of these fish also came from new venues, which was highly encouraging.

  • I was not able to start catching mullet earlier in the year than in 2019, due entirely to the March / April / early May COVID lockdown. The first day when fishing was allowed was 13/05/20, and I was fortunate and more than pleased to land a lively 2/06 thicklip on that day.

  • The final productive session was also on the 13th, this time on 13/10/20, and most bizarrely, ending with a fish of exactly the same weight as the first session, at 2/06. I have to say, I wouldn't have thought that this would be the last fish, at the time; it was an ideal day, for the time of year, the weather was great, and a couple of fish were landed. It was just the fall of the dice that there was then some weather-dodging to be done, and sessions later than that date were sadly unproductive.

  • The ability to be selective about trip scheduling was definitely not the positive factor that it had been in past seasons, again due to COVID, and for the specific reasons described above.

  • There were still some very memorable fishing days to be enjoyed, particularly - but not exclusively - the capture of the better fish described above.

  • Carried forward again this year, and not exactly an important statistic, but I still haven't landed a 4lb+ mullet on the 1st nor the 28th day of any month, in any year, from 2011.

  • On the other hand, another pointless 'stat' was addressed - of all the possible whole-ounce weights from 1lb to 5lbs, I had never caught a fish of 4lbs 13oz, and just like buses.... this year I caught two of these, the first on 03/08/20, and the second on 03/10/20.

  • The overall 'spread' of fish weights, i.e. the proportion in each weight band, was less satisfactory than in recent years. There was a very distinct 66% reduction in the number of 4-5 lb fish, but the number of 2-3lb fish increased by a factor of 50%, this shift being almost entirely due to venue choices; I regularly visited some highly-enjoyable locations which tend to produce fish of a smaller average size. The 3-4lb band remained about the same as usual, as did the numbers of 5 and 6lb fish.

  • October started off quite well, with a number of fish landed, despite some cold early starts, and these included a powerful and determined 5lb 0oz. The cold air temperatures and high winds, or high winds plus rain, made further trips distinctly unattractive, and on the days when I did venture out, there was an ominous scarcity of 'mullet sign'. As usual at this time of year, every time the float went, the strike was met with resistance, and I was able to haul in a succession of poxy 2~ or 3lb+ bass...

  • There were several periods where there was a halt in proceedings due to prolonged spells of unfavourable forecasts, whether wind, most commonly, or rain and wind in combination. There were too many days where the wind was expected to be 40, 50, 60+ mph, and personally, I tend to lose a big slice of enthusiasm when the speeds are in the upper teens.

  • Due to various factors, there were 17 fewer trips this year than in 2019, 44 fewer than 2018, and 57 fewer than 2017. I'm seeing a bit of a worrying trend here...

  • As a positive, there was a consequent reduction in mileage, travelling only 75% of the 2019 distance, and only 55% of the 2018 figure.

  • My best continuous 'run' of mullet landed without a lost fish was ten, in July and early August.

  • There was one excruciatingly miserable day in August when I managed to lose four fish, each time trying to avoid a structure, and either failing to do so, or incurring a hook pull; at least I finally managed to land one, but that didn't really take the sting out of it.

  • Then there was a flash of deja vu... There was one excruciatingly miserable day in August when I managed to lose four fish... this time, very fast bites, and they just kept falling off, extremely undramatically. Just as before, I was accompanied by the always-helpful Percy Vere, and I finally landed one - this time, 6lb 1oz, a proper 'band aid' on the day's proceedings. Whilst (more than) very pleased with that, the four lost fish was again a weight on my mind for several days (meaning 'still, now, in December...').

  • Spent time fishing several new venues in 2020, four of which produced a good few mullet - seventeen in total - with three of these locations producing four quality fish of 5lb 0oz, 5lb 8oz, 6lb 0oz, and 6lb 1oz.

  • Success eluded me at three other new venues fished - to be continued, except for the very promising one that is now fenced off and suddenly full of pontoons and boats...

  • The final trip looks like being 04/11/20, or 'L2-1'; sadly, this ended without a mullet, with three largish bass and a new 'no fishing' sign providing the day's most intense irritation.

  • Achieved only some of the other objectives set:

  • This was the fifth-best 'top 5' and the sixth-best 'top 10' weight of the last ten years, since and including 2011.

  • The 6lb 1oz now (just) features in the 'all years' top 10; reviewing my stats, there have still been no 6lb fish landed earlier than August.

  • The average weight per mullet was slightly down on 2019, largely due to fishing at venues where the size of fish is generally smaller, as mentioned above, but there was still an improvement over 2018, 2017 and 2016.

  • The proportion of successful trips was very much in keeping with the previous two years, marginally higher than 2019, and slightly down on 2018; this further suggests that a more determined effort on my part might have achieved a much (?) higher total of mullet landed this year.

  • The number and percentage of totally 'blank' sessions was slightly reduced over 2019, always a very welcome statistic to achieve.

  • The average number of mullet landed per successful trip showed a small reduction over each of the previous two years.

  • I was unable to match past years' monthly catch figures, with numbers significantly reduced in nearly all months. The exceptions were June and September; the latter produced the best total for that month, so far; this was largely due to the fact that I became irritated with my lack of determination and made a truly concerted effort to pull my finger out...

  • A poorer percentage of hooked mullet were landed than in the preceding seasons, with 2020 featuring in the bottom three entries, for this particular statistic. August was a particularly poor month, with marginally more fish lost than landed, and more in that one month than in all of the others put together. This also equalled the highest ever monthly lost fish total, from October 2017; pretty poor performance, although often, if they're going to fall off, they just do.

  • There were five trips where there was the seemingly very long drive home to be endured after losing the only fish of the day, somehow harder to swallow than a day without a hookup, or even a single bite.

  • I was again engaged in a number of titanic struggles, most of which (surprisingly, even unbelievably) ended well. During one trip, sadly, a particularly large mullet spat the hook after a few minutes... and it was almost certainly an immense fish, which looked like two large fish in tandem... Later, a very good fish of 4lb 13oz did little to take the sting out of it, although I was more than relieved to have that one on the bank.

  • There were thankfully no occasions again this year where fish became snagged and a rescue mission with the inevitable dunking was called for... but read on...

  • Another real 'lowlight' came about while I was mixing some groundbait, and the rod leapt into the channel, continuing on its rapid journey away from the bank, with a real purpose... Thankfully, I was able to react fairly quickly and ditched most of the clothes, dropping my belt pouch into the murky water in the process, complete with all the tackle goodies contained therein. Managed to get into the (quite) cold water without further accident, and struck out after the rod, which by now had taken a left turn and was continuing down the channel. It soon became snagged in some bladderwrack which was breaking surface in the margins, and I was able to catch up with it, only to find, disappointingly, a bass still attached. After a real struggle trying to get back onto the bank, stepping on a submerged rotting hawthorn branch in the process, and collecting the obligatory number of slime and grot-covered thorns in my foot, I went about the task of finding the tackle pouch. That took some time, and then another age passed, removing and drying the tackle items. 'Best' dunking, so far, in the last 10 years? (note the creative use of the word 'best'...) - wasn't at all thrilled, in the slightest, not least because of the poxy bass...

  • Of the 28 locations visited, compared to 56 in 2019, 13 were productive; there were 58 venues previously fished that remained untried in 2020.

  • Caught no thinlips in 2020, although there were a few near misses, the best chance being a hook pull after ten seconds or so. New opportunities and methods were identified (thanks, DaveC), with fair numbers of fish feeding at certain points in the tide - these deserve some much more determined effort expended, next year.

  • Continued again to expand upon knowledge of the productive states of the tide that can be fished, particularly at a couple of existing venues, which has led to greater flexibility during the visits to those locations, and increased catches.

  • Surprisingly, there were hardly any problems with dog owners this year - who probably didn't get a look-in, with all the other counter-productive activities going on.

  • Managed to fall over spectacularly, a couple of times, usually in mud or water, most memorably (for all the wrong reasons) during one cold 05:30 session in October; I realised I was stuck, started to fall, staggered seven times, trying to regain my balance, in thigh deep water, and ended up with a wader full of pretty cold water, for my troubles.

  • Still haven't revisited all of the targeted venues - to be continued in 2021.

  • The numbers of thinlips in the river seem to be reduced again, although there were plenty at other locations that I visited. There are again a couple of venues where I've seen some quite large specimens, plus ridiculous numbers of scrapes, and these seem to offer some excellent future opportunities.

  • Again, I didn't actively target golden-greys in the way that I had planned, and only caught one this year, albeit a veritable 'missile', even though it weighed in at a modest 2lb 8oz. On one occasion, I was captivated by the sight of one of these, which swam around my feet for a while, in shallow water, as though I wasn't there.

  • As expected, the whole season was much the poorer without the welcome spectacle of Boris (the swan, now sadly departed) getting totally medieval upon the other encroaching wildlife.

  • All mullet were returned safely, a statistic of prime importance that I will want very much want to see repeated again in future years.

  • All things considered, a very frustrating year, with far too many irritations, and in terms of results, somewhere squarely in the middle of the tabulated season statistics for the least ten years. And on top of that, there was that blasted 'virus-thing'... Hoping for better in 2021, and I shall be taking steps and making the extra effort required to ensure that it will be a more memorable and productive season that this has been.


 
  Other Notes

As in previous years, I've again relied upon two rods (but only one at a time); the Drennan Series 7 13' Power Carp Waggler continues to be favourite for most occasions, and I've used the Drennan Series 7 12' Avon / Quiver for sessions where legering is an option or a necessity. I've carried an 'emergency rod' in case of a breakage, and this, with dual tip sections, doubles as either a float~ or leger rod. Most often, it's been deployed as a second leger rod on the days when that seemed to be a good way to go.

I've pretty much used just the one reel on the float rod this time out, the Shimano Sahara 3000S-R. Despite more than a few dunkings and the occasional full-on mudbath, this has provided excellent service. I've continued to help it along this year with the silicon-based lubricant first employed during 2019.

The 'Vass-Tex' waders have continued to be very reliable, although they started to need a few repairs towards the end of the season, probably caused by more time spent on beaches with sharp stones and other objects, plus rough, barnacle-encrusted rocks - I've now replaced them with a new pair, the same item again.

I've continued to use the Dinsmores 24" triangular landing net head, which has been more than adequate to deal with the stamp of fish being caught, including the larger specimens. The 3m fibreglass NGT twist-lock telescopic replacement handle has proven to be far better than expected, although I've added two modifications. To aid with its post-use compression, I've wound and glued some cord around the grip points by the telescopic joints, and I've drilled the butt-end and inserted a drain plug, to help with the expulsion of muddy and gritty water.

I've added a second landing net handle, for venues where there are high banks or wide expanses of soft mud to navigate - this one is 5 metres, and has seen a lot more use than I had anticipated. Despite its extra length, it is easier to deploy than I would have expected, and has proven to be a very valuable addition to the regular load-out.

For the sloping pebble beaches where my lightweight mini-tripod tends to struggle a bit, I knocked up a prototype 'groyne clamp' during the April lockdown, having to guess the best size, without an actual measurement to work from. Thankfully, this worked out very well and proved surprisingly effective, such that a modified 'v2' hasn't been necessary.

To protect the pre-weighted peacock wagglers and gull quills against impact damage, I've started adding heatshrink tubing, of the sort typically used by electricians, to the base of each float. This has proven to be particularly effective, and the tubing can be obtained in a variety of dimensions and colours (including clear), the diameter typically decreasing by a factor of 2 when heat is applied. The desired effect can be accomplished by pouring boiling water over the assembly.

The zip sliders on the Series 7 rod case have finally succumbed to many years' wear and exposure to salt, so I replaced those early in the season with a pair culled from some luggage; these are made from a more robust alloy, and seem distinctly less prone to the jaws spreading.

To highlight another distinct positive for the year, Phil Watters has continued to enjoy some regular successes, starting early, with several fish in January and February, which completed twelve successive months with mullet landed. Sadly, Covid put an end to his continuous run of successes, but there have been plenty of good 3lb fish and a few excellent 4s, post-lockdown (L#1), the best being a superb pair of 4lb 10oz fish, one on 22/08/20, and the second on 25/10/20.


Now, it just remains to give the gear the well-deserved annual strip-down and deep clean, and then put it aside, and maybe start plotting a more concerted campaign for next year. Today, it feels like it's a very long way till the final weeks of next March, 2021...



 
Last updated 13.02.21