Primarily, as already stated, they have terrific fighting qualities that in my opinion are not equalled by any coarse fish and secondly, they can be caught on conventional coarse tactics avoiding the cost of spending out on sea tackle.
Mullet often come close inshore, particularly in Summer when they often can be seen around piers and harbour walls. They also work their way up many estuaries and are often found fairly high up the river mixing with ordinary coarse fish like roach and dace. Many coarse anglers fish for them when they are on the family holiday to the coast.
I started fishing for grey mullet when I went on family holidays to the coast. Falmouth in Cornwall was my fathers favourite venue. From a very early age I would go there for a holiday and nearly always have a few days fishing off the rocks for wrasse. Although I caught some nice fish I did not like sea fishing as I found the tackle very heavy. I much preferred coarse fishing as the tackle was so much lighter and easier for a young boy to use. When I was 13 years old, we again returned to Falmouth but this time my father told me to pack my coarse tackle. I was pleased and thought that my dad had found a lake or river where we could fish for coarse fish.
Two days after arriving, father got me up at 5 a.m. to go fishing. He had already prepared breakfast and I could see that he had also prepared mashed bread groundbait and wet bread cubes. We loaded the car with our coarse tackle but did not head inland. Instead, we travelled towards nearby Swanpool which is on the coast. As we started to travel to the beach I noticed a lake of over 4 acres on our left-hand side. We travelled down the road stopping near the beech. At this point the lake was only separated from the sea by the beach and the road. The3 tide was in and we moved onto the lake.
Father set up on one side of a flowing inlet whilst I fished directly opposite him on the other side of the same inlet. The water appeared to be coming in from the sea but I dismissed the idea that this was a sea water inlet as father had already set up with coarse tackle. He was trotting a wet bread cube out into the lake, fishing about 6ft deep. I quickly followed, setting up my 10ft 6in cane float rod with a centre pin reel. The float had a long cork body on a cane stem. It was rather like a long slim Avon float but we called them "pencil floats". The shot was bulked about 3ft from the size 8 hook with a few dropper shots between the hook and bulk shot. I plumbed up to find a consistent depth of just over 6ft under the rod top, until about 4 rod lengths out where it dropped off. I decided to use a nice piece of bread flake as hook bait. In went my mashed bread groundbait and then I started to trot the bread flake out into the lake. It was rather like trotting from a punt in traditional Thames style with the boat moored across the stream. All I did was lower the bait in and slowly let line out as the float moved out. That made it easy pleasant fishing, far better than using that heavy sea tackle.
After a dozen trots, I saw a swirl to the side of my swim and knew that there were fish in the area. Still no bites, so I cast my gear into the crease between the inflow and lake water. I had a bite, struck and missed it. I told my father and recast to the same spot. This time I did not miss the bite. As I struck, the fish shot off and I found myself giving a lot of line. This was, I thought, a very big fish - far bigger than any tench or chub that I had ever caught. I knew my tackle was good and took my time playing the fish but it did not appear to be tiring. Then father appeared with his landing net to give moral support. He said that I had been playing the fish for over 10 minutes and to take my time as I had obviously hooked a very big one. I continued to play it but every time I got it in to within a rod length it would shoot off out again. After 20 minutes my arm was aching and I was beginning to have doubts about my ability to land it. Then we saw it, and to quote Victor Meldrew, I said "I just do not believe it!". It was a silver fish that appeared to weigh about three pounds. A few minutes later we landed it and a lovely old Cornish man said it was a grey mullet. Father weighed it for me at 2lb 4oz and was obviously proud that I had played it so well. We fished on catching a few more smaller mullet before returning home.
I fished that lake as often as I could and from then on I always regarded grey mullet as my holiday species. That inlet was in fact the sea flowing in on the tide and obviously the mullet were feeding on whatever the sea bought in. However that was not the only place that I caught mullet from. I caught them all round the lakes, even in the lovely tenchy looking swims in the reeds. I only ever caught thick-lipped grey mullet from that lake along with the odd flat fish and eel that I caught on rag worm. I never did catch a coarse fish.
Unfortunately, several years later, some minerals leaked into the water resulting in a giant fish kill. There was a picture in the "Angling Times" that told the whole story. It was just one large mass of dead mullet.
I returned on a holiday to Falmouth some 28 years later for a holiday with my wife, Virginia. Naturally I expected the lake to be fully recovered. I found the lake was now used for recreational use with rowing boats on it. The inlet had a weir fitted on it and a grill fitted to stop any sea fish from entering. Locals told me it never did recover and only eels with a few mullet were left in the water. I did give it a try and never had a bite.
The years, up until I was in my early twenties, were taken up studying to get my qualifications and getting established. In my mid twenties, I was regularly fishing the Royalty Fishery on the Hampshire Avon at Christchurch. I always had a weeks fishing holiday with my friends, barbel fishing on the Royalty. Our results were good and I regularly bagged up with good bags of barbel on trotted luncheon meat. One day, I tried a few casts with bread flake to try to catch some big roach. The result was a nice two pound plus grey mullet. As I unhooked it, a local passed by and told me that downstream at Christchurch Harbour there plenty of grey mullet.
That night Lee Kitchen and I booked up a boat from Chub Keynes for the following day. I had had five days good barbel fishing and looked forward to the change. When we arrived we were not disappointed. The boat was flat bottomed and of a sensible size. We used our powerful barbel trotting gear, with centre pins loaded with 5lb b.s. line. As we rowed down the river I could see fish in a reed fringed bay. We pulled into the bay and could clearly see that they were grey mullet. The boat was moored with its back to the reeds. I fed the swim with mashed bread and float-fished over the feed with a waggler. The float was locked in position by the bulk shot, with only a number 4 shot about 1ft from the size 8 hook that was baited with a piece of flake. We were only fishing a couple of rod lengths out in about 3ft of water. At first there was no sign of fish then after about half an hour, we could see swirls as the mullet moved into the swim. Shortly after I had a bite and struck into a hard fighting mullet. I soon realised that it was not lack of experience or weak tackle that caused the problems when I first caught mullet in Cornwall. This fish was fighting harder than the barbel that I had had earlier in the week to over ten pounds. Lee could not believe the fight that I had out of that 3lb 7oz mullet. Later Lee caught mullet and was surprised at the fight. He commented that there fighting abilities were so much better than a barbel.
We regularly took time off from barbel fishing to fish for grey mullet. We caught them in the slacks using waggler tactics and trotting the current with both bread and maggots. In fact, any relatively sensitive coarse tactic worked, even the dreaded block feeder produced some nice mullet. However on that fishery float fished bread appeared to be the best approach. I, in fact, had thick lipped grey mullet up to 51b 2oz on the float but I am told that the there have been, in recent years, the odd double figured mullet caught.
This is a very mixed fishery. At times we would alternate between sea fish and coarse fish out of the same swim. The most remarkable catch was by Doug Silvester when he trotted a swim on the down tide. He started off with a near 21b roach - followed by a 41b plus mullet, then another roach followed by another mullet, then a 21b plus specimen roach followed by yet another mullet. As he had alternate species from cast to cast, I am convinced these two species were swimming side by side.
One day I fished another swim near the bottom of the fishery. It was less than 200 yards from the open sea. I could clearly see the sea. That day, I had flounders, sea trout, roach, dace, crabs, grey mullet, bream and bass out of the same swim.
So far, I have talked about thick lipped grey mullet, but there is another very similar species called the thin lipped grey mullet. These are normally much smaller and generally caught on meat or fish baits. I believe that they are best caught spinning with a baited spoon. A11 this is, is a spinner with a piece of rag worm on one of the trebles. However it appears to work much better than any conventional tactics for thin lipped grey mullet. At Christchurch I have seen this method produced some good bags of the thin lipped mullet.
However when we tried it, things went very wrong. There were four of us fishing Christchuch Harbour in two boats. We were using these baited spoons casting out into the main channel on an up tide. We could see the mullet passing through and we were all catching steadily, with thin lips to about 2.5lb. They were averaging about 1.5lb and much smaller than the thick lipped. We could see them jump as if a pike was after them but thought that it must be big bass preying on the smaller fish. Then Bob in the front boat locked into a big fish which we all thought was either a big mullet or near double figured bass. He played this fish on 81b line for over three quarters of an hour. Then we saw the triangular fin of what appeared to be a shark. We moved down to hang on to the side of the other boat to see if we could help. We then all got a good view of what appeared to be a 4 to 5ft shark. Fortunately the trace went after we had got that clear view. None of us new how to handle a shark or tope of this size and I feared for a serious injury if we landed it. I suspect that our so-called shark was in fact a big tope.
More recently I have been more of an opportunist mullet angler and fished for them on family holidays to the coast. My tackle consists of a multi-jointed 11ft rod with a test curve of about a pound, with a fixed spool reel with a variety of spools. I have a small tackle box that holds a variety of wagglers, trotting floats, leads, spinners, shot and hooks. Even my landing net handle is a very short telescopic. The family Olympus mju camera could not be smaller and fits in to my top pocket. I have had plenty of pictures published using this camera so there is no doubt about the quality of photographs obtained with it.
Last year, I spent a family holiday in Swanage in Dorset and took this tackle to nearby Wareham. I fished on the free section of the River Frome below Wareham Bridge. It is tidal here holding a mixture of sea, game and coarse fish. I parked in the car park by the bridge on the banks of the river. The tide was coming in and I could see mullet moving on the tide. I immediately walked across the road to the Purbeck Angling Centre to buy some rag worm. Armed with the rag worm and my travelling tackle, I walked over the bridge and down the far bank. I started spinning with a mepps spoon with a piece of rag worm on one hook. I worked downstream fishing at a range of depths. On the third swim that I fished, I had a take in mid water that nearly took the rod out of my hands. The fish gave a good spirited fight but was no match for the tackle. As it came in I realised that it was a good thin lipped grey mullet and a personal best for the species. It was weighed as a fraction under 41b and I was delighted. Naturally I continued to fish on and had another two smaller thin lipped mullet from other swims. I had only paid for two hours parking and got back in time. Considering the time spent getting my bait, walking to and back from the swims, I doubt if I had actually fished for more than 1 1/2 hours.
Later that week, we toured a lot of the Dorset coast up into Devon. I deliberately looked into every harbour and estuary trying to search out more mullet fishing for the future. I even saw a few anglers catching them. I hope next year to return with my tackle to exploit the knowledge that I gained.
There is no doubt that mullet have a lot to offer the coarse angler. I only wished that I lived closer to the coast and had more time to devote to this battling fish. They are high on the list when I eventually retire.