by Jarrod Day
Of the 40 something species of flathead that are spread around the country, only a few varieties are caught within estuary systems. For keen lure anglers, flathead make the ideal target. Willing to devour anything that passes their nose, their lightening strike reflex will lunge on any potential offering. While there are many ways to target flathead, one of the fastest growing techniques is to fish for them on the flats with lures.
Working the banks can lead to some nice flathead.
Estuary systems right around the state are all similar in design containing a main lake, river arms, deep channels and vast shallow flats.
Throughout the winter period in Victorian estuaries, flathead go dormant. During the cold, they shut down into a hibernation state and it isn’t until the water temperature rises that they become active. This generally begins around late September, although they can be seen are rarely caught. They are still quite sluggish and feed only so often but it isn’t until the October-November period when they really come on.
During September, flathead can be found right up high on the shallow flats trying to get as much warmth as they can to raise their metabolism. With each hot day, they will feed for very short periods. Anglers in search for flathead during this period should fish during the hottest part of the day concentrating on the shallows where they will be warming up.
Where to find them: When looking up on the flats, you can find yourself in just a few feet of water. This means that anglers will require an electric motor as any motor noise will spook the fish from the area. Sneaking around almost silent is a huge factor and often you’ll spook more than you’ll catch.
Dust clouds are a clear indication frogs are around.
When up on the flats, wear Polaroid sunglasses and really look into the water, a few clouds of dust here and there is a good sign that the frogs are around as you have just spooked them. From this point, you should cast as far from the boat as you can to try and catch the ones that haven’t see you yet. Most of the time, the fish wont be too far from the edges of the flats or where they can quickly slip back into the cover of deeper water. It pays to stay in the deeper water and cast to the edges of the flats where the fish could be holding. In some systems you may have a deep gutter running in the middle of a flat, in this case, you’ll find fish both in the channel and on the flats. Unfortunately you will spook a lot of fish but providing you can pin point your casts to a likely spot where a fish maybe you’ll have a chance. On a recent trip, I ran a lure past a fish’s nose 6 times before he decided he wasn’t interested and burst off. There was no coaxing this one to the hook but that’s fishing. Although this time of year can be very frustrating, the more casts you put in, the more rewarding it is when you do catch some healthy fish.
Frank Milito holds a nice dusky flathead caught on a DOA prawn.
Successful lures: With the millions of lures on the market, it is hard to wonder where to begin. Fishing the flats dose require lures to be very light otherwise you’ll find yourself snagging up on the weed quicker than making contact with a frog. Fishing the flats dose allow you to fish both hard body lures and soft plastics. Ideally, DOA’s 3' Prawn is an absolute killer in this field. It can be cast far with ease and gently twitched across the bottom where it is not often passed up.
Shad style plastics work very well in shallow water.
Shad and wriggler style softies are also very productive but jig heads will have to be kept very light with something such as a resin head or 1/16 2/0 type head the perfect match up. If your wanting to flick hards, then 30 to 70mm lures with well. I prefer using a floating style lure with shallow diving bib. Yo-Zuri’s 3D crystal shrimp has proven itself a worthy lure. Diving to just 60cm, this lure imitates the natural diet of a flathead, the prawn and dives just over the weed beds. Other lures also highly effective are Yo-Zuri Eba Shads and Minnows. What ever the lure you choose, just make sure it is a shallow diving lure. Not that it is highly important, but it dose pay to upgrade the hooks on all lures your going to use. You only get one shot at a flathead during the early season and you want the hook to stick when the fish strikes.
Light outfits and shallow running hard bodies work exceptionally well.
The right outfit: While there are still hundreds of anglers out there wanting to get into lure fishing, using the old 702NT fibreglass style rod just wont cut it. While it is nice to use a general purpose rod for all fishing application, when it comes to lure fishing you need something crisp and that you can control the lure with. Fibreglass rods are most like a piece of spaghetti that will do more harm than good. If you are going to use a fibreglass rod, then stick to bait fishing as you won’t get the desired action from the lure.
Ideally, a 7ft one or two piece rod rated 1-3kilos is suitable. Shimano Nexave 702 or 711 soft plastic spin are ideal and not costly. If you’re looking for something a little bit more upper class then run your eyes over a Wilson Blade n Tails Ultra Light. A small reel in a 1000 or 2500 series with 4-6lb braid will suffice and up your leader to 10lb. If you’re flicking around in November, then up the leader to 15lb and stick with fluorocarbon.
These rods will allow you full control of the lure when it is in the water and dictate how it twitches, rolls and swims to get the desired action. Once you have this down pat and you’ve found some fish, all you have to do is put in the casts and coax a fish to the lure.
Gippsland and in particular Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers are great locations to be searching for shallow flats flathead. If you’re thinking of giving this style of fishing a go, grab a handful or lures, the right outfit and hit the road. Now is the time to be flicking as the fish are out and about throughout the day.
Another nice flathead holds still for a photo.