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Flat out in Queensland
  |  First Published: July 2013



Flathead are one of the most popular bread and butter species Queensland anglers chase and winter is a great time to get into flathead fishing.

One of the best things about flathead is that they are receptive to so many different techniques and tactics and this feature will discuss some of the best ways to target flathead on bait, while casting lures and while trolling lures. We’ll also run you through a few simple and tasty flathead cooking recipes as well as give you a rough idea on some of the gear you’ll need to chase these fish.

Always remember the bag and slot limit in Queensland waters as the stock of flathead gets fished hard by rec and pro fishers. The bag and slot limit seems to be working well at the moment and stocks are not considered to be in any danger, so with that in mind, let’s go find, catch, clean and eat one of the most popular fish in Queensland.

Bait Basics

Fishing bait for flathead can be an exacting exercise or as simple as lobbing a pillie out and waiting. But like all fishing the more attention to detail you bring to the table, the more flathead that will be caught.

Rigs

There are countless rigs for flathead but let’s concentrate on a few tried and proven rigs.

The first is the running ball sinker rig. This rig is simplicity in itself and requires the tying of only one knot. Simply run an appropriate sized ball sinker right down on top of a long shanked hook of about 4/0 in size. This can be baited up with prawn. Worm or a flesh bait like tuna strips, frozen blue or white bait and even half pilchards.

The next rig is also a running sinker rig, however we separate the hook from the sinker by using a swivel. This also allows us to use a heavier leader to help combat the teeth of the flathead. The other difference is that you can use a set of ganged hooks at the pointy end to allow the use of a full pilchard, large bluebait or longer tuna strip, thus making your bait more appealing to a larger flathead.

The last rig is the simple paternoster rig. This rig uses one, two or three droppers and presents the bait just above the bottom, keeping them out of weed and mud. The sinker on the bottom also sends up puffs of sand and mud, which attracts flathead.

Shore-based

Fishing bait from the shore is all about location. Find a spot where there are features like weed, rocks, deeper water nearby and hit them on a rising tide. As a general rule the flathead will follow the tide up, right into ultra shallow water and the hope is that they pass by your bait. The best rigs in this situation are the running sinker rigs as they allow the bait to waft around a little with the current and provide a visual attraction to the flathead as well.

Boat-based

If you’re fishing from a boat you should always consider drifting. Drifting covers vast areas and allows you to present your bait to more fish. Also the sinker hitting the bottom as you drift along sends up sand and silt and attract flathead to your baits. I like drifting with the separated running sinker rig and a ganged hook set up and a whole pilchard, however a lot of anglers use a one hook paternoster rig to deadly effect.

The best part of drifting though is that you can do it equally as successful in 3’ of water as you can in 15’ of water. All you need to do is adjust your sinker size to suit the prevailing conditions to keep your bait bouncing along the bottom.

Facts

Bait Fishing Tackle

Hooks

Size 2/0 – 6/0 Octopus, bait holder and long shank varieties. Choose the appropriate hook for the bait being used.

Sinkers

From pea-sized through to knuckle-sized.

Swivels

To suit line strength. Swivel should be a maximum of 1.5 times the strength of the heaviest line used in the rig.

Rod and reel

7’, 2-4kg spin rod matched to a 2000 sized threadline reel spooled with 4-6lb braid and topped with a 16lb hard shelled, fluorocarbon leader.

7’-10’ Alvey style light estuary rod matched to a 5” Alvey spooled with 6-10lb monofilament and a 16-20lb leader.

Casting Plastics

Casting lures for flathead is a simple way to get anglers into lure fishing as flatties are found in a lot of places and they are an aggressive sight feeder.

Everyone has read plenty of articles on catching flathead on soft plastics so I’ll concentrate on how we go about it in the shallows; by shallow I mean water less than 2m deep.

The Cast

One of the keys to this style of fishing for flathead is the cast. You need to have the ability to cast a long way so you are fishing for fish that are not spooked or wary of the boat. What’s a long cast? Something in the order of 15m with a 1/4oz jighead and 4” or 5” plastic. If you can cast further, great; but much less and your results will dramatically decrease.

To achieve a cast of this distance you do need to have the right gear and that starts with a good rod. This is spin rod territory and you’d be mad not to have a rod that was around 7’ long. I use a variety of rods but they are all seven-footers and the casts you can make with these rods are outstanding. The reels used are around the 2000 or 2500 size and I fish a variety of braids from 4lb through to 8lb with a 16lb fluorocarbon leader.

You really don’t need to have too much line or drag pressure on the outfits as flathead are not distance sprinters, and for that matter they’re not fantastic stayers that put hours and hours of stress on knots and tackle. Flathead are just ugly, so ugly they’re beautiful and they grow big, impressively big in southern Queensland. Flathead are short sprinters with a nasty array of teeth that just love to rub you off, so they deserve a place in any sporting angler’s wish list.

Where

Flathead are very much structure-oriented fish. While most people know flathead can be found on drop-offs, a really good place to find them is on a sand bank that is littered with weed and/or rocks that is near a deep water retreat. And that is the important part of the equation, rocks and weed. It is our belief that the cagey old flathead sits mostly buried in the sand looking, for all the world, like a rock or a clump of weed. The baitfish is happily swimming around this lovely bit of protective cover when it explodes all over them and the last thing the baitfish sees is the brief hint of light as the flathead’s gills expel the sand it scoffed in with the little fish.

So when you hit the water, look for shallow areas that are weed or rock fringed and have deeper water close by. It’s pretty simple.

As for water depth, do not be afraid to cast into water that is 6” deep and work the lure back. Fishing in less than 2m of water is almost mandatory and the best part is that most anglers totally ignore these areas, even though fishing writers have been saying for years that the best flathead come from knee deep water or less.

It’s often a case of where you can be fishing alongside plenty of other boats that are not catching a fish because they’re drifting the drop-off yet you and your mates are having a blast by casting right up into the shallows.

Retrieve and strike

The retrieve is really easy to master. Because you are fishing in shallow water there is no need to really rip the plastic up off the bottom. We’ve had better results using a strong hop, hop style retrieve.

To do this retrieve cast your lure out, let it sink until it hits the bottom and engage the reel. Be ready because the number of flathead that have hit when the lure first lands is surprising. When the lure has settled, wind up the slack line and point the rod tip at the lure. With your wrist flick the rod tip up once, pause briefly, then flick it again upwards. This will move the lure a surprisingly long way.

Let the lure freefall back to the bottom under a tight line so you can feel the tell-tale hit of a flathead and be ready to strike. Shayne ‘Cuddles’ McKee calls the flathead strike a ‘tunk’. Although it’s not really a word, it sums up the take of a good flathead pretty well. It feels like your line has been jerked just a little and then nothing. The nothing feeling is when the fish has the lure in its mouth, so you’d better get around to striking or the fish will spit the lure out and you’ll be left with nothing.

Striking is just as important as the retrieve and the cast. You really need to hit the fish hard to punch the hook into the top lip of the fish. If you hit the fish late or softly you will either miss it totally or hook it deeply. Both usually end up with a lost fish as a deeply hooked flathead will get that sawing head shake going the minute it feels the resistance and carve through your leader in no time.

Facts

Casting Tackle

Lures

Berkley 5” Gulp Minnow

Lindy Old Bayside Shadlyn 4”

100mm Squidgy Wriggler

Berkley 4” Gulp Pogy

Ecogear Grass Minnow

Zoom Spuerfluke 4”

Mr Twister Exude 5” RT Shad

Z-Man Paddle TailZ

Z-Man 5” JerkbaitZ

Jigheads

1/4oz through to 1/2oz with 3/0 to 7/0 hooks

Rod and reel

7’, 2-4kg spin rod matched to a 2000 sized threadline reel spooled with 4-6lb braid and topped with a 16lb hard shelled, fluorocarbon leader.

Trolling HArdbodies

In recent years trolling for flatties has been taken to the next level by some very good anglers. At the front of the pack are people like David Green, Shane Gartner from Pig Lures, Ross McCubbin, Ben and Brad Job and of course last year’s Flathead Classic winners from Team Dog Graham Dodds, Roy Latter and Paul Phillips.

In fact, trolling for flatties is becoming a must-know technique for any flathead competition and also a more than handy option when you’re fishing socially and they just won’t eat plastics or you’re searching for the mother lode.

Where

The key to their success, and ultimate your success when trolling for flathead, is to troll relatively shallow water. I like to troll in water that is 4-7’ deep, however shrewd anglers like Shane Gartner will troll even shallower, sometimes having to trim their motor up.

You may notice a trend here and that is that flatties love shallow water, not all the time, but a lot of the time!

Other key areas to look for are choke points where two drains or channels meet, where a channel is narrowed by weed or rock or where a depression drains out over a flat. Add in some active baitfish and the flathead will be around and in numbers.

Speed

The right speed is a very contentious point amongst trollers and I reckon a lot of it has to do with their motor and how slow it will troll. However there is some consensus and that is to go as slow as you can. How slow is that? Well some anglers have moved away from their main motor and troll with an electric, while others have forgone the advantages of a modern 4-stroke outboard and continue to use their slower and much older 2-stroke outboard from 1963!

The main thing to remember is that flatties are an ambush feeder. They are explosive and fast over short distances, so the more chance you give the fish to firstly line up the lure and then smash it by going slow, the more fish you will likely catch.

And here comes the but…

However, smart trollers occasionally kick the motor a bit harder just to make the lure do something different. A short half second burst of speed will see the lure kick away and then slow down, doing some of the rod work for you.

Rod work

Working your rod is an absolute must according to all the trollers who are way better at it than me. Even a simple pulse of the rod will make the lure dart about and kick off to the side, slow down and then speed up. All of this variety is aimed at making the lure look disoriented and/or wounded, and there is nothing more appealing to a predator than a wounded baitfish.

While a pulse of the rod works, I really like giving the rod a good stab, especially if I am using fluorocarbon instead of braid as my main line. I like the lure moving sharply and erratically, but as I tire through a trolling session the sharp stabs of the rod tend to move into a more gentle pulse of the rod.

Whichever way you choose, the good oil is to make sure you are moving the rod. Make the lure behave erratically and grab the attention of the flatties.

Facts

Trolling Tackle

Lures

Lively Lures Micro Mullet

Pig Lure

Smithy’s Digga

Austackle Bonehead

Halco Scorpion 52

Halco Hamma 85

Ecogear SX60F

Rebel Crawdad

Attack Minnows

AC Minnow

Reidy’s Little Lucifer

Rod and reel

7’, 2-4kg spin rod matched to a 2500 sized threadline reel spooled with 4-6lb braid and topped with a 16lb hard shelled, fluorocarbon leader.

7’, 3kg spin rod matched to a 2500 sized threadline reel spooled with 3kg fluorocarbon and topped with a 6” 20lb fluorocarbon leader.

Keeping the catch

Let’s assume you have followed some of the tips above and landed yourself a 50cm flathead that you want to keep. Now is the time to do everything right to ensure you not only look after the fish’s welfare, but you also ensure your fillets will be the freshest and the best flathead fillets you have eaten.

Time is of the essence. Allowing a fish to thrash around and die slowly in air or a bucket of water is unacceptable. It causes unnecessary stress to the fish, reduces the eating quality and shortens the storage life of the flesh. If you choose to kill a legal-sized fish, it should be done quickly - preferably within a minute of it being caught.

Either a firm knock on the head or spiking of the brain (called iki jime) will kill fish immediately. These are the two preferred killing methods endorsed by Australia's National Code of Practice for Recreational and Sport Fishing.

Some basic tools are required to kill fish humanely.

To knock a fish on the head, use a wooden club or 'priest' with sufficient weight to render the fish immediately unconscious.

The iki jime procedure can be done using either a sharp knife, a sharpened screwdriver or by using specially designed iki jime tools that are becoming available at all good tackle shops.

Knocking fish on the head with one or more sharp blows is the easiest method of humane killing. The iki jime process requires more precision, but results in the lowest levels of stress to the fish and improves eating quality.

The method of iki jime is to quickly and firmly insert the spiking tool into the brain of the fish, and wiggle the tool around to destroy the brain. When performed correctly, the fish will be killed immediately and its body will go limp.

Diagrams on the ikijime.com website pinpoint the exact location of the brain (shown by the white markers) of several of the most popular freshwater, estuary and offshore fish species targeted by anglers in Australia, including flathead.

Once your fish has been appropriately killed by a knock on the head or iki jime, maximise the eating qualities of your catch by placing it on ice or preferably in an ice slurry (minimum two parts ice to one part water).

Placing a fish in an ice slurry without stunning or killing it first is not stressful to many species, particularly smaller fish from warm waters. However, this method may not be effective or suitable for large fish and/or cold-adapted species (e.g. trout).

Bleeding your fish immediately after stunning or iki jime will improve flesh quality and storage life further, particularly if the fish is bled then immediately placed in an ice slurry.

These tips and more like them are thanks to a wonderful website called iki jime, the brainchild of renowned fish scientist Ben Diggles. You can check out some amazing imagery and video, download brochures and read all about iki jime and how it will help you treat your catch right and get the best end product to eat. Log onto www.ikijime.com and learn how to do it right.

Facts

Where to iki jime a flathead

Below are two diagrams from the ikijime.com website that show where to brain spike a flathead. This is the best way to despatch a fish humanely and improve its eating quality.

Cooking the catch

Following are a few simple recipes that will complete your flathead fishing experience.

Boothy’s quick crumbed flatty

Ingredients

1kg flathead fillets (boneless) cut into chunks

1 pkt (75g) Tandaco Coating Mix for Southern Fried Chicken

100g bread crumbs (or similar)

Oil

Method

Once fish are in chunks, place Tandaco Coating Mix and breadcrumbs into a strong plastic bag and mix thoroughly. Place chunks into bag, spin bag to close and then shake to cover flathead chunks completely.

Heat 1cm of oil in pan. Place flathead chunks into pan individually and cook until golden brown. Flip and cook until golden on both sides. Remove from pan, drain on paper towel and serve with side salad and chips.

TZ's E-Z chilli crumbed flathead

Ingredients

1kg flathead fillets (boneless) cut into chunks

Bag of hottest chilli corn chips you can find

1 beaten egg

Plain flour

Oil

Method

Zap corn chips in blender or food processor until they're crumbs. Or if you're technologically challenged, throw chips in a plastic bag and pulverise 'em with a (empty) bottle or a lump of wood. If you think they're going to be too hot, toughen up. You can wimp out by diluting with ordinary breadcrumbs.

Dip fillets in flour, then egg, then chilli crumbs.

Shallow fry.

Serve with wasabi mayonnaise – 1/2 cup of good egg mayo mixed with 2tsp of wasabi.

Bain’s recipe with pic BoothyFlattie_18

Lynn Bain’s green and gold fish ‘n mash

Crumbed Flathead

Ingredients

500g flathead fillets

1 cup whole egg mayonnaise

1 pkt Panko breadcrumbs

Canola oil, for frying

Methods

Pat the flathead fillets dry with a clean tea towel or some paper towel. Place the Panko breadcrumbs into a shallow tray. Using your hands generously smear the flathead fillets, one at a time, with mayonnaise and then coat them with the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining fish then place into the fridge to allow the coating to firm up.

Heat a 1cm depth of cooking oil in your frypan. Test the heat of the oil by dropping in a cube of bread. When the bread turns golden in a minute; then the oil is the perfect temperature to cook the crumbed flathead.

Place the coated flathead fillets in the hot oil and turn them regularly in order to cook the fish on all sides until golden brown. When cooked, the flathead should be just starting to flake. Keep in mind that the fish will continue to cook for a little while after being removed from the pan.

When cooked, drain the flathead fillets on some crumpled paper towel.

Skordalia

Ingredients

750g potatoes, peeled

2 tsp salt

4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

freshly ground salt and pepper

Methods

Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes. Add them to a large pot of water with 2tsp of salt and the garlic. Bring to the boil.

Once cooked, drain well.

Place the potato and garlic into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Then with the processor running, alternate drizzling a little of the olive oil and the white wine vinegar into the mash until mixture is thick and creamy.

If the mixture is a little too thick, then add a small amount of water.

Season the skordalia to taste with freshly ground salt and pepper.

Mint Pea Puree

Ingredients

200g frozen peas

12+ fresh mint leaves

freshly ground black pepper

Methods

Bring 2 cups of water to the boil and then add the frozen peas and the mint leaves. Cook for about five minutes, until the peas are soft but still brightly green.

Drain the peas and then either mash, blend or use a food processor until the peas are beaten into a smooth puree.

Season the puree with a good grinding of black pepper.

Serve the crispy crumbed flathead fillets on top of the golden mash with mushy green peas on the side.

Jamo’s recipe with pic BoothyFlattie_17

Jamo’s flattie Sichuan salt

Ingredients

Fried rice

2 free range eggs beaten

1/2 cup green peas

1/2 cup corn kernels

3 rashers bacon chopped

20 green prawns sliced in half

1/4 bunch spring onions chopped

3 cups cooked 2 day old rice (dry)

1 cup fresh bean shoots

Vegetable oil for frying

Sichuan spiced salt

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns

3 tbsp coarse sea salt

Banana leaf to serve on

2 flathead fillets trimmed and halved per person

Methods

For the fried rice, heat a non-stick pan to low heat and place the beaten eggs in to make a plain omelette. Remove from the pan and cool, and then chop into small dice.

With your hands break up the rice so there aren’t any lumps and that it flows freely.

Heat a wok to maximum temperature, add a dash of oil and fry the peas, corn, bacon, prawns, spring onions and bean shoots until cooked through. Remove from the heat and pour into a colander over the sink and drain off excess juices thoroughly.

Clean the wok and return to maximum heat, add some vegetable oil and place the rice in, coating it well with oil to avoid it sticking together too much. Once heated through, place the drained vegetables and so on in with the rice along with the omelette and combine well.

Preheat another frypan with a touch of oil and place the flathead fillets in and cook through, turning as required.

To make the salt, place the spices into a pan and dry roast without burning, cool slightly, then grind to a fine blend, add the salt and combine well.

To plate up, place the banana leaf down first, some fried rice on top of that finishing with the flathead, serve with a small dish of Sichuan salt and sprinkle on sparingly before tucking in!

Availability

Flathead are available all year in southern Queensland, but their peak period is late winter and into spring when the water is cool. They are found in every system you care to think about and are a real tasty treat if you keep a few for a feed. Just remember the slot limit and remember to release the big ones as quickly as possible.

Flathead Length/Weight Chart

Length (cm)Weight (kg)
40 (2 years)0.4
420.5
440.6
460.6
480.7
50 (4 years)0.8
520.9
541.1
561.2
581.3
60 (6 years)1.5
621.7
641.8
662.0
682.2
70 (8 years)2.5
722.7
742.9
763.2
783.5
80 (10 years)3.8
824.1
844.4
864.8
885.1
90 (13 years)5.5
925.9
946.4
966.8
987.3
1007.8

Facts

Gold Coast Flathead Classic turns 20

In 2013, the Gold Coast Flathead Classic turns 20 years old; a magical milestone for an event that has grown to be on the must do list for just about any angler who chases flathead with lures or flies.

The event is a teams-based event that pits teams of 2 or 3 anglers against other teams over two and a half days of competition. Run in the September school holidays, the event dates for 2013 are 3-5 October with a briefing on 2 October.

Your entry fee includes:

• Meals (as indicated) with professional catering service (extra meals available, please enquire).

• Commemorative 20th Anniversary Event Shirt for every competitor.

• Team Bag containing lots of lures and other goodies courtesy of our sponsors.

• Tournament Handbook for every competitor.

• Opportunity to share in $100,000 + worth of prizes

You can find out more at the Gold Coast Sportfishing Club’s website (http://goo.gl/ClJ5S).

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