What a bizarre season this has been! Water temps have struggled to get up to their Summer averages and every time they look like getting there, a cold eddy sweeps through from the ocean or a flush of cold rain comes down from upstream.
The weather and sea conditions have been probably the worst I can remember in 20 years of guiding. In a one-week span I heard of the capture of a cobia and a Maori rock cod, both subtropical species, and I caught a john dory – a renowned Winter species.
Kings have been scarce but big, with some 20kg fish landed around the Heads. Last year was notable for big kings so it’s fair to assume that at least a few of them will be even bigger when they finally show up this year.
Actually landing one of these suckers around the heavy structure where they are often found is another matter, though, and to some degree is linked more to technique than upgraded tackle.
Going up in line class creates a number of problems, including difficulties in delivering baits or lures and a decrease in interest from the fish due the obvious distraction of heavy traces.
Heavy braided line is a poor defence around barnacle-encrusted structure despite allowing better presentations than mono of the same line class. Furthermore, heavy line and drag settings are inherently detrimental to the technique that best suits landing big kings.
Working on the theory that the harder you pull, the harder kings pull, I’ve found it best to go fairly lightly until the fish is clear of the cover.
Some fish charge straight into the cover regardless of what you do and I don’t think that there’s a thing you can do about it.
But in general I’ve found that leading fish away from cover gently is a lot more productive than going hammer and tongs.
In rough country a good skipper is an asset. Quite often, for reasons unknown, big kings will run straight away from cover.
This is great if it happens but you have to know how to handle it. The natural instinct is to chase the fish out but this can prompt it to swim against the direction of the pull and back towards the cover.
I suggest staying close to the cover and let the fish tire for a while before chasing it. I’ve never had a king swim back towards the boat like tuna do, so keeping the boat near the cover will ensure that the fish will not swim back to it.
Once you are confident that the fish is tired or too far from the cover to get back, move the boat quickly towards him.
From there on, keep the boat directly above the fish. The greater the angle of the line from the boat, the more chance the fish has of clipping it across bottom structure.
Being directly above the fish also means that to make any ground downwards toward the bottom means that the fish will have to take drag, expending more energy.
Low line angles created by the fish being away from the boat mean that the fish needs only to swim sideways to make ground towards cover, without having to take drag.
When you have lead the fish gently away from cover, wait until you feel you are a safe distance from structure and then go hard. Ensure that you place the boat between the fish and the cover to encourage the fish to swim away from the boat and hence away from the cover.
All this is much easier if you are drifting but it can be achieved at anchor providing your crew acts quickly
Once the fish is close to the boat, back off the drag a touch to compensate for the reduced stretch of a shorter line.
Presenting your bait in a way that draws the fish from the cover has obvious benefits. Casting your bait so it lands very close to the structure and let it sink, on a tight line, back towards the boat. This encourages the king to chase the bait out of the structure.
Good-sized flathead have come on the chew from the uppermost reaches to the Heads. The lower reaches around the Heads are dominated by the smaller sand flathead commonly encountered offshore, with the occasional dusky.
Upstream is the exclusive domain of the dusky, is comfortable in as little as 30cm of water.
Flatties’ poor reputation as a poor sport fish holds true when caught on bait but the skill, thrill and anticipation involved in hunting flatties with lures equates with chasing any other predatory species, including the tropical glamour fish.
The fight from a lure-caught flathead is a huge improvement over a flattie caught on bait.
In the clearer water often found in the upper reaches of Middle Harbour and the Lane Cove River there's the added thrill of seeing the hooked fish in action.
Some of the best areas in the Harbour to lure flatties include the shallows of Rose Bay, the upper reaches of Middle Harbour, the entire length of the Lane Cove River, yacht moorings in the sheltered bays anywhere, but particularly Balmoral and North Harbour, inside Grotto Point, Iron Cove and the Parramatta River from Gladesville bridge upstream. Keep moving until you find them
Best times are two hours before low tide until one hour after it starts to come back in. It’s even better if this tide occurs early morning or late afternoon.
Flathead congregate around channel edges, rock bars, weed banks and sand/mud bank drop-offs. Any area where water is channelled off mangroves or flats on a falling tide is well worth a throw.
A single-handed spinning or light baitcasting outfit with 3kg or 4kg line will handle any flathead, provided you use a trace of about 10kg.
Flathead hit almost anything that swims past.
Depth capabilities are the major consideration when choosing a lure for flatties.
If you opt for diving minnow lures you'll need quite a variety because of the 30cm to 10m depths you’ll fish.
A more versatile and possibly more effective option is to carry two types of soft plastics, stickbaits and shads. For 30cm to 1.5m, a stickbait like the Slug-Go or Storm Split Tail Minnow is deadly, especially around weed. To cover all depths it’s hard to go past a soft shad on a jig head from 1/4pz to 5/8oz, depending on depth.
The key to successful flattie fishing is maintaining contact with the bottom for the full retrieve.
Cast and let the lure sink right to the bottom. Start the retrieve with a big upward sweep of the rod and quickly wind up the slack so that your rod tip is pointing straight down the line.
Now wait and watch your line. It will stay tight until the lure hits bottom again, when slack line or ‘belly’ occurs. As soon as you see this, belly repeat the process all the way back to your feet.Reads: 1413