Rigging a Swimming Mullet
In previous articles I’ve written about different teasers and swimming baits that I use or have used in differing fishing scenarios around the world. The swimming mullet is a favourite teaser of mine for raising billfish, especially if it’s accompanied with a daisy chain of rubber squids.
I can just about hear some people scoff as they read this… “a dirty old mullet???… as a teaser???” Well, billfish love them; stripes, blacks, blues and sailfish all love a swimming mullet accompanied with 3-4 skipping rubber squid. Earlier this year I was involved in a major tournament win and a swimming mullet and squid daisy chain teaser was without doubt our main trump card over the 4 days.
As with most dead bait scenarios, I generally like running a swimming mullet when I’m fishing around concentrations of bait or I know billfish are in the area. If you’re just covering ground, searching for bait and/or billfish, artificial lures and teasers maybe the better option. Remembering that artificials can be trolled at slightly higher speeds and optimal trolling speeds for dead bait is between 5-7 knots.
Mullet teasers work well when fly-fishing or switch-baiting billfish on lighter tackle. As long as you don’t run your mullet too far back in the spread, they can be a great option for raising, teasing and ultimately switching billfish.
Probably my favourite scenario for running mullet is when I’m trolling a couple of skip baits. With a couple of skip baits trolled long in the riggers and a mullet teaser up short just behind the boat’s wash and a live bait ready to be pitched. This is a real fun and effective spread for any of New Zealand’s marlin species. Often billfish are initially raised on the short mullet teaser, before being either switched to the live bait or fading off and piling on one of the skip baits in the riggers… it’s great fun with great visuals.
When mullet are accompanied with a daisy chain of rubber squids, they can be a little heavy to wind in through the water. So as previously stated, it’s important to not run them too far back in your spread, on the third or fourth pressure is usually fine.
Mullet work really well in many situations. I’ve used mullet in baby black and sailfish fisheries through to striped and blue marlin fisheries. Mullet always seem to be a great option and handy addition to your fishing arsenal.
Many may ask “why not just put a hook in your mullet in the first place?” Well, you can if you want. There’s quite a famous rig used in the northern hemisphere called a ‘split tail mullet’. It involves a ‘J’ hook (sometimes two) placed in the belly of the bait. I find this bait to be better suited to the bigger blue and black marlin, rather than our more common striped marlin in New Zealand. Hook-up ratios between mullet and striped marlin are not so good; I feel mullet are generally better served as teasers. When saying that, I certainly look forward to anyone giving it a go and proving me wrong!
Mullet are pretty easily obtained in any good quality fish market today. Mullet are generally inexpensive ($3-$5 each) especially when comparing them to other aspects of your fishing expedition. I always try to have at least half a dozen good quality mullet in the freezer, as you never know when they may come in handy.
Most mullet sold at bait stores are generally not suitable as swimming or teaser baits due to their mushy and frozen composition, these are more suited to bottom fishing. Mullet sold at fish markets are fresher, firmer, cheap enough and obviously much better quality.
You can even catch your own mullet if you’re feeling adventurous, especially in spring and early summer when they move up estuaries and harbour reaches…. I’ll leave it in your capable hands for methods of capture!
As I’ve mentioned it in earlier articles, a big part of dead bait fishing is processing and storing good quality bait to begin with. I won’t go into too much detail this time around, other than to say your mullet needs to be gutted and gilled (leaving the throat latch in tact), eyeballs removed and lightly salted in the belly cavity.
This rig is really easy and as I stated earlier, it’s a really fun and effective addition you may like to try.
Once you’ve prepared your fresh mullet for rigging all you need is a descent bait needle, some waxed rigging thread or suitable dacron, a 4-ounce ball sinker, 200-300lb mono, suitable crimps and crimpers and maybe a knife or scissors for tidying up lose ends.
Obviously the size of the sinker and monofilament will alter with the size off the bait you utilise, but for an average sized mullet (30-40cm), a 4-ounce sinker and 200-300lb mono is fine.
The first step in rigging your swimming mullet is to sew the mouth closed, as you don’t want the mouth opening and causing drag when trolling it. Any unnatural drag will obviously cause the bait to roll and look unnatural. You certainly don’t have to get very flash with sewing the mouth closed, simply pass your needle and waxed thread up through the bottom and top jaws, just behind the jaw-bones and finish off with a couple of tight over hand knots at the center of the mouth. You may want to put a small slit in the lips so the knot sit nicely, but that’s totally up to you.
The second step is pretty important as to how straight your mullet swims. It involves a loop connection with your monofilament and the mullet’s head. The mono needs to be passed down through the exact center of the baits head, out through the throat latch, through the ball sinker and crimped together securely.
Finding the central point of the baits head can be made easier by a couple of simple steps. Firstly, scraping off the scales on top of the head can make the central point more apparent. If it’s still not clear, I sometimes use my rigging needle to create ‘cross-hairs’ through the middle of the eyes and down through the spine of the baits head. Then create a small hole with your needle, but big enough to pass the mono the skull and out the throatlatch.
The loop should be approximately the same size as the baits head. This allows the mullet to swim nicely and the ball sinker should sit nicely just under baits lower jaw.
I usually only make my leader length about 1 meter or half an arm span, remembering that it’s only a teaser and I usually like it towed behind a daisy chain of squid. I finish the top end of the leader off with a ‘perfection’ loop purely because it’s simple, quick and effective. You may prefer to crimp yours, but that’s totally in your capable hands.
The third step in rigging your mullet involves securing your bait to the mono loop, so if the marlin does get hold of the bait, it can’t steal it off you and get a free feed. Firstly you need to tie a clove hitch around the mono on top of the head. This knot needs to sit snuggly exactly where the mono enters the head. One tag end needs to be approx. 30cm and the other needs to be approx. 90cm long.
The two tag ends need to be passed through the mullet’s pectoral fins or ‘shoulder’ bones in opposing directions and pulled back tight. Doing this stops the mono loop ripping through the top of the baits head when it’s trolled. The pectoral fins or the ‘shoulders’ are probably the strongest part and a good rigging point to secure the bait.
From here the short tag end is crossed over the gill plates and through the eye sockets, but in front of the monofilament. With the longer tag end, you need to cross-stitch along approximately three quarters of the mullet’s body and back to the pectoral or shoulder point.
This obviously holds the mullet together and securely if a marlin does manage to get hold of it. It can be great fun at times trying to get a teaser bait off and away from fired up marlin. The great thing about mullet is that they’re really scaley. The scales make it easier to pull the bait off marlin, often the marlin end up with a mouth full of scales and then come in even more fired up for second bite; this makes mullet great for ‘switch-baiting’.
If a marlin does manage to make a mess of your teaser bait, well… it’s done its job, and any good crew will have a spare one ready to go in its place.
It’s important not to cross stitch the body too tight, as this will inhibit the baits swimming action. Just firmly is sufficient, allowing the bait to flex and swim freely.
As with the shorter tag end, the longer tag end is now crossed over the gill plates and through the eye sockets in front of the monofilament, but in the opposing direction.
The two tag ends can now be tied off with a couple of over hand knots under the baits chin. Remembering this is the final knot so make sure it’s secure and trim them to finish. By passing the tag ends in front of the mono it secures the loop further from any ripping that may occur during trolling.
Sometimes the loops will tear or rip through the baits head after trolling for a while or the bait gets a descent tug from a marlin. You may notice the mullet rolling or swimming unnaturally, this can be remedied by simply re-bridling the loop as per before with waxed thread, you may or may not need to bother cross-stitching the body depending on the situation…. I’ll let you work that one out.
From here, you finish your bait off by cross-stitching the belly closed, as before, it should be firm but not to tight as to inhibit the swimming action of the bait. Make sure you give the mullet a real good flex and stretch, as they can be a little stiff to begin with.
There you have it, a swimming mullet teaser that works great behind a daisy chain of squid. If you don’t have or like rubber squid, small to medium lures are fine as substitutes, or you may purely like to swim it by itself.
If you prefer a hooked option, the hook (or hooks) is simply placed in the throat cavity with the point coming out through the belly cut. The mono loop is passed through the eye of the hook. The hook(s) is then secured in place with the belly stitching. I personally don’t use this rig but it maybe something that you may like to play around with in the up coming summer.
Often I hear of fishermen who have become a bit bemused and bored with marlin fishing in the New Zealand scene. With all due respect, many of these fishermen simply throw four or five lures out the back and troll around the ocean for days on end or simply bob around the ocean soaking live baits. I’m certainly not having a go at these methods or suggesting dead baits are the be-all and end-all. All I’m trying to say is by trying something a bit different this summer; it may stimulate some fisherman and anglers and introduce a real fun element to your marlin fishing again.
Mullet are cheap, versatile and easy to use. Above all else mullet work really well especially in New Zealand conditions. Hopefully this will give you something to play around with next summer, see what you think… good luck!