Flathead are a true blue Aussie favourite target that will ruthlessly smash a range of modern lure types. Adding to their infectious, broad appeal amongst flickstick fishos is the fact they can be caught in quite a diverse range of areas, from open coastal flats, estuaries, rivers, surf beaches and off jetties, rockwalls and basically any other platforms and popular inshore zones you care to name. That’s without even mentioning their offshore antics!
These fish have camouflage on their side. You can almost stand on them like a doormat and not know about it until you see a puff of sand and large fish exiting the scene. Their obviously flat profile also enables them to push into the ultra shallows through to deeper parts, meaning virtually no inshore water depth is off limits for an encounter. Yes they have a jumpstart on fishos when it comes to playing hide and seek, but thankfully they haunt a lot of easily identifiable hot spots that can be found and fished with your favourite lures and Shimano flickstick setup as will be discussed.
Gutters and drains are natural congestion points for baitfish, and predators like flathead are well onto the benefits of positioning themselves in these areas to get their next meal.
Drains are usually cut out by tide into a sandy or muddy bottom/bank, and are fairly obvious areas where water pours off the flats on a dropping tide, and conversely pushes into when it’s rising. Flathead will often be found at the entrance of the drain channel on a dropping tide snapping up baitfish, prawns and other goodies as they are flushed off the flat via the drain and are virtually funnelled straight at them. On a rising tide these drains can hold flathead anywhere along the length of the drain itself as they use them to creep onto the flats as their first entry point.
These areas are perfect for cracking onto stacked up flathead, as like the baitfish in these places, flatties can also become condensed making for easy pickings. Lightly weighted soft plastics like Squidgy Bio Tough Fish are prime for flicking over both the entrance and the drain itself, while you can also work minnows and even surface lures right up in the shallows. They’re usually fairly snag free so the choice is yours!
Channels/gutters carved into sand in semi-protected waters are also hot zones, and while they don’t have quite the same attraction as drains do, they do focus bait and flathead are never far away from an easy food source. Throw some rock or other features into a gutter then you can narrow your efforts down even further and the flattie appeal skyrockets!
Flathead love patches of rock, both as it can be the only form of cover for them in an area, but probably more so for the ambush points it provides to launch at unsuspecting bait. The term ‘rock crocs’ is regularly used to describe the monster flatties that can wrap themselves around rocks like a dragon guarding its gold cache, and it can be a genuine big fish hot spot, while holding numbers of average sized fish as well.
Rocks can be scattered in random patches, or more sizable low reefy areas flanked by sand and mud. Usually they’ll be punctuated with small clearings or sandy/muddy holes where the fish will tend to sit and wait. Either way they’ll be a focal point for flatties and are well worth all the casts you can give them. Even a couple of random rocks on a sandy flat is like a tree in a desert and could be the scene of your next shovel-head flattie hook-up!
Fishing rocks for flatties can necessitate smart lure choices, particularly in nasty rocky zones, and it’ll save you a lot of lure loss and spooked fish if you can tie on a suitable presentation from the get-go. In heavy rocky areas you may need to fish weedless soft plastics if you’re intent on working the bottom and all the little sweet spots between the rocks. There’s plenty of weedless jigheads out there. For something different the Brenious NT Jig is proving successful for offering snag protection and you can rig your fave Squidgy Bio Tough on them. Standard 3-5 inch soft plastics on typical weights can still be fished around rocks, just use soft hands, less aggressive lure flicks and don’t set hooks at every bump you feel, and it’s amazing what you can ‘get away with’ even without weedless rigging if need be.
Surface lures like the Brenious Risewalk can also be used on flathead when you want to avoid the rocks and it’s relatively shallow. Slashing these over their heads will soon have them fired up. Likewise minnows that can be worked just above the reef, either lipless or shallow diving, preferably with single hooks to reduce snagging, can also draw out the rock crocs and get them snappin’!
Weed, rock, sand and mud and nearly any combination can hold a lot of flatties. Weed strewn with clearings or rock with clearings are all perfect flathead locations in a water depth from literally a foot or two and up.
Any weed or rock breaks up the monotony of a plain bottom type and is a great starting point for your lure flicking efforts, and will likely have bait and flathead lurking around it at some time or another. A jighead weight around 1/8 to 1/6th is a decent weight to begin with in low flow conditions and water under 2m deep, and you can tweak things as required from here.
Plenty of whopper lizards have been caught hanging around boat ramps for instance, sucking up any discarded fishy leftovers and will loiter around lights feasting on milling baitfish. Breakwaters, jetties, bridges and other larger man-made structures also provide structure and have bait attracting qualities which can in turn draw in even the biggest of flathead.
The one common thread of the flattie hot spots looked at is a healthy presence of baitfish, and flathead will stick to them like a cheap suit. Even well away from proven structures you can find big lizards if there’s bait on tap. Mullet schools for example will often be shadowed by flathead, and they will follow them around like a school yard bully, occasionally busting through the pack at their leisure.
Fishing near obvious masses of bait is the time to match the hatch, and you may want to use a Natural Bait coloured Squidgy Bio Tough for instance to copy the silver sides of the mullet, but usually finding feeding fish is most of the hard work done.
Flathead can be a fish of a thousand casts, however if you can identify standout features, structures and even bait schools then you can maximise your chances. Even finding their body prints will give away a flattie hotbed.
Timing sessions is also critical given their inshore movements are dictated by tides. In a nutshell work the outer areas of interest on the lower incoming tide, and then gradually fish closer to shore as the water comes in. A dropping tide and you reverse your approach and follow the fish back out. They can be caught in some crazy shallow water so if it looks fishy best policy is to have a cast. Good luck!