Many anglers regard flathead as a pain in the butt, especially when these fishos are targeting other species. They complain that flatties chew your line to pieces, that they spike you, fight like a wet rag and are very dry to eat.
All this is so far from the truth it’s comical. The dusky flathead is a majestic creature which can hit a hard or soft lure with so much force that I have seen anglers almost lose their rod and reel over board, yet can also bite with so much subtlety that you can hardly feel it.
A dusky flathead can grow to around 15kg and 1.5m, In Queensland the average length at first maturity is 46cm for males and 56cm for females while in Botany Bay the males mature at 32cm and females at 38cm. In southern NSW and Victoria maturity is at about 26cm in both sexes.
A one-year-old dusky in Queensland waters is about 18cm and by three years old they average 40cm. Once they get to about eight years old they average about 90cm so just imagine how old a 1.5m flattie would be.
A dusky can vary in colour and pattern from sandy with brown spots and blotches to dark brown/black with white spots, depending on where they have been caught. I have caught flathead in Port Hacking which have been very pale and others have been extremely dark. Dusky flathead have a distinctive black spot on the caudal fin and dark bars are often visible across the rear of the body.
The preopercular spines on each side of the head are very sharp and should be avoided when handling the fish. They can leave nasty wounds and are sharp on even the smallest of flathead, while those on a large fish can inflict plenty of damage.
Duskies are found in estuaries and coastal bays from Cairns to the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. They occur over sand, mud, gravel and seagrass and can inhabit estuaries up to the tidal limit.
Many anglers think that flathead are more commonly caught during the Summer months. This may be true in the Sydney region but the concentration of flathead will vary up and down the coast, mainly due to the time when the female flathead are spawning and those eager males will follow them down to the estuary mouths.
To help you get more out dusky flathead I am going to list 10 of my favourite flathead hot spots in NSW and some techniques to try to catch them.
1. Bar Point, Hawkesbury River
Most of the time during the tide runs very fast here, so you will need to fish about 45 minutes either side of the top or bottom of the tide. I suggest you use a running sinker down onto a swivel with a leader of about a metre. Strips of fresh mullet, tuna, mackerel or squid all are worth a try. Whitebait and frogmouth pilchards will also work.
2 Clontarf Beach, Middle Harbour
About 20m out from the point at the end of the beach there is a hole that drops to about 18m. You can cast to it from the shore or drift in a boat along the edge of the drop-off. Soft plastics worked over the bottom are a good thing here.
3 Captain Cook to Tom Uglys bridges
This area is best fished from a boat drifting between the bridges. Once you have located a few fish, you should drop a marker (a plastic bottle on a rope with a couple of snapper sinkers for weight) so you can drift past the spot time and again. Most strip baits will work here and you could also try jigging soft plastics.
4 Towra Patches, Botany Bay
This has to be the best soft-plastic flathead spot in Botany bay. The fish here will average about 50cm and the area can be fished at any time and tide but sunny days seem to be best because you can see the weed patches and direct your cast to the weed edges. Shad-style plastics get the best results for me.
5 Foreshore Drive, Botany Bay
This stretch of water faces can be fished in any wind. In a northerly, drive right into the shallow water; in a southerly start in about 5m of water and work your way back to the shore. In a westerly or easterly you can drift parallel to the shore. A sea anchor is a must when the wind is up as it will slow down your drift.
6 Entrance to South West Arm, Port Hacking
Drop your anchor on the sand flat and allow the back of your boat to sit at the edge of the sandy drop-off. Apply a steady stream of chopped pilchards for berley and use whole or half pilchards on ganged hooks. The tide needs to be running here and if the wind is up, it’s best to be coming from the north. Day or night doesn’t seem to matter.
7 Darook Park, Gunnamatta Bay, Port Hacking
Anchor fore and aft to position your boat across the current on top of the sand flats that jut out from Darook Park. Start about an hour before the top of the tide and continue to fish no longer than an hour after it has turned. Berley to attract fish to your weighted baits.
Shore-based anglers can wade out to the edge of the deeper water about an hour before the bottom of the tide and fish into the channel.
8 Lake Illawarra Channel
Even though the channel is fairly narrow it will hold very good concentration of flathead from the end of November to the end of April. Try trolling or casting buoyant hard lures along the edges of the weed beds. It is best to hold the rod in your hand if you troll because if you get snagged you can drop your rod tip back towards the lure and most of the time these floating lures will rise up over the snags.
9 Greenwell Point, Shoalhaven River
There is a short but very productive breakwall on the southern side of the river. If there is no one else fishing the wall you can cast up-current and allow the bait to hit the bottom. Once current picks up the bait, start walking down current, allowing the bait to stay just the correct distance from where the rocks meet the river bed. Once at the end of the breakwall, repeat the process. I find the best rig here is a running sinker right down on top of the bait; you tend to get fewer snags this way.
10 St Georges Basin
On the northern side of the basin there is an island surrounded by fairly shallow water. There are drop-offs from 90cm to 3.5m to 6m. Start your drift from the shallows and work soft plastics out into deeper water. If you prefer to use bait start with live poddy mullet, silver biddies or herring, or whitebait or frogmouth pilchards.
If trolling hard lures is your thing, work the drops-offs. Soft plastics can be worked over the shallows in the early part of the morning and just before the sun sets. In the middle of the day move out into deeper water and try soft plastics.
ON THE PLATE
Flathead are very good on the dinner plate. As soon as I catch a flathead I intend to keep I kill it quickly, then put it into a saltwater ice slurry to firm up the flesh and stop the sun from drying it out.
I am a believer in keeping it simple when it comes to cooking fish. I take off the fillets without scaling the fish because leaving the scales on will help keep in the juices while you are cooking it. I simply cook my flathead on the barbecue or in a pan and once the flesh has turned white I take it off, sprinkle a bit of pepper and salt over the flesh and start eating. All that is left are a few bones and the skin.
Even though I like a feed of flathead I have been releasing all my fish 55cm and over, mainly because they are females. When released to spawn for another season they will give anglers like you and me many more hours of enjoyment. So give some thought to releasing the next big dusky you catch.
There are so many different types of rods and reels out there so when I mention makes and models, they are just as a reference point. Compare with other brands with similar specifications and choose for yourself.
Baitcaster outfits of 6kg with rods around 1.6m to 2m are the go for trolling. I use A Pflueger Trion 1.65m 4kg to 7kg rod with a Trion low-profile baitcaster reel spooled with 6kg braid.
Spinning outfits of 2kg to 4kg with rods around 2m long give plenty of distance for casting hard or soft lures. I like my Pflueger Trion Artificial Bait Series 2.13m 2kg to 4kg rod with a Pflueger President 30 spinning reel spooled with 3kg braid. I also use a Shakespeare Synergy 2.1m soft plastic 2kg to 4kg rod with a Pflueger Medalist 30 reel spooled with 3kg braid.
Spinning or sidecast outfits of varying lengths are suitable for baitfishing. I use a Shakespeare Synergy 2.1m long-butt 2kg to 4kg rod with a Pflueger Medalist 30 spinning reel with 3kg braid. I also like my Wilson Live Fibre 10’6” low-mount Trophy Estuary rod with a 500 Alvey sidecast spooled with 6kg mono.
FLATHEADS OF NSW
|• Rock flathead (Leviprora laevigatus):||Coastal seagrasses & adjacent reefs throughout southern parts of Australia.|
|• Southern sand flathead (Platycephalus bassensis):||Shallow coastal waters of southern NSW.|
• Long-spined flathead (Platycephalus longispinis): Weed & sandy areas of the coast of NSW.
• Eastern blue-spotted flathead (Platycephalus caeruleopunctatus): Sandy bottoms along the NSW coast.
• Northern sand flathead (Platycephalus arenarius): Northern NSW
• Dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus): All NSW estuaries.
• Marbled flathead (Platycephalus marmoratus): Deeper offshore waters of NSW.
• Bar-tailed flathead (Platycephalus endrachtensis): Estuaries of northern NSW.
(A Greg Joyes transparency).
Andrew Wheeler with a dusky flathead caught on a soft plastic in St Georges Basin.
Dusky flathead seem to come in a wide variety of colour tones. The ones from St Georges Basin area seem to be very dark.
Check out the girth of this flathead that was trolled up in the Georges River.
The author with an average dusky caught at The Patches at Towra Point.
Pink lures, whether soft plastics or hard crankbaits, seem to be among the flathead's favourites.