SUPER SEA MULLET
The New Estuary Gamefish!
Sea Mullet. Most people would think of the yellow eye mullet that is prolific in Tasmanian estuaries. The sea mullet is a different type of mullet that grows much bigger that the common yellow eye mullet, and is extremely powerful when hooked. In fact, their fighting capabilities are astounding, as I found. They are very "dirty" fighters, going for any snags they can find. Sea mullet are very hard to catch because they are reluctant to take a bait.
My friend, Steve Robinson of Deviot, planted the first seeds of enthusiasm in me to catch one of these big mullet. He told me he had seen some big fish swimming in one of his fishing spots in the Tamar River and, after describing them as long, silver, with a forked tail, up to 5 lb in weight, asked me if I had any idea what they were. I didn't have a clue!
I didn't think too much about it until he told me he had discovered the identity of the fish from the local Tamar guru, Steve Suitor, who told Steve Robinson that they were "chub mullet" or sea mullet, and able to be caught on rod and reel.
My friend put in some serious hours trying to catch these fussy fish; he tried bait, lure, and fly, but all to no avail. Finally, I think he lost interest, for which I don't blame him. Steve Robinson is a very experienced angler and has caught many trophy catches out of the Tamar, including big snapper and kingfish. He has a particular skill of catching small mullet. I call him "The mullet king'. So I thought, if the mullet king can't catch these elusive fish, how on earth can I? So I didn't even try until one day I was fishing in Ruffins Bay with my brother-in-law, Sam Read and his fiancÃ©e when the unthinkable happened. Sam's eight and a half foot quivertip loaded up and his reel started screaming. Sam thought it was a big silver trevally at first but soon he realized his opponent was much larger than the biggest of Silvers. He fought the fish for 10 minutes or so and then we "got colour'. A big silver flank appeared and, to our amazement, there was a seven and a half pound sea mullet.
Sam Read has also caught many fine catches out of the Tamar estuary. He specialises in silver trevally and has caught some of the most impressive silvers up to four pounds caught in the Tamar. He could not believe his luck on this day. He caught this fine catch on a prawn tail.
After this, I rang Steve Robinson and told him our news. It seemed a bit of a fluke, but nevertheless, maybe the first chub mullet taken on rod and reel in the State.
Sam had given me the encouragement to start doing some homework on these mysterious fish. Reading about them, I discovered they are rarely caught on a hook and also they are not recorded as being present in Tasmanian waters; have I got news for you!!
A couple of weeks later, one evening, I headed out in search of what I call Tamar River "bone fish" with my little "trainee fisherman', my son Benjamin, two and a half years old. We fished the area in which Steve originally sighted the schools in the first place. I polaroided a large school of chub mullet; they were smaller fish than Sam's, on average about one to two pounds. I tried everything, bait, lure and fly. My son was becoming impatient and it was fast growing dark so I had to do something "quick smart'; with the emphasis on smart!
So I did the unthinkable, I put on two bare silver hooks (I use this rig when fishing for jack mackerel off Beauty Point Wharf and it is just absolutely deadly with them, so I thought it worth a go). Within a minute, I hooked my first ever chub. It went mad! I could not believe the power of the fish for its size. Unfortunately, it headed for the oysters and cut me off. I quickly re-rigged and cast out again. My son was ecstatic by now. A few minutes later, I had another hook-up and it did the same thing.
I knew this was my last chance for I was losing light. Finally, I came up tight again on the bare hooks, the fish ran the right way this time, headed for deeper water. After a short, very hard fight, I saw the fish; it was only small, but pulled just as hard or harder than an Australian salmon for its size. I later weighed the fish; pulling the scales down to around two pounds. Something I did notice about the fish when it was landed; it was hooked in a very odd spot, in the top lip dead centre. I later discovered that this is a common occurrence when hooking chub mullet.
I started to think that maybe these fish could be caught on a rod and reel after all. They were obviously mistaking the size 8 hook for something small in their food chain. Their main diet is apparently plankton and oyster eggs. This fish had no food whatsoever in its stomach.
A week later, I headed back to the same spot, again with my son. I polaroided a school soon after arrival, this time they were larger fish but in a smaller pod. More around the size of Sam's fish. I cast out in front of the school; these fish were tailing and looked very active.
I waited for the line to come tight - and it did. My two kilogram quivertip lay over and the little Shimano's line load was disappearing very quickly. I was starting to worry that I was going to be spooled. Finally, the fish swam straight around a submerged log, snagging me. I said to Benjamin, "I am history'. I decided to go for broke, jump in and swim for the fish. I waded out to the log, seventy metres away from where I originally hooked the fish and I found him wrapped around a branch. I picked up the big fish and headed for shore. I was filthy with mud half-way up my body, but I didn't care. I had caught the elusive sea mullet once again!
The fish later weighed in at over seven pounds cleaned, I say over seven pounds because the scales I used only went that far, so I estimate the fish to have weighed about ten pounds, or four and a half kilograms.
After this success, I contacted Steve again, who had just returned from a week's game fishing on the East Coast. His interest in the "chub" was re-ignited when I told him the news.
During the next three weeks, Steve landed another three chubs and lost another four, using a similar method. The fish he caught weighed two point seven kilograms, two point seven kilograms and four point two kilograms; extremely nice fish indeed! He told me all the fish he caught were hooked in the top lip, dead centre, they had nothing in their stomachs and all the fish he hooked headed for the snags. Steve explained that while fighting one big sea mullet in particular, he thought he was going to be spooled. They really do go!
In my opinion, the sea mullet's eating qualities are fair. My boss, John of C.H. Marine, smoked one of my chub for me. It was nice, but did not compare with smoked tuna or trout that I had just sampled at the same time. Steve's dad barbequed a fillet of the chub and said it was fantastic. So some people like it.
Some advice for newcomers, do not wear your good leather boat shoes when fishing for chub in the Tamar, because the banks are so muddy. Take a good long handled landing net. Finally, be prepared to go for a swim if you want to land the super sea mullet.
Sea Mullet Fact Box
An hour either side or low or high tide.
Places to find chub mullet
Any creeks - such as Muddy Creek, Spring Bay, Supply River, mud flats with channels or muddy bays. Concentrate particularly around areas where there are oysters or old oyster racks.
There has been a marked increase in the water temperature in the Tamar River this year. This may be bringing more fish into the estuary than in the past.