The mullet is a common fish in British waters where there are three main species. We discuss all three here and they can all be caught using similar methods, rigs and baits:
Thick-lipped mullet (Chelon labrosus)
Thin-lipped mullet (Liza ramada)
Golden grey mullet (Liza aurata)
Thick-lipped mullet: Big rod-caught thick-lipped mullet can weigh 3.6 Kg (8 lbs) or more. The average thick-lipped mullet weighs around 1 Kg (2¼ lbs). Thin-lipped mullet: As the name suggests, it has thinner lips than its cousin and its average weight is around 0.7 Kg (1½ lbs). Golden grey mullet: Much smaller than its two bigger brothers, it has an average weight of around 340g (12 oz).
Thick-lipped mullet: The thick lipped mullet is the largest and most common species of mullet in British waters. Like the other mullet species it is adept at swimming and therefore has a streamlined body which is grey-blue on the back and silver on the sides and belly. It also has dark grey-brown stripes along both sides, a small head, two dorsal fins, prominent pectoral fins and a noticeable anal fin. The first dorsal fin is located in the central region of its back whilst the second is found close to its forked tail and there is no visible lateral line. The other species of mullet are of similar shape but less common and have smaller average sizes.
Thin-lipped mullet The thin lipped mullet closely resembles the thick-lipped mullet and therefore is often wrongly identified as such. The differences are present though, you just need to know what you are looking for. Unsurprisingly the thin-lipped mullet has a thinner lip than the thick lipped mullet. There are also differences in the weight and colour of the thin-lipped mullet, it is generally smaller and has a lighter colour, often with a blue tint, and the lines which run across its body are much lighter, compared to the dark grey-brown lines on the thick-lipped mullet. In addition the gill covers of the thin lipped mullet almost connect with each other beneath the throat, whilst there is an obvious gap in the thick lipped mullet. The thin-lipped mullet can sometimes have a black spot near the base of the pectoral fin, unlike the thick-lipped mullet.
Golden grey mullet: The golden grey mullet is much rarer than the previously mentioned mullet species in British waters. It has a significantly longer body than the other mullet species and is paired with a very prominent tail-fin. Its body is coloured dark grey on its back which gradually becomes a light silver colour on its underbelly. Its name comes from the noticeable gold patches on its gill covers, making it easy to identify. In addition it is a much smaller fish compared to its bigger brothers.
So how do we catch one?
Collectively these three species are called grey mullet and may be caught using similar methods, rigs and baits; therefore we will refer to them throughout the rest of the article simply as grey mullet.
Small ragworms and tiny fresh fish strips, particularly mackerel, herring and pilchard work very well for catching mullet. Small crabs (soft-backed), shrimps and peeled prawns are also effective. If you’re fishing for mullet in a river, your options are much more diverse, with earthworms, maggots, bread paste and sweetcorn making good choices. Further to this you can also use boiled macaroni (add some grated cheese when boiling), cheese paste or small cubes of peeled banana dipped in honey! There are also a number of artificial baits you can use, small flounder spoons (with bait attached to the hook) and special angler’s mullet spoon (again with bait attached to hook) both make good options.
The grey mullet feeds primarily during the summer and autumn months, with May, June, July, August, September and October generally having the best sport. However the mullet may also feed in warm winter and spring weather and can even be caught during winter in “warm” harbour and estuary waters of southern England.
Favourite Feeding Places
The grey mullet feeds at the seabed, mid-water and frequently near or at the surface, so basically at all levels! It favours harbours and estuaries and can even be found many metres (even kilometres!) up tidal rivers. Rocky outcrops, piers and jetty supports, bays, coves and creeks are also hot spots for mullet. The mullet is also quite content to swim and feed in surprisingly shallow water – barely covering its back!
Grey mullet can be caught throughout all British waters with the best catches typically around the south of England and West Country.
Best rigs for catching grey mullet
If fishing for grey mullet from a beach or pier, a basic leger rig or a simple paternoster rig is recommeneded.
Basic Leger Rig
This rig is used to lay hookbait on the seabed. The distance between the hook and swivel can vary, but should be at least 300 mm (1 ft). This rig works so well because your line is able to pass through the weight’s “eye”, meaning that shy or suspicious fish can tug the bait without instantly sensing the resistance.
Simple Paternoster Rig
This rig works great when you want to present your bait just above the seabed and move with the current. The distance between the weight and split ring can vary, but should be at least 300 mm (1 ft). Likewise, the distance between the hook and swivel (free running on main line) can vary, but should be at least 150 mm (6 inches).
Fishing from harbour walls rocks, piers, jetties or river banks:
A light float rig with a spinning trace is recommended if fishing from one of these locations.
Light Float Rig
For this rig, use a slim float and small freshwater fishing weights – you want to sink (cock) the float so only its tip shows clearly above the water. Modify to present your baited hook at the depth you believe fish to be feeding. Re-adjust when required to allow for rise and fall of tide etc.
- Grey mullet are most active at dawn and daybreak when the tide is rising, this is the best time to catch them.
- Mullet shoals always follow the flood tide into rivers and withdraw on the ebb tide.
- Mullet shoals are shy, crouch low, stay out sight and don’t make any loud noises as this will send the shoal scooting for cover.
- Mullet scavenge for food through heavily weeded areas, therefore heavily-weeded piers and jetty supports make great spots for mullet fishing.
- Mullet open their mouths and suck the food into it, as soon as you see or feel a bite, or the bobbing float indicates one, immediately tighten your line or the bait might be sucked off your hook!
- Mullet have remarkably soft lips. Don’t tighten your line too smartly otherwise the hook will tear out. Always use a long-handled landing-net or drop net to lift mullet from the water.
- Shy mullet shoals are frightened by the sound of a hooked mullet splashing in the water, guide captured mullet away from the main shoal using your rod and take it out of the water as fast and as quietly as possible.