Live bait – small mullet, yabbies, prawns, White Pilchards, also lures.
Flathead in the estuaries are essentially daytime feeding fish, and are more prevalent in summer months.
Many anglers don’t actively target flathead, instead using a heavily weighted line with a huge hook loaded with an unwieldy slab of fish flesh hopping that a flathead will come along and catch itself.
On occasions they do oblige, so the “sleeper” line as it is known, has become popular with casual anglers. Far better quantities and class of flathead can be caught by anglers that target them specifically.
Flathead are lazy, preferring to lie partially buried in the sand, awaiting food to come to them. Anglers need to go looking for flathead and present a bait made to swim in a jerky movement by weaving the rod tip, giving it the appearance of a small injured fish.
If you convince the flathead that the bait is alive, but unable to escape, it will rush a bait and take it one gulp. The subsequent struggles throw pieces of bait around and arouse other flathead in the vicinity, making it a good policy to cast back into the same area as quickly as possible.
The most common size of flathead caught is the “schoolie” of from .5 to 2kg, so this rig is designer to catch that size, yet be successful if a bigger fish comes along.
Use a No. 2/0 fine pointed hook on a 30cm trace attached to the main line with a No. 12 swivel. This small free running swivel used above the lead weight will prevent the line from twisting.
A running sinker is not used because it slides along the line causing the bait to sink unnaturally. Instead, a split shot clamped down on the trace about 16cm above the hook is all the weight necessary. The sinker clamped to the line allows the angler to swim the bait forward and down in a most realistic manner. Practice this bait movement by lifting and lowering the rod slowly in shallow clear water until it is perfected.
Don’t use wire traces as they are stiff and take all the natural movement from the bait. Traces of lighter breaking strain than the main line are also not used as this misleads the angler on the breaking strain of the gear. The same size monofilament, perfectly clear, is preferred. Some anglers take the precaution of using a 30cm trace of heavier nylon, but the sawing action by the head of the flathead mainly takes place on the surface. If the fish is kept submerged as you are playing it, you will rarely have trouble. The best baits for flathead include white pilchards, yabbies and fresh prawns. Fish flesh can also be tempting if cut into small triangles and left free to move on the hook by inserting the point through once only at the broad end of the bait.
The bite from a flathead is entirely different from other fish. The first indication is similar to being snagged, so it pays to treat all obstructions as flathead, until proved differently. The first indication of a bite is usually the well known bump, however it is best to wait before you wind the fish or lift the rod. While not a strong fighter, flathead do save an extra burst for that period just before beaching or landing. If you take your time, very few fish will be lost.
Flathead have spikes on each side of their head that can inflict a nasty wound. A sharp blow 3cm or so behind the eyes will prevent injury to the angler. When using a landing net, always place the hoop of the net around the head of the fish. Any attempt to net from the tail will result in the fish continually swimming out of the net.
Flathead often feed near fast running water, so look for features such as a change in formation, meeting of currents, or sand spit edge that provides some shelter from strong tidal flow.
You often catch big flathead in very shallow water close to the shoreline, so don’t wade in until you have tried these places first.
Flathead Surf Angling:
Small surf gutters and holes close to the shoreline often have good size flathead in them. A good choice of gear includes an estuary rod and reel loaded with 4kg line, smaller hooks and a minimum of lead weight.
When fishing the surf for flathead, the rigs, baits and methods used, are similar to those described in estuary flathead fishing. The best technique is to search for fish by working the bait through the holes and right to the shoreline. A nylon trace with a size 2/0 hook is again the normal rig. Never wade into the water before it has been well tried, as the flathead could be in very shallow water.