Between November and January there is an annual influx of tiger flathead into the deeper waters of Bass Strait. From The Rip to Apollo Bay there is some great flathead to be caught in depths ranging from 15 to 50 metres. The biggest problem is getting a bait down to them and keeping it there!
Some of the limiting factors include depth, retrieval speed of your reel, the presence of barracouta, boat drift and the sensitivity of your line. While we have control over a few of these factors, there are many we can’t do anything about. Adapting is the key to success!
Take barracouta for example. These brutes are a flathead drifter’s worst nightmare. At their worst, they will keep you re-rigging all day and never let you get a bait to the flatties on the bottom. At best, you get to top up your bait and berley supplies.
You really only have two options when the ‘couta are blowing you away. Firstly, switch to wire trace and have some fun or secondly, move to another location.
When you are fishing this deep, you’ll get very tired retrieving 400g of lead from 50 metres of water with a small overhead outfit. You won’t need to cast anything anywhere so grab yourself a decent 10 to15kg rod that has plenty of stiffness about it (most 15kg rods do anyway). Match it to a fast retrieving threadline reel. Something like you’d use in the surf sure gets the line back on the spool nice and fast.
You heard me right the first time! Yep, 400g or one old fashioned pound of lead. If you use any lighter while drifting in 50m then your bait will rise up off the bottom and be out of the flathead zone. You can let line out as far back as you dare and you’ll still not touch bottom, let alone hold it!
Fishing deep for flathead is one fishing arena where braided line slaughters monofilament for sensitivity and hook setting power. I’ll pull up short of saying it’s absolutely essential because you can still catch fish on monofilament line in 50m, but the braided stuff makes it so much easier. I use 15kg braid, but you could go down to 10kg if you felt like it or already had some on the spool. The only disadvantage with using 15kg braid is that it’s very hard to break off if you snag up!
Tiger flatties aren’t fussy! A simple one hook paternoster rig does the job just fine. Go for a 20kg leader because there are gummies and the odd big snapper that turn up from time to time.
Because of the off chance of something bigger, keep your hooks fairly strong. A 5/0 still hooks plenty of decent flatties so don’t be shy with size.
Above all, forget double hook rigs. The tangles are not worth it!
You will catch tiger flatties on just about anything but squid is great because it is so durable. There are lots of pickers down there so something that stays on your hook for a while is a big advantage. No need to go squid fishing right before you head out if you’re chasing flathead offshore; these fish are more than happy to take frozen bait.
If you can’t source any squid, pilchards are a second option but get the salted ones because they are more durable on the hook than their unsalted cousins.
Soft plastics are an option if you run out of bait, however, tigers have very large teeth (at least for flathead anyway) that aren’t too kind to plastics; and that’s before you bump into any barracouta!
Given the depths, there aren’t too many jigheads that are heavy enough to stay down in 50m. I suggest that you just thread them onto a normal hook and tie them on a paternoster rig.
You can head out into deep water and start drifting about but that’d be a mistake. While these fish aren’t fussy about what they eat, they do seem to be rather selective about where they hang out. They seem to prefer areas where there is a sprinkling of rubble with sand nearby.
This is where braid’s sensitivity is an advantage. With braid, you can actually feel your sinker bumping over small rocks on the bottom as opposed to the muffled thud of sand. With mono, differentiating between bottom terrains just isn’t possible.
Once you find a patch of gravel, go over it a few times until you’re sure you’ve covered a decent area. If you haven’t caught any after a couple of passes, move on to the next spot. There is plenty of productive ground out there so don’t be afraid to do some prospecting.
All sorts of weird and wonderful beasts live down deep. A short list of what you might drag up includes gummy shark, snapper, gurnard, orange roughy, nannygai, sergeant baker and a very small shark I’ve heard called a ‘spur dog – no doubt because of the small spur they have on their dorsal fins.
If you do happen to catch a gurnard, make sure you don’t come in contact with their spines. The pain is, apparently, excruciating. If you do get spiked you’ll need specialist medical treatment as soon as possible.
I recommend, that to avoid getting spiked, you take along a very long-nosed set of pliers to handle the fish and extract hooks. Alternatively, just cut them off without ever bringing them inside the boat.
Remember that gurnard can give abrupt flicks without warning, so don’t get too close with unprotected hands. Wrapping a towel around them is not really an option either as their spines go straight through them.
Just about everyone loves a feed of flatties and you won’t be disappointed with these. Tiger flathead would have to be one of the very best eating of the species. They respond well to all methods of cooking and rarely dry out. My favourite way to cook them is to shallow fry boneless fillets in beer batter. Serve with salt, lemon and a refreshing ice-cold ale to wash it down.
Top Six Tips
Braided line out performs mono. If you can afford it, then use it.
Squid is the toughest bait down deep.
The deeper the water, the heavier the lead, especially if you’re moving.
Don’t let barracouta get you down. Bring wire and have fun!
Have simple pre-tied rigs ready to go in case of snag ups or ‘couta onslaughts.
Depths of 50m can be over 2 nautical miles offshore so make sure you have an EPIRB – it’s the law.
Barracouta have excellent eyesight and are quite partial to shiny brass swivels so use black ones.
Boat ramps aren’t that prevalent along the Surf Coast so here’s a guide to get you out to those deep water tiger flatties.
Ramp: dual lane concrete. Can be slippery at low tide.
Minimum depth on approach: 0.8m
Parking: Good, but limited. Sealed car parks but expensive at $8 per 24 hours.
Facilities: toilets, boat wash down lanes.
Jetties: two floating/fixed.
Comments: 5-knot speed limit during the 200m drive to Port Phillip Bay via The Cut. Stick to the channel as there are some shallow areas near the ramp. Car park is a bit small given the popularity of the ramp and fishing area.
Barwon Heads Sheepwash Ramp
Ramp: Single lane concrete.
Minimum depth on approach: 0.8m, but ramp ends too early. There is a danger of driving trailer over the edge.
Parking: gravel car park.
Facilities: rubbish bin.
Jetties: single floating.
Comments: Can be very difficult when tide is running fast. Long drive to the river mouth at 5-knots. Stick to the channel as the river has many sand bars.
Ocean Grove Ramp
Ramp: Dual lane concrete.
Minimum depth on approach: 0.6m. Ramp ends early and there’s a chance of driving trailer over the edge.
Parking: Excellent. Sealed with lights.
Facilities: Toilets, rubbish bin.
Jetties: Single floating/fixed.
Comments: Can be tough to retrieve large boats on low tide. Long drive to the river mouth at 5-knots. Stick to the channel as the river has many sand bars.
Ramp: Concrete dual lane (can only be used at very high tide). Beach launching. $4 fee payable to honesty box on wall of club room.
Minimum depth on approach: Beach launching; can be near ankle deep so take a run up and beach your boat.
Parking: Limited gravel park.
Facilities: rubbish bin.
Comments: Ramp is only usable at the highest of high tides. Torquay is a beach-launching proposition 90% of the time. 5-knot speed limit until 200m offshore. Avoid easterlies due to chop and days of big swell.
Ramp: Concrete dual lane.
Minimum depth on approach: 0.7m
Parking: very good sealed car park.
Facilities: Rubbish bins
Jetties: Two fixed one floating.
Comments: Very safe and sheltered launching conditions inside the Apollo Bay harbour.