As we move into the warmer months, our estuaries start to come out of the doldrums and fish activity slowly, but surely, increases.
One of the best fish to target at this time of year is the good old flathead. They are fun fish to catch, grow to a frightening size and if fish ’n’ chips are on your preferred menu, it’s hard to go fast fresh flattie fillets lightly pan fried with a squeeze of lemon!
Flathead may not be the hardest fish in the world to catch but, as with any type of fishing, a simple formula can be applied which will certainly help hook more fish. Here’s my a five-point plan.
Flathead may be encountered anywhere from offshore reef systems to estuaries, bays and small creeks. They even penetrate right up into the freshwater and it’s not unheard of to catch a flathead while bass fishing.
There are, however, certain places that are far more likely to attract and hold flathead. By concentrating your efforts in likely flathead hot spots, the chances of catching a few increase dramatically.
Through the Winter flathead tend to move upstream into creeks or hug some of the deeper parts of an estuary. Just as long as food like small baitfish, shrimp or prawns are present, flathead will stay put.
As the water starts to warm a few degrees through September and October, the fish move out of their hidey-holes and spread themselves around the fringes of an estuary.
Sandy areas adjacent to large weed beds, long river rock walls, creek junctions, sandy beaches, rock bars and bridges or wharves with overhead lighting are all places where flathead may congregate.
In most cases, the bigger fish will be found within a kilometre or so of the mouth of an estuary.
Water depth isn’t much of an issue when it comes to flathead and, overall, they do seem to like quite shallow water. If there is a deeper channel or drop-off right near a shallow spot, so much the better.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is the presence of flattie food. That may come in the form of small poddy mullet swimming in the shallows, whitebait hugging a rock wall, prawns hanging around weed beds or the mud flats where pink nippers or soldier crabs live.
An area that appears to be lifeless may not be worth fishing, even if it looks good at first glance.
One of the best things about chasing flathead is that you don’t have to get out of bed before sunrise or stay out late. I still like to fish early in the morning, but that’s mainly because it’s often quiet and calm then.
If any wind is going to pick up, it usually does so through the afternoon and more boats or other noisy craft may also be on the water then.
Flathead can be caught at any stage of the tide but low tide and the first two hours of the making tide are best in most areas, specially early in the season. The reason behind this is that flathead are more concentrated in deeper pockets of water at low tide and the first of the run in often brings slightly warmer water, which gets fish in a more active mood.
Towards the top of the tide flathead may spread out over the flats or move right in close to the shore.
In estuaries with huge areas of sand or mud flats, that can mean a lot of water between the fish and it may take longer to catch a few or to find reasonable concentrations.
At night, one of the most reliable ways to find flathead is to look for street lights that illuminate shallow water.
Road bridges, boat moorings and parklands with strong lighting can be real flattie hot spots. Think of moths swarming around your backyard light and then translate that to the water where baitfish, prawns and squid act in exactly the same way.
With a smorgasbord of food on offer, flathead may be lining up for a meal.
Although a wide variety of tackle can be used to catch flathead, including the good old handline, it’s a good idea to match your tackle to how and where you want to catch flathead.
Live-baiting or simply drifting along in a boat means that you can put a handline to good use. More often, though, a light threadline flick stick or baitcaster outfit will do a better job and be more enjoyable to use.
A rod of around 2m and a small reel spooled up with 6kg mono or braid is right on the mark for most situations.
Nylon mono lines are fine when using baits but if you prefer to cast lures then braided lines are a better choice as you’ll be able to feel the lure much more. That’s important because knowing what’s going on down at the business end of things enables one to tell the difference between a lure bumping on the bottom and a fish hitting the lure.
In weedy areas you can also feel a small piece of weed foul up the lure and so you can quickly wind it back in and remove the weed, rather than wasting a cast without realising the lure is fouled.
The rod should also match the lure weight, because a heavy lure may overload a light rod or a very light lure might not cast too well with a stiff rod.
So the rod, reel, line and lure weight is like a system. If it all matches, the system will run smoothly and efficiently.
Another part of the system is the trace or leader. In most cases, a length of 10kg nylon or fluorocarbon is about right. If really big flathead over 6kg are common in the area you’re fishing then a 12kg or 15kg leader may be more appropriate.
Never use a wire trace because you’ll catch fewer fish.
These days there are hundreds of lures available that will catch flathead.
No doubt, soft plastics from 80mm to 150mm are among the most effective. Atomic, Squidgy and Berkley are some of the best names in the business and just about all of the plastics within their ranges are worth using on flathead.
Hard lures are still effective. Pick minnow-style hardbodies that resemble the size and profile of baitfish like poddy mullet or whitebait and you can’t go wrong. Some names to look out for include Viking, Rapala, Lucky Craft, Mann’s and Halco.
Metal blades are also very effective flathead lures. They get down to the bottom quickly and can be cast or slowly trolled over likely flathead territory. Be careful with blades in snaggy environments because they can be quick to snag up on submerged rock or timber.
One of the biggest mistakes made by those new to lure fishing is to just cast out and wind straight back in. A simple approach like that may catch the odd fish but you’ll catch a lot more by ‘working’ a lure.
Regardless of the exact type of lure you’re casting or trolling, give it some extra life by twitching or jerking the rod tip and try to keep the lure down near the bottom where flathead live.
If a lure isn’t occasionally touching bottom, slow down the retrieve a little or try a different lure or heavier jig head that gets down deeper.
The same principle applies when using baits like whitebait or pilchards. A little movement to a bait is more likely to attract a flattie bite.
Another important aspect of lure or bait fishing is to cover ground, rather than simply casting to the same spot over and over.
By drifting in a boat or slowly walking or wading along the shore, your bait or lure has more chance of running past a fish.
If you’re very confident of a flathead being in a specific place then by all means give it some extra attention but if a fish isn’t hooked after 10 minutes or 10 casts, move on until you run into a fish.
Of course, there are many more finer points to flathead fishing that may increase your chance of success but this five-point plan will certainly improve your flathead fishing. It’s a simple formula that’s worth remembering.
Mudflats and mangroves are perfect flathead habitat. Fish move right up into the shallows as the tide rises.Reads: 29168