Mullet Mayhem - Fly Fishing for Mullet.
Virgin Atlantic VS5 and 4hrs into the flight I am suffering all the symptoms of travelling monkey class. But a bad movie later (steer well clear of Mission Impossible 2!) and some food lining the stomach I begin to think towards my destination. A five year conquest, dream, call it what you will, is about to be forfilled. I am going Bonefishing in Islamorada.
That's another story, which I hope to tell, but it got me thinking. You see just 45 minutes away from my front door in Exmoor I have connected with a fish that is found in many estuaries, harbours and tidal rivers throughout the U.K. It has become nicknamed "The English Bonefish" and it is of course non other than a thick lipped Mullet. Strikingly beautiful with a rudder like tail this shy beast provides the open minded fly fisher with a challenge which few fish, other than possibly Salmon, can match.
Tackle needs to be strong, yet delicate. With many new rods on the racks providing both these qualities, your choice should be in the 9 - 10ft region with a line rating of 4 - 6. Often the flies used for Mullet are small, so presentation is the key. Heavier lines are easier to cast and go a long way. Even so, they land heavily and this is a side effect that Mullet will not tolerate. Stealth, patience and the will to succeed will all go in the Mullet fly fishers favour, but the correct tackle is a must. As with all Saltwater Fly Fishing (in fact any fishing!) there is room for experimentation but so far my own experience has shown that floating lines are the order of the day. That said, I am fishing tidal rivers. No doubt these fish can be caught in harbours and estuaries with sunk line tactics. I am convinced by the qualities of flurocarbon. Many scorn it, some swear by it, I believe it is a positive benefit when going after these masters of cunning. This line and leader set up should be matched to a reasonable quality disc drag reel ( see reels article ). Furious fighters I have experienced 60yd runs and scraps of 15 minutes. The speed of these fish is incredible, and while I may hand line Trout, I would never attempt this with a Mullet. Use the reel and make sure the drag is set so the fish can run.
This leads me to the burning question on most newcomers lips. What flies ? We have all read the articles based around nymphs and small spiders. They of course work, these fish make a meal of many inverterbrates. However, fishing these patterns to Mullet can be extremely difficult. The fact is many presentations have to be made and from my experience it is more luck than judgement when one of these fish nails the offering. Surely this species will not " nail " a fly anyway? Well, they do, but more about that later!
If you really want to catch your first Mullet, cheat! I have! Buy yourself a loaf of bread, or pick up the bakeries off cuts and head for your venue. Like I have said, look for any inland feature but especially around river mouths and harbours. Go on a high tide, as it rises, locate a shoal and get them feeding. Mullet are suckers for a nice bit of Kingsmill top grade, but have it in mind that it may take several trips, and a whole lot of bread before they really switch on to the food source. When they do, pick out a fish feeding regularly and aim a nice floating bread fly at it (pattern at the end of this article). Now I can see the point that this hardly constitutes "fly fishing". However as a sea angling friend once said to me "Mullet are bloody hard on anything!" So, if this method picks off your first fish like it did for me, you won't feel that bad. In fact after the fight I absolutely guarantee you will want to repeat the experience again and again. Even if it means a Bread Fly !!! Seeing those big rubbery lips come up to accept your offering is truly an adrenalin rush. Strike, clear your hand from the reel and hang on!
For those of you who see this as no better than fishing pellet flies to Trout you will be pleased to know there are other methods. The first which I will describe has had an impact, but never really produced as many fish as the bread fly. That said it is true Fly Fishing using a rig called a New Zealand Dropper, basically a nymph hung below a dry fly. This method allows an angler to drift tiny nymphs amongst a shoal of unsuspecting fish employing an inconspicious dry fly as the point on a long lightweight ( 4lb) leader. Connect directly to the bend of this (using a blood knot) a further piece of nylon. This will support your fishing fly, which can be any tiny nymph, gold head or killer bug style fly. The rig is then cast to a shoal and depending on the length of dropper from the hook, the small fly sinks to a given depth. The idea is that with limited casting a small morsal of food can be suspended amongst a feeding shoal of Mullet. Don't worry if they swim around it, they will 99 % of the time! But, every now and then your dry dissapears, pulled from the surface by the lips of a hungry fish. If you are vigilant and wear good polaroids you will often see this all taking place before your very eyes. Extremely exciting! Strike as you would when dry fly fishing or inducing a take using nymphs and once again, hang on !!! The secret behind this method is that it plays on the Mullets habits as a particle feeder. Sifting masses of silty sludge from the bottom and the water around I believe they fall foul of this technique through routine forced habit. The same method works very well on Trout feeding on buzzer pupa.
I spoke of Mullet nailing a fly. My final offering in terms of methods is simple, only works in certain conditions and is by far and away the most exciting. Check for a high in your tide table, preferably several together. Also be aware of weed mats on coastal shores and the food which hides beneath them. During certain tides, and this will depend very much upon location, the mats are lifted and thousands of shrimps, sea weed maggots, sand hoppers and various other goodies are washed up with the tide. On a good day the Mullet will go crazy. I target these fish with a small gold head damsel, made using a drab olive marabou. Watch a pod of fish feeding away with frequent popping sounds at the surface and aim a cast at the leader of the pack (the rest will be following like sheep!), giving a good few feet of lead. As they near your trap spring it to life with 6 inch strips and if you are lucky, get ready for a heart stopping follow and rod wrenching take. Last year I observed a lady guest of mine have the rod almost ripped from her grasp as she felt the full force of a slamming take to the method described above. That fish fought long and hard and when eventually beaten sent the scales to well over 6lbs. Again this method is nothing difficult. My belief is that it triggers a response in Mullet very much like that seen in Daphnia feeding Trout, they simply cannot help themselves.
Even so, do not expect any of these methods to work on every trip. This style of fishing is often careful reconnaissance and time spent on the water. But it is great when it works and if you can't make it to Florida, well, it has to be a good substitute. With this in mind and my experience of this European torpedo I only hope it's American cousin lives up to it's reputation. 24 hrs from writing this article, I should know!
Mullet Bread Fly: Hook : Kamasan B400 # 14 - 10 Silk : Tan Underbody : plastazote Overbody : Tan fur.
“ Great to see you and thank you for making the two days so enjoyable. It would be nice to think it won't be another year before we see you!”
Jonathan Manovani (London) - 2 Days River Trout Guiding