Thin-lipped mullet, an estuary-loving fish, fight like crazy on light gear and are definitely proud contenders for the hardest fighting sea species. They are certainly on a par with carp and barbel, with the added attraction of tail-walking scraps and acrobatic leaps!
Mullet are abundant in summer, especially in estuaries and harbours, where they can be seen in their hundreds, mooching around, cropping tiny organisms and filamentous algae on the bed and harbour walls. They are also tolerant of freshwater, and will travel many miles upriver searching out tasty treats.
Thin-lipped mullet are notoriously tricky to catch and, unlike their slightly larger thick-lipped cousins, ignore any offerings presented to them, such as flake, maggots or static sea baits.
They can often be very spooky, too, and shy away from any suspicious rigs that pass by their rubbery lips.
The winning tactic for some heart-racing mullet action is to use a spinner tipped with a smallish harbour ragworm. It sounds a bit of a strange method considering their usual grazing diet, but they’ll happily follow these slowly retrieved baited spoons, sometimes in pods of half a dozen individuals.
But take the little ragworm off and they’ll show no interest at all – odd little fellows, really!
Read on for top tips by Angler’s Mail magazine contributor Matt Sparkes, with great pictures by our magazine’s ace photographer Roy Westwood…
1. Take a quick stroll along any southern tidal river, harbour or muddy estuaries and you’ll see thin-lipped mullet, often in vast shoals. These spirited scrappers shun crude sea rigs and standard baits, but a spinner tipped with a harbour ragworm is the key to success.
2. Saltwater fishing isn’t always as peaceful as a day spent on a tranquil lake, so be prepared to share your session with all manner of other water lovers, from boats and swimmers to jet skis! The prime thin-lipped mullet time is on a rising tide, when vast shoals can appear suddenly, swimming shoulder to shoulder as they harvest algae and tiny marine life.
Thick-lipped mullet tend to feed in the surface layers and can be tempted with bread baits. They don’t usually venture as far upriver, but thin-lips migrate these tidal stretches in their droves, and can’t resist a baited spinner whirring past their noses.
3. Thin-lipped mullet may look lethargic as they mooch around estuaries and harbour walls, but these marine beauties kick up several gears when you hook one, making run after blistering run. Thin-lips hate landing nets, too, and have a habit of leaping clear out of them just when you think they’re beaten! Take care when you unhook them as they have spiny dorsal fins, pelvic fins and gill plates, and these can inflict painful puncture wounds. Scales are shed easily, too, so use a wet cloth and a small unhooking mat to prevent excess scale loss.
4. Medium-sized spinners make the best thin-lip lures. I’ve experimented with real cheap versions but they tend to be useless, refusing to rotate, especially on very slow retrieves. Spend those extra pennies and go for high-end models such as Mepps. Trying to present a harbour ragworm on a treble hook doesn’t work, so they need to be removed using pliers or wire cutters. I’ve yet to find a single winning colour of lure, so take a selection. Silver scores well in clear water and on sunny days, while orange or black are effective on overcast days or in coloured water.
5. I’ve experimented with different lines between spinner and hook, but most kink or twist. Pike wire is definitely the way to go, being mega-strong, anti-twist or kink and because it won’t wrap around the spinner body so often. Wire crimps enable a neat, tangle-free finish, and hooks need to be strong enough to deal with rocket propelled mullet, in sizes 4 or 6. A wide gape Teflon carp hook is perfectly adequate.
6. Use around 2.5 in. of wire, but experiment with differing lengths to see which works best on the day. Retrieves that are met with plenty of nips but no positive takes often call for a rig with more wire, sometimes up to 4.5 in. Prepare a good selection to cover all options. The speed of the retrieve can also be varied to see what attracts the most interest. Sometimes they want it quick, just under the surface, while at other times it can pay to count the rig down a few feet and reel in very slowly.
7. A 3-4 in. harbour ragworm is the ultimate bait for trailing behind a whirring spinner blade. Thread half of it up the wire trace, leaving an inch or two free to wiggle enticingly on the retrieve. You’d think imitation rubber worms would work, but they are nowhere near so effective as the real McCoy – it must be those irresistible scent trails!
The most annoying aspect of mulleting is running out of bait, so make sure you take plenty. A dozen or so casts soon renders baits limp, squashy and lifeless, so regular changes ensure efficiency. It’s not unusual to get through 50 or 60 worms in a session, which will set you back around £6. Ragworm and hot sunny days don’t mix – they’ll snuff it in no time and begin to break down into a useless mush. Keep them out of direct sunlight and cool in an insulated cool bag, along with a couple of freezer blocks.
8. Hook your first thin-lipped mullet and you’ll be thirsty for more – man do they scrap! Pound for pound they fight harder than any species, both fresh and saltwater, in the British Isles. The English bonefish moniker is certainly justified. You can’t beat a through-actioned Avon rod. A medium-sized reel loaded with 10-15 lb braid completes the combo. Braid is far superior to mono for mulleting, as it allows you to feel every nip and pluck as groups of fish follow the lure, mouthing the worm. Be prepared for last minute takes right under the rod tip as the following mullet see the tasty mouthful disappearing. A slightly slackened clutch helps prevent lost fish at such close quarters.
9. Get the formula right and you can expect bumper hauls of thin-lipped mullet. It can be arm-aching stuff, but definitely worth it! Treat your catches with care. These handsome marine fish can thrash around on the bank, and a few shed scales are inevitable. Calm them down by covering their head with a damp towel and nurse them carefully in the water before releasing them. Don’t bother taking mullet home for the table – they have a muddy taste and it’s far more rewarding seeing them swim away to join their shoal mates.
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