Everyone has read plenty of articles on catching flathead on soft plastics but there still seems to be a reluctance by many to actually fish shallow enough water. This is costing you good fish!
Over the last five years I’ve been taken on a bit of a flathead learning curve by some very good anglers. They’ve shown me some great spots where flathead live and they’ve shown me how they go about catching them. It’s not difficult, but it does take a little confidence to actually throw your lures into water shallow enough that you can’t actually get the boat in there.
One of the keys to this style of fishing for flathead is the cast. You need to have the ability to cast a long way so you are fishing for fish that are not spooked or wary of the boat. What’s a long cast? Something in the order of 15 metres with a 1/4oz jighead and 5” plastic. If you can cast further great, much less and your results will dramatically decrease.
To achieve a cast of this distance you do need to have the right gear and that starts with a good rod. This is spin rod territory and you’d be mad not to have a rod that was 7’ long. I use a variety of rods but they are all seven footers and the casts you can make with these rods are outstanding. My current favourite is from the Berkley stable, the Berkley Pro Tactic (PT700/24) 2-4kg rod, but I also use my trusty Millerods Beast Buster when I am chasing bigger fish. The Pro Tactic is matched to a TD Sol 2500 loaded with 6lb Crystal Fireline and the Beast Buster sports a Shimano 4000FB Stella loaded with 10lb Fireline. To the lighter outfit I attach a 12lb fluorocarbon leader and the Stella gets a 16lb fluorocarbon leader.
You really don’t need to have too much line or drag pressure on the outfits as flathead are not distance sprinters, and for that matter they’re not fantastic stayers that put hours and hours of stress on knots and tackle. Flathead are just ugly, so ugly they’re beautiful and they grow big, impressively big in southern Queensland. Flathead are short sprinters with a nasty array of teeth that just love to rub you off, so they deserve a place in any sporting anglers wish list.
Flathead are very much structure oriented fish. While most people know flathead can be found on drop offs, a better place to find them is on a sand bank that is littered with weed and/or rocks that is near a deep water retreat. And that is the important part of the equation, rocks and weed. It is our belief that the cagey old flathead sits mostly buried in the sand looking for all the world like rock or clump of weed. The baitfish is happily swimming around this lovely bit of protective cover when it explodes all over them and the last thing the baitfish sees is the brief hint of light as the flathead’s gills expel the sand it scoffed in with the little fish.
So when you hit the water, look for shallow areas that are weed or rock fringed and have deeper water close by. It’s pretty simple.
As for water depth, do not be afraid to cast into water that is 6” deep and work the lure back. Fishing in less than a metre of water is almost mandatory and the best part is that most anglers totally ignore these areas still, even though fishing writers have been saying for years that the best flathead come from knee deep water or less.
It’s often a case of where you can be fishing alongside plenty of other boats that are not catching a fish because they’re drifting the drop off yet you and your mates are having a blast by casting right up into the shallows.
The retrieve is really easy to master. Because you are fishing in shallow water there is no need to really rip the plastic up off the bottom. We’ve had better results using a strong hop, hop style retrieve.
To do this retrieve cast your lure out, let it sink until it hits the bottom and engage the reel. Be ready because the number of flathead that have hit when the lure first lands is surprising. When the lure has settled, wind up the slack line and point the rod tip at the lure. With your wrist flick the rod tip up once, pause briefly, then flick it again upwards. This will move the lure a surprisingly long way.
Let the lure freefall back to the bottom under a tight line so you can feel the tell-tale hit of a flathead and be ready to strike. One of my fishing mates calls the flathead strike a tunk. Although it’s not really a word, it sums up the take of a good flathead pretty well. It feels like your line has been jerked just a little and then nothing. The nothing feeling is when the fish has the lure in its mouth so you’d better get around to striking or the fish will spit the lure out and you’ll be left with nothing.
Striking is just as important as the retrieve and the cast. You really need to hit the fish hard to punch the plastic into the top lip of the fish. If you hit the fish late or softly you will either miss it totally or hook it deeply. Both usually end up with a lost fish as a deeply hooked flathead will get that sawing head shake going the minute it feels the resistance and carve through your leader in no time.
Flathead are not number one with a bullet when it comes to fighting. They’ll have a few short runs that are powerful and they’ll come up to the surface and shake their head at you, then they’ll dive again and run off when they see the boat. Patience is important here because you do not want to pull a hook or, if the fish has swallowed the lure, put extra pressure on the leader. If the fish runs let it have its head. Never try to muscle the flatty to the boat and never lift the rod too high. Do everything you can to keep the fish’s head in the water by holding your rod tip low and at an angle.
Lead the fish to the landing net, not the net to the fish and everything should be fine.
Flathead are available all year in southern Queensland, but their peak period is late winter and into spring when the water is cool. They are found in every system you care to think about and are a real tasty treat if you keep a few for a feed. Just remember the slot limit and remember to release the big ones as quickly as possible.
If you fish the shallows with a bit of structure you will catch that fish of your dreams, just have the confidence to keep looking for new areas and keep casting because nothing catches a fish like a lure in the water.
Berkley 5” Gulp Minnow
Lindy Old Bayside Shadlyn 5”
Berkley 4” Gulp Pogy
Atomic 4” Fat Grub
Ecogear Grass Minnow
1/4oz through to 1/2oz with 3/0 to 7/0 hooks