Fine tuning for flathead

As the days get longer and warmer we all know it’s time to turn our fishing attention to catching flathead. I love chasing lizards, they are easily my favourite estuary target and it is this love that has got me into fishing with plastics and completely changed the way I fished.

I am currently in training for the Flathead Classic and no that doesn’t mean I am running around the block (although that wouldn’t go astray!) What it does mean is that I am fine tuning my approach and increasing my time on the water to specifically target lizards. I have found that getting good results with flathead fishing is all about getting the balance right. We’ll start with the best tackle to use.

GEARING UP

The correct outfit is very important and the combination of the right rod and line can make all the difference. The major reason soft plastic anglers use graphite rods is to help get the action all the way to the lure. This is something that is often lost in the wobble of fiberglass rods.

When casting plastics you need a rod that you can cast all day long, so length and weight are important factors. In the search for optimal performance and balance, my teammate Tracey decided to go custom and had noted rod builder Brad Job built her a custom outfit. Tracey has used this rod in the ABT BREAM comps and is extremely happy with it, and she is confident it will also serve her well as a light flathead stick.

However, if your budget doesn’t stretch to purchasing custom rods you can still get a good flathead set-up. I have upgraded my flathead rods to two Pflueger Trions which retail at around the $130-$150 mark, which represents great value for money. I have chosen a 7’0” 2-4kg model as well as a 7’0” 3-6kg version and teamed them with 2500-sized spinning reels. Whichever reels you choose, make sure they have a nice smooth drag.

A braided line is essential and will bring a sensitivity to your fishing that simply cannot be achieved with mono. By remaining in touch with the line, feeling both the bottom and the bite much better, you will improve your results. I use 6lb and 8lb Fireline, however there are lots of other braided lines on the market and I recommend that you have a chat with your local tackle expert for further advice.

Team this up with a fluorocarbon leader. I fish 6lb to 16lb depending on the conditions but generally a 10lb-12lb leader will suit.

Presenting soft plastics on the correct style and weight jighead is important. I have been using the TT Tournament Series jigheads with the Gamakatsu Hooks. They are super sharp come in a good range of weights and hook sizes.

The key with jigheads is to have enough weight to keep you on the bottom but not so much that your bait will appear clumsy. Therefore in slower current and shallow water use lighter jigheads, and in deeper water and stronger currents go for heavier jigheads.

While flathead are an easy target on plastics and will take almost any style of soft lure, there are a few styles that I prefer. In dirtier water I almost always fish a Berkley Gulp. I like the 3” and 4” Swimming Mullets, especially if the water is shallow. In deeper water I go for a bigger plastic like the Gulp Pogy or Gulp Jerkshad.

In clear water I tend to go for a more realistic presentation. Lately I have loved fishing the Atomic Guzzlerz 3” Jerk Minnow or a fish profile bait such as a Juro Firebait or Northland Slurpie.

TACTICS

Technique is also important. You need to experiment with different techniques, and this is what I have been fine-tuning lately.

The most popular flathead technique is the three quick flicks in combination with a lifting rod motion. Whether you employ a fast erratic style or a slower loop style, try to keep contact with the bottom for long enough so that the fish can get a good look and a chance to have a go at it!

Sometimes I return to a simple cast and slow retrieve along the bottom with the occasional twitch. This has been successful, especially when the fish have been shut down. If you are new to plastics fishing this is a good place to start.

Fishing in the correct environment is an important part of the getting the balance right. Flathead can be found in greater numbers in certain areas and times of the tide.

I prefer run-out tides and look for territory where water rushes over banks into deeper gullies. Baitfish are commonly washed over and the flathead lie in the deeper water waiting for them. Casting up onto the bank and hopping the plastic with the current towards the deeper water can bring good results. Use your sounder to find the baitfish and try to match your plastic to the bait profile.

A great area to target on the making to full tide is over the flats. Searching out weed beds and casting the edges in this skinny water can be a load of fun, and sometimes you will be lucky enough to see the strike. It is also possible to get a flatty on a popper by casting this sort of territory.

It’s not all about plastics!

While trolling lures is considered ‘old school’ among many anglers immersed in the soft plastics revolution, trolling for flathead in a competition like the Flathead Classic can be an opportunity to mix things up or get off your feet for a while.

Trolling in close to the bank with deep diving lures is the go. I am very partial to the locally-produced Pig Lure in the pink or gold. It has proven to be a very successful lure in the Flathead Classic over the years. If you would like to check them out, give manufacturer Shane Gartner a call on 0418 845 535 and he can tell you where your nearest stockist is.

There has also been a boom in the production of blade-style vibration lures and one of the largest fish caught in last year’s Classic was caught on a blade.

The flatties have been plentiful this season with lots of small to average fish being caught, along with the odd bigger fish thrown in. Successful flathead locations of late have been around Crab Island in the Southport Broadwater, Coombabah Creek, and the Nerang and Coomera rivers.

As the weather warms up we can expect to see bigger lizards and greater numbers come to the boat. I am on a mission buying a bit of gear each week, stocking the kit to be ready for the comp. I recommend doing this yourself, if you have the cash to spare!

To get yourself amongst the flathead action this season be sure you consider all the elements of your fishing and spend time fine tuning to get the balance right.

WANT TO TRY THE FLATHEAD CLASSIC?

The 2009 Flathead Classic is on Thursday October 1 to Saturday October 3. The Gold Coast Sports Fishing Club runs a fantastic event each year, attracting over 300 anglers. The comp is well supported by sponsors and Blue Fin Boats are back on board again this year donating a boat for the major random prize draw.

The Flathead Classic is a great gathering of fishing fanatics. It has a friendly atmosphere and is suitable for the whole family, and I personally would like to encourage female anglers to get involved. Visit the club website at http://goldcoastsportfishingclub.com.au for further information.

Facts

FLATTY FACTS

The most common flathead species in Queensland is the dusky flathead or Platycephalus fuscus. Duskies can be identified by their tail, which has a black spot with white along its outside edge. They are renowned as an excellent tablefish.

Dusky flathead are commonly found in bays and estuaries in depths ranging from 30cm to 30m or more. They will scavenge if the opportunity presents itself, but mostly they feed on baitfish and crustaceans, lying in wait in locations where these creatures will be forced to pass. Flathead hunt by burrowing into the sand or silt with only the top of their head visible, and then wait for their prey to come within striking distance.

In shallow areas a good time to fish is usually on a falling tide, as this forces the baitfish and prawns into the deeper channels where the flathead lie in wait. Other likely flathead spots include drop-offs, oyster leases, reef edges and around weed beds. Duskies caught in sandy areas are brown, while those caught in weedy areas tend to be green with brown mottling.

The best time to catch dusky flathead in Southeast Queensland is during spring. These fish can be caught on diving minnows, jigs, fly and soft plastics. The typical approach is to hop the artificial along the bottom, although it is possible to catch flathead with surface poppers in shallow water.

Duskies reach reproductive size when they are around 62cm, and can grow as large as 120cm (15kg). There is currently a limit of five fish per person, with a minimum size of 40cm and a maximum size of 75cm.

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