Mulloway, Southern

(Argyrosomus japonicus)

Commonly referred to as Mullas or croakers!

There are two species of Mulloway commonly encountered throughout Australia, the southern variety of this species can be heard softly croaking in the darkness of the night throughout most estuary systems stretching from Albany to Shark Bay, W.A. Juvenile mulloway thrive in healthy estuary and coastal inshore environments where they mainly feed upon crustaceans which make up for 50 – 80 percent of their diets. This is surprising considering most are caught on small, cut fish strips or prawns. Larger adult mulloway prefer a diet of squid and fish and also inhabit the same areas as juveniles but are not as common around brackish waters. These larger fish are a highly prized target for many anglers who put in countless hours of effort chasing them. Mulloway are also referred to as jewies, this nick name comes from the ivory like jewels which are actually ear bones located in the skull of the fish. Most fish species posses these ear bones with the grunter or croaker family having much larger jewels than normal. It is said that if an angler fails to remove the jewels of their first large mulloway they will never be lucky enough to catch another! I can happily remember releasing my first over fifteen kilos and have caught many since. The satisfaction of releasing a big, old fish back into its environment soon out weighs the need to stare at jewels in a jar!

Distribution

Southern mulloway can be located from as far south as Albany right up to the Shark Bay region throughout Western Australia and also from southern QLD down into South Australia.

Growth

Southern mulloway grow to around 55kg in weight here in Australian waters with the larger specimens generally averaging 20 – 45kg being commonly found along S.A. beaches. They are a slow growing species that has received a huge amount of fishing pressure through out the years, I believe they should be treated with the utmost of respect at larger sizes and released immediately upon capture. Mulloway breed in shallow estuary systems before making their way back out to inshore coastal environments and deep water wrecks found in up to 100 meters of water.

Habitat

Southern mulloway prefer deeper sections of shallow estuary systems and can be located up as far as brackish waters when juveniles. Larger mulloway can also be encountered in similar locations but will also travel out into offshore coastal environments such as surf beaches, rocky headlands and off shore reef systems. They can also be found around deep underwater wrecks in up to 100 meters of water.

Identification

Southern mulloway are a heavily scaled fish with a bright silver colouration shading to darker browns and purples in fish landed in poor water quality. The tail can be bright yellow when fish are captured in clean ocean environments or darker brown in colour when encountered in estuary environments. Mulloway have a long torpedo shaped body with a large paddle tail that is concaved in shape. There is a series of gold coloured spots that run horizontally down the side of the fish with this becoming more apparent with size and age. The head is tapered to a large mouth full of sharp pincer like teeth designed for holding prey securely before crushing and swallowing. Mulloway posses a set of crushing plates designed to crush and de scale prey items before consumption. Mulloway have always been famous for their timid, shy approach to taking a bait, this is simply the fish trying to crush and scale the bait before consumption. Be patient and let them eat it properly before striking!

Taste rating

  • Fifty Taste Rating
    50%

Small mulloway to 60 – 70cm are referred to as soapies, this is due to the mushy textured, soapy flavoured flesh often encountered when eating mulloway at this small stage. Larger mulloway have a much firmer textured, pleasant flavoured flesh as long as they have come from a clean ocean environment. Larger specimens that have spent long periods of time in estuary systems such as the Swan would are generally very poor eating and should be released upon capture to breed.

Sport rating

  • Seventy Sport Rating
    70%

Southern mulloway are a reasonable sport fish when encountered on the right tackle in open waters and are practically unstoppable when hooked in troublesome environments such as bridge pylons and mooring buoys. They can be dirty fighters with infinite knowledge of their surroundings and how to use them to advantage!

Tackle requirements

Light spin and overhead outfits rated 3 – 6kg are ideally suited to targeting smaller mulloway to 6kg with most bream styled combos proving ideal as most juvenile mulloway captures generally occur whilst targeting other estuary species such as bream and flathead etc. Nylon line is preferred for targeting smaller mulloway with baits and not only allows the fish to move off with a bait without feeling too much resistance but also helps shore based anglers fishing rough, abrasive structures such as bridge pylons and rocky reefs etc. Braided line is ideal for casting long distance, when extra feel is needed or when fishing with lures and finesse styled outfits.

Larger mulloway require much sturdier gear which can vary greatly depending on the size of fish and the environment you have chosen to target them in. For instance, when targeting school sized mulloway which average 4 – 6kg from an ocean surf break a 6000 – 8000 class spin reel loaded with 20lb nylon or braided line mounted on a 10 – 12’ graphite or fibreglass beach rod would be ideal. Yet if you were chasing 20kg plus fish from a rocky headland a much heavier outfit would be necessary. Large Alvey side casts, overheads and spin reels can all be used depending on the casting ability of the angler and the environment chosen. Line choice comes down to the simple question of, “ Do I need to cast far and feel a lot? “ or “ Do I need thick, strong line in case it is dragged around or wrapped through structure?” Leader materials should be light enough so as to not spook fussy fish yet thick and strong enough to withstand sharp teeth and rugged structures, 10 – 20lb is ideal for juvenile specimens with 40 – 60 for larger fish to 15kg and heavier 80 – 100lb for big, bad mulla’s around heavy structures such as deep water wrecks and reef.

Recommended baits, lures and rigs

Small Mulloway prefer to eat crustaceans such as crabs and prawns, they are generally encountered as a bi catch when targeting other popular estuary species such as black bream. Larger mulloway prefer a diet of squid and fish although will happily slurp down a small river prawn intended for smaller game. This is what makes the mulloway the truly magnificent species it is, big hooks, big baits and heavy lines will not always prove best as mulloway are very fussy feeders that are perfectly in tune with their environment. Targeting large mulloway in quiet estuary environments is a real art and a skill that requires a lot of time and patience to master. Both small and large mulloway will take a variety of lures from soft plastics to hard bodied minnows and red/white feather jigs at times with this active style of fishing being generally conducted around bridge pylons, ocean rock walls and rocky head lands. Fresh and live baits such as Prawns, squid and small bait fish such as boney herring or tailor are all ideal baits for targeting southern mulloway from most Western Australian locations and should always be presented as fresh and natural as possible. Rigs need to allow the mulloway to take the bait as freely as possible if any weight or unnatural feelings are sensed the mulloway will drop the bait and not return. Running sinker rigs are generally used when targeting mulloway of all sizes unless casting very long distance.

Handy hints and tips

The average serious mulloway angler lands one mulloway for every 50 hours of effort put in! Always use the freshest bait available and present it as naturally as possible,  fish lighter and try some aniseed oil on your hands if you are a smoker! (It helps to mask the scent of smoke which mulloway hate on bait!)

Preferred fishing times and tides

Low light periods such as sunrise and sunset are ideal times to target mulloway as is night around full and new moon phases. Rising tides are also favourable for mulloway fishing.

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