South Australia's Winter Lizards

South Australia's Winter Flatheads

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SA’s Winter Lizards

By Jamie Crawford

Wintertime in SA spelled flathead time. It’s during these cooler months of the year when our southern Bluespot Flatties move into the shallows of our local bays and nearby shorelines. They are a lot easier to target at this time of year, and instead of being dispersed in deeper water they take residence over the shallow fringes of our bays, often holding in areas just several inches deep.

At other times of the year these flathead are moreover incidental captures while targeting other species, but as soon as the water temps dip from around April onwards there’s a movement of fish into our shallow inshore water. These typically aren’t big fish, with the average size hovering around 30 to 40cm, with fish from 50 to 70cm in the upper bracket. Regardless of size, these flatties are pretty aggressive and happily swipe at a range of soft plastics and hard-bodied lures.  

I really enjoy chasing flatties, and I’ve found myself spending a fair bit of time of late targeting them. Sure, they may not be a powerhouse of muscle and stamina, but when they’re hooked in just a foot or so of water they put up a good scrap. And whether walking the shallows or flicking from the bow of a boat, chasing fish in clear, shallow water is as good as it gets. It’s pretty cool to see the shadow of a good flathead stalking your lure before attacking it.

Flathead are a very cool fish; perfectly designed for ambush feeding. Flathead caught from a sandy beach are often a monotone light colour – except for their iridescent blue spots. In contrast, fish that we catch from areas of rock or weed can be quite dark in colour, sometimes with blotchy dark bands across their flanks. This shows their adaptability to blend in with their surroundings, and their feeding tactic to wait in ambush for passing prey.

In certain areas you can walk exposed flats during low tide and look for tell-tale flathead lies; an indication of where fish are holding during periods of higher water. These lies are quite prevalent over flats that are quite muddy and soft under foot, but in areas where the sand is firm or if there is reef present, identifying flathead lies can be a lot harder.

In my area on lower Eyre Peninsula in SA, we target flathead in our local bay by focussing on water depth of around 1ft out to around 3ft. Most of the fish we locate are found holding over areas of scattered reef or weed, especially if it banks up against clean sand. For instance, if we are going to fish a local beach, whether from foot or from the boat, we’ll pepper casts in the corner of either end of the beach (as this normally leads onto scattered rock).

Once we’ve thoroughly worked the ends of the beach, we’ll then look for scattered rock along the open expanse of the beach. This structure will, and does, vary greatly between beaches. Some beaches will have a lot of heavy reef and weed beds, while others will be quite sparse. Try to identify areas you would sit to offer maximum cover if you were a flathead.

If there’s only one patch of reef or a small bed of ribbon weed along the length of a beach, it’s highly likely there will be a flathead or two sitting in hiding. Although flathead do sit out in the open, we’ve found more fish sitting on the edge of natural structure, or sitting in amongst weed for cover.

Having a look at the body formation of flathead, and knowing how they feed, it’s imperative to get your lure down as close to the bottom as practical. While we do fish with hard bodies and vibes for flathead, we use soft plastics for the majority of the time. Soft plastics cast well, are easy to use and if you lose a couple during the session it doesn’t hit the pocket too hard.

The three soft plastics we have the most success with for flathead are 70mm Stealth Prawn in Tiger Prawn and Pacific Pearl colour, Squidgy 65mm Pro Range Fish in Poddy colour, and lastly 70mm Flick Baits in Pilly and Yakka colour. You’ll notice that these plastics are on the smaller size to suit the calibre of fish we’re likely to encounter in our region. The jig head sizes we mainly use are 3 to 5 gram round heads with a fine gauge 1/0 hook. Flathead can be a different fish to hook on a plastic in shallow water, and it’s easy to drop fish. We’ve found a cleaner hook-up rate with fine gauge hooks.

Our local flathead don’t always aggressively mow-down a lure. Instead they tend to follow a lure – even half-heartedly hitting it – before committing to eat it. I adopt a pretty slow retrieve when targeting flathead. After the plastic has hit the bottom, I use a sharp double-hop retrieve followed by a long pause. I prefer leaving a lengthy pause – usually around 3 seconds - between each double-hop; it gives the flatties time to commit to eating the lure.

You will on occasions feel a bump during the hop as a flathead will hit the lure but fails to hook-up. When I feel this I let the plastic settle for a bit longer before re-commencing the retrieve. When the rod tip is lifted you will feel a heavy weight, but may not realise it’s a flathead yet. In this situation, hold the rod tip high and wind quickly to help set the hook. Flathead are masters of shaking a plastic free early in the fight if the hook-set hasn’t been positive.

Also, don’t be afraid to use S-Factor scent, and re-apply regularly! This stuff really does make a difference. I re-apply scent to the plastic after every 6 to 8 casts. It can make the difference between a flathead committing to the plastic rather than just following it.

Tackle should be nice and light to offer sensitivity, to allow lengthy casts and to maximise the fun on these modest fish. My favourite flathead outfit is a 1 – 3kg T-Curve Revolution Inshore matched with a Sustain 1000FG. This outfit is spooled with 4lb Power Pro braid. I use about a 2m length of 8lb Ocea Fluorocarbon leader. This leader is light enough to offer finesse presentation, but still offers adequate resistance from the bigger fish we’re likely to encounter in our area.

Flathead fishing is a whole lot of fun. Our current winter-run of fish has been a cracker with lots of small to mid-sized fish about. Get out there and get into them!

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Flathead are a great looking fish, and perfectly designed for ambush feeding

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Jason Stephenson with a nice flathead taken from a sandy beach on a 70mm Flick Bait. Note the light colour of the fish taken from the sand

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Even small flathead will eat soft plastics

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The majority of our winter flathead are smaller 30 to 40cm fish, but they are still fun targets