The madness, the mystery, the mysticism – the thick lipped grey mullet. A fish that seems to make no sense, they cruise without care around the harbours and estuaries of Europe, arrogantly denying most lures and baits we put in front of them. A lot of anglers consider fishing for them pointless or too difficult. Occasionally though, particularly in the summer months, you can find them in a different, more obliging mood.
In my hometown of Plymouth, mullet are a regular sight cruising lazily around the harbour. Most of the time I’m ignoring these silver torpedoes, as they just love to ignore me! Yet, back in the summer of 2020, I found myself fishing a morning that turned out different…
The harbour is called Sutton Harbour, formerly Sutton Docks and has a wealth of history. In more recent times though it has slowly reinvented itself as the home of summer tourists, huge bank holiday drinking sessions and winter student nights out. It’s a grubby place, full of sunken building materials, traffic cones and shopping trolleys. It does though, have a lock gate to keep the water level at a reasonably constant height, which has the added benefit of creating a salty still water, which is perfect for Lerfing.
The harbour is a mixed bag for fishing, at times incredible and other times phenomenally difficult. It is home to many goby species, at least two types of blenny, pollock, many species of wrasse, smelt, bass and flounder. The most consistent of these species though is thick lipped grey mullet, where on most days, especially in the warmer months, you will find them lazily meandering around the still waters of the harbour. Despite their guaranteed presence, I certainly wasn’t thinking about mullet on that day….
Me and my brother, Olly found ourselves fishing next to a chap who was using a monstrously huge beach caster and home made float with two treble hooks below it, baited with bread. He was certainly getting plenty of interest, despite his crude set up. There was quite a severe language barrier between us but it was clear he was fishing for dinner. I certainly wouldn’t recommend eating a mullet from a busy harbour, and that’s without saying how old an eating sized mullet would be. Each to their own though I guess.
I did notice that every time this chap struck and missed, the mullet would go crazy munching the freebies left behind. This gave me an idea… I clipped on my lightest jighead, an Ecogear Shirasu 0.6g size 10. Onto the jighead went about an inch of XL Marukyu Isome in Pearl White – which if you squinted looked just like a pinch of white bread. Using my 7g rated Apia Grandage Lite 74 rod and 6lb rated Majorcraft Dangan braid, I flicked the tiny ‘lure’ over to the feeding mullet.
Where I was fishing was typical of the harbour; a steep wall, encrusted with barnacles, sea squirts and weed, making way to deep water, with little visibility of the bottom. The mullet were clearly there, their silver scales reflecting the bright sunlight from the deep. Again the fisherman with the beach caster struck to nothing, I think it was clear he wanted to foul hook the fish, a practice thankfully not common in the UK. The mullet were smart though, feeding greedily on the now free lumps of bread. It was incredible to watch and I just felt I had a chance at tempting one with more balanced tackle.
I kept in touch with the jighead, feeding the line down until it was just out of my sight. The rod tip instantly pulled over and I struck. I couldn’t believe it when I felt serious resistance! In fact this mullet wasn’t playing games as it shot out below me, trying to find cover under the moored boats. From a high vantage point I could see every kick of this fish’s fins, every shake of the head. I used my angle to leverage against it, yet still the fish ran and ran. I turned it’s head and watched it shake viciously side to side like a bass. I was loving life, hooking up to a mullet being so rare. The fish wasn’t a giant but in typical mullet fashion – it was a fighter!
The chap with the beach caster was already asking if he could have my fish. I made it clear that wasn’t going to happen, besides I hadn’t landed it yet! I jumped over the railings, keeping in touch with this silver piece of harbour muscle. Olly was already on hand to land the fish for me. We both got down onto the harbour steps, steadily the fish was coming to us.
I worked the fish along the harbour wall to the steps, the deep water working to my advantage – the fish kept running but couldn’t make it into any snags. After a few more headshakes, my brother ran the net under it. In the net rested a fine thick lipped grey mullet, caught on an artificial. What a moment!
Despite the other fisherman’s pleas I released the mullet, which did what mullet always do and spooked the shoal. I had ruined the fishing for him and also for myself but I was over the moon. Although I truly believe anglers have the right to catch their dinner, I can’t say I agree that mullet from a dirty harbour should be eaten.
Once it was clear the mullet had disappeared, it was time to move on…
I returned two days later, on an early morning hunt to whet my appetite for a big day of fishing ahead. I found again the same fishermen, using the same technique and again attracting a big shoal of mullet. In the bright sunshine, I’m sure he winced when he saw me, but he was pleasant with his greetings.
Like before, the mullet were happily engulfing the free lumps of white bread, falling naturally through the water. I wondered if lightening could strike twice?
The same pattern followed with the section of artificial worm, cut to look like bread, falling through the water column. This time I had a real expectation, adrenaline building from the pit of my stomach in anticipation. The tiny artificial bait did not reach the bottom before I had hits, in fact the rod pulled aggressively and I struck into an even better fish than before! This mullet instantly ran me ragged, burning up my drag with it’s lightening fast runs. What made the scene all the more incredible was the shoal of it’s brethren following it’s every turn, it looked like I had hooked the whole shoal! The barrage of silver, scales shimmering in the sun, twisting, shaking like a multi headed Hydra of mullet!
I was using the entirety of the water in front of me, line burning from the reel as the fish refused to give, spurred on by it’s shoal mates. They must have figured things were wrong though as they soon abandoned their brother, leaving him to fight alone. Despite this solitude, the mullet was providing the best fight I had experienced all year, never giving up, battling me at every turn. My set up was perfectly balanced though and eventually the fish tired. I was on my own, so I jumped down onto the steps and netted the fish myself.
I couldn’t believe my luck as I let the fish recover in the net before lifting it out for unhooking. On the mat it measured 45cm from nose to tail, quite probably my best ever thick lipped mullet. I admired the bizarre mouth, designed for filtering algae and small invertebrates. A common myth which is so easy to dispel once you catch one, is that mullet have soft mouths. This is so far from the truth, the top lip is rock solid, requiring a sharp hook to penetrate it. The Ecogear Shirasu jighead I was now removing from it’s lip was incredibly fine and sharp, perfect for the job.
I lowered the fish gently back into the water, it shot off with just as much force as during the fight. Considering the fact that I also spooked the shoal for the chap taking the fish to eat, I also saved a few lives that day. Not great for him but something all too pleasing to me, mullet deserve respect – not a bash on the head!
And just like that, my only two mullet sessions of the year -both mostly unintentional, were over. I had caught two of my best ever mullet on LRF tackle. Creating memories I won’t forget quickly!
Thanks as always for reading, please check out my other posts below