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Flathead forays
  |  First Published: October 2004



THE ANNUAL flathead spawning congregation is now well underway. September sees the build-up really kick in and it has pretty well peaked by the time October rolls around. Flathead are there and available all year round, but the transition from spring to early summer is the most productive period on the Sunshine Coast.

Trolling small minnow lures is a relatively easy and certainly productive way to secure a feed of succulent flathead fillets. Bibbed minnows are the original flathead tool and they work exceptionally well. While conditions can vary dramatically in terms of water depth and temperature, current speed and clarity, the good old bibbed minnow will still get the job done.

A medium to deep running lure of 60-80mm generally gets the most hits. Colour is a personal choice, but you’ll be well and truly in the hunt if your selection is along the lines of ‘tried and true’. Pink is an obvious choice, and a few black stripes over the pink can provide some contrast. Orange/red colour schemes have been exceptionally useful for me, as have gold chrome lures. Some anglers prefer earthy tones, such as yellow or brown, while other anglers are more interested in bright lures on a dull day, and so forth. The message is to have a selection of lures in a range of colours and change regularly until you start catching a few fish.

Unfortunately, there are no rules for where to locate the humble flathead. They are often encountered in quite deep water, sitting motionless on the bottom waiting for a meal to swim too close. The drop-offs are good places to troll as well. In the past I’ve had success in the 8-10ft range, following the channel’s edge. Just as often, however, these fish are to be found in the shallows, sometimes in water only a few inches deep. Finding a shallow sand flat on a sunny spring morning might be the key to a successful session.

Trolling the shallows isn’t an easy option. It can be done with an electric motor, lifted so that the prop spins just below the surface, but in very shallow water any fish in the boat’s path will be spooked and shoot off at the speed of heat. Casting shallow run lures ahead of the boat is a much better tactic in the shallows.

Speed is another personal choice, and I prefer a slow troll when chasing flathead. The run-out tide is the best phase to troll for flatties, and I have found that trolling with the current can be quite productive. This could due to the propensity for flathead to lie facing into current waiting for dinner to be delivered. Don’t bother trolling with the current if you have to be on the plane to get those rod tops wriggling. If your lure is close to the bottom, and occasionally kicking up little puffs of sand, you’re right in the zone.

Lure swim depth obviously depends on water depth. For instance, a shallow running minnow lure towed through 20 feet of water won’t catch too many flathead. Similarly, an extra deep minnow trolled in four feet of water won’t do the trick either! It can pay to have several outfits rigged and ready to go with lures that will swim at varying depths. I prefer to use braid of up to 10lb breaking strain, for the extra sensitivity that such low-stretch line delivers, and a couple of metres of mono leader.

Of course, there are many more techniques that are highly successful when targeting flathead. Drifting livebaits, fresh baits or even strips of flesh can be deadly. Flicking soft plastics rigged on a light jighead is another good tactic, as is using prawn imitation lures in a ‘lift and drop’ fashion. Drifting with the current with a prawn lure bouncing along the bottom can also prove irresistible to hungry flathead.

Flattening the barbs on your lure makes life much easier and safer than leaving them armed and dangerous. I’ve caught flathead that have swallowed 70mm lures deep into their throat, and in these situations barbed hooks can be a nightmare to extract. This surgery often kills fish that could otherwise have been successfully released.

An Environet and a wet towel complete your fishing kit so that unwanted fish can be quickly returned to the water. Tagged fish that have been recaptured show that flathead survive being caught and released very well, as long as the fish are handled minimally.

Bycatch can include all manner of species. The most common on the Sunshine Coast are tailor, bream, trevally, estuary cod and occasionally mangrove jack.

Duskies are the most common flathead species in southeast Queensland. They can be positively identified by a black spot on their tail which is partially bordered with white. Amazingly, they can attain weights of 15kg or more but they are more commonly caught in the 1-3kg bracket.

Dusky flathead must be at least 40cm long before you can keep them. Smaller specimens and fish over 70cm must be returned to the water to ensure future stocks of this important recreational species. There is an in-possession limit of five, meaning you may have no more than five flathead in your possession at any one time.

During early September the flathead population along the Sunshine Coast provided plenty of entertainment and a feed or two for those anglers who got out there and had a go. Productive areas on the Sunshine Coast during October include Lake Cooroibah, Weyba Creek, Tewantin Reach and the run from Noosa Spit to the Noosa River mouth; most creek mouths and the Bli Bli reach of the Maroochy River; widespread throughout the Mooloolah River and along the rock walls at the mouth; right through the Pumicestone Passage and in particular adjacent to creek mouths.

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1) This flathead, which is typical of those caught on the Sunshine Coast during October, took a liking to a trolled minnow lure.

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