Part 2 – Mullet Masterclass – UK Saltwater fly fishing

Hi Im colin macleaod Ive been invited to this year's UK saltwater fly fishing festival down here in st mawes to give advice on mullet

I started off fly fishing for trout, and spent many years doing that, but when I moved to the south of england, it was really the sea that caught my attention, and the wild fish that inhabit it Started off fishing for bass as most people do Catching small bass for several years, but after a while you look for something larger That's why I turned my attention to mullet Plenty of large mullet around but the problem is "How to catch them?" So, I took up the challenge

Very little information available when I first started on the internet or in magazines, so it was really a suck it and see type situation The first mullet I ever caught was on a flexi-floss blood worm, which is pretty much a trout fly and I caught that on my very first cast From From that point on I was really quite hooked, every bit as hooked as the mullet were It took me probably another five months to land my second mullet and that gives you an indication of just how tricky they are to bring to the net I was fortunate enough to be asked by Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine, to write a monthly saltwater column and that gave me the opportunity and impetus then to experiment and spend quite allot of time fishing

Luckily there was a mullet hot spot within a mile or two of my home, so I was able to visit regularly, and get the practice in So how do you catch a mullet? The first step is to locate fish, if you can find a location with a good population of mullet there, then you are well on the road The approach to mullet depends on the type of mullet you have found the most common mullet are thick lipped mullet They are most likely to be found around the mouths of rivers or estuaries

Typically, they feed on the incoming tide in the current created by the river as it runs into the sea So, the tactic for them is very very simple, its a dead drift technique, which simply means you use a floating line, and you present the flies up currcent from the mullet and let them just drift in the current towards the fish keeping the fly line tight, look at the end of the fly line, and if you see any movement, or the fly line stops, then give a gentle strip strike to set the hook Don't lift the rod as you would for a trout because you won't set the hook, the mullet has a very tough upper lip and hook won't penetrate it and after the first run you will loose the fish almost certainly So, dead drifting towards an approaching shoal is as simple as that The flies that we would use, good drifting flies are diawl bachs, the diawl bach is a very traditional trout pattern, the difference about this fly is that it has blue peacock feathers as a tail and two red glass beads to form the head

Thats what really sets it apart, and for some reason the mullet take that fly very readily indeed If you have a shoal of feeding thick lips, and you drift these flies toward them, its almost certain that they will take the fly The ghostbuster is another very useful fly, it has a foam body so it will float in the water and if the fish are feeding in very shallow water as they tend to do, in any case thats the fly So, if they are feeding in 6 inches of water or less, a ghost buster is a good fly because it just drifts over the weed and stones and avoids getting snagged The spectra shrimp, is a fly that I created a couple of years ago

It is a very bright, blingy fly, and I was a little concerned to begin with that it might scare the fish rather than attract themThe first time I gave it a swim it had instant success and it is one of the few flies that if you pull it in front of feeding mullet, they'll actually chase after it and take the fly, so it is very useful in that respect Another fly that mullet will chase, is the red tag, again thats a traditional fly from the 18th century, and they will chase that as well So, these are the two of the very few flies that mullet will chase You need to retrieve the flies in front of mullet that are feeding in still water where there is no current, so ideally its dead drift the flies towards them, in the absence of a current, then a very slow retrieve with a spectra, shrimp, red tag or even a diawl bach, thats a good fly as well

The second most common type of mullet are the thin-lipped mullet Their preferred habitats feeding is over mud banks on the flooding tide Also, they are found well up tidal rivers that in Sussex for instance, you'll find them six miles upstream, even more So, they're are quite happy to be an environment where there is more than just a drop of fresh water, in fact the fresh water seems to attract them When they feed over mud, it's a very simple approach as well

You just find an area where thin lips come in on the flooding tide, as the water comes over the mud flats, the fish will rush in to eat shrimps called mud shrimps, their latin name is Corophium Volutator, so theres a very limited period of time for the mullet to claim these shrimps before they return to the safety of their underground burrows So, thats why you will see thin lipped mullet with their backs out the water really rushing in to shallow water to grab these shrimps before they escape to their burrows So, there's two flies to imitate the mud shrimps, one is the flexi shrimp, obviously brown, and that's because shrimps in that sort of environment tend to be brown The other fly is imaginatively called the mud shrimp or Corophium volutator is the latin name The approach for these fish as they are feeding on the shrimp in the very shallow water, is to stand in slightly deeper water, you've got to be careful when mud is involved, you know, don't go in a soft muddy area, safety first, but where there's mud banks, there tends to be areas of gravel between them where the water scours through, and you can stand on those quite safely

So that gives you a good vantage point behind the fish, you can see them as they progress over the mud hunting the shrimp, simply a case of drop the flies where the fish are feeding, in amongst them, let them settle for a few seconds and then a few quick strips is usually all it takes The problem then of course is you've got anchor ropes and chains where yachts are present because they tend to feed around yachts on mud banks you have to be ready for the first run for the nearest anchor rope of chain So it makes it very exciting to hold the fish back and see it jump and they give a good fight Thin lips tend to be in the 2-3lb range in that sort of environment Up rivers, I had my first experience with that a few weeks ago, somebody contacted me to say that they had found shoals of thin lips well up river but they were having difficulty catching them

So, we met up and tried with the normal tactics of diawl backs and spectra shrimps, but we got no response at all, even though there were quite good shoals present We then hatched a plan based on a technique to catch thin lipped mullet using mepps, spinner tipped off with rag worm and the flexi worm has accounted for many mullet for myself over the years, and its been suggested by quite number of people that that represents a ragwort or harbour rag it's called specifically, which is a small red ragworm So, we popped one of those on the point fly and next cast we had interest straight away And a few casts later a fish came and took the diawl bach that was on the dropper, so it was almost as if the flexi worm acted as an attractor in some ways They started to pull at the flexi floss legs as well which was quite annoying, but we managed to get success and thats a technique that seems to work

The 3rd type of mullet that's available to us in the UK is the golden grey mullet, they tend to be found on sandy beaches, mainly in the South of the country, South coast of England, Cornwall, Devon, South wales is a real hotspot Hampshire and Sussex, we don't have sandy beaches there to any great extent, but even a small sandy bay 30 meters wide, they will come and feed there because sand is what they look for The best technique for catching golden greys, is to enter the water behind the shoal, again they will feed on the advancing tide, right on the edge of the tide As the waves break over the sand, they're just behind, because the sand stirs up the food and they are ready to pounce The angler takes up position behind the golden greys, maybe 15 yards behind

Probably the best fly in that situation, again is the flexi worm, because as I've explained it's taken as some kind of marine worm Thats a very good technique – if it's not working or if there is insufficient waves to generate food for them, then the will simply patrol on the flooding tide, maybe for an hour or so until they eventually find food, then they'll start to feed and quite fervently In that situation, the diawl bach that we looked at earlier is a good fly, the spectra shrimp as well, in other words you're starting to pull them slowly in front of the fish, rather than allowing the worm fly to just roll around in the wash and be discovered by the golden grey So thats the three environments that you'll traditionally find these fish in and the techniques for catching them There's been some advancements in the last year or so thats produced some really exciting fishing under some quite different circumstances

One was on a surf beach in wales, typical golden grey type surf beach, but the difference with this surf beach is that all three species of mullet can be caught there at the same time The reason for that is the presence of an algae, which forms as the water warms up That algae is common all round the British Isles, the North Sea, so lots of european coasts have it as well It's usually seen as white foam, but once it blooms, algae blooms like a flower, after it does it it dies Once it dies it turns brown, and the brown decaying algae is deposited on the sand, and it's very easy to see the areas where the algae has been deposited

As you walk down the beach, and these beaches tend to be three miles long, or more, you know beautiful long surf beaches, pristine white breakers smashing on to the beach, every hundred years or so you'll see a 20 yard wide strip of brown water, and that water is caused by the presence of the algae Wherever you find the algae in the water, you'll find fish without a doubt It can be any of the three species, it just depends on which shoal you come across So you have a very good chance of a mullet grand slam in a situation like that So that's been tremendous fishing

We've tried and failed at producing an algae fly, a fly that looks like a bit of the algae, typically it's probably the size of a 10 pence piece, it's brown and bubbly a bit like an aero bar, and it floats on the water as the tide comes in, it picks it up and the fish follow and eat on it So, you'll see thousands of fish basically 2o yards from the shore eating on this algae but if you've spent all day covering them with flies and slowly stripping them through you'd probably catch one or two, maybe miss a few more and it's wonderfully exciting as well, very visual But the most effective technique has been discovered by a Welsh guy called Darren Jackson, and he ignores the fish that are 20 yards off shore and instead he targets the fish that are within a few feet of the edge of the water, in water thats six inches deep As the surf pushes in the waves, you get these water tables forming, which are maybe 20 – 30yards wide and 6 inches deep or so, and in there often concealed are good numbers of decent fish The first time most fishers realise they are there, as they walk in the water and spook them and they just go shooting off into the surf, so Darren came up with the technique of ignoring the fish further out, looking along the wash for little groups feeding on shrimps rather than the algae, and he'll creep along often on his hands and knees for the last few yards to take up position

As the water goes out and leaves dry sand, the fish go with it, they will then come back in within seconds, there's a new wave forms and a new table pushes up, and then you need to be in position waiting for the fish to come back in on the table and then it's sight fishing from that point of view You can see which way they are moving, and you just drop the flies in front of them The flies which are really successful there again are the spectra shrimp, the ghost buster, its good in the very shallow water, they'll take a ghostbuster as well, and the diawl bach The diawl bach is practically the same as this one here but we put a sparkly tail on, instead of a feather tail we put a bit of crystal flash on and give it a rib of crystal flash as well and that seems to make a difference in these conditions The fish will take a sparkly diawl bach more readily than a normal red headed one

The other fly that we've had some success with is the romy's shrimp, I created that one during the winter specifically for this festival to fish over sand for golden greys I trialled it in Spain in June and it caught mullet straight away, so it's done well And it has caught fish on a surf beach in Wales as well So the message really about the surf beaches, we have sandy surf beaches in many areas off the UK and we have this algae forming, I've done some research and apparently it's very wide-spread, and if there's mullet i the area as well, then the chances are that were you find the algae you will find the mullet The really interesting thing about the algae, is that it's a very common algal bloom, while it's living it appears as white foam, and it's actually toxic to the fish and marine life at that point of time, but once it blooms it's like a massive cell division at which point it then dies

, Once it dies it turns brown and decays and as soon as it is decaying it releases carbohydrates, and sugars such as polysaccharides, so the algae in it's brown form is basically an energy drink, and thats why the fish go looking for it These fish as a result of them feeding on this energy drink day in day out throughout the summer, are wonderfully fit, large specimens of fish and put up a fantastic fight So thats really worth checking out That fishing is probably the most exciting fishing I've experienced ever, it's that good I'm often asked about the sort of equipment to use

Like the tactics we use it's very straight forward and simple Normal trout rods, preferably 5-6 weights are ideal, and it's always a floating line that we use because the shoals are always encountered in shallow water So you need a floating line, especially when you want the flies to drift in the current, obviously a floating line aids that If the line passes over a shoal of fish it doesn't disturb them in any way and they'll simply swim under it If it was an intermediate line, they'd probably touch the line and may become spooked so, floating line

You do get salt water specific outfits, many companies produce 6 weight rods, but a 5 weight at this point in time you'll have to use a freshwater rod, or a river rod A greys Streamflex 5 weight is perfect, quite sensitive and the advantage of using a 5 or 6 weight outfit as well is when the fish are feeding in very shallow water, you want the impact of the fly line to be as delicate as possible If you use a 9 weight, may salt water fishers do, then it's about a delicate as a felled tree falling on the water in front of them and it will almost certainly spook them So go light, thats the best way The leaders I use tend to be 12ft long, and I like to use one dropper, about 3 feet up from the point to keep the flies quite close together

I used to fish with two droppers but I found that rarely if ever caught a fish on the top dropper, and if the conditions are windy, then it is more prone to tangling, so one dropper is a good idea I just tie the leader straight through, no tapered leaders The small flies, these flies are size 12, so they are very easy to turn over You tend to be creeping up on the mullet so there is no long distance casts involved, so if your'e not the greatest caster in the world, then mullet fishing is probably for you Leader, fluorocarbon I prefer myself for several reasons: One is the fact that it is practically invisible in water and less likely to spook the fish

Mullet have some of the best eyesight of any fish that swims, so you don't want it to see the leader The other thing is that saltwater is more buoyant that fresh water, so the fact that fluorocarbon is heavier than nylon or copolymer and sinks more readily, thats in your favour as well You don't want to see the leader, curled up on the surface, catching the sunlight because that really will spook the fish Really that's it, very simple, the tactics sound simple because they are The most important thing is to find shoals, and find shoals that are feeding

When they are feeding, you will see that they suddenly become animated, they'll swim quickly, they'' splash and swirl, they'll turn on their sides and give silver flashes, thats an indication that they are turning to pick up food So when you see that that's the time to get your flies in amongst them and you will almost certainly hook up Good luck!

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