Have fun with a flattie on fly
  |  First Published: September 2011

If there’s a better month to catch a flathead on fly I’ve not seen it. The fish are plentiful in many areas and as they form into breeding schools and gather along banks, flats and shallow edges that border deeper water they are well and truly within reach of the fly angler.

Flathead are the target species for many saltwater fly anglers at this time of year. The fast moving pelagics such as mackerel and tuna are a fair way off yet, so with the flatties schooling up it’s prime time to give them a go with the long wand.

I’ve long regarded flathead as a fly angler’s fish. As ambush feeders their habit of waiting stealthily along shallow edges near cover such as weed beds, mud clumps or bottom irregularities makes them highly accessible. Either cast to flathead from a boat, where the utmost stealth will pay highest dividends, or walk slowly along the bank casting to the shallow sections where these fish are stationed.

As flathead attack virtually any small fish or crustacean that strays within reach of a quick snap of their jaws, a fly representing a small fish will certainly provoke an attack.

The trick is getting that fly to the fish without the fish waking up to the fact that there is an angler nearby.

Take the eight

Experience has proven that at times there can be quite a few fish between casts, so there’s a need to select a rod that will firstly cast the larger flies selected, but at the same time not irritate the casting arm from repeated use.

While a ten weight rod will easily throw a lovely long line, a long session can be tiring. As an all rounder the eight weight fills the bill well: it will have a good reserve of power to play a flathead or maybe a by-catch of tailor, cast the fly readily, and not give your casting arm a hard time.

intermediate or fast sink LinE

From my experience choosing which fly line to use is not quite so easy. While there’s a need for a sinking line to get the fly down in the first instance, having used both intermediate sink rate and fast sink lines, I think the fast sink line is the best to use.

With a retrieve under way and only a rod’s length or two remaining in the water, the intermediate line can be pulled straight up and re-cast rapidly, whereas the fast sink job will need almost all of it retrieved before the next cast commences, which will certainly cause a longer interval between casts.

But I believe the fast sink line will get the fly down in the strike zone more rapidly and keep it there longer, which is vital when trying to bring it to the attention of a fish that is half buried in the bottom mud or sand and waiting quietly for the next feed to come his way.

Fluorocarbon leads the way

A rod length leader is fine and either a store bought fluorocarbon leader or a homemade fluoro leader will fit the bill. As flathead have very sharp teeth and love to shake their head to wear through a leader, it will pay to set up a small section of 10kg bite off tippet on which to tie the fly. Ensure the fly is in a Lefty’s loop style of knot to allow it to swim properly.

Fly selection

With a predator such as flathead fly choice isn’t difficult. If it swims by and is small enough, a flathead will eat it. So fish profile flies like Lefty’s Decievers, Clousers, the Crazy Charlie and similar patterns are quite suitable. I tie mine on 2/0 or 3/0 hooks so I can use them on barra later in the year.

Best colours are ones that imitate fish or prawns. Silver over white is good, as is buff over white or light tan with hints of green. Yet at times, especially if the water is somewhat discoloured, gaudy colours with lots of red and bright green work best on lizards. Experimenting with different colours will pay dividends.

Where and when to fish

Obviously if you have a favourite place for catching flathead on plastics or bait, this is a go to area for flyfishing.

Most of us don’t have that luxury, so it comes down to looking hard at a chosen bank or a flat adjoining a channel or point. The main thing to remember is that flathead love cover of any kind.

A bare bank is not the place to fish but if an area features patches of weed, some undulations in bottom structure, maybe rock or mud clump patches present and the water is around 1m to 1.5m deep, that’s a good sort of area to prospect.

Shallow water is essential because flathead move into the shallows to hunt and it’s important to keep good control of the fly line. It’s hard to keep a belly out of the flyline and work the fly effectively in short sharp jerks if there area you are fishing is deep has a flowing current.

When to fish? The incoming tide is my favourite time, especially if it’s just after daylight. I’ve also taken my share of lizards on the ebb tide when water is draining from nearby flats. Drifting or quietly using the electric power to move boat along a likely edge to present the fly adjacent to drains or small indentations in the bank is the most productive technique.

As I mentioned before: stealth is everything with these fish. If a flattie becomes aware there is a boat nearby, it’s unlikely the fish will take a snap at a fly, so drifting or using electric power are smart tactics. It’s also necessary to keep the fly as far from the boat as possible, so brush up on casting and line control.

Remember that perseverance pays with these fish and when you do hook one, don’t rush to reel him in or try lifting his head as he nears the net, as this will provoke head shaking and possible line shearing, followed by disappointment.

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