The yellow eyed mullet is, like the grey mullet, a member of the Mugilidea family but it only grows to about 40cm, mostly found around 20cm. They have an olive-green back that fades to a silver underbelly, and they are easily identified due to their yellow eyes.
Big yellow eye mullet find protection in a huge wash rock
Yellow eyed mullet are found in most harbours and in-shore areas, around rocky structures or wharves, or schooling up in the shallows of all beaches around the North Island. They are in abundance in most places you go looking for them, and they live as far up into the mangroves as they can go until they hit fresh water. The yellow eyed mullet school up in big numbers and feed on anything from algae to fish scraps.
Berley deployed over the side of a wharf normally gets the attention of the yellow eyed mullet.
Berley deployed an a sandy beach will always attract a school of yellow eyed mullet.
You would think that a bait fish that is in abundant would be an amazing live bait. In my findings, they would be the last live bait I would stick on my hook!
I have caught kingfish on them years ago, on this particular day we couldn’t catch live bait to save our selves. There were kingfish in the berley trail that weren’t interested in any types of dead bait. We decided to buoy the anchor and leave the berley on the buoy to keep the kingfish around. Then we went up into a shallow bay and pulled the drag net, hoping for a bin full off grey mullet or piper, but all we got were hundreds of yellow eyed mullet... We chocker filled the live bait tanks and headed back out to the buoy.
Once back on anchor we started throwing handfuls of live yellow eyed mullet out in the current. After about 10 minutes, we got the kingfish barred up and feeding hard on them, every couple of minutes from then on, we would throw a handful of mullet out onto the water and the kingfish would smash every single one, including the ones with hooks. We ended up catching 10 kingfish that day from 15-30 kilos in only a few meters of water, again in a quiet shallow water bay in the Coromandel.
To this day I have tried the same technique and never landed another kingfish on a yellow eyed mullet.
Drifting yellow eyed mullet find Mike connected to a solid king while fishing with Nathan
However, there are a few people that I know that don’t mind using these little fish.
One is Allen Sherson. He would fish the Kawhai Harbour and during the high tide, he would collect live baits and then drift the Te Waitere channel on the outgoing tide, drifting along the channel edges and doing numerous drifts past the smaller feeder channels. Yellow eyed mullet used to be his preferred bait, and good catches of kingfish were always available if he put the time in.
Allen Sherson with a solid king, match the hatch in the shallows and the rewards are there
The other one is Nathan. He has spent a lot of time with me up in the backs of harbours fishing the shallows. When I left to live in Japan, he built his own boat, Little Miss Mustang, so he could continue to explore these shallow water hide-outs.
Waihi was an easy location and close to home, with large numbers of kingfish. Over the summer months with live baits hard to come by, and good numbers of large yellow eyed mullet around, they found their way onto the live bait hook, and they have accounted for a lot of kingfish and not just small kingfish but fish in the 25kg mark.
Nathan with a great harbour king caught with yellow eyed mullet in the bay you launch the boat.
With all live baits I think we have our favourite, and sometimes bad experiences can put us off using different live baits. I think having an open mind is what makes a successful angler. I think as anglers, we seem to get into a system that catches fish, and can get tunnel vision -I know I have over the years. Yellow eyed mullet may suck as a live bait in the Coromandel or out of the coast at Penguin Shoals, but maybe Waihi and Kawhai Harbours are the places where the kingfish are eager to these little baits. Always keep an open mind, it will make you a better angler.
Casting yellow eyed Mullet from the shore and walking them along the current is a great way to connect with kings
One of the negatives about yellow eyed mullet is they hate being handled. Hand contact removes their scales, so care must be used when removing them from the hooks and to the live bait tank. The use of a rag when handling them is highly recommended. They are quite soft fleshed and their skin isn’t as tough as other live baits so we prefer tail hooking the baits, but if there are kings in the area, back hooking is still a great way to get them in the water quick.