Tempting a flattie with your fly
  |  First Published: September 2003

FLATHEAD have come in early this year, and with the weather now warming it’s the perfect time to connect with some fish on fly. Catching flathead on fly sounds pretty easy, given the way these fish gobble up soft plastics and bibbed lures like there’s no tomorrow. However, from my observations it takes a bit more than just a ‘chuck and chance it’ cast to catch a flathead with a fur and feather offering.

The big difference between a fly and a jighead-rigged soft plastic or lure is that the fly cannot cover the distance per cast that a lure can. Also, a fly does not create as large a disturbance or have the same sort of action when it's retrieved. While flathead are perfectly willing to take a fly, the trick is in making the fly large enough, colourful enough, and obvious enough to catch the eye of Mr Flathead as he lies half buried in the sand with only his beady little eyes showing.

My favourite fly pattern for flathead is definitely the Lefty's Deceiver. Tied on a 2/0 or 3/0 hook these flies imitate a small fish very well. Other effective patterns include large Clouser Deep Minnows and the good old Crazy Charlie.

Lately I've been considering ways to make flies just that bit more attractive to flathead, and one addition that’s worked well is the use of fly rattles. These are not ‘El Cheapo’ items but they’re worth it. If I've set my alarm for 4am so I can get to Jumpinpin (my nearest flathead hotspot) for a low tide at 7 o'clock, anything I can do to catch more fish on fly is worthwhile! I make up my big Deceivers with a rattle tied in below the shank of the hook.

Colours that I find successful are white and silver/white, grizzly yellow with a yellow marabou collar and grizzly olive green with an olive green collar. I make up my flies with at least four matched feathers tied in at the shank of the hook, then tie in the rattle and give it a coat of quick dry Araldite to make sure it stays put. I set up the shank of the hook with a mylar tubing body (try matching the mylar with the collar: silver for the silver white, gold for the yellow and so on) and then I tie in a few small clumps of cream or brown deer hair just behind the hook eye. The tips of the hair should almost reach the bend of the hook if they’re tied in the right proportions.

To give the fly plenty of 'life' in the water, I tie in marabou or rabbit fur generously over the deer hair collar, all round, and then tie in some sparkle flash material to match the overall colour of the fly to really make it stand out. Eyes complete the picture but are not essential. Holographic eyes are the ones to use if your budget permits. These are good gear and with a little clear epoxy over the eyes to make sure they stay in place, plus complete the head, the finished flattie fly should last many casts. And if you venture to the New England rivers after cod the same flies will work just as well on the big green fellows as they do on our dusky mates.

The use of ultra-light fly tackle is difficult when casting for flathead. The flies are bulky; a bit of breeze blowing is a great asset as it hides the angler to a good degree, so the use of less than a 6wt outfit makes things difficult. I favour an 8wt rod and line for these fish.

As far as the fly line configuration goes, a weight forward line makes casting easier. When deciding which style of line is going to be most useful, think about where you’re hoping to catch a flathead in the first place.

Most fly caught lizards are taken from water less than 1.5m deep, so the edges of creeks, channels, banks and the like are where the fly should be worked. Certainly, it's easy to get a fly down deeper, courtesy of a fast sink line, but difficulty comes in knowing whether the fly is right on the bottom where the flathead are located. The effort involved in keeping all slack out of the fly line and leader, when fishing in deep water with a bit of current, is considerable. The best results for effort will come from working the fly in shallower water, with the utmost stealth, and for this purpose a sink tip or a full sink fly line are ideal.

A standard store-bought leader with small section of heavy (10kg) abrasion-resistant shock tippet is used to connect the fly and prevent bite-offs.

The right tactics for connecting with these fish involve selecting a bank or channel and keep casting as far as is possible and then retrieving, stripping back the fly in small darting movements. If a fly hasn't worked at all but you’ve noticed a few flathead scurrying out from close by, change the fly to a totally different colour or profile.

Drifting a bank and casting shore-wards is ideal, as is simply wading a chosen bank and casting upcurrent to retrieve the fly smartly back. The thing to remember about flathead is that there are usually many more of these fish about than results indicate. Also, given that spring is spawning time, I guess their minds are sometimes on other things besides grabbing our flies!

1) A selection of the author's flathead flies. Note the heavy tippet already set up on some of them.

2) The use of a fly rattle is an asset in any flathead fly. Try tying them in under the shank of the hook, just prior to the bend.

3) The author at work on a favourite Jumpinpin bank. Flathead love those shallow banks, especially just after daylight.

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