Fishing For Flathead

There quite a few fishermen who still target flathead using bait.  This is a proven and productive way to catch them, but it is not longer the most popular way to target flathead.

South Australia is certainly not the best state in Australia in which to catch large estuarine flathead; we don’t have them in huge numbers and neither do they reach the sizes regularly encountered in the Eastern States of New South Wales, Queensland and eastern Victoria.

FlatheadCredit: Steven Pike

However they are plentiful enough to be a specific target species and the bonus is the environment in which they are found is usually worth the visit itself; not to mention their eating qualities.

Whilst growing up, flathead were almost always a bi-catch when fishing for whiting or small salmon.  They would readily attack baits such as cockles (pipis), whitebait, prawns and seaweed worms.  I remember fishing for them from a jetty a Coffin Bay on South Australia’s west coast using garfish fillets for bait.  We would cast over the sand flats and slowly retrieve the line.  The flathead couldn’t resist a moving bait, and we caught plenty of small to medium size fish using this method.

Surprisingly, much larger flathead started to turn up when using metal lures for Australian Salmon in the surf, once again on the State’s west coast.  Sleaford Bay and the adjacent rocky coast, sometimes produces nice size Australian Salmon, but it is rugged coast and it is necessary to keep moving, casting to any deep holes, gutters or drop offs.  We caught quite a few flathead, including five in one session, whilst targeting the salmon, all on metal hard body lures.  They were retrieved quickly too, which demonstrated the flathead’s hunting ability.

Over the next 10 years, I did not devote much time to the maligned flathead, but recently that has changed.

Like almost every angler, I have been caught in the soft plastic craze.  These little rubber lures are very effective in many different areas, and have proven to be extremely suited to flathead fishing.  There are a huge range of these lures now available and the most difficult part is choosing a colour and style to suit your needs, along with the correct size jig head and hook.

Flathead are excellent hunters.  They lie half buried in the sand or mud, waiting for an opportunity.  Masters of ambush, when a fish or prawn drifts into range, they move with incredible speed and use their large mouths to engulf the prey whole.

This gives you a clue as to what shape your lure should be.  Minnow patterns and prawn patterns are hard to bypass.  Crab imitations will also work well, especially in areas where small crabs can be seen.  Even worm style plastics can be very good flathead lures.

When soft plastic or rubber tail lures were first introduced here, there were two main styles that still work well on flathead.  One was a double-tailed lure made by Mr Twister.  This, retrieved slowly over flathead territory was very effective indeed and pretty much launched catching flathead on soft plastics. 

Vibrotails came along not long after.  These were more in the shape of a fish, with a lead weighted head.  When retrieved the tail vibrated very quickly.  These fished slowly near the bottom worked well too.  (These lures were also very good at catching snook; a long skinny fish armed with a formidable array of large sharp teeth which annihilated the tails).

Both designs can be found in other manufacturers lures today and both designs are still effective.

I have used many different lures in all sorts of shapes and sizes specifically for flathead and I have now decided upon two which I rate as the best lures for catching flathead in South Australian waters.  Both are Squidgy lures, an Australian brand of lure developed by two well known Australian fisherman.

The first is the Stealth Prawn.  It comes in a variety of colours and sizes.  I have settled upon the 70 mm Stealth Prawn in the tiger pattern.  It comes with two spare rubber lures and a weighted head, which can be substituted for a lighter or heavier head if needed.

This is very well weighted lure which sinks slowly and horizontally, not head or tail first.  It cast fairly well, but it is this slow sinking action that makes the difference.  They are dynamite fished over sand flats and one of the best fishing experiences on offer, for me anyway, is wading the flats on a nice day, casting these lures along the edge of reef or weed beds, and into the deeper holes. 

Stealth PrawnCredit: Steven Pike

The technique is very simple.  Cast to likely area and let the lure sink to the bottom.  When it stops sinking, jerk the rod tip a little to make the lure come off the bottom and shoot forward a metre of so, then let it settle again.  Take your time; there is no need to rush the retrieve.  Almost always the flathead will grab the lure as it sinks back toward the bottom, although there are exceptions.  It is great visual fishing, as you can see your line tightening or changing direction as the fish moves off with the lure.  If possible use a brightly coloured braid as the mainline with a fluorocarbon leader, slightly heavier than the main line.

Flathead will often attack this lure several times before either hooking up or giving up the chase.  At times, they are so intent on eating the lure that they will be at your feet still chasing it.  You will be able to catch numerous fish on the one lure without it falling apart.

The next lure, which is on a par with the Stealth Prawn, is the Squidgy Fish soft plastic.  This is shaped like a fish rather than a prawn.  It also comes in different colours and sizes.

I have settled upon the 50mm Squidgy Fish in the Killer Tomato pattern with the lightest jig head I can get away with given the conditions.

This lure has to be worked a little differently than the Stealth Prawn, although not much.  Once again, let the lure sink to the bottom.  Then twitch the rod tip a couple of times to make the lure jump up out of the sand and move forward a bit before letting it settle again.  The flathead may attack at any time during the retrieve.

Both these lures come in larger and smaller sizes, but for flathead, these sizes seem to work from very small fish, not much larger than the lure itself, right up to 40cm plus fish, which is not a bad flathead in South Australia (there are plenty bigger, it’s just I haven’t caught any yet).

So if contemplating a session on the flathead along our beautiful coastline, don’t forget the Squidgy Stealth Prawn and the Squidgy Fish.