Flathead for Beginners
  |  First Published: December 2002


IF YOU like fishing for flathead as much as I do, you will have looked forward to the warmer months as much as I have. Spring and Summer is the time of year when flathead come into the estuaries and river systems to breed, giving anglers a better chance to catch them.

One of the reasons why flathead are so popular is that you don’t need the latest or most expensive tackle to catch them. You also don’t have to fish from a boat.


The best time to target these great fish is right on low tide or just as the tide is starting to run in. This time of lowest water will allow you to access the spots where the flathead retreat to when the tide has receded. Then, as the tide moves in, you simply move in with it, fishing every spot that you think could hold a big lizard.


I've found that the best locations to target flathead are anywhere where there is sufficient cover, such as rocky outcrops near sand, or around snags such as logs, weedbeds, or mud clumps. Sand flats which have deep areas nearby are also great for these fish.

Unlike a lot of other fish species that cruise about in search of food, flatties tend to just hide in ambush and pounce on whatever comes their way. This means that an angler can expect to find flatties in many different places along a shoreline.


Flathead lie in wait for herring, small mullet, whiting and any other small baitfish that comes their way, along with crustaceans such as yabbies and crabs. These predators are scavengers as well. On a recent trip to Jacobs Well with some mates from school, we were using yabbies for bait and I caught a good-sized flathead which had a large a chicken bone in its stomach.

However, because flathead prefer live fish and crustaceans, the bait that will give you the best chance of success is live bait. Yabbies, herring, poddy mullet, small diver whiting and prawns are excellent live bait, and all of these - with the exception of yabbies - can be taken with a cast net. You can also catch herring on a bait jig from a jetty, and diver whiting can be caught on tiny pieces of squid. Pump your yabbies from the mud flats where yabby pumping is allowed.

If you can’t gather live bait, bait from the local bait shop is almost as good if it’s fresh and of good quality. Frogmouth pillies, prawns and WA pillies all take their fair share of good quality fish if you give the bait some action.

My largest flathead to date was taken on a WA pillie at Shark Bay, Iluka, where the ocean beach meets rocks. I had threaded the pilchard on a three-hook rig and was working the bait just like a lure by casting and retrieving it along the edge of the rocks when I hooked the big flattie. The 5kg line held out and I walked the fish in after quite a long fight. He was 76cm long.

Remember - if you have hooked a large flathead, try to keep your rod low as he comes ashore. This will help stop the fish from shaking its head and breaking your line.

If lure fishing is more your thing, the same tidal conditions and locations apply. Lures that get near the bottom in half to one-and-a-half metres of water will do the job fine. I've found that anything with a reasonable action and fish-like coloration and baitfish profile will fool a flattie.


The tackle you need for chasing flathead doesn’t have to be expensive top-of-the-range equipment. Any rod that has a fair amount of power with a sensitive tip will do the job. The rod should be 2 to 3 1/2 metres long and be capable of casting a pilchard with a small sinker or a medium-sized lure a reasonable distance.

Reels don't have to be fancy. The choice of reel is up to you, but it should hold at least 100 metres of line from 5-8kg breaking strain.

Hooks should suit the style of bait that you’re using. With pilchards, use a two- or three-hook gang with a sinker above a half metre trace. If you’re using live bait, use a single 3/0 hook placed through the fish's mouth or just under the skin on the fish's back, and then use as small a sinker as possible. When using yabbies, I like a 3/0 hook with one or two yabbies threaded onto it. I put the sinker around a half metre away to allow the yabbies some movement.

One of the best things about flathead fishing is that even a novice angler has a chance of catching a good-sized fish. There's no need to be an expert!

1) The author caught this fat flathead on a lure while fishing the surf at Rainbow Beach.

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