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Fatties for Flathead
  |  First Published: October 2009



I haven’t written about flathead for a long time. Back in the mid nineties the trend was to choose one of the two basic flathead trolling tactics; either, very deep diving long minnows in the channels, or small jellybean minnows in the creeks and around the flats. And not much seems to of changed, except a deeper sense of adventure.

My family has a long standing habit of looking at lures from last weekend’s trip and wondering, “I wonder if that mackerel lure would work for bass in the lakes?” So, it stood to reason that one day we’d try our bass lures in the saltwater.

Accordingly, after a bass casting and trolling trip many years ago, the next weekend we took our already rigged freshwater rods with us on a flathead trip to the Jumpinpin. Instead of using my favourite Peter Newell designed/inspired skinny minnows; the lures on the end of the line were the American-designed flat shaped diving plugs, often known as mini-crankbaits.

The Americans do this lure very well, and generally much better than the cheap Asian versions. Americans have evolved this lure over many moons and their depth diving ability and wobbling action is a go-to confidence option for anglers the world over. One of the original models known to Aussie anglers is the Cotton Cordell Big ‘O’, and others included the Bill Norman ‘N’ or DD series, Shakespeare Little ‘S’, and Bomber Fat ‘A’(the astute reader will no doubt notice the naming trend which gives rise to the other moniker bestowed upon this style of lure…the 'alphabet' bait).

Nevertheless, cutting to the end of the experiment, our results showed a batch of flathead releases and a half dozen flathead around 50cm on ice for that night’s dinner. Day one and the fat ‘bass’ baits had proven themselves as flathead fodder par-excellence.

Day one also turned up an interesting comment back at the boat ramp. One of the “how-ja-ya-go-mate?” gang that we love chatting to made the comment that he was surprised that we had caught so many flathead on freshwater lures. We thought that was a significant point ‑ People really did think of these fat lures as ‘only for the fresh’.

I told him they were Bill Norman Lures from the USA and he was off to the tackle shop to find some. Bill Normans are still available but these days they are just called “Norman Lures”.

The fat lures, aka plugs, crankbaits, alphabet baits or as I like to call them, fat jellybeans, are great because they cast further than other models of the same length. And these days there is a subculture of anglers that prefer to cast rather than troll. I guess things go round in circles and what was old becomes new again.

My preference as a casting outfit when using these lures is a light bream style spin outfit of 1.8-2.1m in length. In the old days I used line class mono around 2kg breaking strain for most of my fat jellybean casting; these days I’m more likely to have braid on the spool already, so that’s what I go with.

Fat lures can also carry heavier grade and/or slightly larger trebles that are more suitable (more suitable than lightweight trebles) for Aussie saltwater species that inhabit our southern estuaries where I like to wade and cast. I’m talking particularly about big flathead, mangrove jack and estuary cod. Up north the bigger versions of the fat cranks are fine for barra.

I like to carry a selection of diving depths and colours in my fat jellybean lure kit. Although I do admit that typically when prospecting for flathead I’ll tie on a deep diver with a big bib. And, another confession, I get a kick out of using the old style colours such as silver blue black with the cross hatched sides. Very old school I know, I think it takes me back to those very young years when I stared at photos of lures hanging out of the mouths of fish in the fishing magazines my parents had around the house.

Having said that I like to start out with deep divers, once I get a feel for the place and as the tide rises I do like to look for structure in water less than 4ft deep that might hold flathead. I then use very shallow running lures to tick over the top of fallen logs, or weed beds. Shallow runners that dive to a couple of feet only are less likely to foul on the weeds or snag on the timber.

If I’m expressly after flathead then I’m certain to do an upgrade to heavier saltwater grade trebles, around no.6 in size, when I’m using ultra shallow runners. I’ll often also target bream if there are a few rocks around. When targeting big bream I’ll use the same ultra shallow runners but they’ll be swinging no.10 or 12 bream trebles.

Before signing off, here’s a little bit more about using ultra shallow runners. Buoyant, fat-bodied, ultra shallow running crankbaits make great wakebaits for bream and also great for working above oyster racks at high tide.

Give the fatties a try, they even work in freshwater too...

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