Estuary, Fishing stories, Fly & Tenkara, Photos, Stuff we've learnt, Think like a fish- fishing techniques

Fly fishing for mullet

I got a tenkara outfit about a year ago, which was the beginning of my slow take up of fly fishing. To begin with I didn’t use it much. Lee gave me his old 5 weight a little while after that. As the past year has progressed both outfits have been getting more and more use as I’ve slowly become a fly fisherman, although its only really in the last 3-6 months that I’ve been using either outfit with anything approaching regularity. While my success on trout around Melbourne has been minimal (I’ve only landed a few so far, and it was only a month ago I started leaving the spin gear at home, forcing myself to learn faster), I have had far more success on mullet and have been having a great time chasing them. While its probably the easiest form of fly fishing you can do, its been great casting practice and a lot of fun.

The truth of the matter is that chasing mullet on fly is dead easy if you want it to be. Just like bait fishing for them but you use an imitation bread fly rather than a piece of bread as bait. Simply start a berley trail with nice white bread, wait for the mullet to arrive, cast your fly into the berley trail and wait. Its as simple as that if you want it to be 🙂 In fact, I’d say its even more effective than floating bread baits in your berely trail because your flies never need re-baiting, you’re almost always fishing and you’ve almost always got a lure in the water waiting to catch fish. I’ve had numerous sessions where I’ve landed 20-30 fish in an hour or so doing just this. In fact, in many waterways where the mullet are “used” to bread, you don’t even have to berley, just find some mullet and start casting your bread fly at them and they will hit it with gusto. In terms of retrieves vary it up. Some days just leaving it there works best, others a very slow retrieve, others casting the fly regularly and getting it to really slap down works best, some days light landings are the way. It just depends on the mood of the mullet

However, using bread flies isn’t the only way. In fact fly fishing for mullet is a lot more fun using tiny little insect pattern dry flies (in my case little trout flies because they were what I had). Often you’ll see mullet sipping something off the surface. I’m not 100% sure what a lot of the time (detritus, insects?), but its often most pronounced around dusk. Simply identify your target, a surface feeding mullet, and cast you’re little fly a meter or two ahead of the fish. Often they will notice and focus in on it immediately. There isn’t much better than seeing a bow wave fly in at any surface presentation, be it a popper, fizzer or a tiny little ant pattern fly. The best sessions I’ve had so far have been doing just this, wading the flats casting at surface feeding fish. Over Christmas I had a truly hot session, where I was hooked up for two hours almost constantly, easily landing in excess of 30 fish. It appeared the fish were feeding on tiny little black insects, so I was using a tiny little black midge ball dry fly. On every cast to a fish the little fly would be immediately sipped off the surface and I’d be on. I’ve also had success on little green and brown dry flies, which I assume are imitating weed and of course on tiny white dry flies which are a bit like cheating, given they are probably a decent bread imitation as well as potentially imitating whatever it is the mullet are sipping off the surface. Again, sometimes very slow retrieves work best, others just leaving it stationary.

Writing this post I had the realization that I’ve been very lazy taking photos of the mullet I’ve been catching… The only photos I had were from one session this weekend. I need to get better at this whole fishing blogging thing and start taking more photos 🙂
A selection of some of the flies I’ve caught mullet on. Apologies for the poor picture quality 🙂

I’ve also had a fair bit of success casting tiny green, white, brown and black nymphs as well as little brown and green weed pattern flies at mullet feeding mid water or near the bottom. Effective although a little less fun than fishing dry flies. Again its all pretty simple, identify your fish, cast your fly in front of it and wait for the fish to pick it up, which is usually on the drop. Slow sinking flies seem to work best. When using both little nymphs and dry flies, stealth becomes far more important than using bread, as does identifying and sight fishing your target. Some of the flies I’ve been using are tiny so have to land relatively close to the feeding fish to have a decent chance of being spotted and if you spook the fish, you’ve got bugger all chance. The added bonus chasing mullet this way is that its great casting practice, which will hopefully translate into success in my local trout waters. Recently, I’ve only been resorting to bread flies as a last resort, preferring more “natural” although lower percentage presentations. Another bonus of the more natural presentations is I’ve been picking up a few sea mullet, which are notoriously hard to tempt on bread. To date I’ve only got one or two sea mullet on bread flies but half a dozen or so on more “natural” presentations (usually sinking nymphs). While sand and yellow mullet have dominated my captures to date, its been great to get onto a few bruising sea mullet, to test out the gear. My biggest to date isn’t large by sea mullet standards (42m), but it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Hooked up on the tenkara

Lastly, I’ve also had a fair bit of success on Sand and Yellow eye mullet casting, tiny little clousers, prawns etc at them, which I assume are imitating little crustaceans and prawns the fish are feeding on. Worked back with short fast jerks and long pauses I’ve caught a fair few fish.


Mullet even jump!

The gear I’ve been using is what I’ve got available and I usually chop and change depending on the size of the fish. If they are under 30cm on average, I use the tenkara (biggest fish I’ve managed to land on it has been 35cm), catching small fish on that outfit is a lot of fun. If they are bigger than 30cm on average, I get the real fly rod out and use that as bigger mullet can sometimes break the very light leaders (6X tippet) used on the tenkara. In terms of locations, any estuary will hold mullet, start by focusing on flats with nice weed beds. Lastly, while I’ve talked up the amazing sessions I’ve had, mullet can be a little fickle. When they are on they are on, but sometimes they can be hard work and I have blanked on numerous occasions. Its like most fishing, the mood of the fish is all important and dictates how you should be fishing for them, how stealthy you have to be, which presentation will work best on the day or whether you catch anything at all. All in all thats about it. I’m definitely not the most knowledgeable person on the subject, but I am having a great time, which is the important bit I suppose. In a year a two I might do a re-write, reflecting on how far I’ve come and how little I understand now. However for now, I hope thats of some use, and if you haven’t started fly fishing, get out and get into it. Its awesome 🙂 Also if you have any tips, send them my way!



Mullet in the brad berley trail. As a bonus the scenery mullet fishing can be quite stunning
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20 thoughts on “Fly fishing for mullet

  1. top stuff, your on a fab learning curve, salt fly fishing is where the magic happens,
    and the passion for fly fishing begins. ps, i couldn’t sight a fish until i took up
    fly fishing, gives you extra vision!!!!

  2. Thanks scratchalot

    I’ve definitely been bitten with the bug… Its an addictive hobby 🙂


  3. Mish, can you talk me through your line set-up on the Tenkara. I scored a Tenkara (or Chinese equivalent) From Georgo for my birthday – I don’t really know where to start! Graz

  4. Pretty damned easy… Start out with a level line… I just use a piece of 20lb flourocarbon leader… Attaching it is shown here Just remember to stretch it before you start fishing to get rid of as much of the memory in the line as possible… Start out with a line about the rod length, bit easier to deal with… After that you can muck around with it depending on where your fishing… On the flats, I sometimes use a longer line to get out that little bit further (15ft + 3 ft of leader)… After that you can buy a more traditional furled line, or make one yourself 🙂 Heap of fun! Get into it


    1. Thanks mate

      With the trout season closed, I think I’ll start with the easy option, bread fly into a bread trail for mullet – I guess I’m just going to have to go down the coast again … damn hey!

    1. open to suggestions for sunday, western port or port phillip? Ive not used my tenkara much at all in the salt, but experienced in swoff, freshwater FF and freshwater tenkara; never fished salt in victoria to date, so would appreciate guidance. I reckon it might be fun to have several tenkara anglers all at once in the salt.

      1. I wont be able to make this weekend after all. All booked up. Great idea though and keen to get it happening at some point 🙂


        1. as it turns out this afternoon, neither will I be, now working this weekend. Let’s try for it in the warmer months, might get more tenkara dudes out. I know of quite a few in Victoria, we could try persuade others to join in.

  5. Hi Poul

    At the moment its closed season for trout in the rivers and streams, so I’ve mainly been fishing the lakes around Ballarat and Creswick- Newlyns, Hepburn, Wendouree, Mourabool, Learmonth etc… Pretty hard work, but at least its fishing! Once the rivers/streams open, there are countless other flyfishing options within a couple of hours drive from Melbourne, most of the streams around Healsville etc hold fish and its really just a matter of exploring a bit and finding some favourite spots…


  6. Hey guys, great post. i’ve recently been chasing mik fish in darwin on the fly, and I berlied up a huge school of diamond scale mullet, but they just wouldn’t touch my bread fly. They’d swim up to it have a good squiz, then just swim away. I tried using a bit of bread with it, but again nothing. Heard of any good techniques for diamond scales?

    1. I’ve never fished for them, so no specifics… First thing I’d suggest is having a sparse berley trail. You catch far more mullet if you don’t feed them too much. The old adage “treat em lean to keep em keen” applies to berley trails in my experience… Next have a variety of different bread flies- different sizes mainly- match the size of your bread fly to the size of the berley- if that doesn’t work I find smaller is usually the best- experiment with both floating and sinking bread flies, even if they are smashing it off the surface, sometimes getting it to sink a few cms can make them take the artificial when they aren’t… You can use both at the same time to begin with running a dropper to get an idea of what they will take and what is working best on any particular day…

      Lastly, if you start experimenting with little nymphs, (unweighted slow sinking size 12, 14, 16 scuds (small shrimp) flies have been best for me in natural colours) etc that can do the trick, although I’ve never really combined the two but would be worth a try if nothing is working (berleying and fishing a floating bread fly with a more natural dropper). I generally try first with “naturals” and then resort to berley when I fail, given berleying and bread flies is more consistent… On some days though, the natural flies can work amazingly, just still to fully dial it in (if that’s possible) for consistent results… If your lucky, the mullet down south sometimes take little dries, which is makes for outstanding fishing, but I’ve only seen it twice last summer with big ant and other hatches… So always keep an eye out and try a few things…

      Lastly, don’t get too disheartened. Mullet can be hugely hugely frustrating fish at times. At times they just aren’t catchable. Down south it’s Sea mullet that are the real enigmas. Diamond scale mullet might be similar. If that’s the case, persistence is the only thing I’ve come up with…

      Good luck!


  7. hi guys i need help fly fishing for a long time cannot manage to catch a mullet on fly trying often i am fishing in the esturay in tramore any help or advice would help thanks guys

    1. Hi Eddie.

      Its so variable depending on species and location… Generally in Australian estuaries there are at least a few mullet species that can be easily caught on bread flies in a burely trail. Thats the easiest option. Those same species as well as the harder to catch species (e.g. Sea Mullet) can be targeted without burley relatively successfully (at times) using more realistic patterns (e.g. shrimp, worm, algae patterns). No secret to success there though, its lots of trial and error trying to figure out what they are feeding on, lots of heartbreak and lots of time on the water… So if you just want to catch fish, set up a berley trail and fish bread flies 🙂 (assuming your mullet eat bread)

      Hope thats some help


  8. Hi Hamish. Hope you’re well and still fishing for mullet. I’ve been a frustrated trout fly fisher living in Queensland for years. Recently I moved to the Sunshine Coast, joined a fly fishing club and got myself a pedal kayak. I fish my local lake which is full of mullet and bream. I’ve been burleying with bread for mullet and catching (and releasing) good size bream on bread fly. As you would know the bream are aggressive and attack the fly. I’ve had a lot of bites I’m sure by mullet but I haven’t been able to hook one. Your excellent article emphasises small flies which I will try, to date my smallest fly has been a saltwater hook size 6 (‘cos that’s what the shop had), so I’ll have to find smaller hooks to tie on. Now (at last he says) my question, when you get a mullet to eat your fly, do you strike, wait and strike or let them swallow it? They have a reputation for soft mouths have you found this and if so how do you hook them?

    1. Hi Emry
      As you’ve already found out, mullet can be surprisingly fussy little buggers! You will get them mouthing flies, so that is most likely the problem… if you watch them eating bread, they will rarely smash a whole pieces, but will often instead just take off little bits from the side. Some days, they go nuts and will be inhaling any sized fly left right and centre, but most of the time they are much more circumspect. Thats where small flies really come into play, as they will usually just inhale those. When they do, strike… There can be a bit of an art to picking the moment one of the fish actually take the fly in… so just watch carefully and when the fly disappears strike. The soft mouths thing won’t be much of an issue, I assume you are using light/lightish leaders….

      Good luck, its been ages since I’ve been out chasing mullet. I am well and truly due a session 🙂 and continue trying to work out how to catch big bully mullet on the south coast, something I have made very little progress on 🙂 Hope that helps

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