The running of the Melbourne Cup each year has always been my cue to get serious about dusky flathead. Early November is when the flatties head towards the entrance of the huge Gippy Lakes system, and big 3-5kg females are a real chance to find your lure or bait.
Bream are still on the go and will be found high up in all the rivers over the next month while spawning. Whiting will start to appear as well, but this report is going to be all about the duskies.
Over the next two months, get on the water early. The key to tricking big flatties is to start fishing just before dawn. The bigger duskies push up into the extreme shallows overnight in the cover of darkness, and you shouldn’t be at all surprised to tangle with fish in the 65-95cm class.
These fish hunt the shallows for good reason. Small mullet are there in the millions, and these baitfish are much easier to hunt down in shallow water because they can’t swim upwards and escape.
The monster flatties return to deeper waters as the morning lightens up, and by about 8-9am your prime skinny-water bite time will be over. It's then that you can fish in deeper water down to 3-4m, although the fish will usually be a lot smaller, around 40cm. These same fish can also stay in the shallows during daylight hours so be sure to cover a lot of water depths during your search.
The Gippy Lakes area has a long dusky flathead history when it comes to very large breeding females. Around 20 or 30 years ago, small mullet livies were dynamite and accounted for most of the good old-fashioned 10 pounders. Huge duskies to this day still can't resist those same small fish, but the only change today is that nearly all anglers use lures instead of live baits.
Big mistake. I've thrown all sorts of lures to huge flathead and watched them totally ignore them for hours on end, while mates fishing the same area with live bait hardly have time to sit down while steering around thumper flatties. Sometimes a whopper 15cm soft plastic will get the big girls to bite, but not very often.
Duskies aren't the stupid, suicidal fish most people think they are. Yes, at times they will snap at almost any lure put in front of them but they can also shut down on lures big time. This is especially true for bigger fish. When this happens I suggest you try some live bait and like me, you will be very surprised by the results.
If you’re happy to catch a smaller class of fish, I recommend using a medium-sized heavy soft plastic or metal blade. When hopped vigorously across the bottom in waters between 1-4m, these lures can get results at almost any time of day. Most flatties will be around 40cm but make sure you use leaders of about 8kg breaking strain to secure the odd monster flattie to the net. One could turn up when you least expect it.
Early in summer, the area from Metung to Kalimna is where most big flatties will congregate. If the water is very salty you will also find them back up into the lakes system in areas like Tylers Point, Tambo Bluff or Swan Reach Bay.
Freshwater at this time of year may push them down into the Hopetoun Channel, Cunningham Arm or North Arm.
If I were heading out tomorrow my starting point would be the eastern end of Reeve Channel and I would let the flathead tell me if I should search further east to Lakes Entrance or back towards Metung. By searching in each direction your catch rate will draw you towards the greater number of fish.
Another obvious indicator is other boats, because you can guarantee the locals will have already found the fish and will be parked on prime hotspots. Don't be too eager in joining the crowd though, because flogged water can see flatties develop a bad case of lockjaw. Always spend at least part of your trip searching new areas and finding your own honey holes for next time.
Just a quick word on the bream. You can expect the yellowfins to make another bold showing this summer in those exact same areas I've just mentioned above. They also love the saltier water and, being more aggressive than black bream, they will happily attack your flattie lures, big or small!
Surface lures are worth trying now because bream will be feeding in the shallows again. Be prepared though because massive flathead will monster a surface lure, and the huge commotion is like a croc erupting from the water!Reads: 1165