An Irish Anglers World

Open Sea Mullet on the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork

The Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland, is a place that I love to fish, wild, rugged, and underexplored as an angling destination. For those who like virgin territory and discovering new venues, look no further. There are marks on places such as Cod’s Head and Crow Head that have probably never been fished by an angler. Certainly based on my meagre experience the fishing can only be described as what dreams are made of. Large pollack, wrasse, mackerel, conger, and huss come to mind, however recent trips to the area introduced the prospect of open sea mullet fishing and I really wanted to give it a go.

The unusually shaped mouth of a grey mullet.

Large shoals of mullet patrol the headlands and bays in this area sifting plankton from the rich waters bathed by the gulfstream. Grey ghosts they appear impossible to catch, their diet in the main being microscopic diatoms. That said mullet are quite catholic in their tastes and will accept more conventional food offerings, they just need to be tempted. For the angler prepared to put in the work and a bit of thought results will occur surprisingly quickly. If that route doesn’t appeal then find someone who knows the form and spend a day with them. Lucky to have made the acquaintance of such a person, an early morning session was planned and I can say now that the result was quite satisfactory.

Roger Ball is from England’s West Country and has visited the Beara for a number of years. He comes for the peace, the view, and the fishing, especially the fishing. In terms of Beara shore species he has caught pollack, coalfish, mackerel (even on Christmas day), garfish, wrasse, ray, flounder, codling, dogfish, and bass. Mullet though are a special fish to him and Roger certainly knows how to catch them. The estuaries, harbours, and headlands of Devon and Cornwall were his stamping ground and he learned his trade well. On discovering the large shoals of Beara mullet Roger thought that all his Christmases had come together. Quickly applying his experience resulted in many memorable catches, on occasions up to nine mullet in a three hour session. His preferred method being ground baiting with pilchard oil soaked bread, before introducing bread flake into the swim suspended below a quill float.

Cruising mullet

The morning in question dawned bright and still with only a light north easterly breeze blowing. Arising at six am Roger and I gathered our gear and walked down a right of way to the rocky shoreline below. Here the sea has eroded a natural harbour in the rocks usually visited by mullet at high tide, but today with low tide at eight am the water although reasonably deep was empty of fish. The seabed offshore comprised rock and kelp merging onto sand about fifty meters out. Scouting for signs of fish we saw surface activity off a nearby promontory. Making our way out it became clear that the disturbance was caused by a small shoal of mullet mouths open sifting plankton. Peering into the clear blue water another larger shoal numbering over fifty fish swam into view.

Quickly Roger poured some pilchard oil into a small rock pool, and then taking some white sliced pan he immersed it in the water/oil mix before breaking it into pieces and firing it some ten yards out towards the shoaling mullet. Within five minutes it was clear that the mullet were interested with fish swimming through the cloud of bread flakes and particles hoovering them up as they went. During this time Roger had prepared his tackle, a coarse float rod and reel combination using six pound maxima straight through to a size ten hook, suspended below a small quill float cocked by three split shot.

Landing a played out mullet

With the mullet now feeding strongly Roger keeping low behind rocks for cover introduced his bread flake covered hook. Fish swam around and the float bounced as wily mullet knocked the bread from the hook before eating it. This act was repeated before the quill slipped under, a turn of Roger’s wrist, a surface explosion at the centre of which was a large mullet, then nothing. Roger could only think that a sharp rock edge had nicked the line causing a weakness, as the fish had been hooked but the line had parted. More feed into the swim, a new rig, the float dipped under and contact.

A swirl on the surface prefaced a screaming reel as the angry mullet bored away and down stripping ten yards of line in jig time. Again and again the fish ran never giving up. Using side strain Roger eased the fish towards the net only for it to dart off again. It took the guts of five minutes to subdue the fish and even then it wasn’t really beaten. In the net and barely weighing three pounds I could not believe what I had just witnessed. Without question Mullet are Europe’s answer to bonefish, if only we had the sun to complement the fishing.

Roger with a Beara mullet

“Now it’s your turn”, said Roger, “use my gear”. With that Roger showed me how to mould the bread around the hook leaving the barb exposed. Essentially take a thumbnail size piece of bread, wrap around the hook and squeeze the top half around the eye, leaving the bottom half fluffy with the barb slightly exposed. Throw out some ground bait and introduce the hookbait once the mullet are on the feed. In this instance fish were feeding so it was just a case of cast out, adjust the end rig, and await developments.

Watching the hook bait and the float was great fun. Mullet were swimming around picking off pieces of suspended bread. “They’re really confident, it’s only a matter of time”, said Roger, then the float went under. I struck way too hard and the float whistled past my head. Roger chuckled and advised, “Just a turn of the wrist is all it takes, try again”. The second cast resulted in a knock the bread off the hook trick before eating it. Third cast a breeze blew across the surface ruffling the water so that I could not observe what was happening below. No matter the float slipped under. A quick turn of the wrist resulted in a big swirl followed by a screaming reel as the fish tore off. What followed was a repeat of the previous fight only this time I was on the other end. Roger gave advice where required and after an exhilarating battle netted a mullet in the two to three pound bracket.

Open sea mullet from the Beara Peninsula

I was thrilled, mission accomplished and most importantly the practical knowledge required for repeating the feat on future occasions. I could not believe the strength or the staying power of the species, most definitely pound for pound the strongest fish that I have ever hooked. Shaking Roger’s hand I thanked him for the advice and the experience. Two days previous we had enjoyed a red letter day rock fishing for pollack and wrasse, but this one fish had made my trip and I was one happy camper as we trudged up the path for a bacon butty and a well earned cup of tea.

See also: Estuary mullet.