Luring for lizards
  |  First Published: October 2003

TAKING the step from baitfishing to lurefishing is incredibly rewarding and satisfying in ways that baitfishing can’t provide. Many new converts struggle in the beginning, however, and catch rates can be greatly increased by reading up on the topic, fishing with people who can show you the ropes, and concentrating your efforts on one species – and there are few better for this task than the humble flathead.

So why target one species? Firstly, it enables you to fast track gathering knowledge on that species, and secondly, you quickly learn a lot about how they react to lures and their presentation, all of which results in you catching more fish and becoming more skilled at using lures. Flathead are a great first choice because they’re reliable and predicable. They readily take many kinds of lures, and also have a great hook-up to strike ratio – something that can’t always be said when chasing bream.

So whether you’re just starting out with lure fishing or want to refine and compare your approach, read on! I’ll show you the where and when, and the how and with what, that is luring for lizards.


While you can catch flathead just about everywhere you’d fish in the estuary, you’ll get more consistent results when you fish the preferred flathead habitat areas. These ambush feeders bury themselves in the sand or mud, and love nothing better than a spot that has a reasonable current flow that’ll deliver food right to their door.

Flathead generally move up ontofreshly flooded ground on a high tide before retreating back to the deeper gutters and channels on a low tide. A typical example is a sand bank that you regularly find in estuaries up and down the east cost. On a high tide these places are inundated with yabbies, prawns, small fish and so on, and they’re all succulent morsels for flathead to dine on. Hidden in the sand, these predators inhale any unwary food item that comes within their reach. As the tide turns and starts to fall, the flathead move back off the draining flats into the deeper water. Here they continue feeding, incepting any prey that escapes the falling tide and moves back to the channel.

Of course, the more prey in the area the more flathead there will be. Seagrass is one of the standout indicators of abundant marine life, and the unvegetated patches between the seagrass beds are great spots to target. Here you’ll find flathead patiently waiting for prawns or mullet to leave the safety of the seagrass.

Formations that deliver the greatest volume of food to where the lizards lie waiting are well populated. Bottlenecks, gutters and draining flats areas that funnel water and food into the flattie’s path are prime examples. On a falling tide the concentration of fish in these locations can be quite thick. Some of these spots fish well for all of the ebbing phase of the tide, while some may produce fish only during certain stages.

As the tide drops and these locations run out of water, retreat back to the main channel and fish the deeper sections. These channels can produce some great fishing on a variety of lures and techniques, and more often than not it’s where the larger fish are caught, particularly during the spawning period that occurs during spring and early summer.


While there are plenty of lure fishing techniques for catching flathead, they can all be categorised as either ‘trolling’ or ‘cast and retrieve’. Both methods catch plenty of fish and both are more productive at different times, particularly when it comes to the type of location fished and the stage of the tide.

Trolling (towing a lure around behind a moving boat) is a fairly simple method which may seem a bit of a no-brainer, but it actually requires a degree of skill and knowledge to do successfully. One of the best times to troll is at low tide when you find long, deep channels adjacent to sandbanks and broadwaters. You can cover a lot of water while doing this – more than if you opted to cast and retrieve the same stretch.

Trolling can be just as effective on the top of the tide where you can cover kilometre after kilometre of yabby banks and broadwaters holding mullet and whiting. The shortfall of this technique is that it’s not always the best approach to take on small areas or sporadic pockets that might hold fish. Places with weed and seagrass can also be difficult and frustrating to fish by trolling.

To have success while trolling, it’s essential to choose the right lure to get down to the bottom. It’s a fruitless to troll around a lure that dives only two metres if you’re fishing in four metres of water. Flathead live on the bottom so your lure has to get down to where they are.

Cast and retrieve allows you fish locations that you couldn’t fish as thoroughly if you were trolling. Gutters, bottlenecks and small sand banks are ideal locations for cast and retrieve, where you can anchor up and methodically work over the area. These types of locations can hold high concentrations of fish, and if you fish them thoroughly you can do quite well with a minimal expenditure of energy – and you’ll have a much better fuel bill at the end of the day.

Cast and retrieve also enables you to fish shallow locations that can’t be accessed by trolling, and it also allows you to use a greater variety of lures, such as soft plastics, diving hard bodies, and lipless crankbaits. As always, be sure to get the lure down to the bottom and into the strike zone.


Tackle suited to luring for flathead is fairly standard fare, with a 2-4kg rod the ideal choice. Whether you use a baitcaster or spin is down to personal preference, but I’d be inclined to opt for a baitcaster if your main method is trolling, particularly when fishing deep water and using larger lures. The design of a baitcast reel gives a bit more control when it comes to freespooling and releasing line from the reel.

If you prefer to cast and retrieve for your lizards I’d go with a well-balanced spin outfit. You don’t need pinpoint accuracy when fishing for flathead so you don’t need a baitcaster, and you’ll find it easier casting small lures all day long with a spin reel.

The best line to put on your reel is of course gelspun (2-4kg), as it’s much thinner in diameter, has minimal stretch and will allow you to get the lure down deeper, especially when trolling. It’ll also help you feel those all-important strikes and help you to gauge whether your lure is swimming correctly and isn’t fouled up with weed.

The best way to attach the line to the lure is by tying a double in your mainline about a metre long, ideally with a bimini twist or at least a spider hitch, then Albright to this approximately a metre of monofilament leader (10-20lb). Flathead Bag and Size Limits

New bag and size limits have recently come into force in Queensland. A new a new minimum size limit of 40cm now exists, along with a maximum size limit of 70cm and a bag limit of 5 fish per person.This leader gives you a bit more abrasion resistance in your connection to the lure, makes the connection to lure less visible and helps give you a bit of cushioning in your line connection. Always use a loop knot to connect the line to the lure, not a snap clip. The lure will swim more freely (especially with small lures) with a loop knot, and the knot won’t open like a snap clip can.

When choosing a lure the most important consideration is that it has to reach the bottom. Diving lures generally have the depth they reach written on the packaging, and having an assortment of lures that dive to differing depths is important. At times you might be fishing water 1.5 metres deep and at others 5 metres deep.

When it comes to the shape and profile of the lures, be sure to ‘match the hatch’. Profiles similar to herring, mullet and whiting (4cm-14cm in length) are perfect, as is a relatively tight shimmy in the lure. Colour-wise, greens, pinks and natural tones are very popular.

One of the most popular styles of lure at the moment are soft plastics, and they’re arguably the most versatile lures for lizards. Shad styled models are very effective but the most important factor seems to be the colour. Chartreuse is a standout in clear water – even better if it has the reflective and shinny flecks that are often present in this colour.

Rigged on simple lead head jig, plastics can be used to fish water 2ft or 20ft deep. They are best presented with a stop-start hopping retrieve that gives the fish enough time to grab the lure as it sits on the bottom. Strikes most often come as a light tap, or a feeling of weight on the end of the line when you go to make the next hop of the lure.

Luring for lizards – it’s that easy! Get out there and give it a go, because with spring in the air and the warmth of summer on its way now’s the best time to hit the estuaries and go luring for flathead.

1) Big flathead are becoming increasingly susceptible to switched-on anglers fishing soft plastics.

2) Sand bars and creek mouths are great areas to target flathead with lures.

3) Banks dropping off into deeper water are excellent areas to troll for oversized flathead.

4) A selection of successful trolling and casting flathead lures, including the Tilsan Bass, Bombers, Predatek, Ecogear Grass Minnow, shads and single-tails.

5) Walking sandy banks and spinning is a very pleasant way to connect to flathead.

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