January: Mullet, Huss & the Sea Monster That Got Away

As has become traditional, I started my mullet angling year on New Year's Day at Rosscarbery.


It was a grey but calm day. I found good numbers of mullet moving in the shallows down the west bank and soon had two leger baits out amongst them. But just like on my last visit in December, these fish showed little sign of feeding and three hours passed with only a couple of knocks on the tips that didn't develop into anything.


As the water level started to back up slightly, I began seeing fish moving close in to the wall to my left. This was very much into last chance territory, because in wintertime once the seawater floods through the pool on the new tide it seems to kill the fishing. I moved along taking one leger rod and my float rod with me, cast out the leger line then concentrated on the float. 


I struck and missed at a couple of bobs of the float. Next cast it buried properly, and I was into a decent mullet that scrapped well for a few minutes before I could net it. I weighed and returned the fish then went to re-bait the leger rod ... the line was moved well round to the right and was slightly slack. I tightened into another mullet that had self-hooked while I was playing the first. It looked remarkably similar in size, and in fact both went exactly the same weight at 3:15.

My next mullet outing wasn't until the 16th, when I found good numbers of mullet trapped in a shallow low water pool in the estuary below Clonakilty. There were little pods of fish scattered all over the pool, quite skittish but by keeping low and using the gentle flow through the pool I was able to present a bait to some of them.

I caught three nice fish from different spots, best 3:08. I thought I was going to get more to be honest, but mid-session the mullet's behaviour changed. A couple of fish started bow-waving up and down the length of the pool and with each pass more joined them. Soon they had all joined in, quite an impressive sight but to what purpose I couldn't say. Certainly they weren't feeding, and I couldn't get another bite.

I had another look down there on the 22nd but couldn't see any fish, so headed back to Rosscarbery. Jason was just set up fishing from the wall and I went over on the grass towards the bridge.

There were quite a few mullet showing in the bay between us, but unfortunately the swans were present in numbers and being a real pain, some getting their heads down on our groundbait, others just hanging around in front hoping to get fed. 


It made for a difficult session. I saw Jason land one smallish mullet and it turned out he lost a few others. I missed a couple of knocks then struck into a more persistent one and landed a nice 4:03 after a good scrap. Jason came over to have a look and took the photo.


Soon after he packed up, and as his car was pulling away I had a big slack line bite and struck into a very lively fish that ran way off to the left. For a while I thought it was a big fish but then it suddenly succumbed and came in easily. It didn't quite make 3lbs. I was now the focus of the swans' undivided attention, which ended my fishing in any effective kind of way.

The weather was unusually settled for January and the 25th was a beautiful spring-like day. I decided to venture out onto the Mizen for an early look at the estuary there ... and found loads of mullet in residence.


I started off fishing just a foot or so deep below a Puddlechucker float, and soon had out a brace of mullet just either side of 3lbs.


The disturbance seemed to have displaced most of the mullet activity away across the pool, but before moving swims I thought it would be worth trying deeper. 


Very quickly I was hooked into a mullet that felt much bigger. It didn't run far but rather it chugged away to-and-fro close in, hugging the bottom. This went on for over five minutes and I was beginning to wonder how long it could carry on like this when the fight came to an abrupt end. The fish rolled on the line which tangled round its ventral fins ... it came straight to the surface and I dragged it belly-first into my landing net! It was a slightly undignified finale but nevertheless a smashing fish of 5:02, one of the biggest I've had from this venue.

After that I did move swims. The mullet were warier now but I had another brace before losing a third which effectively ended the session. The two I had were 4:05 and a longer but leaner 4:03, so good-sized fish.

Given the numbers of mullet present, I was keen to have another go and headed back the very next day, accompanied by Sylvi and a picnic. What a contrast! It was a dull day, a surprisingly chilly south-west wind was ruffling the surface and not a fish was to be seen. 


I couldn't believe the mullet had all gone, particularly as the tides were neap and it would have been a real struggle for them to have navigated the very shallow channel back to the sea on the night-time high water. More likely they were lying still in the pool somewhere. I set up to fish my bait just off bottom in the deepest part, and fed the swim very sparingly with mashed bread.


An hour, and the picnic, had gone before I had a bite. The float bobbed back up before I could strike. This repeated for the next couple of casts, then a bite that sunk the float a moment longer. I struck, and was in. It was another powerful fish. Sylvi took some photos...

The fish weighed 4:15 and was pristine apart from some damage to the lower part of its tail, something I'd noticed on the two four pounders yesterday also.

I went back on the 30th for what turned into an almost repeat session on an even colder and more blustery day.


Again it was an hour before I had a bite, but this time the float just buried and I contacted the fish straightaway. It was another good one, just going 4lbs, and fought surprisingly well considering it had most of the bottom part of its tail missing in what looked quite a fresh bite wound. I'm fairly sure the tail injuries are down to otters biting at them when in hot pursuit. It's not nice seeing fish damaged in this way but hopefully they'll heal and the tail will grow back to some extent, and at least they've avoided the fate of several shoal-mates that have been reduced to sad piles of scales on the bankside.

Between the mullet sessions I've been heading up to Kerry to fish from the rocks in what has proved, so far, a forlorn quest for a spurdog.


I missed the traditional spring season last year because of the 5km travel restriction, but I did get a couple on a hurried trip in December 2020 so I was hopeful of getting some early ones this year. That wasn't to be but the sessions haven't been without interest.


My first trip was on the 4th. I had little flurries of bites through the day but these yielded only a few dogfish and one small thornback. 


Into the last hour of daylight and I had a good pull-down on my left hand rod, but nothing hung on. At the time I put it down to "probably a huss" but in hindsight it may have been something bigger swimming through the line because while I was sorting that bait out, my other rod pulled down in a ferocious take and line started stripping off the reel in short spurts.

I got the rod up, line continued pulling off the drag but only for a few seconds then it stopped. Everything seemed solid and I assumed the fish had run into a snag, though that seemed like bad luck as the bottom is clean mud and I've not had any issues at all with snags on this mark.


I gave it a good heave - no real movement though I sensed there was a bit of "give" in the snag, maybe an old pot rope or piece of net? I tried pulling from as far left as I could get along the rocks, and as far right, nothing doing. One last try ... and suddenly the snag was moving. It felt very heavy, but I managed two or three pumps under extreme tension and got a few yards back.


Then the snag came to life and swam inexorably back to the bottom! This was on the lighter of my two main beachcasters, a twenty year old Zziplex 3500 and because the mark isn't snaggy I'd paired it up with a 6500 reel for casting distance, 20lb mono line. This set up has dealt with big huss and spurs without undue difficulty, but seemed completely outgunned by what I was hooked into now.


What I was hooked into now was, almost without doubt, a large common skate.


Five more minutes of heaving and suddenly the skate was on the move again. I honestly don't know if I'd caused it to move or if it had just decided to shift positions, but once it was off the bottom I was again able to pump back a few yards of line before it swam down and dug in again.


We repeated this two or three more times, I forget. By now the line was going into the water almost vertically and there didn't seem to be any shifting the skate again. I was losing daylight and couldn't afford to wait it out. Reluctantly I pointed the rod down the line and pulled for a break ... only for the skate to go on the move again. Pump, pump, I knew if it went down again it would be right at the rock edge and probably game over ... but with the tackle in hand I just couldn't keep it up. It swam down and went to ground yet again. This time the line parted easily as I started to heave, either cut on the rock edge or just given up the ghost.


I was exhausted but strangely not all that disappointed, losing the fish was the almost inevitable outcome and I'd spent the last 25 minutes expecting it at any moment. The disappointment has built later ... it would have been nice to get the fish to the edge for a look, though I'd have had to cut it free as no way could I have lifted it out.


One of my Facebook friends said many big skate were caught in the area from boats in the 1960s and 70s before they petered out there as they did in many other places about that time. As far as I know there's not much or any recent history, not that you really see any angling boats out there trying.


Another friend sent me a link to a shaky video posted on one of the Facebook groups just a few days previously. Brave soul fishing the rocks at night on his own who managed to get a skate to the edge, took the video then cut the trace. He estimated 100lb+ which looked entirely plausible to me, definitely a big fish though there wasn't much on the video for scale. He said "west coast" so I don't know if it was near where I was or, more likely, further north. He described the fight as "like playing a sofa" but had tackle that gave him a chance - pokey AFAW rod and 80lb braid on a big Penn reel and, I don't know, maybe they are less reluctant to come up to the surface in the dark.


Others have said how great it must be to be able to target skate from the shore. Well, yes, but I'm not sure one chance encounter in umpteen visits really warrants the effort. Quite a lot of anglers target spurs along that section of coast and I've not heard any whispers of skate or other massive fish hooked. I'd think there may be better areas to try, near where charter boats catch skate currently and the kayak guys get them quite close inshore.


I was back on the 11th. Anything really was going to be anticlimactic but it was a pretty enjoyable session. A series of doggies kept the rod tips nodding and a couple of very nice huss punctuated the day, an 11lber that wouldn't quite behave for the camera and a 12lber on the grass...

On the 13th my friend Stephen came down from Cork to join me on a session on the other side of the bay. The day got off to a decent enough start when I had a huss of 10lbs on my very first cast...

...but unfortunately things went very quiet after that. The hours ticked by, high tide came and went without a bite between us. Stephen landed a starfish, and a scallop. Finally as the tide fell away rapidly we started to get a few knocks. I had a dogfish, Stephen had a couple of smaller huss.

I was back on the "skate" mark on the 21st, definitely not expecting another skate but I could really have used a spur by now. 

It was a day with plenty of action on the rod tips, mostly dogfish.


Late morning a better pull yielded another huss, a particularly well fed individual of 11lbs.


After lunch I had a couple of smaller huss and another spat the bait out at the edge.


By contrast, another session on the 27th was desperately slow with a complete dearth of bites till well into the ebb tide late in the day when I failed to connect with a couple of tentative knocks.


Roll on February, and hopefully some spinier customers to report on.

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