How to

Deep Lizards

Advanced Estuary Angling

This definitive article on snaring big flathead in deep water is essential reading for any fisho keen on developing his/her plastic jigging techniques. By DAVID GREEN.

OVER the past few months we’ve spent a lot of time in my tinny chasing flathead in the deeper sections of our local estuaries. This deep-water jigging has produced plenty of fish, and the methods used are quite different to the shallow water tactics that we normally try. With big lures, heavy jig heads and strong currents, deep estuary jigging is quite a specialised tactic and we’ve found that there are quite a lot of refinements that lead to better catches. Initially, most of our deep-water jigging was aimed at catching mulloway. For these fish, a very subtly moved jerk shad worked close to ledges and drop-offs was generally effective. While we did catch flathead as a bycatch, a few changes in tactics, lures and methods radically increased the numbers of flathead we caught, and with these methods the mulloway have been few and far between.

In southern Queensland in spring large numbers of adult flathead move to the estuary entrances, and these fish feed actively prior to spawning. At times these fish feed in the shallows, but often the biggest flathead are in 10 to 20m of water. A lot of our deepwater flathead fishing was done in preparation for the 2009 Flathead Classic, a massive fishing tournament held on the Gold Coast in the spring school holidays. In our preparation we caught just under 200 fish using deep jigging tactics, the best session producing 38 fish between 60 and 90cm.

Deep jigging for flathead can involve a number of different methods, but the key is trying to get a big, highly visible and effective lure working close to the bottom. This isn’t easy when the current is roaring. It takes a bit of practice to be able to read and feel your lure when the water flow drags along the line. The bites can be quite subtle little pecks, and the vigorous jigging tactics we use in the shallows will soon stuff your wrists up in the deep water with bigger lures.

While deep jigging for flathead is by no means a new tactic, there are some deadly new lures that really come into their own when targeting big flathead.


You’ll need a rod with a bit of stiffness in the tip, but it needs to be light enough to jig with for long periods. It also needs enough poke to drive a 5/0 to 10/0 hook home in tough jaws in heavy current. A threadline or baitcaster outfit is a matter of personal preference, but I find my barra threadline outfits work just fine. In general, the line is 10-kilo braid, and the leader is generally a couple of metres of 10 or 15-kilo hard nylon or fluorocarbon. The reels we have used are Daiwa Certate 2500s and Morethan Branzinos, a 3000 size reel. These are light, reliable and addictive technology that we have thrashed over a few years without problems.

The rods we’ve used are an Ian Miller Stiletto, and a cut down Strudwick 4-6 kilo blank that was rebuilt after a breakage that lost 15cm off the tip. My son uses a rebuilt Live Fibre six-kilo threadline rod that is very, very sweet. All of these sticks are light, easy to use for long periods, and stiff enough to drill the hook home. These are the same outfits we use for mulloway. The only difference in the set-up is jig head size, style, weight and lures.


Lure Styles

Big flathead eat big lures, and one of the biggest mistakes commonly made by anglers fishing deep is to use lures that are too small. A big flathead is quite at home inhaling whiting, solid mullet, tailor and smaller flathead and I think they often just can’t be bothered chasing a tiny lure. We use soft plastics most of the time, but blades, vibes and even metals can all have a place. Flathead like lures with a lot of in-built action and noise. Because it’s difficult to do rapid twitches in deep water when the current is running, the lure must generate maximum action at minimal speed with minimal rod work. In my opinion, the best lures in the deep water are single large curl tail grubs and shads that have loads of tail action at slow speeds. With a heavy jig head the lure dropping back to the bottom must be enough to kick the tail. Finesse type tails such as jerk shads catch a few lizards but not nearly as many as more active tails.

Our most successful deep-water soft bait has been the Berkley Gulp 15cm Grub in Chartreuse. These have been outstanding, particularly when the water is cloudy. I’ve got quite a passion for these great lures as they’ve caught us a swag of big fish this season. The only problem in use has been the long flowing tail sometimes fouls the hook, but we’ve partly solved that one as well by the use of football head style jig heads made from one of the “Do It” jig moulds. The locally made Bozo’s curl tails in the larger sizes are also very popular and have the added advantage of being extremely tough. This simple curl tail design seems to have a better hook up rate than shads as the lure tail folds up easily and doesn’t form a semi rigid barrier that stops the fish finding the hook. This can be a problem with stiffer shad tails.

I have a personal preference for Berkley Gulps as the in-built scent and flavour of the lure definitely seems to encourage fish to hold on longer, and we also use Shimano S Factor scent applied to our lures. Once you start catching a lot of fish on the smelly ones it is hard to go back to unscented lures.

In the recent Flathead Classic the winning team of Keith and Chris Stratford and Doug Whaley caught a stack of big fish on the seven-inch Tropic Angler shads. These lures have a segmented tail that gives heaps of action at minimal speed. The bigger Bozo’s are very similar to these and are also very effective as a deep water shad.



In most estuary entrances, there will be a distinct drop-off where the main current flow runs. Typical areas are rock walls as in the Gold Coat Seaway, South West Rocks and Yamba, or coffee rock and mud walls as at Jumpinpin, north of the Gold Coast. Most of the flathead tend to lie in the mud or sand adjacent to this structure, and the aim is to work out a drift so you are just wide of the rocks or snags and can present your lure in the first metre or so of clear bottom out from the rocks. Snags can be a major problem when deep-water jigging. I always make an effort to retrieve them as I hate leaving any braid or lost lures in the waterway, and in deep water the heavier model Tackle Back on a length of 70 kilo mono will get back more than 80 per cent of snagged lures once you master using it. The heavy current in these places makes snags quite challenging,
but I think it is environmentally irresponsible to not make a big effort to get your gear back, and it also saves a lot of re-rigging.

Once you work out your drift, there are two options. The first is to do a controlled drift so the boat moves at the same pace as the current, and the electric is used to correct for the wind and keep the boat in the right line just off the structure. This allows a vertical presentation where you fish directly under the boat on a straight line. This gives you much better contact with the lure and gives a better hook up rate. In this situation big single curl tail grubs are fantastic, as they are always working, swimming and moving at minimal speed, and flathead love them. You can fish these lures effectively with a slow sink and draw retrieve.

The second method is to use a static slow drift. A bow mount electric is an essential tool for this method, and the aim is to point the boat into the current and either hold position or slowly drift backwards. With your anglers up front, they cast up into the current and work their lures back to the boat. In deep water this sometimes requires the use of heavy jig heads of 1 to 3 ounces. The angler at the back of the boat works by letting his lure go back with the current (“back jigging”), which requires constantly letting line out. This is about the only time I ever disengage the anti-reverse on my threadlines. It is a tricky method that takes a while to get used to, but it gets you fish without having to cast over your mates’ heads fishing from the front.

Using a static drift doesn’t cover as much water as the first method described, but it does let you focus your attention on a particular spot. Wherever current runs hard, there will be back eddies. These often hold bait, and flathead, like most predators, love to work in the area where the flow reverses. A lot of deeper channels have small ridges, sand waves and patches of rock or snag visible on a sounder. Flathead will always ambush bait in these areas, and at times even the deep and more featureless sections will hold fish. One thing I’ve noticed is that you don’t catch a lot of big flathead when there are plenty of jewies about; similarly, when the flathead are in numbers the jewies are often scarce.

Most of the fish encountered on the bigger lures are over 60cm in length, although the odd smaller male fish will sometimes latch on to a big lure. Big flathead can be quite fickle at times, and in the space of a single day the deep water lizards can go from seemingly nonexistent to spectacular, and then shut down almost totally.


Blades & vibes

These lures work very well on flathead in a vertical presentation, and unlike soft plastics tend to get smashed on the lift rather than the drop. A lot has been written about blades and they have quite a following in bream and bass fishing. They aren’t in any way a new lure, having been around for more than 40 years in different forms, but some of the newer models are outstanding for flathead. In the deep water use bigger models up to 7cm long. Sometimes they foul up and they are a bastard for snags. The ones with the flash packaging and Japanese writing retail for ridiculous prices, so stick to reasonably priced models such as the TT range.

Vibes, such as the Jackall Masked Vibe, are deadly on lizards in deep water on a vertical lift and drop, but again snags and cost are a problem. There are times, particularly when the big fish shut down, that a change in lure style will pin a few more fish.

Tides & times

Every estuary is different. I used to prefer the run-out for all my flathead fishing, but over the past few season we seem to have constantly dirty water on run-out tides. This probably relates to dredging and development up the rivers, but it’s hard to catch flathead in brown filth, regardless of tide. Good clean run-in tide generally has the best fishing in late winter and spring. I prefer smaller tides in the deep water, and a high tide at between 8 and 10am is ideal for an early morning session.

In Queensland the bag limit for flathead is five fish between 40 and 75cm (formerly 70cm), which is more than adequate for a feed. We generally keep a few around the 50 to 55cm mark for dinner, and release any bigger. The above described deep water methods are quite deadly on lizards, so it’s important to only take a feed of medium sized fish, and release the bigger fish carefully. Since the upper size limit was put in place in Queensland, I reckon we’ve seen a few more bigger fish each season, and I believe this type of “slot limit” should be used to manage a lot of other fisheries.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.