Casting lures ahead of the boat feels strange the first time you do it. Your line no longer has the pull on it from the current or wind, and everything feels different. You might even describe it as a ‘lack of feel’.
For many anglers the experience seems all wrong the first few times and they revert to fishing where they can sense the lure working for the entire retrieve. But while casting ahead of the boat or into the current takes a bit of getting used to, it also fools the fish – and once you start getting the hang of it you'll enjoy the experience. You'll also feel pretty darn good about the new fishing skills that you've picked up along the way.
Since we are well into flathead season in Queensland, I recommend that you experiment on lizards. They are a good species upon which to practice this technique.
The dusky flathead is available the length of our continent's east coast. In most places flathead can be caught all year round but the peak season starts in the cooler months in north Queensland, and from about August onwards in southeast Queensland.
Most anglers now target smaller flathead in Queensland if they’re after a feed because the bigger fish (over 70cm) are generally all breeding females and are protected by fisheries regulations.
The most important thing to remember about flathead is that they live on the bottom most of the time. When targeting these fish, the quicker your lure gets to the bottom, the more time you have in the strike zone, and this is why casting ahead is a good tactic. When casting ahead there is less drag on the line and your lure gets to the bottom in double quick time.
So why would you want to cast ahead of the boat?
First of all, you might want to cast to fish that haven't yet been spooked by a boat drifting overhead or nearby. And secondly, you might want to get a lighter lure to the bottom or get the same lure to the bottom more quickly. And sometimes the current and rate of drift are so high that the only way to get to the bottom is to cast ahead.
The ideal rod for this style of fishing is a graphite spin rod of at least 2m in length that’s rated for line strengths from 2-4kg. This type of rod will give you plenty of strength in the butt section for fighting bigger flathead, and it’s also long enough for you to make long casts.
Spin reels are the easiest style of reel for flathead fishing. They’re easy to cast and you don’t have to worry about thumbing the spool or anything like that. A reel in the 2000 size range will hold enough line for months of flathead spinning. One thing to remember is to make sure the reel is properly filled. This will make your casts reach their full potential.
I always use braided line because it gives maximum feel and its thin diameter allows me to use lighter jigheads and get a better action from my plastics. Always tie on a monofilament leader about twice the strength of the braided main line. For example, if you are using 3kg braided line, use a 6kg leader.
Soft plastics and other sinking lures such as bucktail jigs and metal spoons are ideal for casting ahead when you want to get your lure to the bottom.
Ideally, your lure should give a tantalising action that attracts fish on the freefall, but not so much action that its fall rate is too slow. A lure like that might not ever reach the bottom.
You need to match the fall rate of the lure to the variables of the day, which can include drift rate, flow rate, water depth and the amount of drag from your line.
One area that you can finetune is fishing with curl-tail soft plastics. Curl-tails have some stiffness in the tail that can vary from being super soft or pretty darn stiff. The ideal approach is to match the curl-tail grub to the weight of the jighead so that the soft plastic gets its subtle action going as it freefalls. Too light a jighead might cause the tail to not wiggle at all because the fall rate isn't fast enough. In this case you should change to a softer plastic or one with more tail area, or switch to a heavier jighead to speed up the freefall.
On the other hand, a jighead that is too heavy will cause the lure to plummet to the bottom, which often isn't very attractive to the fish. With the lure’s body strung out straight due to the excessive fall rate, there isn't much fish teasing, wiggling action going on either.
When you’re casting ahead of the boat, from the moment your lure hits the water and starts coming back to you, you lose all sense of feel. This means you have to wind quicker to stay tight to the lure or rely on other senses to detect your lure or a fishy strike.
Using visible line such as yellow or orange braid can help because you see it twitch on the surface as a fish attacks your lure. In this situation you usually strike a bit more aggressively than normal and hope to hook the fish.
In slower flowing or still water many anglers leave a half coil of line on the surface and when the line straightens out they suspect the fish has the lure in its mouth. The angler then winds quickly with the reel to come tight to the fish and then leans on the rod to set the hook.
Using braid and graphite rods will give you an extra degree of feel, and with a bit of practice you’ll develop an intuitive sense that something is afoot. It’s hard to explain; you’ll just pick up a feel for when a fish has your lure.
Sometimes you don't need much in the way of ESP at all. When the line races sideways through the water with a fine spray of rooster-tail behind it as the water is sliced open, you should get the feeling that there's a fish on the other end of your line!
When selecting a jighead shape, one consideration should be the terrain you are fishing. Here are some pointers on how to make your selection.
Scenario: Hanging on the electric, boat positioned in deeper water, angler(s) casting to weedbeds or other structure such as a either side of a log or tree.
Goal: To be able to work your lure through the weeds and snags without it fouling up or hooking the snag. In this situation a weedless soft plastic is the best approach, especially if it is rigged with a bullet-nosed weight that slips through vegetation with ease.
Scenario: Drifting over deeper water in the channels and jigging. Sometimes you can drag a drogue to slow the rate of drift of the boat or, alternatively, you can face the nose of the boat into the current and set your bow-mount electric on a very low setting to create the amount of drag or cross-current slip you want.
Goal: To get the lure to the bottom as quickly as possible so you have time to whip it a few times up from the bottom and let it freefall back down before the boat overtakes it. The ideal lure configuration is a soft plastic or bucktail behind a ball head jighead, because ball heads sink the quickest. The best kind of soft plastic for this is one that is tough but supple. Once you have got your lure down to the right depth so you can make a few jigs, you want to be secure in the knowledge that your lure is still intact. A softer plastic might get its tail torn up on the first bump from a fish.
Scenario: Drifting over the shallows, casting ahead and out each end of the boat.
Goal: The two main options for this scenario are a Texas bullet jighead, rigged exposed or weedless, or a darter head with the hook point exposed. The darter head gives better action to the lure but isn't as weedless as the Texas-rigged plastic. Survey the area ahead of your drift and make your choice based on the amount of weed that you expect to be working your lure through on each cast.