Raising the Bar

It had been a rough day’s fishing. The morning stint had begun badly, I had been fishing for an hour or so, the mullet steadily growing in confidence until the tip finally hoofed round and I made contact with what felt like a good unit. No sooner had I reeled down and bent right into the full weight of the fish then I felt a headshake, the line fell slack and I was left swearing into the rising sun. As I reeled in the rest of my line to inspect my rig, my second rod ripped around so violently it was nearly dragged into the murky water. I dropped the first rod and lunged for the second but the fish had gone by the time I reached it. Mentally, I gave myself a savaging for being such a klutz and I would rue these two missed opportunities for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until roughly 12 hours later, however, that I realised what an eerie foreshadowing this sequence of events had been.

The next missed opportunity came as Smithy arrived to join me around midday. We were chatting away when one of my rods smacked around hard before springing back. Again, the fish had long gone by the time I reached the rod and I took a moment or two after to think about what I was doing and make some changes to my rigs. As an aside, when I’m missing bites like this it can be easy to get into a negative spiral of thinking that nothing is going to make any difference and I’m having bad luck or a bad day or whatever. The fact is that, even if I feel like that, I find that making a change or two, however small, can get me back into a more positive space again. Sometimes, it’s important to bear in mind that the changes we make to our terminal gear may seem small to us but from the perspective of the fish, the effects are amplified many times and can have a huge bearing. My recent conversations with expert mullet angler Rod Worrall have convinced me of this.

The afternoon passed without event. We had occasional half-hearted bites but nothing that you could call even vaguely strikeable. By four o’clock, we had both decided to have a little break. I made my way to the nearest shop to get myself some dinner, replenish my bread supply and have a think about how to approach the evening. Arriving back at the venue, I decided to try a different spot. The water was clearly full of mullet, although they didn’t seem to be terribly sizeable. Regardless, I tried my hand and proceeded to miss a bite or two before the rod tip slammed round and I found myself playing a smallish fish which came adrift after twenty seconds or so. Crestfallen, I made an impulse decision to return to the spot where I’d missed my bites in the morning and see out the rest of the session.

While I’d been busy losing that fish, Smithy had returned and enjoyed better fortune, catching a beauty on his second cast. He had returned it by the time I caught up with him but he showed me a video of a fine, plump five pounder in his net. This really cheered me up, at last we had enjoyed some success and the signs were encouraging that the mullet were in a better frame of mind to be caught. We got down to fishing in earnest and it wasn’t long before I started getting good bites. Try as I may, however, I just could not connect with anything. This went on for a while and I was beginning to lose the plot, wondering just what I had to do to hook a fish. 

Then, at last, it happened. The rod tip wrenched around hard and my strike was met with that most awesome of feelings: living resistance. The Drennan quiver tip curved over beautifully and I began to play in a decent fish. To my astonishment, halfway through the contest, my other rod nearly jumped out the stand, something on the other end pulling it right round into locking point. I couldn’t believe it! I had waited all day for a decent bite and here two fish had hooked themselves within moments of each other! I shouted to Smithy to come and get hold of the rod before it went in and he hurried over. ‘This feels like a decent fish,’ he remarked as he bent into it. I quickly bullied my first fish the rest of the way to the net and took the rod from Smithy. The first fish was a nice one but when this second fish surfaced, I could see it was a class apart. It plodded in towards me, staying near the bottom. When it saw the net, however, all hell broke loose. The fish tore off on a long run, heading straight for a prominent snag and wrenching the reel handle out of my grasp to rap me hard across the knuckles as it span furiously backwards. I managed to turn it with mere inches to spare and began to work it back towards the net. Somewhere in the commotion, Smithy had gotten himself fast into a mullet on his own rod. This changed everything – we were fishing with just the one net between us so it was critical that I get my fish quickly into the bag with the first and then clear them both of the net so we could net Smithy’s!

A family had seen all the action and wandered over to join us down by the water. The dad claimed to know what he was doing with a net so I was happy enough when he offered to land my fish. Unfortunately, I forgot to mention to him that there was already a fish in the net and as he prepared himself, he unwittingly freed my first fish from it! With no time or spare hands to recover that one, we instead focused on getting the very large mullet I was playing into the bag. Finally, she flopped into the mesh and excited dad immediately tried to lift the fully-extended net from the water. Crrrrraaack! went the flimsy fibreglass telescopic pole as it splintered at a join between two sections and I instinctively grabbed it close to the net head to prevent any more mishaps and losses. With the biggun safely bagged I picked up my other rod and was amazed to find the first mullet still on! I carefully played that back into the net, asking one of the family to keep a foot on it whilst I readied the carp sling that I had recently purchased with occasions like these in mind. After quickly unhooking both my fish and decanting them into the sling before securing it to the bank, I hurried over to Smithy with the net and he was able to conclude his battle successfully. 

Smithy’s fish was a tidy one of 4lbs or so and, after admiring it for a short while, he promptly returned it. I had to take a moment or two to sort my head out before I glimpsed into the sling. When I did, I found myself staring at one nice mullet of a similar size to Smithy’s and another that made it look small. The first order of business was to see if I had a new personal best on my hands. ‘That’s 6lbs all day!’ said Smithy as he studied the bigger one and, although the rational part of my brain knew he was right, I dared not believe it until I saw the proof. I weighed the bag I use as a sling for mullet at 5oz before putting my prize into it and lifting it on the balance. The needle settled at 7lbs 2oz, meaning that I had just landed a 6.13 and upped my PB by over a pound!

After photographing the big mullet and capturing its release on video, I turned my attention to the smaller fish languishing in the sling. On the scales it went 4lbs 5oz and I felt a bit sad for it that it had its thunder so utterly stolen by its larger cousin. On any other day, that would have been a fish I would have been delighted to catch yet in the context of this day, it was fated to be just a pleasant footnote in the story. Still, it was a beautiful fish in its own right and I made an effort to capture a good photo of it. I spent the rest of the evening basking in the afterglow of my catch. There was a sense of ‘rightness’ to the experience, almost as if the events that unfolded had followed a predestined path. It was as if the day itself was made to test my resolve and then the captures themselves were my payoff for persevering and not completely losing faith in myself in the face of so many missed opportunities. 

In the grander scheme, it felt like that six pounder was the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Mullet fishing has slowly consumed more and more of my angling life and this was every ounce the kind of fish I had been coveting for some time. Granted, I would have preferred to catch it in a foaming sea at one of my local winter spots but that part of my fishing feels to me like a separate story of its own and one with chapters all of its own yet to be written. I did feel a twinge of something like melancholy that I had now reached a milestone that I might struggle to surpass. In the case of some other species I’ve become fixated on, the capture of a specimen has spelled the end of the road in terms of me seriously pursing them, at least for a time. In this instance, however, after a moment’s consideration, I realised that I didn’t even need to ask myself any tough questions. Catching this fish wasn’t the end of the hunt by any means, rather it was confirmation that I was on the right path. Where the path leads and how the hunt will end I really don’t know… but I’m excited to find out!