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MulletFly
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Joined: Nov 04, 2008
Posts: 743
Location: Stubbington, Hants

PostPosted: Thu Dec 31, 2015 5:50 pm Reply with quote Back to top

Fishing the Hampshire coast has been a tough affair this season with both bass and thick lipped mullet thin on the ground. The combined efforts of commercial and illegal netting have taken their toll on bass reserves in the Solent and the worry is that the focus has now switched to mullet following the collapse of bass stocks. Long term populations of thick lipped mullet were absent from their usual open coast and estuarine marks in Hampshire and beyond for the second year in succession and the suspicion is that the mullet are being netted en masse while spawning. I remember my old chemistry teacher saying that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and there is now clear evidence that the disappearance of thick lipped mullet from Hampshire and Sussex shores has been compensated in part by a sudden and dramatic increase in the size and number of golden grey mullet feeding on the flats.
MAY – The season began on a distinctly tropical note with a week spent in Ascension Bay, Mexico. I was desperately hoping to catch my first permit and my wish came true within a few hours of arrival with a small but gorgeously formed fish.

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The Mexican Mullet were also highly obliging and made the long trip entirely worthwhile.

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Perhaps the catch of the week was made by my boat partner for the day Gavin Hodgson who tempted a large Cobia with a crab pattern. This was the first Cobia the guides had seen in the Bay.

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Superb fishing is only part of the equation of course, with good company and excellent cuisine as important.

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JUNE – My first visit to a Solent mark on June 7th gave rise to hope. Water clarity, which remained poor throughout 2014, had visibly improved. Large swathes of gravel, smothered by a thick layer of sediment following the storms of 2013, were exposed once more. Food-rich weed beds and mussel colonies which had been scoured from the sea bed were now busy re-establishing themselves and the prognosis for the food chain and the season ahead appeared good.
A return to the same mark on the evening of June 18th immediately set my pulse racing. Good numbers of individual fish were cruising the calm surface while small groups swirled and leapt in sudden eruptions of feeding activity. The groups moved with such speed that presenting a fly to them was virtually impossible. Covering individual fish with a slowly retrieved diawl bach and spectra shrimp pairing brought no response. Persuading a lone mullet to take a fly makes permit fishing look easy! By far the most effective means of catching mullet on the fly is to drift a generic shrimp pattern towards a tight group of feeding fish, where an element of competition greatly increases the angler’s chance of success. The tide turned and began to flood a large, sandy bay. Numbers and activity increased further around twenty minutes into the flood, with fish observed finning and tailing throughout the bay. I moved to take up position in very shallow water, so that the foraging fish were travelling towards me and soon noticed several small groups coming together. I quickly covered them with the flies and commenced a medium paced retrieve upon which the line tightened abruptly. The fish produced a series of short, blisteringly fast runs which instantly brought back memories of the bonefish encountered during my recent trip to Ascension Bay in Mexico. Despite the speed and strength of the fish, I could see that it was by no means large and the 5wt Streamflex soon brought matters to a conclusion. It is always a pleasure to hold the first fish of the season, in this case a specimen golden grey mullet of 1.75lb, seduced by a spectra shrimp (full tying details appeared in the April 2015 issue). By the time I released the mullet, the bay was practically devoid of fish. Only a few large, individuals remained in view, bulging through the shallows where a small stream ran into the bay.

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I swapped the tepid waters of the Solent for a distinctly hot Mediterranean on July 6th. Spain was in the grip of an ongoing heat wave, with sea temperatures of 27 centigrade and the shallows considerably warmer. Inland values reached 47c while sea breezes pegged temperatures on the coast to 41c. Fishing the Med lends itself perfectly to family holidays. With early starts a must and sessions lasting only a few hours, there is little disruption to family plans. The action begins at day break, around 6.30am and tails off by 8.30am when the strengthening sun sends fish scurrying for the shade of deep water. Sessions may be short in duration but they can provide amazing sport. This is a wonderfully unrestricted form of fishing with travelling light the name of the game. Old trainers, trunks, polarized sun glasses, a 6wt rod and a few flies are the tools of the trade.
This year the fishing proved to be exceptional. The heat wave provided particularly settled conditions, which appeared to be to the fish’s liking, especially the bass. I concentrated my efforts each morning at the mouth of a large lagoon which emptied its contents with the falling tide. The flow emanating from the lagoon is rich in food and highly attractive to bass and mullet and under ideal tidal conditions the numbers of fish present can be mind- boggling. Tides during the first week looked promising on paper and my arrival each morning at day break found the shallows around the lagoon entrance teeming with fish. Large shoals sat just off the main current which ran from the lagoon towards a group of sand bars. The action began from the very first cast with a succession of bass and mullet in variety eager to claim a red-headed diawl bach. The fly featured a tail tied with blue peacock neck feathers, which proved irresistible. At times the shallows appeared as one swirling mass of exposed backs and fins such was the number of fish present. They seemed completely oblivious to the fly line in the silvery half-light, even when it landed on their backs. Once a fish was hooked however, all hell broke loose as an irate bass or mullet careered through the shallows. The first rays from the rising sun signalled a retreat for the shoals to the current which flowed around the sand bars. Now it was simply a case of drifting the flies to the waiting fish and reacting to their lightning fast takes. This hectic sport would continue unabated until the strengthening sun drove the shoals to deep water. Highlights of the first week were the capture of several golden grey mullet up to 2lb in weight and a 4lb thin lipped mullet which fought like a demon.

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During week two, the mounting heatwave gave added significance to an early start. Temperatures of 27c at daybreak were typical, combined with high humidity. Tides were now on the flood at day break leaving the shallows exposed, forcing the fish to regroup where strong waves broke over the end of a large sand bar. Shoals of mullet circulated in the turbulent water, with occasional eruptions of frenetic feeding activity. Pulling the flies slowly through the waves produced periods of frantic sport with golden greys, thin lipped and flat-head mullet in the 1lb to 3lb range. The spectra shrimp now began to shine under the changed conditions with almost every fish falling for its glittering charms. The glow of the rising sun brought out the best in the fly, perfectly exemplified one morning when the flies had failed to produce under darkness. Within seconds of sunlight striking the water, the spectra shrimp yielded seven mullet in as many casts, all thumping takes. The second week also threw up some surprises, including a small flat-head mullet which took a bushy black fly intended for bass in pitch darkness and the capture of a 6lb flat-head mullet which proved almost impossible to control. I managed to beach the fish following a forty minute duel in the sun to discover that the mullet had a pair of treble hooks attached to a spinning lure embedded in its back and the fly had snagged one of the trebles. I gently removed the hooks and the fish swam away somewhat lighter.
The large and powerful Pardete mullet I longed to encounter failed to show until the penultimate morning, when incredible numbers of these fabulous fish moved into the bay with the incoming tide. The mullet moved at speed through a well-defined rip, with hundreds of enormous ochre coloured fins and tails slashing the surface. The mullet remained frustratingly beyond casting distance until finally a push of the tide brought them within range. Standing chest deep in water I managed to cover the nearest fish and before I could straighten the line it was already heading for Africa at great speed. The explosive contest offered by these magnificent mullet never fails to impress and it was with genuine relief that I eventually steered the fish from the surf on to dry land. My hands were shaking so badly that I struggled to operate the camera. The Pardete weighed in at seven and a half pounds and sported a spectra shrimp in the left hand scissors. The perfect end to a memorable trip.

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AUGUST – A month of high winds and unseasonably cool, damp weather provided little in the way of fishing opportunity. A few settled days leading up to the 22nd produced the only fish of the month, a 4lb thick lip which fell to a red-headed diawl bach fished on the drift. The mullet was part of a small shoal which fed in a strong current flowing over a bed of clean gravel, intercepting passing items of food. The gin clear water allowed me to witness the fish rising to take the fly and afforded full view of the incredible scrap which followed.

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September – The wonderful fishing enjoyed during my two trips abroad highlighted the paucity of sport currently offered by the coasts of Hampshire and Sussex and the desperate need to seek new marks further afield. For more than a year, Tom Lambert had been raving about a mark he had discovered which was alive with mullet and finally on September the 5th I made the trip with Tom along the M27 towards deepest, darkest Dorset.
The moment we came round the corner and I saw the bay for the first time, I knew that I should have listened to Tom Lambert all those months ago when he told me that we HAD to fish the new mark he had discovered. The bay was nice as bays go but it was rather the contents of the bay which had my pulse racing. An armada of fins and tails pricked the glassy surface, swirling and slashing as they chased down invisible prey. Tom went to cover the nearest group while a large, flapping tail some 50 meters distant caught my attention. A tailing fish grubbed for food, snout hard to the sandy bottom and I had to blink to make sure that I was about to cast to a mullet in the aquamarine water, rather than a tailing bone.
The fish sat ten feet from shore in a foot of water and I figured that the flies would need to pass close to the bed and in the mullet's direct line of vision. Third cast delivered the flies perfectly and the large tail slid beneath the surface seconds before the fly line came to life. The first screaming run took me well in to the backing and I knew this would be no five minute contest. Constant pressure from the 5wt began to tell and following twenty minutes of arm aching battle a thick lipped mullet of 5lb in weight tumbled into the net, another victim to the Spectra Shrimp.

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By now the tide had ebbed from the bay and the fish with it. Tom and I decided to walk the coast in search of feeding fish. After fifteen minutes we stopped in our tracks. Several groups of fish splashed and swirled in the margins and we unhooked the flies in double quick time. The fish were feeding hard in around eighteen inches of water and the blinding silver flashes as they turned their flanks to strike suggested golden greys. This time it was the red headed diawl bach which was seized unceremoniously and the fish's identity was confirmed a short while later as I pressured the fish to shore. The mullet's head broke the surface and I could clearly see the red beads of the diawl bach protruding from the left hand corner of its mouth. I could also see the gold spot on the gill plate and the fact that the fish was easily 3lb in weight. Upon seeing the approach of dry land the fish managed to turn and produce an astonishing burst of speed, straightening the hook in the process. The hook was no doubt damaged earlier, when I tried to lazily flick a length of bootlace weed attached to a small rock, from the fly!
Finding water roughly a foot in depth is key to finding the shoals and with the advancing tide claiming the shallows, we went in search of new ground. The next bay provided water of the ideal depth and the mullet were already in attendance. Silently, I waded towards a particularly boisterous group, their bright silver flanks reflecting the light of the sun as it peeped from behind a bank of sea mist. A five weight outfit provides a definite advantage over heavier set ups when fishing ultra clear, shallow water and rarely spooks feeding mullet. The water boiled within a short cast away and I dropped the flies into the commotion. Following a few short strips of the fly line I saw a silver blur as a fish hammered the point fly and a few minutes later a spritely golden grey of 1.5lb slid into the net. Although a decent fish, it was completely dwarfed by its hook straightening cousin. My thanks again to Tom for generously sharing his mark.

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September 19th - Strong sun beating down on flat calm and Bacardi clear water appeared to make falling out of bed at 4.30am an error of judgement. The magnificent sun rise just after six almost made up for the painfully calm conditions but the fish proved to be incredibly spooky while feeding in very shallow water. Even the mid-air passage of the fly line was enough to send intended recipients scurrying for deep water. Cue the sudden arrival of a large bank of sea mist with attendant breeze and the tide (literally) had turned. Three feisty golden grey mullet fell to the charms of a spectra shrimp and diawl bach combination, weighing in at 1lb, 2lb and 2.5lb respectively. Every cloud has a silver lining.

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September 25th-27th – My first trip to Cornwall since 2010, to attend the inaugural UK Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival. What a great event it turned out to be and highly enjoyed by all those who attended. Saturday and Sunday were to be the competition days, with various workshops taking place on the Friday. I gave an open air talk beneath blue skies and baking sunshine on the basics of catching mullet on a fly rod, followed by a practical session at a local creek. Beautiful as the setting may have been, it simply was not mullet water and while the competitors went to work on the Saturday, Mark Bowler, Tom Lambert and I went to check out a potential mullet mark on Cornwall’s north coast. We were not to be disappointed. The location was simply stunning and a classic golden grey mark….mile upon mile of golden sands lapped by crystal clear surf. Mark was first to spot the shoals and Tom first to tempt them. Several hours of sublime sight fishing followed and this is the venue I will propose for next year’s workshop and certainly one of the competition marks. Unfortunately the mullet prize (a Snowbee salty outfit) went unclaimed but I am sure that will not be the case in 2016! Congratulations to Steve McVean who won the prize for most species and heaviest catch and to Martin Webster of Selectafly for bagging the largest bass. Congratulations also to Matthew Fish who attended the mullet workshop on the Friday before returning home to Devon and catching his first two mullet the following day. Next year’s festival runs from the 15th to 18th 0f September 2016, with the competition days on the 17th and 18th.

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October – Meanwhile back in Dorset, the fish remained in eye watering numbers on the 4th but a combination of bright sunshine and Bacardi clear water saw the fish more nervous than Anne Frank practising the tuba. An armada of fins and tails betrayed the presence of a substantial shoal of golden grey mullet feeding in water not much in excess of three inches deep. When mullet are feeding in impossibly shallow water who are you going to call? Ghostbusters of course and two of these slow sinking patterns replaced the diawl bachs on the leader. Fish were nipping at the fly before fully committing themselves and many takes were missed before a very decent golden grey grabbed the point fly. The fish ran like a demon in search of deep water but there was none in this huge area of shallow flats. The fish then resorted to diving head down into the shingle in an attempt to rub the fly from its mouth and the next run and jump saw the line fall slack. It was starting to feel like one of those days but there is little time to feel sorry for oneself when surrounded by so many feeding fish. A few more casts saw the line tighten again and this time the fish stuck, a pretty golden grey which fell to a GR Ghostbuster on the dropper, tied with extra- long 'feelers'.

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October 9th-10th - All summer long I had been waiting for the opportunity to join Ade Nash, Darren Jackson and Joe Walker for a crack at the mullet along their favourite Welsh surf beach. But this is not just any surf beach! Almost unbelievably, the beach hosts healthy populations of all three mullet species, as opposed to the normally expected GG's. Why should this be? Well, I can only put it down to a local phenomenon, which the local lads poetically describe as 'brown scum'. Some basic research identified the scum as Phaeocytis pouchetii, a brown coloured marine algae which blooms under suitable conditions of water temperature and nutrient content. As the algae decays, it turns brown and is deposited on the beach by tidal action. High energy sugars and carbohydrates are released as part of the process of decay. Mullet are highly opportunistic feeders and they have most definitely decided that scum is on the menu and it appears to agree very well with them, for the mullet here grow to a prodigious size, with a 6lb thin lip falling to Darren Jackson’s spectra shrimp variant in early October. The same angler netted 12 fish during that session, a phenomenal return on the fly! The thin lips here average 4lb.
Finally, the weather gods turned benevolent in mood and the incessant winds fell calm. At the drop of a hat I was on the M4 heading west but with the warning that the surf remained a touch high for comfort and that the shoals may have already departed. You can imagine in your mind’s eye how the fishing might be but nothing prepares you for the beauty of a Welsh surf beach, with mile upon mile of golden sands with barely another person to be seen. We were alone but for a handful of surfers and I am pleased to say, legions of thin lipped mullet. It seems that the thicks and GG's had indeed departed these shores but mercifully the thins lips remained in glorious numbers and form.

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This is what the mullet and the angler are looking for....decaying algae which is a prime source of energy.

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Ade Nash does battle with a silver surfer

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Joe Walker rescues one from the surf.

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Welsh mullet maestro Darren Jackson fools his sixth fish of the day.

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Both days passed in a blur of crashing, thunderous surf, blue skies and hot sunshine, dashing from one area of scum to the next to encounter a fresh shoal and the constant movement of the fish as they danced to the rhythm of the surf. Put simply, this was the most exciting and challenging fishing I have experienced and I look forward to many more encounters with the Welsh dragons. Full credit must go to Darren Jackson who discovered the mark and developed the tactics to deceive the inhabitants. A full report on my visit to Wales which features the flies and techniques required to catch these silver surfers will appear in the February issue of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine.

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October 18TH - Fished the early morning flood with Tom Lambert. Any concerns that the mullet may have moved off-shore following the recent drop in air and water temperature were soon put to bed as a shoal greeted us at the first hot spot. Numbers were definitely down though and the fish not quite so active. Perseverance paid off with a hard fighting Golden Grey of 2lb which snatched a diawl bach tied on a Kamasan B100. The fish took the fly in around 6 inches of water and the scrap which followed was explosive to say the least. We eventually found a developing shoal which were beginning to feed with intent and I soon noticed the spectra shrimp on the point was being followed by some large fish. A slightly crazy spell followed with the fly being struck three times in four casts. The third fish stuck and proceeded to empty the reel of backing to the point that I feared I might be 'emptied'! Throughout the contest the fish was closely accompanied by two similarly sized mullet, which followed its every move. With relief I drew the fish towards the net only for it to turn to run once more. I clamped down on the fly line, determined (and very tired) not to give any line. Of course the inevitable happened and I was left to rue the loss of a decent fish. Most upsetting of all though is the fact that this may well have been a golden grey, not a thick lip and the fish appeared to be well in excess of 4lb.

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October 24th - Despite recent rains and high winds the shoals of golden grey mullet remain at my new open coast mark. Thick lipped mullet appear to have packed their bags and there was no evidence of their presence on the afternoon flood. A fusion of grey sky and murky water combined with a choppy south west wind made location of the fish quite difficult at first until I stumbled on a shoal of many hundreds of fish tailing over a bottom of marl. The biggest challenge was to keep the flies moving in eight inches of water to avoid snagging the bottom. Several lightning fast takes were missed and a few fish lost following furious scraps in puddle deep water but eventually a fine 2lb fish came to the net, courtesy of a Spectra Shrimp. Quite how I managed to land just one fish from such an extensive and active shoal will have me scratching my head until Christmas.

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Water temperatures remained high throughout November and December and I am sure that the golden greys are still with us but strong winds and periods of rain have coloured inshore waters to the point that they are unfishable. So, like New Year, it seems to be a case of out with the old and in with the new and the future seems to be distinctly golden on southern shores.
 
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nthendpompey
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Joined: Jan 01, 2009
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Location: portsmouth

PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 6:11 pm Reply with quote Back to top

great end of year report as always colin,well done.
 
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Yakdiver
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 7:50 pm Reply with quote Back to top

What a great report and photos well done
 
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