We're finally at that stage along the east coast where the weather is warming but the water is still cool, and for the estuarine angler this can only spell one thing - dusky flathead!
Whether or not you're planning to fish the famous Gold Coast Flathead Classic this year, I'm sure you'll be keen to hear what's hot in the world of flathead fishing. I'm going to go through some of the innovative techniques that emerged around last year's Classic, and also touch on some proven methods of fooling flatties. There are many species of flathead, but this article will focus on dusky flathead.
Anyone who has spent a bit of time chasing flatties will tell you that they don't mind getting up real shallow, especially if there's food up there for them. But exactly how shallow should you go? And at what stage of the tide?
As a general rule, the high tide will see them hanging out over flats that would otherwise be high and dry at low tide. During this time, they will be spread out, so it goes without saying that an angler needs to cover water to find them.
As the tide drops away, however, flathead will feel more comfortable sitting in the channels and holes, preferably with current running into them. The mouths of creeks and drains are classic points of ambush for our flat-headed friends, and they're seldom alone in their ceaseless search for food, with other predators like bream, tailor and trevally often hanging out in these same places.
The type of bottom is something that some anglers fail to take into consideration, but it should be one of the first things you assess when you pull up to a spot!
Hard sand, with no yabby holes or any rock or mud is usually a pass for me. I find flatties don't like stuff that's hard to bury themselves in. Additionally, these barren areas offer nothing for small aquatic life like baitfish, crustaceans or cephalopods, which flathead eat.
I usually like something with a bit of softness. Squishy sand, or even mud, with yabby holes and uneven topography is perfect for flatties, and a bit of structure in the form of weed, rubble, pylons or even the odd rock is a bonus, and should attract some potential food items.
If you can find areas like the ones mentioned above, and you start catching flathead, there's one other rule to remember: keep fishing the area! If you catch a flathead at this time of year, even if it's tiny, it should have others around it. If you're lucky enough, you may find yourself locking horns with a big female. During the spring months in South East Queensland and northern NSW, groups of sub-legal male flathead will congregate around a single big female in the hope of mating with her.
A single large female can have dozens of tiny little boyfriends that she could eat (and probably does) if she wanted to, so keep casting in an area that's producing, even if what you're catching is small!
All the tried and tested lures we've been using for flathead for years are still working incredibly well, and we're also saturated with new gear to choose from. It's just a matter of finding lures that suit your fishing style, and this is where a little trial and error can come in.
Diving lures from Lively Lures, Zerek, Lucky Craft, Rapala, Attack Lures, RMG and many others still work very well for flathead, particularly when trolled. Divers can also be cast, and provide a very easy method of covering water, particularly in shallower water.
Soft plastics are also still catching many flathead, and recent years have seen so many different plastics added to the range we already had. Shad-styles, creature baits, paddle-tails, curl-tails, twin-tails, jerk shads, flukes and grubs will all work - it's just a matter of fishing them with the correct weight.
With my plastics, I tend to fish as light as I can get away with, taking depth and current into account. Plastics that plummet to the bottom look less natural and don't give the plastic the fall time that flathead like, as they'll often scoff a plastic on the drop.
Vibration baits have become a stalwart in flathead anglers' boxes in recent years, in both the hard and soft varieties, and there's so many to choose from now. Once we only had vibes in small sizes, but now they range from tiny bream-sized options to stuff designed for impoundment barra, so whatever the situation, you should be able to find a vibe or blade for your needs.
Believe it or not, surface lures can actually be an entertaining and sometimes effective method of catching flathead, especially in shallow water. Flathead are implosion feeders, so