The cooler months just wouldn’t be the same without the arrival of yellow-eye mullet, which invade inshore areas, injecting a silver wave of life into chilly waters over autumn and winter in the southern half of the country.
Mullet have a cult-like following in many areas, and when they’re running it’s common to see fishos lined up cashing in on these prolific treats as they stack up in inshore gutters and patrol near shore waters within easy casting range. Jetties, rock ledges, surf beaches and other areas that abut sand will all allow you to tap into yellow-eyes.
So how do you go about getting yourself a feed, and having some family fun with this dependable species?
While mullet are quite widespread over these months, certain shorelines just seem to concentrate them in larger numbers to the point you can arrive at a location and spot them flashing, splashing and rolling about before you even put berley in the water. These areas are typically well-known, and will be occupied by mass quantities of mullet year after year in the peak months. Mullet are particularly habitual with their movements, and you can almost set your clock to them arriving in certain areas which is more than can be said for a lot of fish this time of year.
Common traits of a mullet hot spot include sheltered or semi sheltered bays, with a gently sloping bottom, usually featuring sand, weed, or low reef. These areas are generally quite tidal, and may have sizable banks of dead weed lining the shore. Some of our better mullet locations usually feature weed on the shore, and it’s well documented that these fish will feed on all the goodies flushed out of decaying weed mounds on a rising tide.
With the focus here on catching yellow-eyes in more sheltered waters, you can also add our estuaries/tidal inlets to the list of areas to be prospecting. As beach fishos would be well aware they’re also on offer in the surf, but it’s the sheltered water antics that give these fish such broad angling appeal.
Wait or Wade?
Chasing mullet can be as relaxing or as full-on as you want it to be, which is part of the attraction of this fish. You can sit in your deck chair and hurl out a weighted bait, or you can get the waders on and chase them in or out with the movement of the tide.
Arriving at your location an hour or two into the run-in tide can see the mullet pushing in close to shore and starting to get active. A bit of wave slap on the shoreline and movement created by the rising tide tends to stir things up and gets the fish keen and feeding.
I personally prefer to setup before the tide starts to race back in, so you can get your berley down and start building the fish activity. This approach can see you stay in the one spot for the entire session catching mullet regularly, and you may not even need to get your feet wet. Although there’s something cool about wading around knee deep and having mullet basically feeding off the end of your rod tip. When it’s mild and you can drop baits on their noses in a foot or two of water it’s about as fun as mullet fishing gets.
Dropping tide fishing is possible, but it’ll entail you being active and having to wade out to the mullet as they follow the water back.
Berley – The Key
Mullet are a hyperactive and ever-hungry fish that you can whip into a feeding frenzy with the correct berley and method, and in no time at all have your bag limit, or as many of these shiny, silver flanked fish as you sensibly need for a feed or bait.
Berley is one of those deeply personal secrets for some fishos, who will raid their pantry for secret herbs and spices and protect the recipe like it was their first born. I love hearing what works for different people and all the theories surrounding it, but must admit I tend to cut through the overthinking a touch here and keep it fairly straightforward.
For those starting out after mullet, bread is probably the cheapest base element for your berley mix. For a lousy buck or two at the supermarket you have a great core ingredient, to which I’d suggest adding either crushed pilchards or a touch of tuna oil if you can. Having the surface and the sinking elements covers bases, and we’ve seen serious sized schools of mullet follow tuna oil slicks back to their source resulting in smoking sessions.
Mullet bite like a piscatorial machine gun when using bait and you’ll need to be quick to hook them. Thankfully there’s usually no shortage of opportunity if you’ve got a school close by, and it can be fish a cast action.
Yellow-eyes have small, soft mouths and baits should be kept tiny and compact if you can, making them easily swallowed and not torn from the hooks. So no loose ends and bulky baits if you can. With pipis the firmer fleshy parts are best, and if you want them to stay on the hook and survive a barrage of bites then you need to thread them on as many times as you can, again keeping the overall bait size small. Similar applies if using squid. By small, I mean hardly covering the hook when they’re feeding well, and if they’re fussy make it a touch more chunky. But they’re likely focused on eating tiny pieces of bread so usually going big isn’t warranted.
One of the best baits for mullet is seaweed worms. Easily collected from beneath decaying weed banks on the shoreline, these live baits are great for fussy fish. Otherwise most soft dead baits will work.
Rigs should be kept as lowkey as possible. When you have the mullet massing in front of you and conditions are mild you can fish unweighted or with a single split-shot sinker and a size 6-8 fine gauge hook like the Gamakatsu Baitkeeper, or a Gamakatsu Octopus Circle. Baitkeeper hooks are perfect for worms and other delicate rigging with their fine gauge and deadly sharp profile. Gamakatsu Longshanks also an option, although short shank options just seem to get eaten more often when the fish are finicky. The Gamakatsu Pan Fish hook is another deadly compact hook, with its green colouration adding to its appeal on the hard days.
If you need weight the smallest pyramid sinker fished on a paternoster rig, or a small ball sinker on a running rig is all you’ll ever need. A small size 8 Hyper Swivel is perfect for stopping your ball sinker running to your hook and reduces line twist considerably. You can incorporate a berley spring if needed but less is more here, with 3-6kg leader fine for the job.
Mullet love a moving bait. The biggest trick when using bait if the fish aren’t fired up is to keep it on the move and pause it occasionally. They have amazing eye sight particularly when tuned into a berley trail and feeding competitively, and looking to swoop on anything resembling food. Cast out and wind for a metre or two before letting it hit the bottom, to hopefully catch the eye of a mullet and result in an instant bite. Otherwise wind it in a metre or two every so often and expect to get nailed the moment you stop it.
A Meal of Mullet
These aren’t just a pretty looking chrome fish, or a top-notch bait species, mullet when fresh are also a much underrated table species, well worth caring for after you catch them, and cleaning and eating them as soon as you can. The easiest way to care for your catch is to keep them alive in a bucket of seawater in the shade, or get them straight onto ice. Their flesh is soft and can be sun/heat damaged fairly fast on warm days, so do your best to look after them.
Cleaning mullet on location is best practice. If using them whole gut and gill and remove the black stomach lining of the fish, otherwise fillet them up. One of the tastiest ways to use mullet is whole or as fillets in the smoker. Otherwise they can be fried up as you would whiting fillets and when fresh are mild flavoured and top tucker all round.