Now’s the time to take a flathead on the fly
  |  First Published: August 2014

Spies tell me that the lizards are already on the move so it’s time to get cracking with the fly tackle and enjoy the experience.

As predators, flathead are very viable candidates for the fly angler. Their specialty is to lay in wait for tucker and when a food item comes within range there’s a puff of silt and they have it. This means that small fish, prawns or flies are consumed with equal enthusiasm.

One of the best aspects of fishing for flatties with the long rod is that these fish can be targeted from the shore or boat with ease. Casting off the bank, in fact, can see more area covered than when fishing from a boat where current and other factors can make it difficult.

From experience, I’ve found there are usually plenty of feeding flatties in the shallows and when fly fishing for them in estuaries (such as Jumpinpin) I often anchor my boat on a selected bank and then purposely walk away from it to ply the fly. There’s a bonus in the stealth factor and as the fly is coming back towards the shore and in this situation a flathead waiting quietly for tucker will nail it quick smart. Besides, fishing in deeper water from the boat is always made harder by the influence of current, wind drift and other issues that make it hard to keep in touch with the fly.

A look at tackle.

Flathead come in all sizes and one of the larger fish is going to be a great experience on a fly rod, given their habit of hitting hard and then making a quick exit as soon as they feel the hook.

These fish also like larger flies, 3/0 or 4/0 being ideal, so a rod with a bit of power will be required to cast the somewhat bulkier flies used, which makes an 8wt outfit ideal. It can be cast for extended periods without becoming tiring and if a real spade of a fish is hooked, the rod should be able to handle the fish comfortably.

Fly line choice is related to the tactics used. Even in shallow water, a floating line won’t get the fly down sufficiently to interest a fish. An intermediate or perhaps a sink tip line will keep the fly close to the bottom and within the strike zone.

The trick is to retrieve the fly once it’s down near the bottom with quite jerky and even swift motions for a metre or so at a time with a second or more pause between each movement. This keeps the fly moving quite erratically and once a fish sees it there won’t be long to wait before it’s taken with a solid tug as he gives chase.

Which now raises a point. Flathead have very raspy teeth that can cut a leader through quick smart so a 30cm section of 10kg hard leader (I use FC100) will prevent bite offs. The leader, incidentally, should be around a rod length and I make mine from 1.5 metres of 20kg Penn 10X, 0.75m of 12kg, 0.5m of 8kg and the small bite off trace. This style of leader casts easily and allows plenty of ‘feel’ in the retrieve to keep the fly touching the bottom occasionally.


All manner of 3/0 or 4/0 bait fish style flies such as Lefty’s Deceivers, big Clousers Minnows, Bush Pigs and other similar barra flies are all well worth tying onto the leader.

Colours that have worked for me are gold/black, chartreuse/white and purple/black. Red and white is also good, hence my liking for the Pink Thing. So long as the over all profile is similar to a small bait fish or prawn, it should be readily taken by a lizard. I mentioned the Pink Thing. They are so easily tied and a lot of fish seem to find them hard to resist. I’ve tied a couple with 80lb wire prongs up front as weed guards and this makes them pretty snag proof. The baitfish profile is there and the fly certainly looks good in the water. Best of all is that friend flathead also seems to like them.

Best time to fish.

An ideal time for tackling a lizard on the long rod will be as the tide is dropping away from the flats or channels. For the angler, it’s often a case of the less water the better. These great predators like to sit close to cover such as weed beds, rocks, or timber around edges of banks; the shallow water makes it easier to use the fly gear to effect. The fly needs to be noticed; it has no rattle or other attraction and is strictly a visual item.

Congregations of baitfish draw flathead like iron filings to a magnet and there are often clues to the presence of bait schools.

A sure sign will be a gathering of birds such as egrets, quietly sitting along a bank or perched in trees close to the water’s edge, or gulls dipping repeatedly in an area. These birds know the small fish are there and are waiting for a crack at them. A situation like this is a very positive one for the angler and working the area thoroughly with the fly should bring the desired results.

Last thoughts.

Flathead on fly are an exciting proposition all round. The fact that it’s mainly shallow water fishing makes it quite easy with wading the bank or drifting along it if in the boat.

If a fish is hooked when wading, keeping the rod tip in the water and drawing the fish slowly into the bank as the angler moves backwards should see the fish come in easily.

Beware of lifting the rod tip; this will cause some head shaking and can lead to a bite-off. If in the boat, ensure the fish is worn out before using the net or there will be head shaking there as well.

A last tip: if fishing from the boat, take definite steps to avoid all slack in the fly line. The fly cannot be worked properly if there’s a belly in the line.

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