by Shane Murton
When the first heavy rains and brutal low fronts of winter hit South Australia it usually signals the end of many fishing opportunities that may have been enjoyed over the warmer months. Some fishos treat this as a time to put their rods in cold storage, and almost hibernate for the winter themselves. On the other hand, many sport fishos would be well aware that these colder months in fact see some rather unique fisheries come online, one of which for me is targeting southern bluespot flathead. Over winter larger daytime tides seem to encourage breeding-sized flathead into the shallows, and overcast and often windy conditions also gives them further confidence to hold close to shore at times. To go with the breeders, many midsized fish also come within an easy cast of the shore, making them great targets for land-based light-tackle fishos. The southern bluespot is the predominate flathead species here in SA, and while they don't quite get as big as the duskies on the east coast, they still reach a solid average of say 45 to 70cm, with fish to 80cm and beyond possible. Anything over 75cm or so is considered a cracker, and if you get one close to a metre you'd basically retire from chasing them as it wouldn't get any better!
Not a whole lot is known or documented about southern bluespot, but mostly they have the same habits as you'd expect from any other inshore flathead species. As SA doesn't boast a lot of large estuary systems, much of the fishing for this species is carried out on open coastal flats, in smaller protected bays and coves, and also at the entrances to any creeks or river systems. Food and bottom structure are two things bluespot can't live without, and find one or both of these in a semi-protected area and there's a fair chance of an encounter.
Winter fishing for flathead is about finding a stretch of shoreline where you're not combating loads of floating weed or the full force of a pounding storm front, which are commonly issues here this time of year. This is not to say you should be afraid of fishing in harsh conditions for these fish, as some of our most productive efforts have been in intense wind and rain. As mentioned such weather can actually see more fish venture into the shallows compared to when it's calm and clear, and if you can get a cast in, you're in the game!
Alternatively picking a session between cold fronts can mean cleaner water and more bearable fishing weather. This is the time to be wading the coastal flats and peppering any rocks, weedbeds etc. with soft plastic or had lures. Casting and retrieving a pilchard is also a low fuss option if you just want to deck a few fish, but for my mind lures are more potent and can be snag-proofed and thus fished in a lot of areas you wouldn't lob a bait. As with any flathead fishing the aim of the game is to cover ground and fish likely holding points at a time when the fish are most probably going to be there. This can mean a bit of trial and error until you crack a pattern, but once you do that same pattern will hold true over and over again. This said, in winter the weather is always the spanner in the works that can dictate the ultimate outcome of a session. Catching bluespot is all about light line action for me. I'll gear up with a 2kg flickstick outfit, usually running a 1000 sized Shimano reel, on a 7ft rod with 16lb Jinkai Premium my leader of choice.
Lure selection can be dependent on the area fished, or simply what I'm in the mood to throw around, as these fish can be taken on a range of offerings. In rocky areas weedless (Texas) rigging options come into play, with the likes of TT Snake heads in 2/0 hook size and 1/4 to 1/6th weights ideal to plastics with. Otherwise a 2 gram, 2/0 'J' hook jighead or similar is used. Plastics between 3 to 5 inches are fine, with Squidgy Stealth Prawns and Fish patterns, ZMan MinnowZ and Berley Gulp just a few options. Alternatively hard lures like sinking stickbaits, and other lipless models are ideal, with Sebile Magic Swimmers and Stick Shadds a couple of faves that can essentially be worked like a plastic. Don't get trapped inside by the weather, get outdoors and start flicking for a fish that can keep you fishing and locked into a quite enthralling battle of wits right throughout this winter period!