Flathead love flies
  |  First Published: September 2005

Flatties really do love flies and this month is about as good as it gets for snagging a lizard or two on fly gear. Spawning is the name of the game for these fish during spring and big fat flathead are lining up along the banks, channels and flats where ocean meets river or estuary.


So how do we go about taking a flattie on fly? Anglers who are experienced in the way of flathead know full well that these fish are taken in just about any depth of water with plastic lure or bait.

However, in my opinion, fly anglers need slightly different circumstances to score on the long rod. Shallow water seems to be best as it allows the angler better control of the fly line and fly. Furthermore, because flathead specifically go to the shallows for a feed, they are much more likely to notice your fly there.

It’s not always easy though. One morning last September I came across a group of flathead in around 1.5m of water sitting off a bank at the ‘Pin. Easy pickings, I thought to myself. I made three passes near them and they simply refused every offering, from fly to plastic, which was trickled enticingly past their flat little faces. One thing stood out though: there was one big fat fish, probably a big mumma lizard, with five smaller fish, possibly males, around it. I’ll bet a feed was not the main consideration; they were there to breed.

Single fish in shallow water are another matter. These fish are there simply to feed and this is when the fly will be deadly. Choose the place or area fairly carefully when seeking to score with the fly rod and things will happen a lot more quickly. A sloping bank leading to deeper water, a flat with plenty of weed clumps or other cover, the point leading out from an island with deep water very handy – these are the places to use the fly tackle.


Given that the flies cast for flathead tend to be on the bulky side, I like an 8 or 9wt outfit for these fish. Matched to an intermediate sink line (faster sinking will do if that’s the only one available), a selection of Lefty’s Deceivers in various colours and a stripping basket to tame the fly line is all that you will need.

Try to use a saltwater reel; if it’s a freshwater job, make sure you give it a lot of TLC after fishing. In fact, even if I am using saltwater gear, I always wash my fly line and reel after use just to be on the safe side. On the topic of rods, this spring I am trying out a G.Loomis 8wt Cross Current for flathead and bass. The rod is very light and responsive, casts with minimal effort and has so far been very effective (the fish in the photo was taken with it).


Just like lures, successful flies tend to have a wide range of colour combinations. The original Lefty’s Deceiver was tied in silver/white with a bit of dark buck tail along the back and it’s a great fly for many fish. However, there are times when flathead will much prefer other colours, so it pays to experiment. The fish in the photo was taken on a Deceiver-style fly that was mainly red and green with a touch of yellow under the throat. I’ve found that flathead take nearly any colour combination. Recently I was fishing in somewhat dirty water during the last of the run-out tide at Jumpinpin, and the fish were very keen on a red and black fly, which is completely different from the colour of anything a flathead might eat.

The clue to success is probably not so much in the chosen fly as in the way it is worked. Action is everything whether using plastic lure or fly, and without any inbuilt action, the fly will need considerable angler input to get it to work successfully. The idea is to work the fly in little stops and starts, while maintaining a retrieve that suits. It won’t take long to work out what sort of retrieve action is best and once found it’s easy to stick to it.

Final Pointers

A couple of other things to consider are the leader and getting fish to the boat or bank without losing them.

The leader should finish with around 40cm of heavy gauge fluorocarbon line. This will prevent bite-offs and if a good quality fluoro such as Siglon Sinking is used, the fish won’t be put off by it.

On the topic of landing fish, if you’re wading a bank (which is a very effective way to fish), keep the rod tip very low at all times in the final stages of the fight and simply slide the fish into the shore. In a boat the fish will obviously need to be lifted and a landing net should be at the ready.

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