Frogs, lizards, flatties… call them what you will, flathead are a truly unique species that are available in every state of Australia. They love warm weather and respond to a wide variety of angling methods, which makes them ideal for every angler, from the hardcore sportfishers to once a year anglers.
With several species of flathead available around the Australian coastline, flathead live in a wide range of habitats from deep, offshore sandflats to tiny tidal creeks. While the offshore areas are mostly ruled by sand and tiger flathead, the estuaries are home to the largest of the species – the dusky flathead. They grow large with fish of 4.5kg and better being taken from various waterways each year.
The humble flattie is often the first fish that many anglers catch in their angling careers, probably due to the fact these fish love to hang around many places that are easily accessible to holiday anglers.
As with anything in fishing, location is everything. While flathead love a wide variety of places to live and feed, all locations have one thing in common – the presence of large quantities of food and prime ambush positions where flathead can let the food to come to them rather than chasing it. A quick look at the flathead reveals they are not really built for chasing down prey, however, with the ability to hide in the sand, a huge mouth and quick bursts of speed they are a formidable predator.
For anglers chasing flathead in estuaries, sandflats are prime areas to look. Many flathead will move up and spread out on the flats on the rising tide to feed. In this situation, look for small weedbeds or patches of rock as these areas are home to prawns and baitfish that use these areas for cover. I prefer the run-out tide. Look for areas where water is flowing into a gutter or over a drop-off, these are prime locations as the flathead will sit and wait for the food to come to them.
Prime Victorian flathead areas are those around Wilson’s Promontory and Port Albert, then heading east up the coast in all the estuaries with the Gippsland Lakes having a healthy population. Areas such as Mallacoota are almost too well known these days.
In deeper water, use your depth sounder to find similar underwater structure in the form of weedbeds and drop-offs. Other ideal locations are rockwalls and oyster racks where flathead make use of the environment for shade and food.
For offshore anglers, the best areas are often those that have small patches of reef, gravel and sand, with one of the bonuses being that when found in the offshore areas they are usually in large numbers.
Flathead eat a wide variety of baits and lures and the next 10-pounder that falls to a smelly, old frozen prawn won’t be the last. For the best success, though, fresh or, even better, livebait is best. Live prawns or small mullet are the prime baits, fished on a standard running rig with a ball sinker to allow the bait to roll along the bottom to attract flathead.
One of the most productive methods of targeting the flathead is to use lures. They are great for the kids as most seem to have a burning desire to constantly wind in their baits. Problem solved – give them a soft plastic lure and the slow winding and jiggles of the rod are sure to catch them a fish.
For those who want to seriously target them, it pays to have a variety on hand and to learn how to fish them properly.
Mostly I use three different types of plastics and each may out-perform the other on different days.
Wriggler style – those with a curly soft worm tail. These are ideal for slow fishing and can be deadly when the water is a little colder and the flathead are a bit shut down. Fish them on a suitable round ball jighead and work back with a smooth lift of the rod then allow the plastic to fall back to the bottom while winding up the slack line. Colour choices can be whatever takes your fancy but I like colours in the Squidgy range such as the Gary Glitter, Silver Fox and Green Tiger, in the 100mm and 120mm size.
Fish pattern – shaped like a fish, these are dynamite on flathead and are a personal favourite for working in deeper water, as the swimming tail puts out a lot of vibration helping to attract fish. I find they work well when fished in a smooth lift, stop, lift movement, and then allowing the plastic to swim to the bottom while retrieving the slack line. Size and colour vary, but I like anything from 70-100mm in size with a preference for the 80mm in colours such as black/gold, pink, and green.
Shads – thin-bodied with a deep profile they are usually made of a harder rubber with a small tail. These are ideal for a method called ‘whipping’, where the plastic is jerked or whipped violently off the bottom in a double movement that raises the plastic about 2m off the bottom, This works best when the water is warm and the fish are active. It is deadly on big flathead. Favourite colours are Gold and Red Rum in the 100mm Squidgy shad range.
The plastics mentioned are also great on offshore flathead where they can be fished on standard paternoster or drop-shot rigs.
Small diving minnows are deadly on flathead. Lures such as the 8-10cm Rapala Husky Jerks fished over shallow sandflats and the Rapala 8cm Shad Raps fished along the edge of drop-offs, worked back with slow twitch and pause retrieves draw explosive strikes.
Any standard baitcast or spin outfit loaded with 3-6kg braid, and with a suitable leader of 7-10kg, will do for flathead. The heavy leader will help to avoid bite-offs when the big one comes along.
My gear for flathead consists of a Shimano Raider 7’2” spin rod and a Shimano Sustain 2500 reel. My baitcast gear consists of a Shimano Raider Bass rod and a Shimano Chronarch 100SF reel. Both outfits are lightweight and can be cast for hours.
The good old flathead is an angling icon. They are accessible to almost everyone, putting smiles on the faces of many anglers, but they need looking after.
Remember, the big ones are the breeders, helping to keep estuaries sustained with flathead so it’s important to release them wherever possible. I have personal limits on dusky flathead with any fish over 50cm being released and keeping a maximum of just three at one time. The smaller ones taste far better, anyway, especially when eaten fresh.
Hope you get into a few this season and if you do manage a big one, I would love to see the pre-release pictures.
2.An 82cm flathead taken ‘whipping’ in deep water.
3.You know it’s a good fish when a 100mm soft plastic shad fits sideways in its mouth!
5.A deep channel with small patches of weed and rock – prime flathead territory.
7.A nice Port Phillip Bay flathead taken spinning the sandflats near Dromana.
8.Lee Rayner and Paul Worsteling and releasing a pair of flathead.Reads: 4200