Shallow water flathead
  |  First Published: June 2014

The reason I like chasing flathead in shallow water is because, being in my teens and with no access to a car, I can walk or even ride my bike to some shallow sand flats near home and have a great time fishing. Many healthy estuary systems with nice flowing current and sand flats make perfect habitats for flathead. Walking the flats to find the fish can take up a full day’s fishing pretty easily.

There are many reasons to like flathead fishing. With nearly a certain chance on most days, this simple bottom-dweller species is a great sportfish. And if you hook one flathead and you cast back to that same spot you have a chance of hooking another one because flathead hang in tight packs.

One of the great things about fishing in shallow water is that you can actually see a flathead rise on your lure. It’s cool to see a hooked flathead break the surface in its efforts to shake the lure out of its mouth, but sometimes it’s too late for them as you’ve already got a perfect hook-up.

Another key factor which makes chasing flathead in the shallows so much fun is their ferociousness. I have found they will not just hit your lure once or twice – they can strike it up to five times before you are right to set the hooks. I don’t really know why they do it.

Some anglers think flathead are a lazy fish because flathead are always sitting on the bottom. That’s not true. Flathead are an ambush predator; burying themselves in the sand camouflages them so they can make a surprise attack on any small prey that swims past.


There are a few key factors to look out for when chasing flathead on the flats. Firstly, you want to place yourself side-on to the way the tide will be going, and also want to look out for any structure like weed, branches and fallen bushes. Secondly, look for any gutters and flathead lays. Thirdly, look for drop-offs as flathead usually sit on the edge of the drop-offs waiting for bait to drift past.

And last but not least, if you end up getting a small flathead it pays to keep casting around the same area as those little guys tend to hang around a big female. If you persist in that area, you may just hook her.

Remember that at times weed can hold some nice flathead, both around and on top of the weed. The best way to approach is to firstly stay around 15-20m from the structure. Next you want to cast your lure on each side and slowly twitch the lure about five times with a pause.

The main things I find really effective in flatty fishing though are persistence and patience. One day the flathead will be feeding then the next day they might not be. To maximise your chances, remember that flathead tend to feed on a run-out when all the baby whiting and other small baitfish get washed off the sand banks. These tasty morsels get swept into the deeper water where the flathead lie in wait.


When flats fishing for flathead and other species like bream and whiting, you need to pick a nice day. What’s a nice day for flats fishing, you ask? A good day to be fishing the flats is when there is very little to no wind, because it is vital you keep in contact with your lure at all times. The tiniest tap could result in a massive flathead.

Another thing to remember is to cast with the wind if it is blowing, and try to cast low so you don’t end up with a big bow in your line at the end of your cast.

Before you set out, time your trip so you get there on the right tide. I find the best time for fishing the flats is on the run-out tide and also dead low tide. That’s because flathead will create a lay in the sand and stay there until the tide starts to run again and the baitfish start passing by. Only then will the flattie swim off.

I also like fishing the start of the run-in tide because the bait will start moving onto the flats as the tide starts to rise, because the flats can get deep at a high tide in some areas.

The last tip is when the tide is reaching high it pays to keep fishing for 30 minutes or so, because the flathead will follow the baitfish onto the flats which is what you want.


Heavy tackle is not needed when fishing the flats. I’ve looked around asked myself, “Where can a big flathead dust me off?” and the answer is “nowhere”.

Light gear is a must when fishing the shallow water because you want to be able to punch long casts using both heavy and light lures. You also want to minimise the chances of the fish spotting your line. The key to success is the further you cast the more chance you have at catching a fish like a flathead.

A nice set-up to use would be a 1000 or 2500 sized reel matched up with a 1-3kg rod loaded with 4lb or 6lb braid, and an 8lb leader depending on the size of the flathead. If they are decent sized flathead I normally run a 12lb bite leader joined directly to my 8lb leader using a uni to uni knot.

Also when choosing the right rod and reel you want a fast tapered rod with a nice soft tip so you can feel those small bites. With the reel you want a nice smooth reel that has the ability to cast lures a fair way out without creating wind knots.


At times picking a lure that matches the hatch correctly can be difficult, frustrating and time consuming. For that reason I normally take a small tackle box filled with soft plastics, jigheads, hardbodies and of course some surface lures.

Some of my favourite flathead plastics are the 80mm and 100mm Squidgy Wrigglers in bloodworm, Gladiator Smash Bait Prawns and Berkley 3” Powerbaits. When it comes to jighead selection I tend to use no heavier than a 1/4oz and no lighter than a 1/8oz. This is because when in the shallow water you want your plastic (or hardbody) to kick up sand so the fish switch on and come to investigate the area you’re fishing.

Some of my favourite hardbodies are the Ecogear SX 60, Zipbait 70mm Trick Shad, 16g Thready Buster and 68mm Lucky Craft Pointers. My preferred surface lures are Berkley Scum Dogs, Jackall Chubby Pencils, River2Sea Rovers and O.S.P 76mm Bent Minnows.

When it comes to colour choice, I tend to pick it on the day I arrive at my destination. You can’t tell ahead of time whether the water will be clean or dirty, or whether the fish will be feeding on prawns or mullet, by sitting in your lounge room.


I hope this article has helped you guys out on the basics of how to chase flathead in shallow water and I also hoped it will improve your ability to catch them more often. Also buying the right rod/reel combo also the right type of lure.

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