Chasing Ghosts – Mullet Fishing in Scotland
Mullet fishing in Scotland is somewhat an unknown quantity, with very little anglers even aware that targeting mullet north of the border can be a rewarding quarry. After years of targeting carp and the usual coarse species, the lure of catching a Scottish mullet soon became top of the agenda. However, if you search for information out there, you will find very little information on mullet fishing. Especially this far north where our summers are typically shorter and colder. This only made the challenge of tracking down these mysterious fish even more rewarding.
A Starting Point
The fascination began over 15 years ago when on a family day out there was shoal of fish swimming around discarded shopping trollies in the shallows. Having barely ever cast a fishing rod at this point, I watched these strange looking fish thinking they were salmon migrating their way upriver. Fast forward 15 years and the image and location still sticks in my head – having now caught salmon I know that those strange looking fish from 15 years ago could not have been salmon but had to have been another silver fish of a few pounds that was living in brackish water. This was to be my starting point in the hunt for trying to trace down where I could even find mullet.
Online research and trawling through social media will tell you mullet will be found is most harbours and estuaries. Whilst true, this still leaves potentially hundreds of miles of estuaries and harbours to explore and leaves more questions than answers. Going through social media groups only resulted in a couple of pictures of mullet but gave away no specific locations, only that there was some in the Clyde system. This narrowed it down to hundreds of miles of coastline, estuary, heavily industrialised land, harbours, and docks. All I had was one possible sighting of mullet when I was a child over 15 years ago. The only way to find out was to go back to the very spot over 15 year later and hope that by luck, that sighting would lead me in the right direction.
A Long Walk
I waited on the weather to come good, the forecast was in the low 20C at the start of June with calm winds – a perfect day for exploring as fish will often be near the surface and in the shallows where they can be seen. With a bag packed and walking shoes on, I set off on the whim I might get lucky to find mullet in the exact spot all these years later. Well that dream ended promptly when I got to the spot to find no fish. A long walk was in order to try and find something. 13 miles later of scanning coastline, nothing. Searching old piers and former shipbuilding yards on the Clyde, still nothing. At this point, I knew I if I couldn’t find any in these conditions, there would not be much hope of ever finding them. Right when I was ready to turn around and walk back, a group of seagulls 300 yards away took flight over the water, followed by a massive wake and multiple swirls in the water. Whatever was under the seagulls spooked. The first positive signs of fish for miles.
At that point I knew the game was up. I was certain it was mullet but needed a closer look. The tide had started to flood and whatever these fish were, moved faster than I could chase after them and as quickly as I found them, they were gone with the tide. With the location and tide condition noted, I would return another day to confirm if it was indeed mullet. Sure enough, the next again week at the same spot there they were. It was thick-lipped mullet and a good number of them.
The Hard Bit
Ask anyone who has tried to catch mullet, and they will tell you they can be almost impossible to catch. They have a reputation for being notoriously fussy, spooky, and difficult to hook. However, for some unbeknown reason – they have a liking for bread. For Thick-Lips, bread is the go-to bait with them turning their noses us at almost everything else.
With the bait decided on, I had to figure out how I was going to try and catch one. There is plenty of rigs online to learn from but as a coarse angler, these rigs look barbaric for such a delicate biting fish. So, I stuck with that I know, a running cage feeder loaded with liquidised bread, with a 12” hooklink with a size 10 hook to which I would mould some bread. Whilst I have no doubt this tactic would work; I never really got a chance to try it. Upon my next visit to the spot, I met another angler (Davy) that was targeting the mullet and he happily showed me what he used, which obviously worked going by his photos. Full credit to Davy because to this day, the rigs he showed me are still the best I have used for catching mullet.
For shallow water, as small a weight as possible on a Guru Lead Clip, coupled with a short section of 6-8lb hooklink with a Guru Super XS Hook, is what I have refined down to be the most successful combination. The harsh salty conditions are a nightmare for blunting hooks. After going through almost every suitable hook out there, these are by far the best I have used. Mega sharp out the packet and more importantly, hold their point.
In deeper water, surface fishing or fishing bread under a Loafer Float is the only viable option. However, mullet are even more difficult to hook this way and it requires even more patience until one feeds with enough confidence to properly suck the bread in.
Mullet can often be very shy biters, so your hook must be razor sharp if you stand any chance of hooking one. It pays to prepare rigs in advance as mullet often have very short feeding spells, so you have to make the most of it when they choose to feed. Korda’s new Boom Tubes are ideal for the job. Quiver tip rods really are essential if you want to see the bites, often the mullet will steal your bread from the hook without hooking themselves. On the odd occasion, the rod hoops over more akin to a barbel bite if you’re lucky enough to hook one.
However, most days mullet will drive you mad – stealing or nibbling the bread without ever hooking themselves. They have very unique mouths that seem to have evolved over millions of years to avoid getting hooked…
This means that hooking any old bread on any old way is no good. The bread must be fresh, soft and doughy so that it moulds round a hook well, floats well, and importantly stays on the hook. The key to getting bites, is having the bread off the bottom. If it sinks, the chances of getting a bite are slim to none. If it pops up, at times, they will attack it like sharks. So how you hook the bread matters.
Despite my best efforts, mullet will still defy all convention. No two days are the same, and no two days ever make any sense. I have seen myself race down to the estuary in perfect conditions to find the mullet unwilling to eat a single crumb of bread. Similarly, I have seen them hit the bread like piranhas a day later in the same conditions. It requires a lot of effort and even more determination. But the rewards are worthwhile and could be record breaking. There is a real chance that a new official Scottish record could be caught which currently stands at 7lb 3oz since 2000. The Clyde might be renowned for its history of shipbuilding, but as an angler, it’s the submarines I have seen swimming up it that gets me going back.
Seeing them is one thing, catching one that size a whole other. The larger fish tend to be more solitary, evading capture by evading the masses of 2-3lb school fish. Its hard enough getting a bite in large shoals of fish, let alone trying to target a select few loners. However, it won’t stop me trying. With considerable luck, one will eventually slip up and the record will fall.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that sighting over 15 years ago would lead me to the most rewarding, challenging, and soul destroying fishing I have ever done. It takes a lot of time to track them down and then even more time trying to figure out how you are going to catch them, but mullet fishing in Scotland isn’t a pipe dream. They really are the hidden gem of the Clyde.