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Can you tell the difference between bass and mullet?

A week of masquerading

Can you tell the difference between bass and mullet? I used to think that I could, but now I'm not so sure. The confusion began last weekend, when a two day mullet mission threw up bass rather than the intended quarry. The mullet quest continued throughout this week, courtsey of warm settled weather, perfect mullet tides, a week off from the daily grind and, most of all, a very understanding wife. The marks fished are recognised mullet marks, without a reputation for bass.

Monday, August 20 – With the grass cut, hedge trimmed and leaky loo sorted it was time to catch the evening tide. Reasonable numbers of mullet cruised the current which formed on the ebbing tide but a strong southerly breeze made presentation of the flies difficult. Many fish were covered, without any takers. The flooding tide began as a tame affair but came to life as the sun sank to a watery end. A small group of fish moved through the shallows with purpose, occasionally fragmenting as members peeled off to grab supper. A reverse cast delivered a pair of Diawl Bachs with a Flexi-shrimp on the point within feet of the shoal. The water bulged as a fish rushed to claim a fly. I struck gently to set the hook and the fish embarked on a trade mark high speed mullet run for the safety of deep water.  A period of aggressive head shaking followed, as the fish attempted to rid its mouth of the fly and I settled down for a lengthy battle. However, all was not as it seemed and a few moments later the fish was already net bound. The mullet turned out to be a 3lb bass firmly impaled to a Diawl bach and I was now more confused than ever.

The fish (below) swam away strongly to rejoin its companions, who continued to shoal in the current. The next cast produced a similar result and fish to match. Peas from a pod. By now the bass had moved on, a nearby channel their likely destination. A yellow/chartreuse sparse DNA clouser now occupied the point position and went to search the deeper water, with instant success. Two further bass of identical size and vigour came to the net, before darkness stopped play.

Tuesday, August 21 – The early morning air was humid and still as the clock struck six. Some 200m distant, the falling tide formed a strong current between a group of gravel bars and for the first time this season the mullet were there in numbers. Fins and tails waved in welcome as I hurried through the water, trying my best to keep calm. These fish were definitely mullet, without any shadow of a doubt. The current carried a pair of Diawl Bachs and an Idotea pattern I was keen to try, on the point. The point fly was immediately accepted, as a mullet of around 5lb hammered through the channel towards open sea. Following five minutes of intense battle the fish ran through a bank of weed and made good its escape. David Ball arrived as the last of my expletives were ringing in the air. I noticed a small shoal within yards of where David stood and quickly flicked the flies in their direction. I barely had time to straighten the line before a fish slashed at the flies and set off through the shallows upon feeling the hook. By the nature of the take this was no doubt a bass, perhaps even a member of last night's group. I bullied the fish towards the net, keen to have it on its way, so that I could concentrate once more on the mullet. The fish put up an admirable scrap and I began to feel new found respect for the fighting qualities of bass. You could even say that the fish (below) fought just like a mullet. I think you can guess why! Utter confusion.

Wednesday, August 22
– 6.30am. The heat and humidity of recent days had been replaced by a stiff westerly breeze. Joe Walker arrived at today's mullet mark at 7.30am, just as I spied the first fish of the day. The rising wind pushed white horses through the shallows, muddying the waters and putting the fish down. A small, sheltered bay showed evidence of life as a few individual fish criss-crossed an area of gently rolling waves. Individual mullet which cruise in such fashion are a tough proposition but will chase Red tags or Bann specials from September onwards, when packing on weight for the coming winter. I offered them the Idotea pattern, with a sprinkling of Diawl Bachs. Joe and I chatted about all things fishy while I drifted the flies through the waves. Usually when a fish takes the fly during deep conversation it is missed due to lack of concentration. Luckily, I was watching the fly line as it sprang to life and applied the necessary strip. The fish rose to the surface in confusion, its red tinged dorsal fin and tail suffused in early morning sunlight. I have seen but never managed to capture this strain of mullet, with its pronounced red colouration to the fins. Now I was excited. The fish suddenly realised its predicament and took me well down into the backing. Definitely a mullet. More runs followed, combined with powerful surges and mandatory mullet head shakes. Confusingly, the fight was rather short lived and ultimately it came as no surprise when Joe exclaimed "Bass" upon wielding the net. A Diawl Bach sat precariously in the scissors. The fish showed signs of net damage, hence the 'red' tail and fin. The fish had survived a second close call and swam strongly away.

Thursday, August 23 – Following yesterday afternoons strong winds, the sea was the colour of milky tea and unfishable. Storms are looming on the horizon but with luck, tomorrow morning would provide a window of opportunity.

Friday, August 24 – First visit to a new mark, reputedly inhabited by seriously large Golden Grey mullet, the true British Bonefish. Winds had now fallen light south easterly and the water remarkably clear. It took twenty minutes to locate the first feeding fish, which sat feeding in the wash created by small waves rolling onto the point of a sand bar. The water was not so much skinny as anorexic and at times the mullets body was half exposed. On the second cast I saw the fish turn on its side to take the Idotea and the fly line came to life. The fish circled me slowly until it had a clear path to the open sea and then legged it like Usain Bolt. The reel sang loudly but the song must have been a lament for we soon said our farewells. The Golden Grey looked to be a good 2lb in weight. The tide fell quickly and soon the bay was down to its bare bones and it was time to change location.

The next mark was a recognised mullet mark and hopes of success were high. Very few fish greeted my arrival and I settled down for a game of patience. In reality, I could have kept the flies dry for the next two hours, while waiting for a shoal to approach. But approach it did, a small group cutting through the current which flowed across a large sand bar. The flies were dispatched with the current to intercept their path and the lead fish accelerated through the water for first helpings. The fish was spritely but did not possess the power of even a small mullet and I was resigned to bass once more.

Tom Lambert joined me soon after, still in pursuit of his first mullet. Tom fished diligently for an hour or so, drifting his team of diawl bach and Red tag with the flood until a bona fide mullet took one of the flies. Unfortunately the fight was explosive but brief as the powerful fish soon pulled the hook.

With no further action on the flooding tide, I was itching to return to the earlier Golden Grey mark. Getle waves lapped the sand bar where this morning’s action took place. A group of fish now fed in exactly the same position. It is difficult to keep a steady hand and cool head with such a prospect in front of you. The rhythmic motion of the waves left both fish and flies exposed on the sand for brief periods. Perhaps four fish struck at the flies before the tide submerged the bank, but none stuck. Similar wave action now developed by a sand bank closer to shore and closer inspection revealed a good population of fish dashing through the waves in a series of brilliant silver flashes. It would be nigh on impossible not to catch at least a brace of GG's under such conditions, but somehow I contrived to do exactly that! Some of the fish on view looked to be in the region of 3lb, a very creditable size of Golden Grey. Many thanks to the bait fisher who told me of this mark, a few years previous. The fish I did manage to eventually connect with also weighed 3lb. Was it a bass or was it a mullet? On this occasion most definitely a mullet. The fish picked up the Idotea close to shore and was soon heading for France. With the fight extending beyond ten minutes, I was (fairly) confident that one of the mullet species was leading me a merry dance. Fifteen minutes later a pristine thick lip slid into the net.

Dark storm clouds gathered with pace and the first heavy spats of rain fell from the leaden sky. For now, the fishing was over. The last week had passed in a blur, a kaleidoscope of blazing sunshine, clawing mist, flat calms and howling south westerlies, mullet masquerading as bass and bass masquerading as mullet, several good fish lost and a healthy dose of sleep deprivation. Can't wait to do it all again.

Existing comments

Nice article.

By GarysClinton on 2012 10 05

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