After I chatted to Edwardsiella (Edward Truter) about his striped mullet tactics and realised how similar it was to what I re-discovered with the tips from Philip Meyer, I thought I’d give the Eastern Capies the necessary credit to publish their story for our readers…Strange that we still re-invent the wheel due to information getting lost in the mass media out there.
Please note that this article featured in The Complete Fly Fisherman Magazine
By Anthony Kruger
We could see the mullets in the chum trail. They were everywhere, but showing no interest in the small flies we were fishing to them. I started off trying a small shrimpy nymph come bugger type fly, first with a slow strip and then a dead drift. No takes, not even sure the mullet acknowledged the fly as they moved passed it. I then switched, alternating between a white marabou creation and a brown one, hoping to mimic the chum particles drifting in the current. No success, not even any obvious interest. The mullets flatly ignored my offerings and continued to swim around in the chum gulping down small food particles or sucking on the floating bread pieces.
The mullets appeared to be focused on feeding near to or on the surface, but I did not have any dry flies with me so I looped on a strike indicator to drift the fly just below the surface. The tactic worked and I immediately started getting multiple strikes on every drift, however there was still one major problem. The mullets were aggressively taking the bright chartreuse strike indicator and continued to ignore the fly drifting below.
I changed to a white and later tried an orange strike indicator, but these did not attract the mullet as much as the chartreuse one. I did eventually manage to hook a few mullet by employing a slow retrieve with the strike indicator in place. The mullets would follow the strike indicator and every now and then one would grab at the trailing fly.
The next day we were back, armed with an array of small chartreuse flies tied to resemble the drifting chum particles. The mullets definitely showed more interest in the flies drifting on the surface, but were still a little reluctant to eat them and again, as soon as we tried a chartreuse strike indicator they would take it without hesitation. The situation left me with no immediate alternative so I hauled out my secret weapon, a chartreuse “indicator fly”. It worked like a charm and I quickly started catching mullet almost at will. They seemed unable to resist something chartreuse floating at the surface.
This has led to experimentation with various dry and subsurface creations with vary degrees of success, but those that have been effective all have one thing in common, the colour chartreuse.
Why the mullet home in on chartreuse is a mystery. There are no organisms, plants or algae that I have seen or know of in any of the rivers I fish that are chartreuse in colour. One must concede chartreuse is a universally successful colour for just about every saltwater fish so why should it be any different with mullet.
These days I occasionally fish a tandem rig using a large dry fly. Be it an actual fly or something resembling a strike indicator with a hook in it, size 12. The point fly is usually smaller, size 14 or 16, also in chartreuse, but tied to look like a fly. Mostly a shrimp or baitfish and sometimes a nymph or midge of sorts, although I think I am just trying to fool myself into believing that I am actual using a recognized fly pattern. I seriously doubt the style or pattern matters as long as it is chartreuse, although I am starting to experiment with other colours, without too much success I must add.
Whether the chum has an influence in the mullet’s propensity to eat chartreuse is unlikely. There is definitely nothing in the chum that resembles anything remotely chartreuse and I have caught a few mullet, including some of the bigger specimens, fishing the chartreuse flies away from the chum trail. Unfortunately we have not had much success on the chartreuse flies without using chum and I have to concede the chum in the water definitely excites the mullet, even if they are not actually feeding or swimming in the chum trail. Clearly the mullet in the general area can sense the feeding activity and this acts as a trigger.
We have also noticed the mullets will home in on a chartreuse fly. This has led us to regularly fish to schools in the immediate vicinity, but not necessarily feeding on the chum, and we have subsequently caught a number in this manner. We often employ a slow retrieve with this method and it can be exciting to watch the mullet follow the fly and strike at it, especially if it is a bigger specimen. On a recent outing we had some smaller mullet literally sucking on the bag containing the chum, but when a chartreuse fly drifted nearby they immediately swam to it and tried to suck it in. This happened even when the fly was casted well beyond the bag and stripped back, against the current, a completely unnatural situation that did not phase the mullet in the least.
There can be no doubt the easiest method to catch mullet on fly is with the use of chum although it is also possible to target them successfully without chum. Be aware that circumstances and conditions need to be just right, and they seldom are. You are likely to spend many frustrating hours with very little reward.
On occasion you will find mullet actively feeding in the surf zone, usually after strong onshore winds have blown in an abundance of small and microscopic food organisms (plant and animal). The food is congested up against the beach, often in the form of foamy scum. When the sea settles you can regularly find shoals of mullet feeding in and on the scum. Drifting small flies in the scum can produce success. There are also times you will find a similar scum line in the rivers, usually near the mouth with a pushing tide, with mullets feeding on the small food particles trapped in the scum. Gamtoos River is particularly renowned for this and huge shoals of mullet are often found feeding at the surface, facing into the current on the pushing tide. The mullet that frequent Gamtoos are also unusually aggressive which may make them easier to catch.
There are four species of mullet found along the South African coastline and three of these hold significance as angling species.
The smallest of the three are the southern mullet (Liza richardsoni) found along the west and south coasts extending into the lower east coast regions as far as the Transkei. Southern mullet prefer cooler and temperate waters and can usually be found in large to massive shoals close inshore, often right in the surf zone and in estuaries. They are on average small in size although they can reach weights of around two pounds. Southern mullet primarily feed on microscopic plant organisms known as diatoms.
Striped mullet (Liza tricuspidens) are abundant along the south and east coasts, preferring temperate and more tropical waters. They occur in small shoals and frequent inshore areas and estuaries, often venturing right to the top end of the estuary as they have a high tolerance for low salinity. Striped mullet are commonly found feeding in the same areas as southern mullet, although they appear to be a more aggressive. They are definitely stronger fighters and are rated to be the fastest swimmers in the mullet family. It is not hard to see why when you examine the body. A small sharp head, designed to effortlessly slice through the water, and a long muscular body powered by a massive tail in relation to the body size. The striped mullet can grow to six pounds making it a highly desirable fly rod target. Their preferred food source is reportedly microscopic algae and smaller varieties of red and green seaweed, but they also eat diatoms, foraminifera, isopods and marine worms.
The heavy weight champions of the mullet world around our coast are without a doubt the flathead mullet (Mugil cephalus). Capable of reaching ten pounds they are the ultimate prize for anglers targeting mullets, that is if you can regularly find the big ones. Flathead mullet prefer tropical and temperate regions and are found along the east and south coasts, close inshore and in the estuaries along this region. They are extremely tolerant of low salinity and can in fact comfortably survive in fresh water. Flathead mullet usually feed on foraminifera and diatoms, but also eat dead organic matter and terrestrial plant matter.
Notwithstanding their dietary preferences all three species are regularly caught by bait fisherman using sardine or bread, which is why chumming can play a very important role in catching mullets on fly.
Dedicated freshwater fly fisherman and a few saltwater enthusiasts may gasp in horror at the use of chum, however it is an accepted practice in many forms of both fresh and saltwater angling, including saltwater fly fishing. Admittedly it is seldom used in fly fishing and usually only for certain species, mostly tunas and sharks, however if you accept it be used for these species then why not for mullet.
Chumming is all about attracting fish to within casting range and stimulating feeding activity or competition for food. In fact if you really consider it, the art of teasing a billfish to within casting range of a boat is effectively just an elaborate and advanced method of chumming. The hookless teaser has bait in it and it is used to attract the billfish, and to encourage a feeding response.
Based on research done on the internet following my initial sojourns into catching mullet it is quite evident the use of chum is widely practiced by fly anglers throughout the world when targeting mullet. That is not to say you have to use chum. There are certainly times you can target mullet using conventional fly fishing methods and achieve success. I have spoken to anglers who have had success with small black flies and others who used GRHE’s. Flies and techniques may well vary considerably for different estuaries, coastal regions and even time of year, however if you want consistency then chumming is the way to go, or at the very least the starting point to develop better techniques and patterns to eventually be able to catch mullet regularly without using chum.
Ultimately the decision lies with you as the angler as to whether or not you use chum. Personally, I am going to continue using chum until I, or one of the readers comes up with a better method.
Chum can basically comprise any type of food source or even merely scent which will attract the desired target species. For mullets most anglers will recommend bread, which does work, however I prefer to use a mixture of sardines and bread. I find the oil from the sardines to be extremely effective in attracting mullet and getting them into feeding mode.
I use 5kg of sardines, which I chop up into small pieces and then mix with a loaf of bread, also broken into small pieces. A tip if you decide to make this chum. Place the sardines, preferably still frozen as it is then less messy, in a large sturdy bucket and use a spade to chop them up. The mixture is then divided into roughly half kilogram portions and placed in plastic bags to be frozen. The idea behind the small portions is so that you do not need to lug around a large bucket full of chum. You can take five or six frozen portions in a small cooler bag and you will have far less wastage.
You will need a small chum bag, basically a mesh bag made from shade cloth or a heavy duty netting material. The holes must not be too large as you only want the scent and small pieces of the chum to escape from the bag. The bag must be attached to five to ten metres of thin nylon rope to be secured to the boat or to your person. A plastic bottle can be used as a float, either placed inside the bag or tied to it. It is important for the bag to float at the surface.
Place a single portion of the chum mixture into the bag and allow it to drift. Ideally you want to place the chum up current so that it drifts to you. I will leave it up to you to figure out the best method to do this, but note that it is not essential for success. The chum will thaw and release the scent into the water. The fish oils will usually leave a fine visible slick on the surface and it should not be too long before you spot mullet in the chum trail. When the slick dissipates give the chum bag a shake, pulling on the rope usually works, and only when this fails to produce more oil do you add another portion of frozen chum. Obviously chumming is more effectively with a current flow, although if you are fishing a closed estuary the wind can also disperse the chum.
From a tackle perspective you need to accept the fact most of the mullet you will encounter are going to be on the small side as far as saltwater fish go. Anything between one and two pounds is a good fish, although most are likely to be less than a pound so you need to match your tackle accordingly. Ideally you should be fishing a 3wt or less, however coastal conditions, be it an estuary or the surf zone, are seldom conducive to fishing light rods. A 4, 5 or even a 6wt a may be a better option if you need to make longer casts and contend with wind. A basic reel, floating line and standard tapered leader will complete the outfit. As far as the tippet is concerned you can add 3 to 5 ft of either 4 or 5X to the leader.
Mullet do have exceptional eyesight, however the light tippets are really only necessary to give the mullet a sporting chance and to be able to accommodate some of the smaller size flies you may want to try. I prefer hook sizes 12, 14 and 16, but you may find smaller patterns to be more successful. Mullet do not appear to be overly cautious when feeding and I have too date not seen any evidence to suggest the need to use anything lighter than 5X.
Mullet appear to have soft mouths, although the skin and flesh around the lips is actually quite tough. Notwithstanding you should still be wary of applying too much pressure on the bigger specimens, especially with smaller hook sizes.
Mullet may not represent a glamorous fly rod target, but they are easy to find and can be found just about everywhere. When you are being skunked by the bigger fish why not haul out a lighter rod and have a go at catching mullet, you may be surprised with the results.