Angling for these shy fish is like an incurable disease—there are many prescriptions for it. Some of these, I fear, do not stand the test of time and are merely based on chance successes, depending more on the humour of the fish than the attractiveness of the bait or 'cute arrangement of tackle. The great point in mullet fishing is to use ground bait, not, as I have previously explained, so much for the purpose of attracting fish as of lulling their suspicions. Those who have studied the chapter on Baits may remember that some years ago I suggested to the director of the Marine Biological Association that macaroni might be used as a vehicle for the bait extracts which a chemist employed by the Association was preparing. Whether experiments were ever tried with the substance, I cannot say. But now, behold ! while I am at work on this chapter a sea fisherman, Mr. John Kirby, under the pseudonym of j. a. c. k., sends a most entertaining and practical account of mullet fishing to the ' Field,' in which he appears to prove most conclusively that the one really successful bait for large grey mullet is macaroni. This gives me some hope that the Italian paste, either flavoured or not with some biological preparation, will prove a useful substitute for the mussels, pilchards, and other natural baits which the professional fishermen have so much difficulty in obtaining.
J. a. c. k. catches his mullet in this wise. His fishing ground is in the Fleet, a great backwater which separates the Chesil beach, west of Portland Roads, from the mainland of Dorsetshire and lies midway between Weymouth and Portland. Two bridges cross it, one carrying the railway, and the other-known as the Passage Bridge—the public carriage road. At times this water teems with mullet, and occasionally big bass put in an appearance. The best mullet fishing is done during the ease of the tide. J. a. c. k.'s tackle consists of a stiff eighteen-foot greenheart salmon rod, a large Nottingham reel carrying 200 yards of hemp line, ten feet of stout salmon gut, at the end of which is a Pennell-Limerick No. 8 hook. Above it are five or six other hook links of medium salmon gut, six or seven inches long, lapped to the main length on gut at intervals of eighteen inches or thereabouts. Two feet above the bottom hook is a pistol bullet which is split and squeezed on to three inches of fine copper wire, the ends of the wire being lapped round the gut at a knot. The hook baits are pieces of ordinary macaroni pudding, and the gathering or ground bait boiled macaroni chopped up fine. Each bait consists of about three-quarters of an inch of macaroni which is big enough in the tube to admit the hook without splitting. The hooks have to be carefully covered and hidden. When everything is ready the angler takes the running line above the point where the gut is joined to it and presses it into the slit of a wine cork which acts as a float.
Hook For Mullet With Macaroni Bait.
The next proceeding is to lay the rod against the parapet and, after pulling a sufficient quantity of line off the reel, to throw the bait into the water, and then lower the baited hooks (for the moment using the tackle as a hand line) under and against the very noses of the fish. The bright-looking baits, so says j. a. c. k., soon attract a goodly congregation of fish, which inspect them, smell them, touch them with their sensitive lips, deliberate upon them, and apparently come to the decision that they are most excellent food for mullet, but dangerous. Therefore they absolutely decline to partake of the feast in the form set before them. Presently a big old fellow will whisk smartly round and deliver a stroke with his tail which knocks off the bait; a friend below opens his wide lips and the bait disappears. The other baits are knocked off in the same contemptuous way and eaten. The angler smiles, says nothing, and rebaits his hooks. Next he throws in some ground bait, and I confess I do not see why this proceeding should not have taken place earlier. This gathering or anti-suspicion bait is common macaroni boiled with skimmed milk and sugar and chopped up into quarter-inch lengths. As it sinks, the mullet, which as likely as not are feeding on the bottom, rise up, perhaps showing themselves, and take it greedily. While they are busily feeding flop go the baited hooks again into the very middle of them. Almost immediately a big fish will, or may, take in one of the baits ; but it is a long affair, this getting food into the mouth of a mullet, and the time to strike is not yet. In a few seconds the float sinks, a decided backward twitch is given to the line, and the fish is hooked.
All this time the rod has been leaning against the parapet of the bridge, quietly and harmlessly. Many a shy fish has been put down by seeing a long wooden wand waving about between it and the bright sky. j. a. c. k.'s plan after hooking a fish is to give him the butt remorselessly, in fact treat him as one would a salmon which was being played, or rather held, a few yards above a considerable waterfall.
The mullet has a tender mouth, and it might be supposed that harsh proceedings of this kind were fatal to success, but some mullet anglers declare that there is less likelihood of the hook cutting out when the fish is played roughly from the very onset than if he were dealt gently with and kept on the hook a considerable time ; perhaps this is very much a matter of opinion. Certainly strong measures adopted from the very beginning of the battle sometimes appear to cow fish and take all the nerve and pluck out of them. The method described is suitable for fishing when the tide is slack. At the beginning of the flood or ebb, four or five split wine corks should be added at even distances to buoy the tackle. Throw in an extra allowance of ground bait, and drop the baited hooks just over it, so that all float away together.