Sea Fishing

Fishing for an enigma…

Chris Ponsford explains why you should consider packing a rod and try to catch an elusive mullet on your next trip to the coast…

Words and pictures: Chris Ponsford

Such an enigma, the British Bonefish, impossible to catch, the grey ghosts, hardest fighting fish on our coasts, just a few of the things that get said by us anglers. 

Harbour mullet can be very catholic in their tastes, discarded chips, bits of bread, sandwich fillings, scraps of discarded bait, in fact anything that gets thrown in or discarded.

I have been in Portugal and caught them on bamboo poles and bread at Portamiao and witnessed the same species in there thousands on the surface eating oil and somehow processing it through there digestive system.

Creek mullet, eating tiny molluscs and miniscule worm in very shallow water can be all but impossible, highly visible but so easily spooked in inches of water on a flooding tide. 

Big sandy beaches like Llangenith on the Gower Peninsula can be full of Golden Grey Mullet, feeding within inches of the shoreline on tiny invertebrates like sand shrimp and white ragworm, as can large pebble beaches like Dorsets Chesil beach, where Thick lipped Mullet roam eating a much more varied diet including fish.

The other species of interest is the Thin lipped Mullet which will be present everywhere including brackish Estuaries and tidal lakes.

Over the years I have caught, many, many mullet to over 6lbs on float tackle on bread hookbait, feeding bread mash to attract and hold them, usually on a match type rod, fixed spool reel loaded with 5lb line and using either a waggler float of 3AAA upwards or a top and bottom avon style float, bulk shotted with up to 10 bb, a size 10 or 12 hook and fresh bread flake on the hook. 

Calm conditions are needed and many bites will be missed but when you hook one, sport is electric as you will often be fishing in harbours festooned with mooring ropes, anchor chains, boats and other potential snags. Add to that holiday makers crowding round you, kids crabbing with handlines and it all gets lively.  Early morning starts are the way forward in summer before the masses wake up from their beer filled stupor of the night before. 

Open-coast mullet fishing can be fantastic, places like Kimmeridge in Dorset in summer get flies blowing eggs on the sea weed on the high water line, creating maggots which the mullet feed on in spring tides at high water, within inches of the shore, these are usually thick lipped variety and often in huge sizes.

For the record the current shore caught Thick lipped Mullet record is 14lb 2oz, the Thin lipped is 8lb 8oz and the Golden Grey is 3lb 8oz. There is also a summer visitor, the Red Mullet which is highly prized for its taste and the record is 3lb 15 oz.

Another method of catching thin lipped mullet is on a baited spoon, a small mepps type pattern with a short length of nylon with a size 4 long shank hook baited with fresh ragworm is highly effective as they are quite aggressive chasing it. A light spinning rod with fixed spool reel and loaded with 6 to 8lb mono is all that is needed, plus a landing net. 

River estuaries and harbours are ideal venues and often the fish can be seen swimming around at all states of the tide. A word of caution though, many estuaries can have fierce runs of tide and extreme caution is needed when its tarts to flood and knowledge of when this will happen as many of the places I fish the tide comes like a tsunami when it arrives and you could drown if you are not above it or in place of safety. It is benign at low water, but when it turns, nature takes no prisoners. One of my venues, the mighty Bristol Channel, can have a tidal rise of over 14.5 meters on spring tides from low water – so be extremely wary and seek local knowledge before venturing out on it . The safest places are harbours and steeper beaches  but never forget rogue waves can hit beaches and sweep anglers away, so never underestimate the power of the sea.   

One of my favourite recent methods for catching mullet is on a light fly rod, a four to six weight floating line and some suitable flies. 

My guru showing me the ropes is Top South Wales angler, Darren Jackson, a fantastic angler and an Airflo Fly Consultant. He catches a phenomenal amount of Bass and Mullet on the fly from his local coastline and also is a brilliant fly dresser. His knowledge is incredible as is his ability to cast a fly. 

We first met up on a welsh storm beach at the end of last summer where the mullet, thin lipped and golden greys mostly feed on a brown algae in the surf. A calm day is needed as a big surf is no good and makes fishing too difficult.  A crisp action four to six weight rod, with appropriate floating forward taper line, a poly leader of 9ft (Airflo) and a length of 7lb flurocarbon mono completes the set up .we usually use one dropper fly, a shrimp type pattern with a bit of red in it on a size 12 hook and a similar point fly about three to four feet from the dropper completes the set up.

Most of us use Airflo tackle as its perfect for the job, mine is a 9ft 6 inch five-weight V2 rod, with a weight forward six-weight  Ridge power taper floating line, this loads the rod quickly and cast long and far, which is sometimes essential to reach the fish. However, that said, sometimes they are under your feet, but it’s handy to have an outfit that can do it if needed, as is the ability to double haul.

We rarely use a landing net preferring to beach the fish with the waves.

Most days mullet can be seen, but on the shallow beaches they have keen eyesight and can melt away so we often get down on the knees to get close.

Because the fish often get hooked in shallow water, they can speed off so a reel with a good, enclosed drag is needed and backing on the reel. Tackle must be washed down in fresh water after each session and any salt or sand removed. 

There is no easy fix with mullet on the fly, blank sessions are part of it, but the more you go the better the success rate as you learn from your mistakes. They are an enigma but the satisfaction when you catch your first one is immense. In the summer they are everywhere, catching them is quite another thing. Best of luck, might see you down there…