FLATHEAD

Few table fish come close to the firm flesh of the flathead, and few fish hit a lure harder in shallow water, flathead fishing is an exciting activity that can produce huge fish in knee deep water, or a fantastic feed that’s hard to beat. In this guide we will be covering the basics of flathead fishing, including where to find them, what baits to use and how to work lures for one of Australia’s most popular table fish.

WHERE TO FIND FLATHEAD

Flathead can be found Australia wide, with different species found in different locations, the monster flathead you often see photos of are usually Dusky flathead, a species occurring predominately along the Eastern coast of Australia from Gippsland, Victoria all the way up to northern Queensland. Other species of flathead occur around the entirety of this great country, they are not picky about their habitats, and can be caught from beaches to estuaries to bay fishing from a boat. As these are landbased guides we will be focusing on the estuarine variety, beach flathead are best caught using a standard paternoster surf rig with pilchard or squid for bait, and are not targeted as often as their estuarine counterparts.

For a more localised guide to finding flathead, we will need to turn to our powers of observation, flathead are an interesting fish, as they are not only sit-and-wait ambush predators, they are also highly mobile, manoeuvring their way around systems as the tide, light levels and water temperatures change. Flathead will ambush prey from a plethora of areas, ranging from sandy flats, to rocky bottoms and the edges of drop-offs, the best place to find flathead will consist of a combination of these features, a sandy area broken up by structure and featuring one or more drop offs will be sure to hold our target species. However, an area consisting of only one of these features can also be dynamite territory, if you see sandy banks, drop offs or broken ground, you’ll most likely find flathead.

Releasing this lovely dusky flathead back to her sandy gravel patch

LURE FISHING

Lure fishing for flathead has branched off from by-catch and become a hugely popular sport, many anglers begin their lure fishing expedition with the humble flathead, and this is due to the fact that flathead will eat pretty much any lure you throw at them. From surface lures, to plastics, to hardbodies, vibes and even fly, flathead are not picky eaters, this is not to say that some lures don’t work better than others, lures that stay in the strike zone longer and allow for slow retrieves are your best bet. Soft plastics and vibes are the two most popular lures for flathead, this is due to the fact that they hold close to the bottom where the flathead wait, and are both retrieved with plenty of pauses, allowing for these patient fish to swoop in. I personally love using hardbodied lures for flathead, and jerkbaits such as the Rapala Shadow Rap can be fished lethargically, holding their position in the water and allowing for pauses of indiscriminate duration, if the fishing is slow, an erratic lure coming to a holt and fading for a ten second pause is sure to tempt even the laziest of fish. For deeper water, crank baits and plastics are the better option, 1/8 oz jigheads paired with 3”plastics offer the perfect balance of medium sink rate and depth penetration, 1/4 oz may be necessary if the water is high flow such as what is found in areas like Warneet Pier or Corinella. I recommend 4-8lb main line paired with 8-20lb leader for lure fishing, this will vary depending on the size of fish you are after, 20lb leader is overkill for 30-60cm flathead, whereas 8lb leader has the potential to be shredded by a 90cm model.

Flatties will happily take lures and plastics presented around areas of structure such as these pontoon platforms

BAIT FISHING

Flathead are by no means a fussy fish, they will take anything from dirty old pilchards, to fresh prawn and pippies, I have even caught about five consecutive flathead on the same piece of squid I found stuck to a pier after running out of bait! Location is the important factor here, both in where you’re fishing and where your bait is positioned in the water. For casts close to you and in shallower water, I prefer a running sinker rig, but when casting further a paternoster rig will allow more bite response, an extra bait, and the angle of the line will allow both baits to dangle just off the bottom for hungry flathead to see. Size 6 up to 2/0 hooks are best for these fish depending on the size of flathead you’re chasing, with suicide and long shank hooks being my favourite patterns. Make sure your baits are aimed around rocky areas with sandy patches in between, as well as drop offs and channels in locations where these are available. As with all bait fishing, a sinker just heavy enough to hold bottom is best, and a leader of 15lb is recommended in case a toothy lizard is hooked deep and risks shredding your leader!

Flathead have been targeted by anglers for years, and are one of Australia’s most popular family fishing species, as well as one of our favourite table fish. Over the years there have been countless methods for catching flathead found, they are a great beginner’s fish for lure and plastic anglers, and there are many techniques that I couldn’t squeeze into this guide! A rewarding fish with a good fight and great taste, flathead are a joy to catch for all Aussie anglers.

Good sized flathead always make for a great fishing day and an even better feed

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