Rigging a split-tail mullet
  |  First Published: March 2007

Trolling for pelagic species with rigged baits makes a lot of sense. They are as close to live baitfish when trolled as possible, are simple to rig and are cheap. Rigging them might seem a bit difficult initially but before long it’s really easy. In previous QFM’s I have rigged a skipping gar and a swimming gar. This month I will show you how to rig a split-tail mullet.

Anglers familiar with fishing in more northern waters should be familiar with the split-tail mullet. It’s a popular trolling bait in many billfish waters, such as the juvenile black marlin haven of Cape Bowling Green near Townsville.

Mullet have a shorter, stockier body than a gar, so it’s hard to get a strong, life-like action out of a dead mullet. Removing the backbone allows mullet’s body to move in the water, which many pelagics find irresistible. If your mullet are fresh then you can also remove their scales for more reflection in the water, but frozen mullet need to keep their scales for durability. The eyes are also left in for this reason and while it makes rigging a little more difficult, the bait will swim better and troll for longer.

The sinker size can vary, depending on the leader size, sea conditions, mullet size and troll speed. Usually a size 5 to 7 ball sinker will work well. The split-tail mullet can be run in any position in your spread but I run it from the short flat corner just behind the teaser or on the downrigger. It will catch a variety of pelagics including billfish, mackerel, wahoo, tuna and dolphinfish.


(1) When rigging the Split-tail Mullet you will need a 13-20cm mullet, a very sharp, flexible knife, leader material (80-150lb) and crimp, rigging floss, bait needle (thicker than the leader material), ball sinker (size 5 to 7), shears or sturdy scissors and swaging tool. I recommend using an Owner Longshank 11/0 hook with anode tape on it to prevent electrolysis. A stainless steel Mustad 34007 10/0 would be another good choice.

(2) Insert the blade of your knife into the fillet, to the side of the spine and behind the mullet’s pectoral fins and push right through to its belly, as if you were filleting a fish. Continue to cut all the way down the backbone until you reach the base of the tail. Remove the blade and do the same procedure on the other side of the backbone as well.

(3) When you reach the base of the tail a second time, cut right down the centre of the tail to split it lengthways evenly into two, so there is a tail lobe attached to each fillet. It is quite hard to get the tail split evenly, especially with frozen mullet or with a blunt knife so a sharp knife and fresh mullet will heighten your chances of getting this perfect.

(4) Using a pair of poultry shears or sturdy scissors, cut through the backbone section where you started both your cuts. Shears are the best option as they eliminate the chance of accidentally cutting the fillet while removing the backbone.

(5) The mullet should now look like this with the tail section split in two and most of the spine removed.

(6) Now your mullet is ready for rigging. Line up the hook so that you can see where it will exit. The eye of the hook needs to be level with the eye of the mullet. Pass the needle through the mullet’s head at this point, keeping the needle dead in the middle of the head and directly through the eye socket area. Ensure your bait needle is larger in diameter than the leader material you are going to rig with.

(7) Push the eye of the hook into the head cavity from the rear until the eye of the hook is level with the hole we made with the bait needle. Open the mouth of the mullet to get a clear view. Pass the leader material through the hole made with the bait needle making sure you also pass the leader through the eye of the hook. Double check to ensure you have the leader and hook attached to each other.

(8) Put the ball sinker on the leader below the chin of the bait and crimp the towing loop so that the mullet can easily swing on the loop.

(9) The rigging section is now completed however we must now stitch the mouth and gills of the mullet closed to make it swim well and last longer.

(10) Tie about 30cm of bait rigging floss to the eye of your stitching needle. Pass the needle through one gill plate and out the other on an angle. Pull all but around 5cm of the thread through.

(11) Starting on the other gill plate, level with the exit point of the thread, pass the needle back through the gill area on an angle so the needle exits the opposite gill plate. It should roughly be level with, and opposite, the initial needle entry point.

(12) You are basically doing a figure of eight stitch to keep the gills closed. Tie the two ends of the floss together firmly to finish the task.

(13) Push the needle and floss through the top of the mouth and out the bottom just to the side of the center. Repeat the process on the other side from the center of the mouth and tie the two ends of the floss together to securely keep the mouth closed.

(14) This is how your split-tail mullet should look when it is ready to be put into service. Rig these offerings with fresh mullet and freeze them until needed or just rig as you need them after the mullet are defrosted. Don’t freeze, defrost and re-freeze the mullet as they will be too soft and won’t last long in the water.

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