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Hot date on the beach with Liza

Slightly over 4lb: a personal best.
Slightly over 4lb: a personal best.

October has a reputation for producing the largest thick-lipped mullet of the season from open shore marks, and the chance of a PB fish is very much on the cards. Smaller shoal fish in the 3-5lb range are more sensitive to the decrease in water temperature which begins with the onset of autumn and commence their migration to winter feeding grounds during September. Larger mullet are more tolerant of environmental change and begin to feed in earnest throughout October and into November, in preparation for the coming winter. These specimen sized fish are much more inclined to chase a fly compared to earlier in the season and the fly angler can enjoy highly exciting and often productive sight fishing as the days shorten. Targeting these fish is very much weather dependent, with warm, calm, overcast days presenting the greatest opportunity of success.

Regrettably, the weather has been less than kind since early September along the south coast and the marks I fish in the Solent have been badly affected by strong winds, with no sign of improvement in the forecast. The net effect of these stormy conditions has been to persuade the mullet shoals to make an early departure from the flats, leaving the larger fish to search the shallows for food during settled interludes between storms. The fly fisher must now rely on the constraints of suitable tide, settled weather and free time to coincide in order to present viable fishing conditions.

Such an opportunity appeared to present itself yesterday afternoon. The torrential rains and gale force winds had abated for 36 hours, hopefully allowing sufficient time for the improvement in water clarity required to tempt the mullet onto the flats. I arrived at the water’s edge one hour before low tide to be greeted by the depressing sight of chocolate brown water, laced with masses of red, stringy weed liberated by days of rough seas. Conditions appeared hopeless but the capture of my largest thick lip of the season two weeks ago under similar circumstances maintained a sense of optimism. The tide receded quickly, creating a series of rips and food carrying currents as it drained a cluster of gravel bars but there was no evidence of fish feeding in the murky brown morass.

I made my way towards a small sandy bay, some 200m distant, in search of clearer conditions. A shallow sand bar projects from the entrance to the bay on its western side and a strong rip had formed where the falling tide met this obstruction. As I scanned the surface for movement, a bright silver fish leapt high from the tail of the rip. As if to prove that this was no figment of my imagination, the fish leapt mightily for a second time. I waded swiftly to within casting distance of the fish, which now fed enthusiastically while working its way along the rip. A 20-yard cast delivered the flies roughly 10ft in advance of the quickly-moving fish but also slightly beyond its trajectory. Hurriedly, I retrieved the flies to cover the fish’s path. The retrieve came to an abrupt end as the fly line was pulled forcibly from my grip and the leaping fish began to jump once more as it hared through the shallows in search of freedom. The fish showed incredible turns of speed as it fought tooth and nail to escape the hook during 15 minutes of intense battle. Once on dry land, I admired the mullet’s sleek, streamlined body which reminded me more of a thin-lipped mullet than a thick lip. An inspection of the mullet’s lips confirmed my suspicions … the fish was indeed a thin-lipped mullet (Liza ramada), weighing in at slightly over 4lb and a PB for this species. Another specimen fish had fallen for the charms of the ‘Ghost Buster’.

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