Fishing for Flathead
June 30 2017 | Matt
If you like fishing or even better, eating delicious fresh fish then it’s hard to pass-up a feed of flathead. Wintertime is a great time to chase the Southern Spotted Flathead. This delectable species can be a lot of fun for fishers of all ages and experience.
During SA’s cooler months the Southern Bluespotted Flathead slide into the shallow fringes of bays and shorelines. This makes them easier to target as they often hang out water that’s often only centimetres deep, up to say 1 metre. Fish in these areas aren’t huge (around 30 to 40cm, with fish from 50 to 70cm) but can be great fun on light tackle. Because they’re aggressive predators they’ll take lures, live bait or fresh bait you agitate as you retrieve your line.
Image Courtesy Dan Burgess
Where to Find Them
Flatties can be chased from the shoreline or from shallow bottomed boats, depending on your favourite fishing areas. Good times to fish are early mornings or evenings on incoming tides when the water surface is relatively calm and clear. These fellas are predatory. It’s great fun to see them first stalk, then hit your bait and finally reel them in using light tackle.
Flathead camouflage with their local environment. Specimens caught from a sandy beach are often a monotone light colour – except for iridescent blue spots. Fish caught from areas of rock or weed can be quite dark in colour, sometimes with blotchy dark bands across their flanks.
Image courtesy Di Bray at Museum Victoria
To catch a feed of flathead you must think like a predator. Imagine you’re lying as flat as a lizard on the sea bottom, trying to hide while you wait for prey to swim by so you can pounce. So, to find good fishing spots go exploring at low tide to choose a beach, bay or estuary cove that has patches or rock, reedbeds or reef interspersed with areas of mud or sandy seabed. Look for patches that will be covered by up to a metre of water when the tide returns. As the water rises the hungry Southern Bluespots will cruise to their favourite ambush sites and wait for dinner. Fishing alongside the headlands at either end of a beach can be prime spots. These areas normally have natural or man-made scattered rock formations where a hunter can wait for prey. Similarly, casting into clear patches alongside rock, reef or weed further along the beach can snare a fish or two. Hint: to get a really good haul of flathead in South Australia choose more remote spots, like the Eyre Peninsula.
Preferred Fishing Times and Tides
Rising tides are best suited for targeting flathead in shallow Winter waters. Full moon phases are also preferable as flathead prefer higher tidal movements.
Bait or Lures?
Flatties enjoy a diverse diet. They’ll take live bait, moving bait or anything that fools them into thinking it’s bait. Their menu includes fresh or live prawns, blood worms, small bait fish such as bony herring and mullet and squid.
Here’s some tips for choosing lures. Either hard bodied or soft-bodied sub-surface lures from 50mm – 70 mm are ideal for the size of fish caught in Southern waters. Soft-bodied lures are easier to use and cheaper if you are concerned about losing a few in snags. Make sure the action of your lure will get down near the seabed where the Flatties live. Lures that imitate the available wild bait in the area you’re fishing are likely to work best. Finally, applying a commercial or home-made bait smell to your lures will get more Flathead strikes.
Go for ultra-light and light graphite spin rods 6’6” – 7’ in length suitable for gel spun and braided lines rated from 1 – 4kg. Coupled this with a quality spinning reel in the 1000 – 2500 class. This is an ideal set-up for the Southern Bluespot as it’s suitable for throwing for throwing both baits and smallish lures. Larger gear and heavier line will struggle to cast small hard bodied and soft plastic lures good distances. Fluoro carbon leaders with breaking strains of 4 – 6 kg should also be joined to mainlines via an improved albrite knot – not only prevent the fish from seeing your brightly coloured main line but also help with chaffing on rough underwater structures and Flathead teeth. The pattern and size of hook you choose is also important. Go for lighter, sharp hooks suitable for a modest sized fish. If you choose to fish with bait choose a hook size and shape suitable for your bait. For example, blood worm fished on long shank or bait holder pattern of hook similar in size to the bait.
Image courtesy Sport Fishing Blog
The local flathead species doesn’t always aggressively chase-down a lure. Most tend to stalk a lure before deciding to strike it. Try a slow retrieve with a sharp double-hop, followed by a long pause. This will get the fish’s attention while and the time to decide to hit the lure with gusto.
Sometimes the fish will hit a lure but fail to hook up. If this happens let your lure settle for a while before continuing the retrieve. If you will feel a heavy weight when the rod tip is lifted try keeping the rod tip high then wind in quickly. Flathead can be sneaky and are masters at throwing a hook. This method will help your hook get properly set.
Watch to Watch Out For
All flathead species have a set of gill spikes located around the back of the head. Be careful how you handle them. If you get stung by these rub some slime from the belly of the fish onto the wound and the pain should die down.
Winter can tempt many of us to stay indoors and hibernate. The truth is there’s much fun to be had in the cooler months if we get out and about. Chasing Flatties is relatively inexpensive, fairly easy and will get you into some lovely country. So just imagine a beautiful clear morning on an incoming tide. You see a nice sized fish sneaking up on you bait or lure….bon appetit!