Flathead fishing seems to be getting better every year in term of both numbers and size.
Flatties have a reputation as being a poor sportfish, which holds true when using bait fishing techniques, but it’s a different story when you target them with lures. The skill, thrill and anticipation involved in hunting flatties on lures is just as good as that of any other predatory species, including the tropical glamour fish. The fight from a lure-caught flathead, while not as good as some other estuarine sportfish, is better than that of a flathead caught on bait.
Some of the best areas in the harbour to lure fish for flatties include the shallows of Rose Bay, the banks around the mouth of Rushcutters Bay and North Harbour. The best time to work these areas in spring is on the run-in tide. It’s even better if this tide occurs in the early morning or late afternoon.
Flathead congregate around channel edges, rock bars, weed banks and sand\mud bank drop-offs. They also like to lie in the shadows of moored boats. You won’t find flathead on your sounder but if you can locate schools of small baitfish there should be flatties hanging around.
A single handed spinning or light baitcasting outfit loaded with 3-4kg line will handle any flathead provided you use a more substantial trace of about 10kg.
Flathead will hit almost anything that swims past their face. The important thing is to present the lure close to the fish, so depth capabilities are the major consideration when choosing a lure for flatties. Considering you will be fishing depths ranging from 1-40ft you'll need quite a large selection of lures, should you opt for diving minnows.
A more versatile and possibly more effective option is to carry two types of soft plastics. For the shallows (1-4ft), stickbaits like the Slug-Go are deadly on flatties, especially around weed. To cover all depths it’s hard to go past a jighead-rigged soft plastic, e.g. Gulps, Powerbaits and Tsunami plastics.
Flounder are a welcome by-catch of flathead luring in winter and they generally favour the same areas, although they prefer the deeper sand banks. Flounder can be caught year round but the cooler months seem to be the best, especially for the bigger fish. If you would like to specifically target flounder, drop down in lure size to something in the vicinity of 5cm. These fish are like flathead in that they bury themselves in the sand waiting to ambush prey, so you need to keep in contact with the bottom. Flounder are also receptive to baits, particularly whitebait on the drift. They seem to like the big, open sandy expanses more than the structure-orientated sand areas where you would more typically find flatties. The open sand drifts around Washaway Beach and North Harbour are quite productive at the moment.
Trevally have traditionally been considered a winter fish but in my experience they are much more prolific and bigger in spring and early summer. They are a great fish to catch and very underrated as an eating fish. Cooked properly (rare) they are as good as any of the best pelagics, and are similar to their close relatives, kingfish. Raw they are sensational, and in Japan they’re amongst the highest rated fish as sashimi.
Trevally generally like deep, clean water and can be found well upstream during dry conditions. I’ve seen them caught as far up as Roseville Bridge in middle harbour and Cockatoo Island in the main harbour. The upstream fish are big but they’re usually on their own and not found in the large schools that are common on the lower reaches. They are mostly taken as a welcome bycatch of bream fishing.
Further down on the lower harbour they are widespread and are found around the channels, headlands, boat moorings and deep holes. At night and the low light periods of dusk and dawn they move into shallower regions. Sow and Pigs is a classic after dark spot, as are the shallows around Balmoral and Washaway Beach.
Unlike most fish, trevs are not so fussy about fresh bait. In fact, I’ve found they like salted mackerel, day old pilchard fillets and slightly iffy prawns more than live nippers or blood worms. Maybe it’s a symptom of the competitiveness created by living in large schools.
Use heaps of berley and fish your baits as lightly weighted as possible. A light, 3kg eggbeater outfit works the best as it allows you to fish bail open and allow a natural drift down the trail. Don’t rush hooked fish as you will be using small hooks (I use no. 4 VMC baitholders) and trevally have soft mouths. There’s a good likelihood of a tear if you go nuts.
Occasionally you will see trevs feeding on top, at which time they can be caught by flicking small metals like 10g Raiders, or tiny soft plastic stickbaits at them. Sometimes the trevs will follow around under surface-feeding salmon, and you can pick them off by letting a small chrome slice fall through the salmon and bring it back with a jigging retrieve.
As with all pelagic fish, make sure that they are bleed and iced quickly after capture to maximize their eating potential.Reads: 904