This year looks set to be a great year for flathead and while a lot of lizards are taken on plastics these days, there's no denying they are also suckers for a fly, provided the nut behind the butt does a few things in the right order.
The thing about flathead that makes them so susceptible to a well-presented fly is their predatory nature. They sit and wait for tucker to come their way. And if that tucker is a fly it will be scoffed in a quick puff of silt just as quickly as any other item flatties regard as food.
Considering the main requirements for a successful flathead on fly expedition we can look at the project from two aspects; what’s best for angler and what suits the fish.
Armed with an 8weight fly rod, which is ideal for making a number of casts with flies that tend to be on the larger side, the angler needs to be able to access flats where drains empty into deeper water. Flats where weed beds or other cover are prolific with steep banks adjoining gently sloping areas in less than 2m of water are prime territory.
That depth is critical. Too deep with too much current and it's mighty hard to work a fly and keep in touch with it while it's being retrieved through flathead territory. And remember, the fly line should also be sinking, either intermediate or a faster sink model.
The idea is to get the fly down to where the fish are without too much delay. I stick with the intermediate sink line as flatties lying in wait in shallow water are quick enough to nail a fly well before it touches the sand. I've had flatties nail a fly in shallow water and then enthusiastically jump, which is something that plenty of plastic aficionados have seen as well.
For shallow water access, a shallow draft boat either dead drifting or maybe kicked along a little with an electric motor is best. You can also park the boat on a rising tide in a likely area and then walk the bank to make long casts into shallow areas that look inviting.
Long casts are essential to avoid spooking fish and while wading a stripping basket is a useful bit of equipment as it makes line control much easier than having it around your feet and then drifting off in the current.
Flathead are not terribly leader conscious but a quality fluorocarbon such as FC 100 is worth tying to the end of the fly line. I make my own leaders up with 1.5m of 30lb FC 100 nail knotted to the end of the fly line, joined to 1m of 20lb, then 0.5m of 30lb again. A Deceiver derivative or large Clouser on 3/0 hook is then tied in a wide Lefty's loop to make sure it swims as easily as possible. Flathead will headshake and easily chew through a light tippet, hence the use of the 30lb towards the business end of the leader.
Repeated casting is key, but one positive is flathead are gregarious critters, and where you find one there are usually a couple of others. A cautious approach that sees you keeping back from the likely spots and working all casts from start to finish with expectation will be rewarded.
You cannot expect a fly to be scoffed by a flathead every five minutes, they are simply not that plentiful, but the rewards are still there for the persistent angler. I once caught 13 in a morning session at Jumpinpin and was pretty chuffed.
When a flathead nails the fly it's usually with a savage jerk followed by a couple of spirited runs. If wading, lead the fish ashore keeping the rod tip right down into the water or the fish may start that line-destroying head shaking. When fishing from a boat fishing, the fish will be lifted up towards the end of the fight, so keep a long handled landing net in reach.
I can't say I've ever received much info from any flathead on this topic, or any other for that matter, but it isn't so hard to work out what suits them from past encounters.
For a start lizards love to lie adjacent to or among a bit of cover. Tidal flats with weed beds, small rock or rubble outcrops, drop-off mangrove banks with small drains, ridges parallel to the shore or areas where current comes in contact with a bank or backwater area are brilliant flathead habitat. But there is one other thing that really sees them on the job and that's the incoming or flood tide.
Flatties mooch right up into the shallows, especially in the first of the morning light, to ambush food and will sit in amazingly shallow water to play their waiting game. As the day becomes brighter and a few more boats start to move in the area the caution bell rings and they move deeper. However, provided the tide is still flooding strongly and no boats are in the vicinity to disturb them, the fish will usually stay put in the shallow water.
Flathead are attracted to flies with colour and even flash, as long as there's a fish-like profile. The clue is to impart action that makes the fly move as though it's wounded. A stop-start-wriggle action is really attractive to flathead.
I don't mind making my own flies, particularly nasty ones with a stinger hook at the back end, but I've recently trialled some very interesting imported flies that will work very well in flathead, trevally and barra.
These flies are Cliff Rochester Originals, made by the Fishient Group of South Africa and marketed under the Just Add H2O banner. They have a good profile, ample flash and a very high standard of tying, which should see a fly surviving plenty of work (provided a fish doesn't make off with it) in fresh- or saltwater environments.
They are tied on Gamakatsu SL12S hooks that are always my first choice for this sort of fly.
I've used the 2/0 and 4/0 size Bombers and consider both ideal for flatties. Your local tackle store should be able to obtain these flies.
As an aside I've also obtained a couple of their very well made Surf Candies and cannot wait to give them a go on tuna next month. Also available are a range of Just Add H2O products. I really like the look of the Flekta Flash in mother of pearl and will be incorporating it in quite a few of my barra and saltwater flies during the coming months.Reads: 1405