Last updated 18/10/2017
Mulloway, or jewfish as they are called over east, are an iconic and elusive fish of the southern half of Australia. They’re one of the biggest fish within reach of the land based angler, and being a great feed too makes these a highly desirable target species. Like the barramundi, some anglers spend years trying to fulfill their ambition to catch a big mulloway. In fact mulloway even look similar to barra – beautiful silver flanked sides, the concave shape running down towards the head and the big paddle like tail. Both barramundi and mulloway are a handsome species of fish and together form two thirds of the Holy Trinity, with Australian Salmon making up the final species.
Like many, I thought catching mulloway was beyond my grasp. I’m the type of fisherman where fishing involves more time relaxing, drinking beer, and talking crap with your mates than it does actually fishing. Elusive mulloway were the domain of specialist hard core land based fisherman. Specialist fisherman who rock up to the beach in jumpsuits like they’re in the special forces, with specialist gear and fancy rigs specially designed for targeting mulloway. These mulloway specialists are such expert fisherman that they use tailor for bait. They can catch so many tailor with such reliability that tailor is relegated to mulloway bait. For me, tailor is a prize catch!
Fishing for mulloway does present opportunities for you to refine your gear and techniques and become a specialist if that’s the way you want to go. These special arrangements will improve you’re chances of landing a big mulloway. That doesn’t mean the average Joe can’t give it a go! This article is targeted at the average Joe. Your typical part time amateur fisherman who does a little bit of fishing and a whole lot of relaxing when going on fishing trips. So I wont be going into any optimized setups or specialist techniques, there’s heaps of information already on that and I’m not an expert. The purpose of this article is to give the average lazy fisherman like me a chance to catch a mulloway.
Time of Day
This is the most important factor in my opinion when it comes to targeting mulloway. If you want to catch mulloway, you need to be fishing at night and you need to put in some hours. From the time the sun sets to as late as you are able to go – this is mulloway feeding time. If you’re not a mad keen fisherman you may not find the prospect of night fishing enjoyable. Make it enjoyable. Come well prepared with warm clothing and good torches. Bring the camping chairs out. Bring an esky full of your favourite drink. Put some music on. Build a fire and have a beachside bbq for dinner. The fire will also help keep away the bugs that come out at night. Fishing at night doesn’t mean being cold and uncomfortable. Turn your night time mulloway fishing session into a relaxing evening by the sea. A beach you can drive on is best because it means you can really set up comfortably with your vehicle. Make yourself as comfortable as possible so you’re more likely to be persistent throughout the night rather than giving up.
Good lighting helps with night fishing. I have an LED work light permanently mounted on the side of my roof rack that I put there especially for night fishing. It doesn’t use much power so I can use it all night. I point it towards the water when night fishing. Apart from generally helping with fishing duties, it means I can approach the water without feeling nervous. I can see the waves coming in, I can avoid getting wet by an incoming wave, which keeps me comfortable and warm. A head torch is also handy.
Put in some good night fishing hours and you’re already most of the way to catching a mulloway.
Mulloway can be found in many parts of the ocean, estuaries and rivers, but a reliable place to fish for them is on a sandy surf beach. A sandy, open beach exposed to the surf. So if you want to catch mulloway find yourself a sandy surf beach. I don’t have much experience targeting mulloway in other habitats so I’ll focus on beach fishing.
Mulloways love to feed in gutters running parallel to the beach. Gutters are simply deeper areas of water along the coast. Gutters are not unusual or special. You’d be surprised how much surf beach has a slightly deeper area running parallel to the beach. It’s not amazingly deep or particularly significant. You’ve probably swam in gutters and noticed the water depth becoming deep then slightly shallower as you go further from shore. To find a gutter, look for deeper, darker water, and areas where breaking waves reform and become flatter and wider. Gutters can be right on the shore, surprisingly close, and can also be further out at a distance that is too far to cast to. Find a gutter you can cast to and target it with your casts. It doesn’t have to be right in the deepest part. Try closer to the shore and try further away from the deepest point. Avoid areas with seaweed. Even during the day seaweed is a major pain. At night it’s very difficult to negotiate and will make your fishing experience unpleasant. Seaweed will cause you to give up prematurely.
The diagram below shows a cross sectional view of a beach with a gutter. The gutter is where you will catch mulloway. Even gutters very close to the shore are productive.
This is where a beach that you can drive on is perfect. You’re able to cover a lot more beach in search of a good spot. Cruise along, find your spot, and set up shop ready for a mulloway catching session.
You don’t need specially presented live or freshly caught bait to catch mulloway. Mullies / pilchards work well. The same old bait you’d use for usual surf fishing. Find a gutter and throw your mullie into it. Mulloway will also devour lures, especially soft plastics, but for a land based fisherman bait is the best bet.
I catch mulloway on standard surf rigs. A set of gang hooks on a wire trace and a big star sinker to keep the rig out in the surf. No special arrangements, no sliding sinkers, no dedicated live bait setups. Slap my mullie or pilchard on and throw it in. Wire trace is handy in case you hook up a shark. Sharks also feed at night so there’s a good chance of hooking up a shark when you’re targeting mulloway. Some people believe a wire trace leads to fewer hookups because fish don’t like them. I’ve had success with wire traces but you might consider using some heavy duty mono to terminate your hooks if you feel it gives you better odds.
You want your rig to hold the bait close to the bottom. Mulloway feed mostly near the bottom.
Bring rod holders. I use PVC piping shoved into the sand. Cast your bait out, put your rod in the rod holder and sit back in your chair. If you’re set up nicely, this style of fishing is very relaxing and not very demanding. Reel in to check your bait every now and then. Keep an eye on your rod. That’s it. Let it hang out in the surf and enjoy the night. Using this technique you can use more than one rod to improve your chances. Hang out a couple of rods, leave them in rod holders, sit back and relax.
If you’re leaving your rod unattended you have the risk of the line getting slack and it forming a big tangled mess. The last thing you need is a tangled mess to destroy your motivation. Use a star sinker heavy enough to suit the conditions and keep an eye on the line to avoid it getting too slack. Mono line works better in these conditions, as it’s less susceptible to forming birds nests. If your reel is spooled with braid, attach several rod lengths worth of mono to use as a leader. Make sure you add enough length of mono so that, when casting, the rod is relaxed by the time the knot passes through the guides, otherwise the knot will violently smack into the guides as it passes through, wearing out the knot and guides. Learn how to do the FG knot and use it for your mono to braid connection since it is very slim and easy to pass through guides.
Casting distance can be an issue when fishing for mulloway if the gutter is far from shore. The braid spooled reel with mono leader is a good setup for casting distance. You get the advantage of light, further casting line from the braid and the improved tangle resistance of mono. Mono line is also more abrasion resistant and provides some shock absorption which reduces the risk of a break off.
For casting distance you want a large surf rod, with oversized guides which help reduce friction as line spools off your reel. You want your reel filled to capacity to reduce the amount of lip that the line has to pass over when spooling off.
Breakaway casting sinkers can be used to improve casting distance and help you cast deep into mulloway catching territory. These sinkers hold your hooks captive during the cast. This prevents the tumbling action you usually get between hook and sinker when casting, minimizing wind resistance and maximizing energy transfer to linear momentum. Net result is further casting. The impact with the water causes the sinker to release the hooks, after which it behaves like a normal hook and sinker arrangement.
Moon and Tide
I’ve never taken notice of the moon or tide when fishing for mulloway. Based on personal experience I’m not sure what gives you the best odds. I know that not fishing because the tides or moon aren’t ideal according to someone’s opinion gives you pretty poor odds of catching a fish. In fact your chances are zero.
I think I read in a book once that rising or high tide is best, and around new moon.
Summer and closely either side of summer is the best time for mulloway. That’s also the best time for night fishing. Perfect.
Mulloway are strong fighters when fresh on the hook. They tire quickly but you need to give them room at first to prevent breaking off. If you’ve hooked a big one you also risk breaking off when pulling it up the beach through the waves. The drag from the backwash can break you off so take care. Try to pull it in with the help of a wave, then use a gaff or grab it by the trace to pull it up the beach.
Mulloway are delicious. Mild flavoured, soft, tender white meat. Smaller ones are not ideal – they are called soapies due to their soapy texture. Medium sized fish are called schoolies and are the perfect size for eating. The legal minimum size of mulloway in Western Australia at the time of writing this is 50cm. Any mulloway above this size is fine for eating – 50cm is borderline soapy / schoolie territory. Mulloway freezes well and will last a few months in the freezer.