Flats attack
  |  First Published: August 2014

Firstly I’d like to introduce myself, Mark Bargenquast also known as ‘Bargy’.

I grew up fishing Hervey Bay for whiting, bream and flathead then as a jetty rat, did the usual progression thing with live baits, lures, bass and barra, offshore pelagics, bottom fishing offshore from Fraser Island then took up saltwater flyfishing before starting a guiding business in Hervey Bay 10 years ago. I finished up guiding in Hervey Bay 2 years ago and now guide part time with Fish’s Fly and Sportfishing in Weipa and Cape York. I will be writing several feature articles with the QFM crew in the near future, this being the first and I will cover my favourite , inshore flats and fly fishing.

Here in south east Queensland we have some pretty reasonable flats fishing during summer and early autumn but winter is pretty quiet. Cold water is the reason but way up north where I spend most of my winter it’s warm all year round, ranging from 24°C in winter to 32°C in midsummer, so naturally the inshore flats fish well all year.

Many people I have fished with during the past years ask what’s my favourite fishing technique? Well everyone has a favourite and mine is definitely sight fishing on the flats. Size doesn’t matter here too with some great memories of sighting diamond trevally, golden trevally, tarpon, blue salmon and queenfish then placing a nice cast in front of the fish and watching them charge over and eat the fly. Of course these can be easy to catch (on fly or light spin) with the right presentation and for the weekend angler it’s as exciting as it gets. For the more experienced angler harder species like blue bastards (painted sweetlip), black spot tuskfish, snub nosed dart and the incredibly hard milkfish are what it’s all about on the flats.

Of course these are a more tropical species but they can all be found right down to the Queensland border in small pockets. Here in Hervey Bay we are blessed with an annual run of longtail tuna that can be sight fished in a meter of water on the Fraser Island flats when tides and conditions are right. Even juvenile black marlin are a regular here in ridiculously shallow water, just google Strip Strike Productions black torpedos and have a look (we even caught one in 2011 in less than 1m of water on a stickbait!). Cobia, yellowtail kingfish, Spanish and spotted mackerel, giant trevally, giant herrings, threadfin salmon and more are regular visitors to shallow waters and can lead to exciting fishing. And of course don’t forget bream, flathead and whiting as viable flats, sight casting options - they can be great!

What to look for

Obviously a flat is an expanse of shallow water, usually within the high and low water mark and preferably clean water to sight your quarry. Some of the best flats I have fished are on the central Queensland coast but are impossible to fish on the spring tides, due to faster water movement stirring up silt and mud, but on the neap tides they are clean enough to see the fish moving around. These type of flats are usually around major river or creek mouths where floodwaters have deposited the silts after floods. These flats are usually packed with food due to the higher nutrient levels. Yabbies, prawns, bloodworms, crabs, pipis and cockles can all be thick on these flats. All of this food attracts the predators. Also areas of low or no inshore net fishing is a bonus.

Once you have found what looks like a good flat, consider where the fish will move on and off the flat with the tide. This is probably the most important factor when looking for fish. Shallow gutters, depressions and sandbanks might look like nothing but are all obstacles and highways when the tide is moving, I often select a spot like the end of a gutter, the point of a spit or a mangrove edge and drop the power pole or anchor and just sit quiet and wait. It’s amazing how close fish will come when you sit quiet with no electric motor noise (more on that soon), sounder turned off and a little patience.

The other viable option is to slowly electric across the flat, and I mean slowly as fish will suddenly materialize under the boat only to spook before you can place a cast or as we fly fishers say ‘have a shot’ at them. A spooked fish will very rarely eat a lure or fly as it heads for safety, which is usually deeper water! One thing to remember is electric motors are not fool proof. They do make an annoying hum underwater that can keep fish at a distance, and the harder you drive them the louder it is. Just put on a mask and go under you will be surprised! I’m not knocking them, I wouldn’t have a boat without one on the bow and a power pole on the rear, as I told the wife they are essential items! Other things to look for on a flat are muddy patches of water. They can be fish feeding on the bottom. Golden trevally, permit and blue salmon can really mud up the bottom while feeding. Also look for nervous water. A big lone queenfish, GT or a school of golden trevally can push a very distinctive bow wave as they move across the shallows. Take a good look around any sharks or rays as they will often have a fish in tow, ready to pounce on any startled bait (just like cattle egrets following a cow around the paddock waiting for the grasshopper) and birds can be a dead giveaway, either working a nearby bank of working overhead.

Accuracy can kill

OK, once you have found a flat and are sighting a few fish, it’s all about the cast. This is where it will all fall down, seriously it’s all about the presentation. Land a lure or fly too close or hard and it can spook fish; too far away they possibly won’t see or acknowledge it. You can learn a lot from watching fish when they see a lure or fly. Does the fish spook, ignore or eat the offering? Remember different species generally react to different retrieves. Queenfish, blue salmon and tunas want a fast retrieve. Permit, barra and the bream/sweetlip clan like a slower, more deliberate retrieve. Much like feeding them the offering, sometimes the fish will be tracking the fly right to the rod tip. When fishing for these slow presentation species, especially permit, tuskies and sweeties, a crab or shrimp pattern is normally used so fish it like the real thing, slow with many pauses!


For general flats fishing in Queensland a good 8wt or 9wt rod will suffice, sink tip lines like the Rio tropical F/I work well, these outfits will catch almost anything, Fish Philliskirk caught a 50lb GT in Exmouth on an 8wt, cracked the varnish but got the fish in the end, big longtails and GTs however generally use a 10-12wt. For bream, flathead and smaller stuff a 6–7wt is fine. For spin gear 2–6 kg outfits are perfect. My 12 year old son uses a Daiwa Generation Black Wild Weasel with a 2500 Certate, nice and light and can be cast all day. 20lb leader on both fly and spin is commonly used, possibly a 20cm section of 30-40lb bite tippet on the fly end for barras and salmon.

So there it is, a general overview of shallow water flats fishing, my favourite go out and give it a go but only one thing to remember and you will soon work this one out… clouds suck!

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