A hot morning mulloway bite produced several school mulloway for the author and his companions.

The many moods of mulloway

After a solid couple of hours of fishing the sun had finally reached the horizon. Apart from one solid tailor the session had been pretty slow. But importantly the moon was new, the tide rising and the sea conditions appeared ideal with that all important mix of water movement without excessive currents. In short, expectations were still high.

Rather than move locations we chose to stay put and try to capitalise on the scent we had been gradually building up with our baits in the water. The witching hour was upon us and it was now or never.

My companion launched another cast out into the soupy water that was funnelling off the reef platform to our left. Almost instantly his rod folded over as a powerful fish surged away with his bait. My cast hit the water a few seconds after his and before my sinker could even reach the bottom I too was tight to a hard-running fish. The third member of our party saw the action unfolding from his position some 200 metres north and wasted no time joining us. Unsurprisingly his first cast into the zone was rewarded with a hookup. Over the next 45 minutes we caught and mostly released some 13 mulloway from 5-12kg in weight. On this occasion they were schooling and feeding with reckless abandon.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise that I enjoy chasing and catching mulloway. I know I’m not alone in that regard amongst WA shore anglers. Like the black bream angler I think part of the attraction with chasing mulloway comes from the varied moods the fish seem to be subject to and the way these moods affect their willingness to feed. In this Shore Angles I want to explore the many moods of our beloved Mulloway.

The scenario that unfolded in the opening paragraphs was a dream situation for the keen mulloway angler. I have only experienced mulloway feeding like that on a handful of occasions and usually for a much shorter period of time. It was as if all the variables had come together to create a mulloway super-bite. Let’s take a closer look at that night itself and break down the ingredients one by one.

Lunar cycle – It was the night of the new moon. There was no light at all and as soon as the sun had set, darkness gathered rapidly and all hell broke loose. In my experience chasing mulloway I think they prefer those dark nights compared to moonlit nights.

Tide – The tide was rising. New and full moons produce the greatest tidal movements on our coast. Rising or full high tides are regarded as the most productive for beach fishing.

Changing light – The bite coincided with a period of changing light. Whether it be dawn or dusk this is regarded as the most productive time for shore anglers, especially if it coincides with high tide.

Sea conditions – The sea conditions were ideal on that occasion. Most fish prefer to stay out of areas with excessive water movement and current because they have to expend too much energy to stay in position. Ideal sea conditions will help with targeting all the usual shore-based species, but larger fish like mulloway definitely prefer having areas of neutral water available to assist with conserving energy while they wait for their next meal to swim past.

In contrast to that magical night, that out of interest, happened in August 2015, my last mulloway mission really highlighted the fickle nature of this species. On this latest occasion I commenced fishing around 4pm and experienced no action whatsoever until well after sunset. Only when complete darkness fell did I start to get some mulloway activity. If it wasn’t for the fact that I ‘accidentally’ hooked one, I would have dismissed the subtle knocks and pulls for smaller species. I had been ignoring numerous bumps and tugs for several minutes and figured I should wind in and rebait my hooks. Feeling some weight on the other end caused me to wind faster and although I could sense something there it wasn’t until I was over the bank and into the white water that the fish on the other end woke up. A fine school mulloway of around 6kg kissed the sand a minute or two later.

As the evening progressed the mulloway activity increased but their mood was frustrating to say the least. Many baits were mouthed and some were dragged several metres before being rejected. Eventually I added a similar-sized second fish to the tally but only after lots of missed pulls. It was as if the mulloway were having second thoughts after mouthing the baits. I was fishing solo but would have looked quite a sight as I cursed and swore at the ocean as I tried to outfox my quarry.

The next morning’s session drew a complete blank, but the evening session was a complete replay of the previous night. The mulloway were definitely out there again but were still playing hard to get. Miraculously I managed a couple more fish which I attributed to sharp hooks and bad luck on the fish’s part rather that angling skill.

The analysis went as follows.

Lunar cycle – One week after the full moon meaning the night was dark after sunset but bright later as the waning moon rose around midnight. This resulted in a narrow window for the mulloway to enjoy darkness.

Tide – The tides were diurnal (two tide cycles per 24-hour period). High tides were around 1pm and 1.30am. I was fishing falling tides for my dawn and dusk sessions.

Sea Conditions- Sea conditions were close to ideal with low swell and wind.

I was fishing the same general location in very similar sea conditions. Unfortunately circumstances beyond my control meant I was unable to fish on or near the new moon. I was fishing one week after the full moon so the tides were far from ideal. I believe the main reason for the lack of enthusiasm from the mulloway was the tide factor. Fishing falling tides seemed to prevent them getting fired up on a couple of otherwise ideal evenings.

Whilst I may never experience mulloway activity again like that night a couple of years ago, I’ll do my best to try and plan my mulloway missions around the optimum lunar and tide phases. If not I’ll no doubt invent new swear words on the beach if I find them in the same finicky mood they were in last time.

Captions: A hot morning mulloway bite produced several school mulloway for the author and his companions. (Pic Gary Wotherspoon)
Fraser Wycherley is all smiles after landing another arvo schoolie. (Pic Gary Wotherspoon)