SUMMER is certainly flathead time! Catches have been up lately, even though the weather has been very dry. These kind of results show that the flatties will always come in to spawn, drought or no drought.
If you’re chasing lizards on the long rod, shallow water gives you the best chance of success. Flatties won't take a stationary fly; you have to retrieve it to interest them. If you’re fishing in deeper water, slack develops in the fly line and you can never be sure whether the fly is right near the bottom or travelling further up. To iron out such difficulties, fish in water no deeper than a metre and a half.
In this sort of scenario there are two options. The first is to wade the edges while maintaining a low profile and casting well ahead. This should not scare fish if you make long casts and proceed quite slowly.
The second option is to drift a likely-looking bank and cast from a boat. This is a good option providing you don’t have the engine running while the boat is near the bank. An electric motor is a great asset for this kind of fishing.
So how close in should you look for fish? Well, I've seen flathead over 70cm come from water so shallow that they half jumped as they hit the fly. Now that's close in! This is why you need stealth when fishing the shallows.
A long cast into shallow water will see the fly quickly descend, and then you can commence the short, sharp strip retrieve that will make a waiting flathead take a swipe at your fly.
Flathead sometimes mooch right up into the very edges, but they are less inclined to do so (in hard-fished waters) once the sun is shining brightly. Being out on the water at four on a Summer morning, and casting a fly right into the shallow edges of a bank with some sort of cover – like the weed beds and mud clumps at the ‘Pin – with the tide rising and without another fisher there, always puts some anticipation into my casting. I know the fish are almost certain to be there.
At the moment there’s a trend to fish ultra-light with fly tackle. The next mack tuna taken on a 4-weight rod won't be the first one for this Summer, I'll bet! Even a large flathead probably won't take much subduing on a 5-weight fly rod, provided you keep your cool while the initial take-off is controlled, and then (if boat fishing) you watch out for violent line-destroying head shaking as the fish comes near the surface.
However, when using light gear it’s awfully hard to cast big flies if there’s some breeze (a big bonus to hide the angler) kicking up a bit of chop. That’s why I always use an 8-weight rod for flathead. My Loomis Mega is matched with a Scientific Angler's Striper Four fast-sinking line. Although the sinking line demands that I retrieve most of it before making another presentation of the fly, the gear is a joy to use. The easy way in which the rod and line combine means that it’s not a chore to cast and retrieve hundreds of casts in a session – each one as far as I can get it to go!
For my flathead fishing I rely on the larger Abu Garcia fly reel, which holds quite a lot of backing and has a drag that easily controls one of these blokes. I always give the reel a good wash-down when I return home, and find it entirely adequate for this style of fishing. The same rod, reel, and line doubles as my deep water bass outfit in Winter.
There are plenty of wet flies that might take a flathead, provided the fish are plentiful enough and you know what you’re about. But I reckon the best patterns to start with are the old faithful Lefty's Deceiver and Clouser Deep Minnow. These were my favourites last month when Denise and I caught a some great flathead. The only way my fly choices have differed from last year is that I've taken a hint from my bass fishing and upsized the offering.
This year, I tied my Deceivers and some Clousers on hooks varying from 1/0 to 3/0, the Gamakatsu SL12S proving ever sharp and very strong. The hooks have sufficient mass to 'keel' a fly and ensure that a 20cm long Deceiver swims correctly.
Colours that worked for me have been all white with plenty of sparkle, plus red and yellow with some green sparkle flash thrown in for good measure.
Fluorocarbon line makes for great, hard-to-see leader and tippets, and will withstand a lot of abrasion from those nasty flathead teeth. I connect around a metre and a half of 10kg fluorocarbon to the loop on the end of the fly line, and a tippet of 55cm of 7kg Siglon Sinking at the business end of the fly line. This tippet is my personal favourite when chasing flathead.
I favour a loop knot to tie my fly onto the tippet. I've used Rod Harrison's loop on even tuna flies in the last few years, and I've yet to have one fail me. Naturally, I always lubricate the knot when drawing the loop into the closed position.
The important thing to remember about this style of fly fishing is that you can’t expect a flathead to hook up every five minutes. You’ll need to do a lot of casting but, if you do things right, a fish or two will certainly come your way. That nice one Denise is holding came along after about 20 minutes of searching out areas of bank at Jumpinpin. And her next cast took another fish! So if you want success, you need to make the effort.
1) I've upsized my flathead flies from last year, but my favourite patterns are still the Lefty's Deceiver and Clouser Deep Minnow.
2) Denise with her personal best flathead.
3) This pretty flathead fell for a Deceiver-style fly in yellow with a red collar of marabou.Reads: 820