How to

Flathead facts

FLATHEAD fishing is an ever evolving pastime. There are always new lures to try and I find I am constantly learning.

Recent productive banana prawn seasons over the past few years had both the locals and the flathead feeding voraciously on prawns. This lead me to do a lot of work using prawn imitation lures, and this experimentation showed me a few new tricks that the flathead seem to love.

When flathead are feeding on prawns, they chase them aggressively, often leaving cover and moving quickly through the water column. Prawns are spiky by nature, and when they grab one they try to swallow it down quickly and crush it in their gill rakers. This means they tend to hold on to a prawn imitation lure for quite a long time, which gives you ample opportunity to get a good hook-up. Prawn lures only seem to work well when the main food source for the flathead is prawns.

They have to make a bit of an effort to chase prawns, and if they have plenty of other food around it seems they sometimes just can’t be bothered with prawns when easier, slower prey is on the menu. In two sessions a week apart, the prawn lures annihilated the fish on the first trip yet a week later they only caught a few of the fifty fish catch.

On that day slowly worked soft plastics and trolling were far more effective. However, without a doubt, having a good range of prawn lures in your arsenal will catch you a lot of fish when they are actively chasing your local prawn population.

My two favourite prawn lures are are the Zerek Live Shrimp and the Chase Bait prawn. Zerek has a number of great prawn lures in the range and they all catch fish. The key to success is in the retrieve. With the very small prawn imitations you can work them slowly along the bottom, but with models from around 65mm and longer the key is to have a quite stiff rod and work the lure in a series of fast upward lifts. Nearly all the bites come as the lure settles back to the bottom. Flathead hold onto these lures for quite a long while, and if you add a bit of scent such as Sax scent “golden prawn” they won’t spit it out quickly.

You will often feel the take as the lure sinks back down, and with a nice stiff rod tip a sharp strike will hook the fish. Fast action rods are ideal for medium and large prawn patterns and these lures are deadly, but it takes a bit of practice to get it right.

Sometimes the fish just stop biting. This can be a very frustrating time, and in my local waters usually occurs right on the change of tide when there is no water movement. This may last for an hour or so, as the fish use the current to hunt and the water flow brings the food to them while they lie in ambush positions. To unlock the bite in no flow situations it pays to have a really light outfit and fish very small lures worked very slowly close to the bottom. I have a very light threadline outfit for this situation with 3-pound braid and 6 or 8 pound leader. If bigger fish are around I add a 15cm bite tippet of 6 kilo fluorocarbon leader. Small neutral coloured dull curl tail plastics such as the small Z-Manns or Gulp swimming mullets are ideal in this situation.

You almost have to put the lure on their heads to get them to bite. On many occasions this outfit has caught me half a dozen fish in the “slow flow” period. Often, once the tide turns and the water flow increases they will once again start biting on the larger lures as they start actively feeding again.

This light rod tactic is a very useful part of our flathead strategy. 1/6 to 1/8 ounce jig heads are all that is required, and for unknown reasons the best colours are brown and dull green. I usually like really bright lures for most of my flathead fishing but they just don’t seem to work as well when there is no water movement.

Trolling is another effective method to catch a lot of flathead. Over the years we have constantly been refining our trolling methods, and I’ve found a few ways to increase its effectiveness. The key is to run your lures over places where the fish wait in ambush, and to try and avoid fouling the lure with weeds or debris. Weed beds hold a lot of flathead, and in depths less than two metres shallow running lures can be deadly where they run over the top of the weed rather than crash into it.

Lures such as small shallow running bombers, small Smith’s Sarunas and Daiwa Double Clutch can all be used to troll over the weeds. The running depth needs to be only around 30cm and flathead will break cover to intercept these lures going over the top of the weeds. The secret is to troll extremely slowly and work the lure hard, constantly dropping it back and ripping it forwards.

When trolling over weeds it helps to run your lures well back behind the boat at around 40 to 60 metres. You may have to experiment with your lures to get the right running depth, but if you can keep the lure in the clean water just above the weeds you will find you can effectively troll in spots you may have previously given up on due to constant lure fouling. The hits are often quite visible with big swirls and boils on the surface.

Another useful tip when trolling deeper water with buoyant lures is to constantly drop the engine into neutral and let the lure float back to the top. I often noticed that when we hooked a fish and stopped the boat we got a second hit on one of the rods in the rod holder. Since then I’ve used the ‘float up’ method on numerous occasions to get bites as the lure slowly rose to the top. The Lively Lures Micro Mullet is a great lure to use for this technique. Let it work the bottom, stop and pause, then resume trolling. A lot of flathead bite the lure on the pause as it stops and rises.

Trolling is one of the best methods to use when the fish are scattered or not biting well. It covers ground and gives your lure more opportunity to pass by a hungry fish. In spring the flathead on the Gold Coast increase in average size and a lot of fish move towards the estuary mouths in preparation for spawning. At this time the fish feed voraciously to put on condition prior to breeding, and big female flathead like to feed on bigger prey such as whiting, bream, pike and smaller flathead. The tops of the flats at high tide can produce great fishing, and over the past five or so years a lot of anglers have refined their shallow water techniques using swim baits, large soft plastics and shallow running minnow lures.

These methods can be deadly in the right conditions, but each season the fish seem to wise up to some of these lures and get harder to catch. We used to get a lot of crashing strikes but in many hard fished places now just get a lot of follows by fish that have probably been caught and released in the past. It has become a form of finesse fishing in many places. The secret to getting bites is to explore new grounds and modify your lures and terminals to show the fish something a bit different.

It seems no swim bait is too big for big flathead. The white Zerek Affinity is a huge lure and still works well. All types of shallow running 15cm hard bodies get bites, but sometimes a new lure on the market that the lizards haven’t seen before will get the bites when fished against proven lures of the past. Big soft plastics in clear colours are also very effective at times, and surface lures such as the OSP bent minnow are also worth a cast. I think it helps to smear the lure with a coat of scent, as this may convert a following fish into a striking fish.

I like to have three rods rigged when working the flats. One has a large swim bait, another carries a big soft plastic (I like the Storm Jigging Eel) and the third has a 15cm shallow running hard bodied lure. The best time on the flats is generally the last hour of a run in tide. As soon as the water starts to fall most of the bigger fish leave the top of the flats and at this time it pays to work any feeder channels where the water drains off. When working with big lures on the flats it is important to be able to cast long distances, and light braid and a long rod definitely helps you get out further to cover more water.

These fish are quite spooky on bright sunny days that cast harsh shadows, and in general the best fishing is when there is a bit of cloud and wind. I’ve also learn a few things over the last year that have helped me find where flathead are feeding. Getting to know the subtleties of the estuaries can help you find where the fish are. In my local waters, especially around the Jumpinpin area, there is constant change as sand banks erode, new channels develop and new weed beds form. In the years I’ve fished it the entrance to Jumpinpin has moved almost a kilometre to the north. Some of our old spots have silted up, but new lagoons and channels have formed. It is an estuary that constantly changes.

What I look for in new places are weed beds, draining channels and bait. If I find an area where there are a lot of yellowtail pike, squid or small tailer, there will also be flathead present. If I see pelicans on a particular bank it will always hold flathead. If we see dugongs it is a good indicator that there is plenty of weed. It is all about learning the associations that flathead have with other predators. Any flick of a baitfish or a mullet is worth exploring. The next important factor is to understand current flow and look for kinks or bends in draining channels and low flow areas adjacent to fast running gutters. Flathead hunt by ambush and any small kink in a channel changes the flow in the water and they often use these spots to ambush their prey. After a while you develop a sense of what a good spot looks like. The edges of an isolated weed bed in a sandy channel are always productive spots. Flat expanses of broken weed beds always hold fish. If you see soldier crabs at low tide there will be flathead somewhere in the vicinity. Reading an estuary is a skill learnt over time, and it definitely helps when you take the lessons learned in your local waterway to a new spot. In general the clues you pick up on your local waters are transferable when you fish new waters that are unfamiliar to you.

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