By Leonard Flemming
Striped mullet has been on my list for a very long time. Billy De Jong and I tried to catch them years ago and although we nailed hundreds of southern mullet and Cape moonies by tossing bread flies in the chum line we created, we didn’t come right with the big stripers/turquoise tails/springers, whichever name you know them by.
During my saltwater fishing trips in the past year, I observed shoals of striped mullet “tailing” on eel grass flats in a tidal lagoon near Arniston. After I chucked carefully selected flies at the big turquoise tails (hence the nickname) with no success I realised that these fish were not so easy to target with rod and reel. In the Guide to Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa, it is mentioned that these fish prefer feeding on microscopic algae, which is also the most likely food particles they were after on the eel grass flats.
I visited Philip Meyer’s fly shop, Winelands Fly Fishing, on Friday and had a brief chat about these fish. I believe Philip was one of the pioneers in cracking the code to consistently catch these fish on fly in the Western Cape estuaries. Philip revealed interesting tips in the conversation:
Tip no. 1 – chum with large pieces of bread
Tip no. 2 – add some anchovy oil to the mix
Tip no. 3 – Use a big hook, #4 (stainless to prevent corrosion), in the “bread” fly
Tip no. 4 – wave your stick at the sea gulls to chase them away from the chum line
So off I went on Saturday to scout for saltwater species on the flats and have a crack at these mullets. The day was a disaster. When you are presented with a window period of approx. three hours to fish for kob, grunter, garrick, steenbras, stumpnose and finally mullet, you end up wasting most of the time on tailing grunter.
I was in time to observe a very big striped mullet inhale my large chartreuse strike indicator before the murky and cold river water passed over the eel grass flat on the outgoing tide. I drew a blank and drove home feeling sick. I was sick of fussy grunter, sick of not coming right with striped mullet and sick of the smell of anchovy oil on my hands.
The Sunday morning my wife, Michelle, had a good chuckle in bed after I told her my depressing story. Then she asked me inquisitively about the rising mullets. I told her how insane it looked when the shoals of fish came to the surface to gobble up the bread and how one of them swallowed a strike indicator the size of a match box. She insisted tying some flies for me and that we return to give the mullet another shot in the afternoon.
Our timing was good and we arrived as the first blue water pushed into the mouth of the lagoon. I begged her for a shot at the grunter first and she agreed. As on the previous day, grunter were tailing aggressively over the sand flats, but they were not eating the fly. One fish followed the prawn imitation to my feet and only spooked when it finally saw my wading shoes. This time, having a woman to run the schedule, the grunter fishing was cut short and we headed off to target the mullets.
I created a chum line and the gulls were the first to show up. The tide was still pushing hard and it swept the bread away and into the middle of the river channel. I kept the gulls at a distance with my 9 wt and continued to chum close to the bank. About ten minutes into the chumming procedure, the mullets started boiling between the floating bread crusts that were furthest away from us. It was too far for Michelle to reach with her 6 wt, but I managed to reach the distance with my 9 wt and a weight forward floating line.
The big yarn fly landed in the frenzy of mullets sucking and slurping at the bread and a fish ate it straight away. The fight was not much to write home about, but at last I had my striped mullet in hand. We continued fishing for them and caught several more before the muddy river water passed us on the outgoing tide. Some of the mullet pulled really hard with their large torpedo bodies and wide caudal fins. About half the fish we hooked pulled a few dirty tricks on us by digging head first into the weed and managing to free themselves. We finally left the place with a brace of mullet for the grill.
Ps – you can be sure that I will inspect the stomach contents thoroughly when gutting these fish!