How good is the sight of the silhouette of that monster flathead as it rises from depths with your lure firmly pinned in its mouth? The feeling of having the net at the ready only for the big flatty to give one last screaming run. The sense of pride as you release the giant flathead and see it glide away gracefully from where it came.
I haven’t cracked the magic metre mark, but flathead in the 70-80cm bracket are flathead that I will remember for a long time, and use for inspiration to keep fishing for the metery. Big dusky flathead have for a long time been a prized capture, but only in the last decade has it reached similar accolades to that of notorious game fish like marlin and tuna. Now we realise that the time and effort put in to hook these great fish, and skill it takes to land them, are as impressive as any capture. Anglers from all around the country enjoy visiting the estuary systems of Victoria and southern NSW in hope of tangling with a big flathead and to do it on a lure can be as exciting as any fish that swims. I chatted to a couple of good mates of mine to nut out their thoughts on lure fishing for big flathead. I spoke to Stuart Hindson, NSW South Coast Estuary Guide and Frank Milito, East Gippsland Fishing Charters.
What factors play a pivotal role in building your confidence for chasing big flathead?
SH:Time of year makes a big difference. November and December on the NSW South Coast I have found to be optimum, but realistically, October through to March really is a good period. I also see things in the water as factors, for example tailor. Whenever I see big feeding schools of tailor, I see it as a good opportunity to catch big flathead. They are more often than not cruising around under those schools, cleaning up the scraps, or cleaning up the scrap eaters like pinkies and mullet.
FM:Certainly targeting them in the warmer months is a factor and has proven the best time of year for me, and being the classic ambush predator that they are, they will usually always be along a weed edge or a sand or mud drop-off. First thing in the morning and late afternoon in calm conditions are always good. As the sun rises high, the shallower water can be hard work.
Will my usual flathead spots produce big fish, or should I look elsewhere?
SH:If I get a few 30-40cm flathead at one particular spot, I have no drama to stay in that area and fish it hard for at least an hour. I’m very confident there will be a big fish in there. Probably nine times out of ten, all those little males will be hanging around one or two monsters. If I’m fishing a bank and we are getting a few fish, I’ll work the area almost like a grid to make sure I cover as much of the area as I can. First I’ll drift in tight 3-5m, next drift 8-10m, next 12-15m depths, just to cover the ground knowing that there should be something big around. Also, knowing they are often lazy, you often have to put it right near them to activate a bite.
FM:I always assume they are in the usual haunts. The camouflaged bottom made up of weed and rubble is good for flathead of any size. Whether you are catching fish to 20cm or 50cm, you can expect there will be big fish mixed in with them. You won’t necessarily know until they come up chasing your lure, or smaller flathead or bream, all the way to the boat and you get the fright of your life.
What are your favourite lures and why?
SH:100mm Squidgy Fish in black and gold. It might be a boring answer, but mate, this is the lure for me that has proven time and time again to be the best lure for large flathead. I’ve caught more big flathead on that particular lure than any other lure I own. The majority of the time I match that with 14g jighead. I really like slamming it down on the bottom to stir up the sand and then when I twitch the plastic up, the commotion of that stirs it up again. It all creates a bit of excitement, which we know flathead react to.
FM:I always match the hatch, so in prawn season my favourite by far is the DOA Shrimp. But generally speaking, 6” jerkbaits and paddle-tails always seem to get the job done. Matching the hatch is definitely important in my eyes.
What are your thoughts on line class and leader?
SH:For me, specifically geared up for big flathead it is 8lb braid and 14lb leader. At the end of the day, flathead from 80cm to over a metre haven’t been too put off by my offerings. I sometimes catch them on 4lb or 6lb leader if I’m fishing for bream, so it obviously can be done, but I don’t think light leader is the be all and end all.
FM:Well, I don’t necessarily agree with going to a super light leader, as I think you are pushing your luck when it comes to landing them. For me it’s a minimum 10lb. I don’t think 10lb leader spooks the big girls.
Are big flathead a viable year round option?
SH:Absolutely, you will just change where you fish and how you are fishing, but they are around 12 months a year for sure. I’ve actually had some really good success in winter by downsizing all my lures. Little blades and smaller plastics seem to be much more effective. Combining that and slower presentation is key.
FM:Yes. I don’t think it’s a desirable target species over winter at the moment, but they are a very realistic by-catch when vibing for bream in the deep. They are out there in the deep generally, and not particularly feeding heavily like they do in summer, but they will take small lures presented past their noses. I have seen a lot of 10-15lb fish caught around Lake Tyers in the deeper areas in late July. A few years ago, I might have thought it impossible… but not now!
Have you got a dedicated big flathead outfit?
SH:I fish the Shimano 10-20lb Terez with a Rarenium 2500 Ci4. The outfit is a really great balance and nice and light. In this situation with big model flathead, the rod is a lot more important than the reel. A lot of people fish rods that are way too light and struggle to get that hook set when fishing the bigger jigheads. It has to be a fine balancing act of strength and a bit of play in the rod.
FM:For targeting large flathead you need to pull the 3-5kg type of outfit out and 6-8lb braids are good for me. When I do target them with said outfits, I probably do decrease my chances of catching other things, but the fact is the rod and reel are spot on for the big girls.
Where is your favourite place to target big flathead?
SH:That’s a tough one, because it changes throughout the year. A lot of it has to do with how hard a place has been fished and, as you know, the South Coast gets a fair bit of attention over Easter and Christmas periods. If we were going in November or December, which I think are probably the best months, I’d go to Tuross.
FM:I’d have to say in the height of the warm water in the North Arm, Lakes Entrance, it would have to be one of the best places to see big, gnarly, angry flathead. By far the biggest fish I’ve seen have come from there, and their numbers are amazing.
What three things do people need to know about fishing for big flathead?
SH:Understand where you choose to fish – time of year, what depths, lures etc. Don’t fish too light when it comes to rods and leader. Check your hook gauges, sometimes you need to go to a finer gauge hook to ensure better hook up rate.
FM: Time of day. Fish early and late if fishing shallow water. Geography, that is working accordingly to the depth and bottom you are fishing on.Match the hatch.
Stuart and Frank are both highly respected guides in the estuary systems of NSW South Coast and East Gippsland respectively. Both have honed their skills over the years and on a daily basis help share that information and experience with clients. If you are heading up the South Coast of NSW, and want to learn more or have an amazing day out with one of the best in the business, get in touch with Stu on Facebook. For an East Gippsland adventure, Frank caters for anglers of all experiences and will show you the finer points of estuary fishing in Victoria. You can find East Gippsland Charters on Facebook as well.Reads: 437