Flat Fishing

We are lucky here in South Australia to have some beautiful beaches along which some nice fish can be caught.  Generally the more isolated the beach then the more successful the fishing is likely to be.

The beaches referred to here are those with a small amount of wave action.  The prefect beach would consist of large stretches of sand, littered with gutters and holes and sections of reef.  The water is shallow, especially on the low tide, which will allow access to the deeper sections around the reefs.

Fishing these flats used to be a strictly bait fishing exercise.  Cockles or pipis, saltwater yabbies and seaweed worms were the pick of the baits and resulted in catches of whiting, mullet, Australian Herring and small salmon.  Using fish flesh as bait, or small whole fish such as whitebait, would often result in catches of flathead.

About 5 years ago this all changed.  The soft plastic revolution hit and now no self- respecting flat fisher would be without these remarkable little lures.

These lures are not very heavy, so light gear is required.  Rods should be around 7ft long with a nice light action.  Graphite rods are best as they are extremely light and can be carried and cast all day without tiring the angler.  Unfortunately, they are also more expensive.  There are, however, some good quality fibre glass rods on the market still that will do the job.  A 2-4kg rating will fit the bill nicely.

Reels should be spinning reel in the 200-2500 size.  Spooled with 3-4kg line, preferably braid, will ensure ease of casting and will also help to feel every touch or knock that the lure receives.

A leader will be required.  Fluorocarbon leaders are the best.  They are nearly invisible.  About a metre, or 3 feet, of 4kg leader will suffice.

You will probably spend hours trying to select a lure.  Natural colours are a great first choice if you are unsure.  You will eventually settle upon a few colours that you will use almost exclusively.  Shape is the next issue.  On the flats here, prawn and fish shape lures work very well, especially on flathead.  The worm shape plastics are good for other species, particularly the whiting.

Plastics are most effective when worked slowly.  The accepted technique is to cast to a likely spot, let the lure hit the bottom then twitch the rod tip a couple of times, then let the lure settle again.  Pause for a few seconds, and then repeat.  Quite often, the fish will hit the lure when the retrieve is paused.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the retrieve though.  On one occasion, I was having a slow morning and decided, after a cast, to change my lure.  I cranked my current lure back in fast, so it was skimming along the surface.  It was hit by a small salmon, so I cast again with the same result.  I caught 6 of the little devils before they went off the bite.

Areas to cast too include the edge of weed beds and reefs, in deeper sections of the sand flats, and around any large rocks or stones.   On an out- going tide, eddies and backwashes may form around exposed rock or reef.  These are definite areas to target. 

Travel light when fishing the flats so you can cover a large amount of beach comfortably.  You will need to wade out into the water, so consider a pair of waders in the winter months.  No matter what the season though, make sure you have plenty of water.  The small hydro backpack things are good for this.  Holding about two litres of water and with room for a few small items like keys, phone and wallet, these packs are well worth having.

If you are planning on keeping a few fish for the table, then consider how you are going to keep them fresh.  The simplest way is to gut and gill the fish as soon as possible and then bury the fish, head first, in the moist sand.  This will keep it fresh and cool.  When moving location, and for the walk back, use a piece or cord or nylon rope.  Thread this through the gills of the fish you have caught and you have an easy to carry load of fish.  Periodically drag them through the water on the walk back, just to make sure they do not dry out.

Put the fish on ice for the trip home.  An esky is the easy way to accommodate this.

A good quality compact camera is handy too, so you can record what you catch and take some pictures of the magnificent location you’ll undoubtedly be fishing.  

Flat fishing is a great way to spend a day and you might even catch a feed of fish as a bonus.