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Chasing Mulloway around break walls

This article is brought to you by Leigh Holtsbaum who gives us an in-depth guide on mulloway and how to catch them

Mulloway Argyrosomus japonicus are one of Australia’s most iconic species that, due to their varied habitat, can be found in the estuary, on the beach and offshore. It is this variety of habitats that provides opportunities for all fisherman to target Mulloway as you can fish land based or out in the boat having equal opportunity to chase these beasts. It is easy to see why so many people target Mulloway as they are not only a fantastic sports fish, but they are excellent on the table and great to look at with their long silver flanks. Mulloway can be found along the southern half of Australia’s coast line up to Gladstone in Queensland where the Mulloway’s Northern cousin, the Black Jewfish, takes over.

While similar in appearance to Mulloway, Black Jewfish (bottom) can be differentiated by its diamond shaped tail. Illustrations R.Swainston/anima.net.au©

Bobby from @ridethatfish caught and released this impressive Mulloway. Note the tail.

Throughout their distribution Mulloway can be found from the brackish reaches of the estuary, out to the beaches and on the reefs where I have caught them in water as deep as 50 fathoms (90 metres). Juvenile Mulloway inhabit the estuary and I have seen schools of small 10-15cm fish in the shallows around the mangroves hunting small prawns. The medium sized fish up to a meter in length will school up in the hundreds and patrol the break walls around river mouths and inshore reefs. Whilst the larger fish will also school up at times but normally in smaller numbers and follow established hunting routes that can cover large distances from river to reef.

Mulloway do favour ground with structure that holds bait like around deep holes, fallen timber, wrecks, rocky headlands and large reef pinnacles. They also like to hunt around man-made structures like jetties, rocky break walls and bridges over deeper sections or rivers. In Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales Mulloway are a year-round prospect however, the bigger fish are often caught around the river mouths when the Mullet and Tailor are running during winter. This is when the land based anglers chase them and catch some truly monstrous fish each winter off the break walls.

Saxon Lete

Catching Mulloway in South East Queensland is common and with a little bit of inside knowledge you can target them with great success. So far this year I have been fortunate to tangle with lots of solid Mulloway which was aided by the COVID Pandemic. As fishing was still permitted in Queensland the restrictions provided a unique opportunity for anglers to get out and fish more frequently. The average size that have been encountered around the Gold Coast Seaway break walls, the area that I like to target these fish, has been excellent with most fish in the 80-95cm range. Several have been over the 115cm mark testing my light tackle to max. At this size Mulloway pull hard and don’t give up till they are in the net.

Where and when to find feeding Mulloway along break walls

The areas around break walls where Mulloway hang out can be identified using a mixture of technology and visual observations. Using the depth sounder you can find deep holes and drop offs just wide the break wall and these are great fish holding spots. Additionally, tidal eddies which can be spotted on the water surface as it swirls around are ideal spots to find fish schooling up waiting in ambush for bait to be pushed past by the rushing water. The end of the rock walls where the estuary empty into the ocean are a great place to start and if you can find a deep hole, with an eddy in close proximity, the Mulloway will surely be close by.

There are lots of theories about the best times of the moon phase and tides to target Mulloway. Truth is that you can catch them any time, but to maximise your chances, I find the best moon phase is the week leading into the full moon. Match this with an early morning outgoing tide to get the best conditions for chasing Mulloway around break walls.

Anglers chasing big fish swear that night is the best time but I catch great numbers of Mulloway in the middle of the day, but I do agree the size is generally smaller.

Bait fishing for Mulloway

When fishing for Mulloway using baits, the options are vast and often dictated by the habitat where you are targeting them. On the beach, slabs of Tailor or a bunch of beach worms can work a treat whilst on the reef, live Slimy Mackerel or a well-presented Pilchard claim their fair share of solid fish. Around break walls at river mouths the answer is live baits. I like to use live Yellowtail Scad or Slimy Mackerel when the fish are schools sized in the 75-90cm. The good thing about using smaller baits like this is that it is common to catch a large amount of other non-target species keeping you occupied if the Mulloway are not biting. However, when the bigger fish are around you can up the size of the bait and use 30-40cm Sea Mullet, big Pike or legal sized Tailor. These bigger baits will reduce your bycatch but increase the chance that you might hook that fish of a lifetime.

If baits are hard to find or you want to try something different, I have also had good success in the same areas using the Dart Spin lure in the chartreuse colour matched with a 1oz jig head. Slowly hopped through the same area the Mulloway find the head Dart Spin very attractive and will happily gulp them down.

Rigging for Mulloway 

Like targeting any species around solid structure your terminal tackle when fishing for Mulloway around break walls needs to be tough and durable. Mulloway typically are not dirty fighters, but will take a decent run and often this can be straight past rocks or logs and rub you off quickly. I like to have two setups ready when fishing for Mulloway around the Gold Coast Seaway. The first of these is a medium overhead setup with 30lb braided mainline. Using an FG knot I tie around 3m of 60lb Black Magic Tough Trace to the braid. The second set up is a medium spin outfit with 20lb braid and 3m length of 20lb Black Magic Fluorocarbon Leader tied with an FG knot.

Medium overhead setup

Medium spin outfit

On the heavier setup I then add a 1m length of 60lb Tough Trace with a pair of snelled Black Magic DX Point hooks tied to a 15kg Black Magic swivel. The strong, needle sharp hooks with a tough point that doesn’t roll or lose its penetrating capabilities when being dragged through the snags and rocks. To complete the rig I add a sinker ranging from a size 4 to size 10 ball depending on the tidal flow.

On the lighter setup I run a single C-Point hook tied using a uni knot to the 1m leader of 20lb Black Magic Fluorocarbon and a 10kg Black Magic swivel. With the lighter setup I can normally get away with a size 3 to size 5 ball sinker.

The size of the hook depends on the size of the bait being used. For smaller baits like Yellowtail and Slimy Mackerel, 5/0 C-Point hooks are perfect. As you increase the bait size, I also increase the hook size adding a second snelled hook and on larger baits like Tailor, I will use 6/0 DX Point hooks. The twin hook rig work extremely effectively on bigger baits as it allows one hook to pin the bait through the nose and the second hook in the back doubling your chance of hooking up.

When fishing around break walls make sure you constantly check your leaders as small weaknesses and nicks in the line caused by rubbing on the rocks as this will cause you heartache when you get the bite and they bust you off on the first run.

The bite 

Mulloway can be very hesitant at times playing with bait making them hard to hook, particularly when using larger baits like Tailor or Mullet. This often feels like a small fish is attacking the bait but you have to give it time before you set the hook. Allow them some line and a few seconds to swallow the bait and then set the hook. At other times they just smash and scream off so you have to be ready to hang on. The reason why I have both a heavy and light setup ready is when they are hesitant you can often entice a bite by using the lighter leader. Sometimes this can end up in heart ache with a big fish blowing you away but sometimes you have to go light to get the bite.

When targeting Mulloway around break walls you will also encounter species like Mangrove Jacks, Sharks, Snapper, Estuary Cod, Flathead, Bream, Tailor and Trevally all of which are great captures in their own right. There is nothing w