Flathead are the flavour of September. The Flathead Classic dominates the competition scene while how-to articles about flathead on plastics and hard-bodied lures begin to appear in plenty of magazines.
Despite their popularity, a lot of anglers don’t realise how good flathead are on fly tackle. Flathead take flies really well and are ideal spring targets for boat and land-based flyfishers.
Flyfishers generally target shallow water fish, which is a big plus when it comes to ease of access. You can still take a flathead on a fly from deep water, it’s just harder to keep the fly moving correctly. You will also have to keep the slack line out of the way when the water is deeper and moving in a tidal flow.
Flathead don’t pull like tuna but still put up a respectable fight. They will, however, do some surprising things. Ever seen one jump? I’ve seen several lizards jump when hooked on a fly in shallow water.
Most flathead could be taken with an 8wt fly outfit but casting a big, fat, wind resistant fly out to where the fish are can be difficult. A 9 or 10wt outfit is handy, especially if the weather is windy.
I recently used a G.Loomis Native Run series 9wt GLX rod and found it to be a very potent, yet easy casting rod. Designed originally for salmon and steelhead in the States, it was a long way from home on the flats at Jumpinpin but the 4-piece stick cast beautifully with a great easy flowing action.
Flyfishers then need to decide whether a sinking or floating fly line will match their rod better. On a floating line the fly will take all day to get down, so an intermediate sink line (a line that goes down fairly slowly) is ideal. Some anglers rely on sink tip lines, which are very useful.
Using a rod length leader on the fly line is a good idea. Add 2m of 15kg line to the fly line via a nail knot or braided loop then tie the fly on 1m of 10kg line. A loop is good as it will allow the fly to move freely. Rod Harrison’s loop knot is as good as any, as is a perfection loop.
Your fly should look like a small fish, if not in exact colour, then certainly in regards to profile. One thing I have noticed is that flathead are attracted to a fly that has a prominent eye. Standard Lefty’s Deceivers work well, as do all synthetic jobs that have the same sort of profile as the Deceiver.
Colours should vary in accordance with the water’s colour. Dark, well contrasted, flies are good in dirtier water, and silvery and shiny flies are better when the water is clear. Experimentation is the key to success and a fly that works one day should work just as well another time. I’ve taken flatties on all black flies, red and black, green and black, brown (or black) and gold, barred and gold ones and silver with a dark green or black back strip. Flathead are not fussy fish as a rule and if they see the fly they will usually grab it. A good sharp hook such as the Gamakatsu SL12 is the way to go and size 2/0 or 3/0 is ideal.
Fishing shallower water is the best method, either wading or casting to the edge of a bank from a drifting or electric powered boat. After making a long cast allow the fly to sink for a few seconds then strip it back in quick erratic jerks, the shorter and more erratic the better. The idea is to work over the terrain thoroughly making sure any weed beds, snags, drains or other features are given the benefit of at least two or three casts before moving the fly from that area to another.
Casting into or across areas of current is a bit of a chore when you’re wading and a stripping basket will make the process a lot easier. Simply feed the fly line into it and keep it handy for the next cast. Allowing fly line to drift about in the current will slow everything down and cause tangles.
When hooked on a fly flathead will give a spirited fight and it’s hard to resist the urge to pull the fish towards the surface. Keeping the rod tip right down in the water will help stop the fish from rubbing through the line or wearing a hole for the hook to slip out of. Once the fish is in close simply lead it ashore like a dog on a leash or have a landing net ready.
Flathead usually travel in small schools so the best time to catch one is immediately after you have landed one. The time of day isn’t as critical as tidal movement and flathead love to feed during the first hour or two of a rising tide, or right towards the end of an ebb.Reads: 1087