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Catching bass on mullet flies

How small nymphs targeting mullet can also be highly effective for bass

Big mullet on the dead-drifted fly for the author, who thought that when he started using small flies he would not catch bass.
Big mullet on the dead-drifted fly for the author, who thought that when he started using small flies he would not catch bass.
This bass proves that they will take small flies just as readily as a Clouser Minnow or a Deceiver.
This bass proves that they will take small flies just as readily as a Clouser Minnow or a Deceiver.

In 2009 I reached a cross-roads in my saltwater fishing. Following several years of enjoyable, introductory sport with school bass up to 0.75 kg (1.5lb) in weight, I felt that it was time to seek out larger prey. A decision was to be made between focusing my efforts on catching bass of a reasonable size, or attempting to catch the large mullet which appeared with every tide at my bass locations. I figured that the pursuit of bass would probably involve fishing during the hours of darkness and my work at that time would not allow this. Mullet, on the other hand, could be caught during more sociable hours, but were considered uncatchable on fly at that time. I chose mullet and have loved every minute of fishing for them since. However, my choice was tinged with sadness because I realised that I would probably never feel the anger of a large bass running the surf.

How wrong I was! As my adventures with the mullet progressed, I soon learned that bass of a good size demonstrate communal feeding with thick-lipped mullet(Chelon labrosus). In fact, the two species appear to be on very good terms with no sign of antagonism. Perhaps this is because these bass and thick-lips are of a similar size, in the 1.5Kg to 3Kg (3 – 6.5lb) range. I have never witnessed similar behaviour between bass and thin-lipped or golden grey mullet, which are significantly smaller in size.

The most effective technique for catching thick-lipped mullet is to dead-drift a pair of flies towards a shoal of fish feeding in a current. Prime locations are estuaries, where a suitable current forms on both the ebbing and flooding tide, where the river enters the sea and bass regularly gather along with thick-lipped mullet to capitalise on the food carried by the river’s flow. Top flies include a Flexi-worm, tagged Romy’s Sand Shrimp and a Mullet Bach, all tied on size 12 hooks.

When bass are present they are usually first to the fly, as mullet tend to be more cautious in nature. When I first began to catch bass by this method, I considered them to be a by-catch of my mullet fishing, but over the years I began to realise that the ‘mullet nymphing technique’ could be recognised as a method in its own right for catching estuary bass.

The fact that bass and thick-lips demonstrate communal feeding suggests that they are focused on common food items, namely shrimp, small marine worms, Idotea and similar invertebrates. One difference between the species appears when considering presentation of the flies. Thick-lips react to flies which are dead-drifted without any sign of animation, which suggests that they are preoccupied with deceased food items carried in the flow. Bass will also react to a dead-drifting fly, especially a Flexi-worm which imitates a small worm, but tend to be caught mostly while commencing a retrieve at the end of the drift. On occasion, a shoal of bass materialise in the shallows adjacent to the current to chase shrimp. Obviously there is no need to remove the shrimp patterns for a Clouser or Deceiver, for the bass are fixated on shrimp, not baitfish. Simply dropping the flies amongst them and introducing a short, fast retrieve to imitate a fleeing shrimp normally sees the flies struck with venom.

The 2019 season was particularly generous with its bass, mainly at a new location I discovered where some impressively large thick-lipped mullet congregated to feed in an area of strong current. Of course, the bass were there also. I decided to tie some mullet shrimp patterns on heavy hooks to counteract the fast flowing water and reach the feeding zone of the bass, just to see what might be lurking in the depths below the surface feeding mullet and was rewarded with a fine bass of 3.5kg.

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