All around Australia one or more flathead species can be caught in bays estuary channels, along river banks in upper reaches of tidal creeks and rivers. There are about 40 species of flathead, which at times can be known by fishermen as big lizards or in some case frogs. But a few species are important to the estuary fisherman. They are the dusky flathead, which is common in the estuaries of NSW, Southern Queensland and Eastern Victoria. Several types of sand flathead can be found in the southern states. In Western Australia they have the bar-tail and false bar-tail.
The Dusky Flatty
The Dusky can be caught in muddy bottoms, in chaotic water, to crystal clear water over sand. As the flathead is an ambush predator by nature it varies its colouration and patterning to blend in with its environment. It can usually be described as a greenish brown above with irregular darker spots, fading to a creamy white underbelly. The distinguishing mark on the dusky is the shape and position of a large blotch on the tail. They can grow up to 1.5 meters and to 12kg. But of course those are had to come by and anything over 5kg these days is considered astonishing.
Understanding any fishes’ feeding habits is the first step in the road to successful angling. The flathead is a fierce predator which lies in wait for its prey at the bottom, usually submerged in sand or mud, with only its eyes visible. Like a covert military operation, flathead choose their position with care, where there is good traffic of smaller fish, which flows with the estuary tidal movements. They tend to favour a variety of spots including the edges of sandbanks, among weed patches, on sandy bottoms, the edge of deep channels, and the mouth of tidal creek and gutters.
Burley and Bait
Big flathead usually take a wide variety of baits, either dead or live. It is said that the best bait of all, is small live fish, they should be hooked through the flesh near the tail or you can hook them in the middle in the upper back. Small yellowtail, herring and poddy mullet are all top flathead baits fished live. Sand worms, blood worms, prawns, bass yabbies and fish strips are super effective too. Fish strips of whiting, mullet and garfish can be rigged so that they wiggle as if alive when slowly retrieved. Whole dead fish such as sandy sprats, anchovies and pilchards can all be used to fool flathead too. Like all estuary species flathead respond to berley. Fishing from a moored or drifting boat or kayak, a good berley trail of cut fish pieces and bait scraps can be very useful in bringing these fish on the bite. I like to use a pelleted mix which you can pick up in any good local tackle shop. Try using Hook in Mouth Tackle’s flasher rigs with a pilchard tail, whilst on the drift, once you drift past the nose of flatty lying in wait, they just can’t resist it. Find us today on our website www.hook inmouthtackle.com
Methods of Capture
The old school method of taking flathead is to drift over sand or mud flats in estuaries or bays, drag small bait fish or a flasher rigs along or right on the bottom. Lines must be rigged with sufficient led to hold the bottom, as the boat drifts with the current or wind. Although flathead are caught at any time, especially during summer, experienced anglers believe that big fish are usually landed in the early morning and late afternoon, possibly due to the ideal drifting conditions at these times and also less traffic on the water to spook the fish. At times the flathead strike is swift decisive and extremely effective, cutting its prey with its sharp teeth. At other times there is only a steady pull on the line. On other occasions again there is no indication at all until the line is pulled in to check on the bait or rig. From a land based perspective, my father taught me an old school trick. At low tide go for a walk along the edge of an estuary, there you will find the shape in the sand of where a big flatty was lying at high to mid tide. Flathead are territorial and they generally come back to their feeding spot. Once the tide comes in, I cast a good quality flasher rig loaded with pilchard tails or white bait, right at where I found the flatties sand mark. This technique never fails me. We highly recommend you try our flasher rigs when doing this.
Occasionally even the big flathead will just simply pick at a bait. Often, with a two or three second pause between each cautious nibble. One of the reasons for this seemingly delicate bite is that the flathead moves its head from side to side before swallowing. Its small harsh teeth are intended for holding rather than cutting. A strike at this point frequently results in a missed fish. Subsequently when the first signs of picking take place, let out a meter or two of line, wait until your line pulls tight and then strike with a solid measured action, and maintain pressure on the line.
If tension on the line is relaxed as the flathead is reeled in, the fish will sometimes spit the hook. This can also happen if the fisherman holds the fish on the surface and allows it to shake its head from side to side. A boat lets fishos use the wind to their advantage, when casting and to use the drift to silently float down onto a hot spot or gutter.
Most rigs will work well when targeting flathead, however, there are a few rigs that tend to work better in different situations. For example when drifting for flathead the humble running sinker will get the job done, but from our experience the paternoster rig works best when drifting the weedy sand flats.
We have also found from many discussions with our local angling clubs that the paternoster flasher rigs are by far the most deadly rig for flathead. One thing we have learned over the years is that the angler does not need a large hook to catch a decent size flathead. I personally have caught flathead in the range of 50-70cm on a size #4 hook. When it comes to the diameter of you leader, big flathead don't seem to shy away from a well presented bait, even on a heavy leader such as 30lb. Now having said that, the lighter you go the better. When it comes to flasher rigs in terms of colour, you can't go past the pink. However, the red flasher rigs are not far behind from a catch rate perspective.
As seen in the picture below, both these nice size flathead were both captured on the pink flasher rigs on size #4 circle hooks, loaded on 30lb paternoster leader.
For more information on how to improve your catch rate when targeting flathead click on the below video.