How to

The Flathead Formula

YOU can learn a lot by chatting to competitors at the Gold Coast Flathead Classic. Many are having a ball, but it doesn’t take long to find teams who, despite their best efforts, haven’t caught a fish. The problem is mostly about finding fish but there are quite a few other issues that have contributed to their “donut”.

The results show that the big scores go to a select few. And they do it most years. There are “specialists” who do really well on certain tides and using specific techniques but the generalists who are skilled at a range of techniques and methods fill most of the Top 20 teams every year, regardless of weather, tides and other factors. The “home ground” advantage is also a factor but visiting teams do well if they know their stuff.

In flathead fishing there are some basic things that make a big difference to your catch. Although they a common species that are plentiful in season, flatties are not always “easy”, so it pays to get those things right. In this article we discuss the right formula to catch some flatties.

Go to the bottom!

Flatties live on the bottom. They are well camouflaged ambush predators capable of great speed over short distances. Their eyes look up to detect a prawn, fish or crab and their cavernous mouth can engulf a wide range of prey with ease. Very few fish will travel far from the bottom to take a lure.

There are quite a few reasons why a lure doesn’t make it into the “strike zone”. Maybe the jig head is too light, the water is moving too quickly, the wind is pulling the line sideways or the angler does not know how to tell if the lure has hit bottom. Fishing from a drifting boat is also going to cause problems.

I use a 7gm jig head in shallow water and will go up to a 10 gm in windy conditions. In deeper water or when currents are strong, 14, 21 and even 28 gm jigs are required. This allows you to cast effectively, stay in contact with the jig as it sinks, ensure it is on bottom, then work it in a way that gets strikes.

Anglers casting jigs (soft plastic lures threaded on a lead jig head) should wait until the line goes slack which indicates the lure has arrived on the bottom. After imparting some movement, make sure it resettles. Vibes and blades are worked in a similar way.

Lures used to troll for flathead catch fish best when they wriggle along the bottom kicking up puffs of silt. We troll in one to two metres of water, so our small minnows are at their optimum depth. If it’s weedy the lure needs to skim over the top of the vegetation. This is an advanced skill but one well worth mastering.

Whether you’re in one or 15 metres, get to the bottom!


Find areas flatties like

Flatties are not randomly scattered about the estuary floor. They seek out areas most likely to deliver their food to within striking distance. Alternately they will seek bottom types that suit them while they rest. Anglers need to find and focus on those areas particularly on the right part of the tide.

Water draining off sand and mud flats as the tide falls will force bait to leave the flat. They often travel along gutters and depressions, making these areas attractive to hungry flatties. On a rising tide flatties queue up to get onto the flats to feed on crabs and other invertebrates. Find an access route such as a drain or gutter, quietly park nearby and cast to it.

Another method that works well is to look for changes in the estuary’s landscape. Weed edges, sand bars, drop offs, channel intersections, deep slots and so on are good options. If it’s a tight spot, cast to it. If it’s a long edge, then troll.

Flatties will often bite in the same area at the same time of the tide. If you get a flattie, fish that area thoroughly and if you get a few more you have found a spot worth returning to on the next tide.

Flatties often congregate on a coffee rock reef or rocky edge. Flatties also like muddy bottoms near weed clumps, silty areas where mangrove drains emerge and open patches in large weedy areas.

Stand up the front and watch for flatties “poofs” as you quietly cruise over flats. It’s surprising how many you see when the water is clear.

Adjust with the tides

Every year someone forgets to move off a flat and ends up stranded several hundred metres from deep water. It’s a long, long wait for the tide to come back. Flathead pay attention to the tide for the same reason.

Tides change the estuary landscape. It uncovers terrain, forces bait to move and creates current. Flatties move to take advantage of the tide’s action. A high tide spot will not work once the water drains away. Where did the flatties go? How did they travel there? Could I ambush them tomorrow as the tide does the same thing? These are questions that will lead you to try spots more likely to produce a fish.

The first push of a new tide often prompts flatties to feed aggressively for a period as the current increases. Gutter mouths and channels leading onto flats are good choices to sit and cast to when the tide begins to flow in.

Tide changes are good times to try the deeper water areas using vertical jigging methods. Flatties like to sit in these areas, particularly during spring spawning aggregations.

Look for bait

Flatties got to eat! Areas holding bait schools comprising of small fish are often good producers. Bait includes schools of little fish like herring, frogmouth pilchards, hardy heads and similar. Weed beds can hold plenty of flattie food too. We often find prawns, small brown eels, gudgeons, and other invertebrates in flatties’ stomachs.

Your sounder will show bait schools as a dense mass and any area holding some bait patches is worth a few casts or a troll. In calm conditions you will see bait dimpling on the surface or darting through the clear water.

If you see bait, then use a lure that is a similar size and colour. Also try a lure that is the same size but a bright colour like pink or green to attract attention.

Lures and Rigs

We all make mistakes with knots, fighting tactics and rigging. It’s heartbreaking to hear of a large fish lost at the net or that a trophy “busted me off”! Here are a few things to consider regarding your lures and rigging.

You should aim to fish a competition with a couple of lures you are confident in. In my opinion there are no magic solutions when fish aren’t biting, and it is better to identify a few “go-to” lures you know work before the comp and use them to search for feeders.

Wasting time trying new lures is fun but creates significant “down time”. This is any time that you aren’t fishing!

The three-inch curl tail grub is a good option. In white, pink or brown this soft plastic will generally get a bite. You can choose from a wide variety, but regardless of brand, they work. You may prefer a shad or T tail which also have good fish catching credentials. Keep your selection to a few in several colours and keep whatever your using in the strike zone!

Lively Lures Micro Mullets, Pig Lures and Zerek Tango Shads are small minnows that are proven shallow water trollers. In the deep, jigging a larger curl tail grub is a good option that has caught many fish for us. Alternately the 100mm “fish” or minnow style plastic is a good choice.

Make sure you use sharp hooks and check them and the trace after every fish. We usually upgrade trebles to ensure we are using razor sharp hooks. Jigheads and trebles in fine wire styles are ideal for flatties.

“Horsing”, “skull dragging” or rushing a flattie to the boat is possible when they are small but bigger fish will often thrash on the surface and saw through the trace. In 2018 I lost a fish that we thought could have been a “metrey”. It sawed through the four-kilo fluorocarbon trace and left with my lure down its throat. I now use six kilo trace, particularly later in the season as bigger fish become more likely. Despite what some experts recommend, if you want to avoid losing a fish don’t use very light trace. Flatties are not leader shy so a fluorocarbon trace in five to seven kilo can be used in most scenarios.

Regardless of size, use a medium drag and wear the fish out using rod work. Try to see where the lure is in the fish. Solid hook ups with the lure in the lips are ideal. If you cannot see your jig or minnow it is probably inside the flatties’ mouth. The fish can now rasp on the trace. Stay calm and try to keep the fish under the surface by pointing the rod tip down and out to the side. Continuous pressure over several minutes will generally do the trick even on large fish.

Flatties are not particularly difficult to land if you are patient. Have a good roomy landing net on hand and practice netting fish head-first after they have used up most of their energy. Place the net in the water, bring the flattie into the net head-first, then lift immediately and swing the fish into the boat. We use lip grippers to control the fish and remove the hooks.

Mix up the retrieve

Depending on mood and food source, flatties will respond to a range of retrieves. The popular hop-hop-hop retrieve is a good start. Once the lure hits bottom, simply jerk it up several times while taking in some line. Then let it settle. Bites will come both on the hop and as it sinks. A bite will often feel like a sharp tap. Strike firmly to set the hook.

Flatties are also attracted to single rips. Here you move the rod through a longer sideways arc to rip the lure up and over the seabed.

On the other hand, some flatties prefer a feeble draw and twitch. This technique proved successful in the 2018 Flathead Classic.

For trollers, “surging” the lure by pulling it forward then dropping back can prompt more strikes.

In the deep, many prefer to yo-yo with the lure touching the bottom between lifts. Watch the sounder to ensure you adjust line length, so you stay on the bottom.

Troll to win

Many crews don’t troll. Some think it is a boring or ineffective method while others hate the way the lure gets caught in weed. Many anglers also regard it as a lesser method and would rather cast. I think they are missing out on a great searching tool and a highly productive way to take fish!

Long edges of mud flats or sand bars are often worth trolling. If you aren’t confident start on a stretch that is weed and snag free. Water one to three metres deep is ideal and while dense weed is difficult to work over, the odd patch is good because flatties like to sit near it. The lure should make regular contact with bottom and boat speed should be less than two knots. Slower is better. Stagger lures back from the boat with one short (seven metres), one longer (10m) and the other a little longer again. Colour coded braid will help judge the distance. Avoid sharp turns which cause tangles.

Small strongly vibrating minnows are ideal flattie trolling lures. We prefer “hard” colours like hot pink and fluoro green but more natural tones work too, particularly in clear water. White and black lures are also effective.

If weed is a problem, shaking the rod firmly will often dislodge the strand. Trolling a slimy blob along the surface is pointless yet we see boats doing this every year. Hold the rod and work the lure. If you foul, quickly clean off weed and relaunch a lure to keep it in the zone. Stand up and watch for flathead “puffs” in front of the boat. Some of those fish will bite as they are not boat shy.


Master deep jigging

Deep jigging is about targeting fish in water over a few metres deep. We use either soft plastics or soft vibes, but I have also had success with metal micro jigs in 10-30gm. The lure is yo-yo’d up and down as you drift. It must be touching bottom on most hops. In snaggy areas use “soft hands” and a single hook jig to minimise fouling bottom. We employ a “tackle back” to recover any snagged lures with excellent results. Some bigger fish can be found in the “deep” so consider increasing trace size to 10 kg. If you aren’t confident, concentrate on tide changes when flow is minimal.

Other factors

The two other major factors that make catching flatties hard are both weather related. Discoloured water from wind or rain is a regular occurrence during the competition and often rules out many spots particularly on the run-out tide. Spots lower in the system or in low flow areas may offer cleaner water which may hold a few fish.

Strong wind is almost a guarantee of a shutdown. Everyone has a theory about why. In most cases the wind makes things colder than usual and often stirs up the water too. In any wind over 20 knots look for a sheltered bank and concentrate on features in this area.

Before the competition, look for spots that you can work if it is windy as well as features likely to stay cleaner during discoloured conditions.


Even on calm days with clean clear water, flatties can be elusive. Look for areas likely to hold fish and work them thoroughly with several types of lures. Mix up the retrieve. Try different parts of the estuary but remember flatties will gather where they can ambush food. Use rod work and smooth pressure to tire out your trophy then net it head-first. It only takes a few fish from each member to see your teams’ name up on the leader board!

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.