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How to Catch Mulloway on Bait Junkies

Robert Thornton 

Mulloway are a widespread species available in most southern saltwater environments, but a lot of anglers don’t take up the challenge. This is probably because mulloway, jewfish, or jewies, are perceived as an elusive and enigmatic target; difficult to find and even harder to get to eat. These perceptions are based on some truths, but if you apply a mixture of old and new knowledge alongside technology, catching multiple jewies in a session is very achievable. To do that, you’ll first need to familiarise yourself with the habits of these fabled fish.

A Ghost of the Estuary

Mulloway have always been revered as a difficult target, with stories in the past of hopeful and experienced anglers going dozens of sessions without a bite. While these stories are mostly true, they don’t tell the full story.

These days anglers have some of the best sonar technology available at their fingertips, as well as a huge backlog of knowledge shared all across the community. Through social media, regular jewie chasers are able to tell their stories to a wider audience, plus if the jewie fishing really comes on in a particular area – as it often does – you can bet people will find out much faster than they used to.

There have also been extensive tagging programs on mulloway across Australia in the last two decades. These programs have provided data to help the scientific and angling communities understand more about things like their growth rates, migration patterns, and also how long they live.  

Where once we relied on luck and faith, we now have science and information. It seems good mulloway captures are more available now than ever, and with sustainable fishing and restocking (which is currently funded and practiced in some areas) we can manage mulloway fisheries for future generations.

Mulloway and similar species from the Sciaenidae family can be found throughout the world, however in Australia you can catch jewies from about the Wide Bay region in Queensland, down the east coast and along the south coast, and up the West Australian coast to approximately the Gascoyne region. They can also be found in Tasmania, although stocks are thought to be very low.

They are a very striking fish to look at, with a purple sheen glistening from the top of their head to their nose, which contrasts with the silver to light brown colouration on the body. The name ‘jewfish’, which evolved from ‘jewelfish’, comes from their large ear bones or otoliths, which are sometimes carved into small pieces of jewelry. Inside the large mouth is a bright yellow inner mouth and throat area, with pointed teeth up to a centimeter long. Their strong tail wrist and paddle tail makes them a dogged and determined opponent, with a preference for structure.

Mulloway can live anywhere from the brackish reaches at the limits of tidal influence (and sometimes even in completely freshwater), to oceanic saltwater environments many kilometers offshore. Generally speaking, larger specimens will take to the sea as they grow ever larger, sometimes to almost two metres and over 60kg. But certain environmental phenomena will temporarily bring big jewies closer to land, such as a major river flood, or a river entrance breaking through. During this time they will wait for food in the form of baitfish and crustaceans to be swept out to sea. There are also large specimens that take up residence along the turbulent beaches of the east, south and west coasts of the continent. These specimens will also take advantage of a large river flood.

Under normal conditions though, plenty of fun-sized jewies (often called soapies) between 60cm and a metre can be targeted and caught by observant and patient anglers in estuaries and other sheltered waterways.

The Hunt for Ghosts

So with mulloway available in just about every body of water with at least a tiny ratio of salt in it, they might seem a fairly straightforward target, but this just isn’t the case. Daiwa Australia’s Pro Team member Saxon Lette, based on the Central Coast of NSW, has pursued mulloway in his local areas for years, and still holds a deep respect for them.

“From when I started at a young age, they’ve always had this cloud of elusiveness,” he says, “and these days people are a lot better at fishing for them, but they’re still not easy.”

“I love it because I rely on my sounder to do it,” Nabeel explains, “Using the side-scan, positioning the boat, and trying to get a lure in front of fish so they’ll eat it is awesome fun.” 

Helpful though sounders can be, you don’t always need to be as tech-savvy as Nabeel to find a school of jewies. Saxon often fishes in areas where he knows there are big predators based on the things he can see above the water. Saxon also fishes shallower water in general, and doesn’t need to rely on his sounder as much, with anything from 8m to 1m equally scrutinized.

“Number one for just about any jew fishing is structure, as structure holds bait,” Saxon explains, “and it gives them a spot to ambush.”

“Equally important when I fish – if I’m fishing at night – is artificial light, and a combo of light and structure, with a decent flow of current, usually holds jewies.” 

“During the daytime we’ll use sounders to see if there’s fish holding around the structure.”

Nabeel also focuses his efforts around structure, but is very particular about the snag piles he fishes.

“When I fish Moreton Bay and the Brisbane River, l’m looking for structure big enough for them to hide in [on the sounder],” he says, “Rock bars aren’t much good, and little rubble and reef patches aren’t great either.”  

“I want something a school of 20 jew can fit in, like a wreck, cluster of pylons, a wharf, bridge, artificial reefs… anything they can get in and under, for safety and comfort.”

Knowing where is one thing, but knowing when is another. Our anglers agree that timing is just as important if you want to catch mulloway regularly. With regards to seasons, most areas stick to a similar rule. Larger models (most likely breeding inshore) are often caught during cooler months, while better numbers of smaller, schooling fish are more available in the warmer months.  

A good jewie angler can catch fish most of the year if they adjust their approach a little, but there are rules that stay the same, regardless of the time of year. Tide phase is always a dominant factor for success, and most lure casters who chase estuary-going mulloway prefer the tide change periods.

“The last of the run-up, first of the run-out, and then the last of the run-out and the first of the run-up,” Saxon says. This is likely a favored time due to a few reasons. Firstly, the slackened current still brings food to the predators, but is weak enough to allow them to sit in wait comfortably, without fighting the current and running out of gas. Another reason is that a slacker current allows lures to be sunk down to a school or likely piece of structure with precision, and will stay in the strike-zone longer, and this latter part is important.

“They don’t move far to hit a lure, so you have to be very accurate with how you position your boat and where you put your lure,” Nabeel explains, “It’s gotta be right in front of their nose, or they just won’t eat.”

“I don’t focus on finding bait too much, as the fish I target aren’t often feeding – they’re probably either spawning or just chilling.”

Saxon prefers to find areas where there is bait, visible either on the sounder or on the surface. 

“Down here we have a lot of success under schools of tailor, where they’re eating stuff and scales are falling down through the water column,” Saxon says. “Mulloway are attracted by activity, so we’re trying to represent wounded baitfish falling through the water column with our soft plastics.” 

Saxon likes to get himself in an area where he believes jewies are, or can see them on the sounder, before casting in a general area to find a fish that is actively feeding. The key here is being confident in your approach. Depending on the sort of angler you are, you can either stay in these areas until you get bored or start getting responses to your techniques, or leave to try another area and return at a different stage of the tide.

Brown Water Jewies

Mulloway addicts often relish the chance to fish a major river in flood, and the breakwalls and bars at river mouths become a feeding station for particularly large specimens. They sit in these areas and allow the flowing brown mass to bring food to them.

Saxon, living on the Central Coast where big rivers flood semi-regularly, has caught a few extra-over-sized jewies fishing in this way. 

“Picking a spot where you’re just out of the main run, like a back eddie, is what I like to do,” Saxon says. “Surprisingly, they’re usually sitting and feeding quite close to your feet, as this is where bait gets trapped between rocks and current.”

Being strictly a land-based activity, it means boatless anglers have a chance to do battle with large jewies in excess of 20kg. However, just like most other jew pursuits, anglers sometimes have to spend a fair amount of time casting between captures. 

Timing is another factor when chasing a floodwater mulloway.

“You’ve really got to be there on the first push of the floods,” Saxon explains, “If you get there even a few days after the main part of the flood, most of the feeding fish will have moved on.” 

Mulloway Kit

Mulloway tackle has changed a lot in recent years, especially with the advent of new and exciting techniques. Most jewie fishing is done in estuaries, rivers and bays targeting fish under a meter, so medium, snapper-sized gear allows an angler to use finesse presentations while still being capable of turning them in heavy structure. Sometimes…

“In the river I like a 3000-sized  Exceller LT spinning reel, or an Exist 3000 LT,” Nabeel says, “either way, any 3000-sized reel, and 10-15lb with a 20lb leader is fine.” 

“Out in the bay where there are other factors like sharks, I’ll fish slightly heavier, and my main baitcaster set up is a Tatula 150, and a Tatula rod in the 4-8kg range, usually running 20lb braid and 20lb leader.”

“I usually run a plastic or soft vibe on this outfit.”

On the topic of lures, Nabeel likes to pick from the Daiwa stable once again, with Bait Junkie 5” Jerkshads in Baby Bass colour a favourite of his. With that said, other members of the Baitjunkie family such as the 7" Jerkshad and 4” Grub are also great to have in the box.

“I’ll usually fish with 3/8oz jigheads, and go a little heavier if the tide’s moving a bit quicker,” Nabeel explains.

Saxon uses similar rod and reel setups for his jewie fishing, but the shallower water he fishes often sees a good variety of hardbodies, swimbaits, soft plastics and even topwater lures in his box.

“If you can find them when they’re feeding, they’ll eat literally anything in my experience,” Saxon laughs, “You could probably tie on a kitchen spoon if they were really on and they’d eat it!” 

Most of the time though, Saxon is trying to match the hatch with whatever bait is in the area, whether that’s mullet, tailor, prawns, or anything else. And given that he’s usually trying to imitate an injured baitfish falling through the water column, Baitjunkies are a useful tool in the kit.

“Because we’re usually fishing current that’s quite strong, we’ll sometimes use 2oz jigheads on our Bait Junkies,” he explains, “So it’s not really falling naturally, but it’s getting down to them and that’s what really matters.

“When we’re fishing stiller water, we’ll tend to go lighter with the jigheads.”

Heavy Artillery

When the floodwaters are up and there’s a chance of catching a real bruiser from the bank, it’s time to break out the heavy stuff. Saxon likes to upsize his tackle significantly when fishing the breakwalls.

“Land-based we like to run heavy Tatula setups [swimbait models], with 50lb braid, 80lb leader, as these are great for swimbaiting,” Saxon explains, “This is great if we find an area where they’re are feeding nice and close to the bank.” 

“If they’re not in close, I like to use a Demon Blood and Saltiga combo, with 50lb braid and 80lb leader,” he chuckles, knowing full well this isn’t their intended use, however being creative like this can help you make the most of an opportunity.

“We still sometimes get broken off on this heavy stuff,” Saxon says, “Some of them are just unstoppable.”

Believe and Achieve

Mulloway fishing certainly doesn’t rely on as much blind faith as it used to, however there’s still an element of belief and determination that’s necessary if you want to score more mulloway.

Or, indeed, your first.

Time on the water and making notes as you fish will help you to build a picture of the mulloway habits in your area. Even making notes when you don’t catch fish is helpful.

In any case, paying attention and not giving up are key to cracking the mulloway code, and using good equipment doesn’t hurt either!

If you’re ready to step up your angling and take on another challenge, a mulloway is a great feather in your cap!

 

 

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