Beginners Guide to Australian Sportfish : Flathead

Platycephalus Fuscus was the first Latin name for a fish I ever remembered. Nowadays Flathead is almost a dirty word in some circles , mostly because when you throw $20 lures on 3lb line the most common way to lose lures is to the “flat-chap”. Personally I think Flathead should be every angler looking to start using lures or fly fishing. They are one of the most prolific and forgiving species we have in Australia for a few different reasons which I will get to later.img_2080

Who. I am going to cover the Dusky Flathead today, there are a few other sub-species anglers may encounter but the Dusky is by far the most common inshore variant of the family. The maximum size of a Flathead depend on who you ask. Some texts say they can grow up to 1.2 metres long but then I’ve heard Ian Phillips biggest to be 1.3…. I would tend to believe Ian. Weights like most species can vary but somewhere around 15kg would be the max. As an angler you will most commonly encounter them between 20 to 60cm with fish above 70cm being regarded as a good sized fish. It is important to note that only females grow to be that big and the males top out much smaller so putting the big ones back is imperative (the little ones are tastier anyway). Flathead are an ambush predator meaning they lay in wait, camouflaged on the bottom until something swims by and they dart out and grab it.

Where. Most of the east coast and about half of the Victorian coast have Duskies and they inhabit pretty much any bay, creek, river or coastal lake in that range. They will feed in water from 10 centimetres to 25 metres deep but they will always be on the BOTTOM. This is an important fact that makes them easier to target with lures. Flathead tend to prefer areas with some sort of current that will bring food to them but if they are in a system with very little or no current spots with nearby bait like weedbeds where prawns live are an excellent place to start.mallacoota_flathead01

When. Flathead can be targeted year round but spring tends to be a good season as they breed around late spring/early summer and eat to put on condition. More specifically though, as with most fish, sunrise and sunset are peak times to catch yourself a “lizard” or two. The out going tide tends to be the best in most places because Flathead will lay in wait for bait having to move off the shallows towards deeper water and use this as their chance to ambush. So a run out tide near dawn or dusk is an even better bet.

How. Flathead are one of the best species when starting out fishing with lures or flies. They are also great for teaching kids with lures. This is in part because they will give almost anything a go as long as it is moving and close enough to them (I even managed to catch one not long ago on a weed fly intended for Blackfish). Lure colour, shape and even size are much less important than with other species. There is always a “right” lure that is just what they want on a given day BUT it’s quite hard to get it totally wrong. Big Flathead will eat small lures, small Flathead will eat big lures, they just aren’t that fussy. The one thing lures must share in common however is that they need to be on or very near the bottom where the Flathead are. This makes soft plastics with heavier jigheads an easy go to. No need for “hidden weight” rig wafted down in 20 feet of water where a twentieth of an ounce difference can be the deciding factor between fish caught or no fish caught like Bream fishing at times. A quarter ounce head and nearly any plastic to fit, hopped across the bottom will catch fish. Hard bodied lures work well but again you need to make sure they are bumping the bottom to gain attention. Flies are pretty simple too. A Clouser or Deceiver will rarely be wrong. Rod and reel are fairly forgiving again as you don’t need to throw ultra light lures or be able to cast beyond the horizon. If you can get a lure 20 metres from you, you will catch fish  but a 7ft 3-4kg spin outfit is perfect. One of the biggest mistake however, is anglers using leaders way too heavy. Flathead do have a mouth full of raspy teeth that will eventually wear through light line but this doesn’t mean you need a wire trace to catch them (as I was guilty of as a kid). A short section of 8 to 15 pound leader is all you really need to stop them cutting you off and the most important tip to not losing fish is not to pull their head straight up. once they are in a vertical position as opposed to their normal horizontal one the tend to shake their head and thrash wildly and this is when they do the damage to the line. I have saved plenty of lure intended for Bream by making sure to keep them flat. img_3031_2

There is one more thing to note and that is that Flathead have two set of venomous spines on the back of their heads. While it won’t kill you it certainly hurts a hell of a lot and will bleed like a stuck pig so try and avoid them 🙂


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