Kingies have made their first appearances and should be going full bore by the time you read this.
As usual, their first stop is Middle Harbour because the water is slightly warmer than the lower reaches at this time of year. By Christmas they will be right throughout the system, including the lower Harbour channel markers, and will be taking stickbaits with gusto.
Best lures are the original Slug-Go or its Aussie equivalent, the Plat-Slug by Platinum lures. If you are going to use bait, squid is No 1, closely followed by live gar.
Gar have been swarming all over Sow and Pigs Reef. You can catch them with a surface berley and a tiny No 12 to No 14 hook under a light quill float baited up with small pieces of prawn or pilchard gut.
If you have any gar left over at the end of the day they make an excellent meal.
Cut off their heads, gut and scale them and then tenderise them lightly with a rolling pin or a meat hammer. Dip them in egg and flour and deep-fry them. You can eat them whole as the bones will have become crisp from the deep fry.
To use them as bait, swim them out on a 4/0 to 6/0 octopus pattern hook pinned under the lateral line through the fleshy area behind the gut cavity. Pinned above the lateral line, the weight of the hook will eventually drag them upside down and kill them.
Hooked under the lateral line will keel them in a natural position. Swim them out unweighted or a metre ahead of a small bobby cork. The take is usually in the form of a spectacular surface strike.
With water warming up, flathead will be on the chew until June. They are always a good back-up when all else goes quiet.
Flathead spend most of their lives buried up to their eyeballs in sand or mud. To their prey they are virtually undetectable and their cavernous, needle-lined jaws and lightning-fast reflexes mean they are the ultimate piscatorial ambush predator, making them ideal for lure fishing.
Most luring for flatties is done in one to eight metres of water. Trolling is an option but the most fun is by casting around the shallow sand banks and weed beds.
A lot of this fishing is visual and in shallow water on lures, the flattie’s reputation as a poor fighting fish goes out the window.
Moorings in the back reaches of most of the Harbour bays offer sanctuary for flatties.
The moorings are usually laid along the drop-off with the shallowest being in 2.5 metres and the deepest in about 10 metres. They are all on sloping sand, which is the No 1 prerequisite for flatties.
The mooring blocks, the shadows from the boats and all the associated growth, crustaceans and baitfish offer everything a flattie could dream of.
I carry three main types of lures when chasing flatties: Stickbaits, soft plastic/jig combinations and diving minnows.
To work the weed beds there is no better lure than the soft stickbait. With the hook point lying flush with the lure, they are virtually weedproof and can be very effectively worked over, around and even through the weed. The Slug-Go is an ideal choice.
To fish the drop-offs and deeper channels, soft plastic/jighead combinations are my first choice.
The old twin-tail Mister Twister in orange or pink is legendary. The main advantage of this type of lure is its ability to be bounced along the bottom regardless of water depth. This means it can be bounced down a drop-off or along a channel bed, spending longer in the strike zone.
For trolling you will need to carry lures that can be relied on to maintain a specific depth. Trolling is used to prospect more featureless areas like over the tops of sand or mud banks at high tide and along the channels at low tide. These are usually a fairly constant depth and can be covered more extensively by trolling a lure 30cm to 50cm above the bottom.
If you want to take the more passive option, flathead are suckers for a moving bait. Drifting is a great option if you have dead bait.
Maintaining contact with the bottom is critical so you will have to match your sinker size to the boat drift speed and the current.
Whitebait is probably the best drift bait but only if it’s rigged properly. There are lots of ways you can achieve this, including making up a gang of small hooks or nose-hooking with a single tarpon-pattern hook, but the critical factor is that it is rigged straight and doesn’t spin.
Live baits are still the ultimate, although the gap is closing rapidly with the highly effective plastics. Bait size depends on what size fish you are after, with poddy mullet, yabbies and very small yakkas suited to average flatties and big mullet best for big fish. Big flatties prefer deep water and are best targeted after dark.Reads: 545