September Report - Mostly Mullet!

My last trip to Rosscarbery with Dave Matthews was on Friday 2nd September. As on our visits earlier in the week we fished from the grass bank near the bridge with Dave to my left fishing the slightly deeper water on the edge of the flow from the lagoon.

I had the better of the morning session, having six good takes and landing five mullet. They formed a remarkable increasing sequence of weights - 2:12, 4:01, 4:07, 5:06 and this beauty of 6lb 7oz. The "six" came in easily at first then dug in about thirty yards out and held out there for ten or twelve minutes before finally kiting into the shallows in the corner behind me there in the photo.


Meanwhile Dave's swim was relatively quiet with just a few knocks on his tips and only one small mullet landed. However we were about to have a reversal of fortunes for the afternoon ... my bites dried up completely and what seemed to be a big shoal of fish gathered in Dave's swim,

maybe attracted out of my swim by his persistent groundbaiting or maybe gathering naturally awaiting the opportunity to swim into the lagoon on high water, or maybe a bit of both.


At one stage Dave was down to fishing one rod as bites were coming as soon a fresh bait was in the water and he landed four nice mullet of 3lbs and 4lbs size. Sadly though the fish that would really have made his day (and his week) eluded him.


In the middle of his run of fish, Dave struck into a much bigger one that ran off with the 

flow from the lagoon way out along the other side of the bridge. He couldn't make much of an impression on it against the flow and after a period of stalemate he started wondering out loud about following it over the bridge and along the road ... but then suddenly he was getting a little line back. Although the mullet was now heading back in roughly our direction, it was also kiting to its left, taking it further out into the pool and perilously close to the old oyster pens across the far side. At one stage we could see it flapping on the surface only just short of a heron perched on some underwater debris! Dave kept the pressure on, kept the mullet's head up, and slowly brought the fish back into the safer water immediately in front of the bridge.


The mullet surfaced maybe ten yards out and we both got a good look - it was at least as big as my 6:07. A mother swan and her two nearly grown cygnets turned up, an unwelcome distraction but they avoided Dave's line. The fish surfaced again, still tantalisingly out of netting range ... and then it was gone, the hook pulled, a strangled cry of anguish from Dave and the two of us staring in disbelief at the empty water where the mullet had been. It was a real pity, landing that fish would have rounded off Dave's holiday very nicely indeed ... though his fifteen mullet haul including Irish PBs of 5:07 then 5:08 was not a bad outcome at all.


Mike Buckley joined us for a meal that night. Dave and Jane spent the Saturday cycling and hiking on Sheep's Head then, after treating Sylvi & me to a lovely dinner at the Brick Oven in Bantry, next morning they were gone home.

I had only a couple of clear days before Steve Smith's arrival and I spent Tuesday checking out the mullet form in the estuary down on the Mizen.


There seemed to be reasonable numbers of fish present in the low water pool and they were soon giving me fiddly little bites on the float. I briefly hooked and lost one, and landed a couple in a ninety minute session then left it at that as I didn't want to cause too much disruption ahead of Steve's arrival. The fish I'd had were only 2lbs or so but I fancied the venue for a gentle start on Steve's first day ahead of what would be a fairly strenuous weekend at Rosscarbery.


Alas come Thursday 8th it didn't quite turn out that way for a variety of reasons, not least that most of the mullet seemed to have vacated the pool on the bigger tides since I was there. We saw a few mullet, both missed a couple of half-hearted bites, and blanked. We consoled ourselves with a late lunch at O'Sullivan's and at least that lived up to expectations.

On Friday we travelled down to Rosscarbery early to join up with several other NMC guys who were there for a long weekend of mullet fishing. Mark and Al Stinton had driven over from the south of England picking up Clifford Wilkins in Swansea en route to the ferry. Jim Murray was down from Dublin along with his friend Anne Maria. Mike was still around on his extended visit. Steve and I had arranged to stay with Jim & Anne Maria in their rented cottage for a couple of nights to save on driving back and forth.


When we arrived Mark, Al and Clifford were set up already on the grass but there were mullet topping in the calm water in the lee of the wall. Mostly they didn't look big but Steve and I decided to give them a go, putting out two leger rods each.

We had one or two twitchy bites each but Steve was first in with a proper take. The fish gave a good scrap for a few minutes before it eventually came in close enough to net ... a very useful 5:08.


After that things went very quiet. Jim and Anne Maria arrived to fish from the wall to our left. Mike popped along to say hello, he'd had a fish or two on float from the lagoon. After lunch Steve went up to the cottage to take a break. I stayed and kept the baits and feed going out and eventually I was rewarded with a serious take.


The fish powered off out diagonally right, worryingly close to going behind some snags that had emerged from the water on the dropping tide, but I piled on the pressure to keep it just short and soon the fish kited into the wall where Jim arrived to net it for me ... 5:12.


A few minutes later I was in again for an almost repeat performance but this time a heavier fish of 6:09 for Jim to net ...

Steve arrived back but there was no more action at our end. Instead Jim himself was soon into a tidy 5:03 ...

Action now switched to the lads on the grass, who had a massive shoal of mullet cavorting in the flow into the lagoon as high water arrived and the water rushed under the bridge. We saw them operating a rota system, taking turns to hook a fish, bully it out of the swim, net it and rejoin the queue. These fish were no great size but together with some bigger ones they'd had on leger earlier, they finished with 24 between them for the day!


Steve and I were back on our spot on the wall on Saturday morning for the first day proper of the NMC meet. We could see odd fish moving, though not so many as yesterday. Steve was first in again with a real rod-bender that screamed off line before coming in only very gradually. To be honest I thought it was going to be another "six", and it certainly had the length, but it was a very lean fish that only went 4:10 on the scales...

It was my turn next, first with a 4:05 and then with this lovely mullet of 4:15 ...


And then the swim died on us, a bit like yesterday, except today Steve arrived back from his afternoon break to find me still fishless and indeed biteless.


We fished on as the tide rose; the water coloured up and irritating amounts of weed ran through. It all looked pretty hopeless but about the time we'd agreed to pack up I had a text from Dave Matthews asking how we were getting on. I told Steve we'd have one more cast while I replied ... and literally as I hit "send" on a lengthy text, my left-hand rod pulled slowly over and line started stripping from the reel ... I was in!


The mullet put up a super-charged fight in the fresh sea water, keeping going for ten or more minutes before Steve could get the net under it. It was a 5:13 in cracking condition...

I was pipped to Saturday honours by Clifford who had a 5:14 from the grass earlier on leger. The lads enjoyed a similar day to yesterday though today the high water fish in the flow were a bit bigger and warier and they finished with only 22 for the day! Jim and Anne Maria fished with Mike in the lagoon, all seeing some mullet action before moving on to the wall.


Sunday was forecast very wet but the worst seemed to pass in the night. After a slightly later start, Steve and I ventured further down the west side where we could get the tail gate of the car up and enjoy reasonable shelter from the fresh breeze and drizzle.


For the third morning running, Steve was in first with another decent fish, this one a healthy 5:05 after a lively scrap on the lighter of his two rods. I hooked a mullet while he was playing it, but fortunately only around 2lbs so I had it in, unhooked and returned still in time to net Steve's fish. Soon after I had a 4:03...

... then our bites dried up till I had a flurry of activity late in the afternoon and landed three more mullet, but only small ones around 2lbs again. Meanwhile the others moved from the lagoon, where they'd had decent sport in a damp morning session, onto the wall for an equally damp afternoon session and where Clifford bagged a beauty of 6:12 and Anne Maria a new PB of 6:03. These pics from Jim Murray...

The NMC meet finished with an excellent meal in the Church Restaurant in Skibbereen then Steve and I headed back to Kilcrohane. In hindsight it may have been better to spend another night at Ross as the lads enjoyed another good day in the freshening north-east wind on Monday, and Clifford even bagged a last-gasp 6:10 on Tuesday morning before they headed back to the ferry.

However we both felt like we needed a break from the intensive mullet fishing so we had a lazy Monday morning then headed out onto a local pier for the flood tide.


We started with two big baits on the bottom for a huss or conger, but when it became clear these weren't going to get much attention (or any at all as it turned out) I also put out a  scratching rig with small hooks and Steve a float rig with small sandeel baits. 


I picked up a few small pollack and a solitary big mackerel off the bottom. Steve had many more small pollack and a rare Sheep's Head garfish on his float. I don't know why we don't see more gars here; Mike was blitzed by a vast shoal of them some days while trying to fish for mullet in Lough Hyne.


The north-easterly was howling on Tuesday, and I was struggling to think of a mullet venue where we could fish in any comfort. I settled on a mark south of Skibbereen, but we didn't catch. The wind was offshore but raking the shallows, and any mullet present were keeping their heads down. The few we saw weren't stopping to feed.


Wednesday, the wind was still fresh but had abated a little. We headed back to Rosscarbery but another angler was set up by the bridge where I'd have preferred to fish on this smaller tide, and we spent most of the day in a long blank session from the wall. 

We moved onto the lagoon for a last couple of hours, fishing from the pontoons we were able to get our backs to the breeze. We couldn't see any mullet moving close in, so we stuck with our leger rods. This would be a first for me as I've always thought the bottom of the lagoon was too silty for effective legering and infested with large shore crabs, but some of the lads had done okay on leger at the weekend so why not give it a go?


In the event we both caught a small mullet to avoid another blank day, and we had quite a few missed bites ... enough, anyway, to persuade us to make a return visit on Thursday for Steve's last day fishing.


We had bites on and off throughout the day - nothing like as positive on average as leger bites across the road in the estuary pool but odd ones would hang on. I finished with four and Steve with three, though his were the three biggest from 3:07 up to 4:01. At least he'd be going home happy.

I drove Steve up to the airport on Friday and was next out fishing on Sunday 18th for a morning rock session on Sheep's Head. I started on a south coast mark but could only find small pollack, so about 9:30 I took a move over to the north coast and was fishing again by 10:00.


I had a black Redgill set up from the aborted session so stuck with that and soon had out a couple of pollack of 2 - 3lbs before I was clobbered by a monster that took close in. It went straight down, taking braid impressively off the drag which was screwed down quite hard, and went to ground in the kelp. I could feel it there for a while but it wouldn't come out and eventually I broke off. I set up again with a battered Tequila Sunrise 'gill and was promptly into a 5lber which seemed easy by comparison with the one I'd lost.

I kept that fish for eating. In its gut I found a whole large sardine almost fresh and a well digested smaller pollack about 4" long.


Dinner sorted I changed over to a lighter rod and a green plastic crawfish lure, fished weedless,  which I thought might find some wrasse. First couple of casts bumping it back across the bottom were uneventful, then next go the rod was almost torn from my hands. It wasn't a wrasse though but a pollack just on 6lbs, and a merry scrap it gave me on the lighter outfit.


I did eventually get a couple of wrasse, but it was only a couple and not very big. I keep dabbling with soft plastics for them but I'm a bit clueless about it really. 

I gave fishing a miss over the very neap tides - feeling a bit overdosed after Dave's and Steve's visits - and wasn't out again till Friday 23rd.

I tried a new beach mark where I'd been told a recent small club match had done okay with thornbacks and gurnards as well as dogfish.


Well, that was then and today was ... rubbish really. I had a few dogfish over the low water then the fishing died on the flood tide just when I'd hoped it might pick up. Not a sign of a ray on my bigger baits of mackerel or bluey nor a gurnard on smaller mackerel strip or sandeel baits.


I wound in five or six massive starfish which had been smothering my baits, probably didn't help!

Finally two more mullet trips to Rosscarbery on Saturday 24th and Thursday 29th. I wanted to put some more time in on the venue while the big mullet it's been producing are still around ... some time soon they will be making their way out and will be replaced by the prolific, but smaller, winter fish.

On the 24th I fished by the bridge, the grass bank behind affording reasonable shelter from a stiff and chilly north breeze, though occasionally it would shift slightly and come at me from either left or right.


I fished one rod at distance straight out and the other closer in and to my left in the deeper water on the edge of the flow out of the lagoon. I only had one bite all day on the distance rod, from a mullet of 3:07.


By contrast, I was getting regular activity on the close-in rod. I noticed that most knocks were coming very soon after casting - if the baits didn't attract attention then, often they would remain untouched till I wound in ten minutes or so later. I've encountered this mullet behaviour before, and it can help to move the lead and bait gently a few inches every now and then, which sometimes seems to induce a take (or sometimes shakes the crust bait off, which is less helpful!)


Anyway, I hooked five mullet on the close-in rod, but unfortunately lost three of them. One shed the hook towards the end of a decent scrap. The second I could tell had the line through a snag as soon as I struck into it - I ended up losing just the hook, fortunately as about the last ten yards of my line were shredded as the fish ran out and it could have broken anywhere. The third one came to the surface and went mental as soon as it was hooked, and shook out the hook.


The first I landed was a long and lean fish of 6lbs exactly - my sixth 6lber of the season in as many weeks. It took as I was moving the bait as described above and although it gave a solid enough fight I was surprised by its size. By contrast, the 4:15 I had late on was one of the best fights I've had from a mullet recently. The tide was up by now, and I was fishing close in to avoid the worst of the weed that was drifting past with the water now pouring through the bridge into the lagoon. My rod yanked over, the fish ran left towards the rocks in front of the bridge then, when I just managed to avert that disaster, it spent what seemed an age banging away in the torrent of water just shy of the rocks. I was left a shaking wreck, not least because I'd convinced myself it must be a very big fish by comparison with the earlier fight. They do seem to go better in the sea water though, perhaps it's better oxygenated.

On the 29th I fished most of the day in the same spot. A group of mullet swam left close in as I was setting up, and a couple of minutes later one of the bigger ones swam back right. After that, I barely saw a mullet move. The water was clear and shallow on this smaller tide, the sunshine was bright and unbroken and the north wind had persisted and freshened since my last visit, raking across the pool ... I couldn't buy a bite on either rod. 

I made a move over the road to the lagoon for the last couple of hours, but the first of these passed with no motion on the tips. I kept the feed going in, and eventually started to get some tiny bites. I couldn't be sure if these were from crabs, tiny mullet or larger mullet being difficult ... but there was no doubt when one of the rods pulled over, a nice mullet just over 2lbs.


Suddenly I was getting regular trembles and plucks on the tips, interspersed with better takes. I had out two more fish a little larger than the first, and lost another, till an otter rocked up and spoiled things. 

A note for other mullet geeks to finish with. One of the key identifying features of thicklip mullet is supposed to be "papillae" on their upper lip, never found on thinlips or golden greys. 

Papillae on Thicklip Mullet
Papillae on Thicklip Mullet

These have the appearance of a row or rows of wart-like lumps but are actually a type of taste bud with which the thicklips sample the mud and algal growth on rocks and other surfaces.


The papillae are normally about millimetre size on an average fish, but they can be bigger giving the appearence of a raggy moustache!


They can also, it's becoming clear to me, be totally absent, especially on the winter fish I catch here in West Cork which more often than not have a completely bald lip. I noticed all three mullet I caught yesterday had "barely there" papillae ... you can just make out tiny raised lumps along the pale part of the upper lip in the right hand photo of the pair above. I've no idea really what's going on here, except that clearly the papillae are a very variable feature. Whether individual fish are endowed in different ways for life or whether the papillae abrade away or otherwise degenerate going into winter, whether they can grow back next season, I don't know.

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