One opinion I will venture ; that now j. a. c. k. has let out the secret of his success (by the way, he catches bass as well as mullet in this manner), a troop of sea fishers will forthwith journey to the bridge over the Fleet and give those unfortunate mullet such a dose of the bait that it will be a case of toujours macaroni, and some other lure will have to be invented. It must not be supposed, however, that j. a. c. k. or anyone else has been invariably successful with large grey mullet. It took this ingenious fisherman six or seven weeks to bag his first mullet. If he caught one he was content, if two he was pleased. Two mullet averaging 8 lbs. each and a bass of 14 lbs. was the biggest bag. These were taken in about an hour at the top of the flood, and were the outcome of about ten fish run. Blank days were frequent, and would be expected in a neck-of-a-bottle tideway, slack water in which the gathering bait could abide round the hook baits being the essential condition precedent to the mullet taking to the hook freely. One hour's suitable water was the most that could be reckoned on daily. With regard to j. a. c. k. holding these large fish on very small hooks, I should think it very necessary that the hooks should be made extra stout in the wire, otherwise they would tear out.
Here is another prescription for catching mullet : Take the tough upper crust of a newly baked, plain bread bun and cut it in strips about half an inch wide. These should be kept in a tin for a few hours to toughen. Three-quarters of an inch cut from one of these strips is the bait ; the hooks used are small. The main line, which is used without a rod, consists of horsehair, at the end of which is a length of twisted gut; the whole line is buoyed by means of small pieces of cork placed along it at intervals. If no fish are to be seen, breadcrumbs are scattered about, which may or may not bring them up to feed. When the whereabouts of the mullet are thus determined, the line is laid along the surface, the angler being in a boat, and more breadcrumbs are sprinkled around it with a lavish hand. The boat retires, the fish reappear, and if they have been educated up to buns, will surely be caught.
The object of having hair line is to obviate the rod. It is far easier to play a fish on a hair line, because of its elasticity, than on one made of hemp. A somewhat similar plan can be carried out by means of a rod and an ordinary undressed silk line well soaked in vaseline. This will float for a long time on the surface, particularly if a few small pieces of cork are used to increase its buoyancy.
I once saw a man fishing for and catching grey mullet from Dover Pier by means of a somewhat similar tackle. His line was of twisted silk ; just such a one as is used on the river Trent for chub, but perhaps a little thicker. At the end of it was a three-yard cast, such as we should use for lake trout; at the end of the cast was a small hook, while at intervals of three feet were two droppers. The arrangement was, in fact, just like a fly cast made up for stream fishing, bare hooks being substituted for flies. But in addition, between the hooks, there were small fragments of cork which kept the arrangement from sinking. The end hook was baited with that slimy green weed which is found in harbours growing on the piles. The two droppers were covered with bread paste. The day was calm, which is the most favourable condition for mullet fishing, and the fish were now and again visible. The tackle was very carefully cast above the fish, and some breadcrumbs were sprinkled over the water. The line was worked very skilfully, and several fish of no great size were caught while I looked on.
In mullet fishing the element of individual skill comes very much to the fore. The tackle may be right and the bait may be right, but unless the angler can place the bait in a natural manner before the fish, he will have but poor sport. For instance, it is no use making clumsy casts and splashing down corks and baits on the top of the water, nor jerking the rod to get out line, thus making an inanimate piece of paste or macaroni jump about as if it were alive, in the most unnatural way. Except in the case of voracious fish, it is always desirable to make the bait look and act, if I may use the expression, as naturally as possible.
Mr. Senior in a later chapter describes the most artistic method of mullet fishing carried on at Nice by local anglers who wade in and, with a careful sweep of the rod, cast their lightly buoyed tackle beyond the waves. At San Sebastian somewhat similar gear is used, baited with small squares of salted tunny ; a favourite local ground bait consisting of chopped heads of sardines, potatoes, and clay squeezed up into balls. One of the Mediterranean pastes for mullet fishing is made from fresh roll mixed with pounded sardines or anchovies. As marine ichthyologists hold the opinion that the sardine is identical with our pilchard, this latter fish could, no doubt, be used in the same way. I have heard of officers stationed at Gibraltar, unable to catch fish by any other means, setting small trimmers for mullet and baiting them with paste, and ground baiting or surface baiting the sea all around with a mixture of breadcrumbs and water.
With regard to paste, that made from bread is better than the common flour paste. A piece as large as a pea will often suffice, unless, of course, there are fish of from six pounds upwards about. In the Channel Islands the chervin ground bait (see p. 135) is used. Few ground baits are more attractive than pilchard guts, and pounded green crab should never be forgotten. A large number of different hook baits have been recommended, including shrimps and prawns, both boiled and unboiled, but always peeled, pilchard guts, live ragworms, cabbage, silkweed, wasp grubs, fat pork, tripe, and gentles. An enormous mullet of about 12 lbs. or 13 lbs. was hooked by a bass fisher at Tenby, who was baiting with ray's liver ; the fish immediately ran out every inch of line, and then broke a strong, treble-plaited gut trace.
Generally speaking, mullet are caught more easily in salt water than in the brackish water of estuaries, and the best of all times to begin fishing is an hour before daybreak, if the tide suits. Of course, in places where the tide runs strongly we have to fish according to circumstances ; but wherever mullet are found unapproachable in the daytime, very early morning fishing should be tried.
The little there is to be written concerning fly fishing for mullet will be found on page 173.
To any who would condemn sea fishing on account of the ease with which the quarry are captured, may I respectfully suggest a short course of mullet or big bass fishing ?