I LOVE catching flathead on fly at this time of year.
The humble lizard, which has reached mega star status due to the Gold Coast Flathead Classic, is one of the all-time great predators. These fish have the easiest mode of attack in the business – they simply wait for food to come within range and then they pounce – and they fall for the fly time and again.
In September and October these fish are plentiful as they move into shallower waters to spawn. They’re aggressive at this time of year, and to catch them on fly all you need is to find suitable fish-holding water, have appropriate gear and cover enough country to ensure some hook-ups.
Fly tackle for flathead is pretty straightforward – an 8wt rod, a sinking fly line, a tippet with a shock leader section (to withstand abrasive teeth and vigorous head-shaking tactics) and a selection of Deceiver or larger Clouser Deep Minnow style flies in various colours. That’s all it takes to get in business, but there can be refinements such as a stripping basket to use while wading. A basket is also useful if you’re fishing from a small boat where fly line is likely to catch on things.
Fly anglers usually target flathead in the shallows. This is because the fish feed along bank and channel edges and along weed bed margins, and will easily see and latch onto a fly far more quickly than when you’re casting into water that’s over 1.5m deep. It’s also easier to work and control a fly in the shallows. Less current, less slack, less missed strikes – it makes sense.
When I’m targeting flathead I like to get out and walk a section of likely looking bank, as I like to stalk these fish the same way as I would trout. It’s a big part of the fun of fooling them and besides, if I just wanted to catch flathead I’d throw a plastic. I get my jollies from taking them on fly. A boat may allow you to cover a lot of country, but it can easily frighten fish holding in shallow water – which is where the fly works best in the first place.
On the flood tide I simply pull the boat up, slip on an old pair of Volleys and then wade and cast, the further away the better. While flatties will happily lie in shallow water waiting for a small fish, prawn, or suchlike to come by, they are also alert to any movement so it’s best to keep your distance. A fish that isn’t alarmed is one that will take the fly more readily.
Casting into water that’s around 1m-1.5m is the clue. Give your fly the chance to almost reach the bottom before you start retrieving with short strips. Flathead seldom mess about; they usually take the fly with a determined grab. Once hooked, lizards nearly always make a run for it and then, if turned, set out to wreck the leader with determined head shaking which plays havoc with soft leaders. You’ll want to keep the flathead down – don’t try to lift it unless you’re fishing from a boat. When bank fishing, simply slide the fish ashore. It will usually come in fairly easily.
Setting up a shock tippet is a wise safeguard against bite-offs. Around 40cm of 10kg Siglon Sinking fluorocarbon material is the way to go.
There’s no need for me to discuss flies in any great depth; a 3/0 Lefty’s Deceiver size or 2/0 Clouser will usually do the job. The colours should represent baitfish, although in murky water a bit of contrast with some red/green/black wouldn’t hurt. Basically, flathead easily see flies and will attack them if in the mood.
I recently field tested a G.Loomis fly rod, and liked it so much that I bought it. It has proven ideal for taking flathead and would also double as a great bass rod. And in summer I see it catching its share of mack tuna in Moreton Bay as well, such is its versatility and strength.
The G.Loomis Cross Current 8wt is 9 feet long and feels feather light. It looks good in matt brown finish with burgundy bindings. A three-piece unit, I like the length for those extra long casts, which it can make with ease.
There is power to spare with tip action making casting very easy while the middle and butt sections progressively hold reserves of power to play strong fish like large bass, XOS flathead and those feisty mack tuna.
I also field tested a Teeny Professional series Kelly Galloup full sinking Streamer 8 fly line which cast very well and sunk quickly enough to make it suited to flathead or other sink-line fishing. The line had a soft, supple, feel about it which characterises other Teeny lines I’ve used. As a flathead line or for fishing in a berley trail from a boat, the 20m Kelly Galloup fly would be ideal.
1) Flathead take flies readily. This fish was duped by a green/black Deceiver pattern in murky water.Reads: 2600