In this article I'll run through a few of the basics that have helped to improve my flatty catch rate over the years from tides, hot spots, lures, retrieve techniques and gear of choice!
The humble flathead has always been a favourite for just about every keen fisho here in Australia and it's not hard to see why. They are widespread, with different species being found right around the country in mostly easy to access areas from beaches and estuaries to even the smallest inlets or river mouths. They are so different and cool looking, not to mention a great feed. They are fun on light tackle in shallow water yet also an underrated sport-fish but possibly what appeals to most people is that they are generally quite easy to catch! Many other fish can be hard to fool and finicky at certain times but rarely will a Flatty be! I guess you could say they aren't the brightest fish in the ocean and if you are fishing where they are, chances are you will catch some. That being said you will still need to be doing the basics right and if ol' mate beside you is catching and you’re not then you might need to take note and change your game plan. I'll run through a few of the basics that have helped to improve my catch rate over the years:
I have had the best success around low tide. The fish will pull back into the relative safety of the deeper holes at low water so therefore they will be far more concentrated. They do however like a bit of tidal movement and will really fire up just as the tide starts to turn. I usually start my assault around two hours from low, to about two hours off the run in.
Look for those deeper holes and ones that have a bit of structure and cover like oyster racks and weed patches. Sandbar drop-offs, creek mouths and areas that hold baitfish are all worth prospecting.
Soft plastics are hard to beat on Flathead and more specifically "paddle tail" plastics like the Squidgies Fish and Shads work best. The "paddle tails" will flutter down and drop more slowly than minnow styles, giving the fish more time to see and eat it. Colours aren't too crucial but the black/gold is a personal favourite of mine. At times of murky water try a killer tomato Squidgy or TNT Shad. Plastics in the 70-100mm range are best and the larger sizes will usually help to avoid catching the smaller fish. Jig heads will vary with water depth, wind and current but always be sure to have enough weight to be able to hit the bottom and keep it "in the zone"
A quality fast action 2-4 or 2-5kg rod matched with a 2000-2500 size spin fishing reel is about perfect and whatever your budget, Shimano have it covered but for years of good service, always get the best gear you can afford. Line - 4-8lb Power Pro braid is ample. Any heavier and you wont be able to cast as far. Always go the bright coloured braid so as to see more bites. It still amazes me how many people are not using braid yet and I can't stress enough how much better it is for this style of fishing. Leader - I use 8-12lb. It pays to always use fluorocarbon as the fluoro has a tough outer coating and will put up with the raspy teeth of a Flatty much better than mono. If there are known to be some huge fish in the area then err on the heavier side.
I like a "hop and stop" retrieve. No fancy double lifts or twitches for me. Just a single rod lift, aiming to lift your lure only about a metre off the bottom, then pause and let it sit for a few seconds. It's as simple as that. A Flatty wont muck around with it and you will usually see the sharp "tick" in your line as they inhale it. As Flathead are an ambush predator they wont chase a lure too far so you may need to slow down. Too slow though and you may not be covering enough water so vary your retrieve rate until you work out what's working best on the day.
In my home state of Tassie the main target is the Southern Blue Spot Flathead, with the occasional by-catch of Sand and Rock Flathead. The Blue Spot doesn't quite attain the massive sizes of it's northern cousin the Dusky but I have heard reports of them being caught to 90cm! My PB currently sits at a respectable 79cm and that fish (happily released of course) would have been around 4.5kg plus built like the proverbial brick outhouse! What they lack in size they make up for in their fighting ability and in the peak of summer when the water warms up they really go hard!
Now we have to remember that being a relatively easy target, Flathead can be easily exploited so please get to know your local species, bag and possession limits. As always, only take what you need for a feed and let the big breeders go to do their thing to help ensure our kids can enjoy catching these awesome fish in many years to come.