It’s flathead on fly time
  |  First Published: August 2012

As a keen fly angler I always get a bit excited at this time of year. Bass are starting to come on the job in the impoundments and those lazy old lizards are lying in wait for tucker on the edge of structure such as sand banks, weed beds, as well as channel edges within most waterways along our east coast.

And remember, tucker for flathead takes many forms. If it swims, it’s likely to get eaten which is why these fish are such willing starters on lures, plastics and of course flies, which is my preference.

Like most fly fishing ventures this one also requires that things are done just right for best success rates so a look at the system is in order.

Eight or nine weight rod ideal

Starting with tackle I’d recommend an 8wt or 9wt fly set up as best for these great fish. Flathead flies tend to be on the larger side – often tied on 3/0 or 4/0 hooks and with ample dressing in order to give them a baitfish profile. Consequently, they tend to be bulky, too much so for a standard 6wt outfit to cast effectively. The fish, too, can run to jumbos with the fabulous success of our Queensland slot limits and anyone who has caught one understands that a big flathead is certainly no slouch in the pulling department.

A quality saltwater fly reel with room for at least 100m of backing will be ideal. So far as fly lines go my tick of approval will be given to either a sink tip or intermediate sink rate line. Fast sink fly lines tend to drop the fly too quickly and inhibit action.

The leader length should be shorter than the rod for convenience sake and should terminate with a 40cm, 10kg tippet to prevent bite offs.

Flies are easy; these predators willingly grabbing Deceivers, Pink Things and larger Clousers. Best colours for Deceivers always have a bit of red in them which makes red/white, red/purple or an all red fly as ideal colours. The flies I use for flatties also double as barra flies and are tied on 3/0 or 4/0 hooks.

Habitat and Technique

I cannot stress too greatly that flathead are most easily targeted with fly tackle when they are in shallower water less than 1.5m deep. Too many factors prohibit fly success when the fish are holding deep, not the least being lack of control of the fly as current and other factors come into play. Accordingly, there will hardly be a better time for this pursuit than low tide when banks, weed beds and channel edges are obvious. Any depression, extra bit of cover, an area of drop off bank or simply where weed beds ease into a channel are all prime flathead habitat.

There are a vast number of waterways that, even if lacking in structure, will be ideal for taking flathead on fly. Low tide reduces space and the fish then spring into action soon as the water rises on the flood. Gold Coast creeks such as Currumbin and Tallebudgera are prime examples here.

On the local front, when fishing Jumpinpin’s banks and channels, I usually see best opportunity as the ebb tide comes into its last quarter or a bit later, then again as the tide starts to flood and sneak up into small gutters, bays, and the like.

Fly fishing options include either allowing the boat to drift and casting ahead along the edges or simply parking the boat on a really good looking area and walking slowly to work areas ahead while moving up current, the idea being to always bring the fly back a bit quicker than the prevailing current to imitate food that is moving with the flow.

In either situation the fly needs to be cast up current, ahead of the angler and into places where a fish might be waiting in a totally undisturbed situation.

With the fly allowed to sink to the bottom, or almost to it, the retrieve likely to entice a fish should consist of short sharp strips with all slack gathered and stowed where it will not tangle. Flathead take the fly with a hard pull and then tend to bolt. In shallow water I’ve even seen them jump!

A last tip. When a flathead is almost at the boat or bank be wary of sudden head shaking that will either dislodge the fly or see it bitten off by those rows of teeth. Keeping the rod to the side rather than lifting it high will usually see the net able to secure the fish at the boat but if on foot simply keeping the rod tip right on the water while walking the fish back to shore will see the fish come in quite easily.

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