The guide to catching flathead using lures
Flathead would have to be one of the most commonly caught species throughout Australia. In part I would put this down to their vast habitat. You can catch them anywhere from the near-fresh upper reaches of coastal estuaries all the way out to offshore areas. This means they inhabit water from 15cm through to 30 meters or more. The range of techniques to target flathead seem to be just as diverse as their habitat.
A while back I had some great success when targeting flathead with much bigger lures than I would normally use (Two PB Flathead in Only 3 Days!!!). Before I went out I talked to quite a few people who regularly target flathead gathering their tips on how to target them. I learnt a lot in the process. With all this information I smashed my PB flathead TWICE over three days with a 90 and a 94cm. In this blog I’ll share with you a few secrets that they shared with me and you can use as well to catch BIG flathead.
Lures – What works best?
It sounds obvious but flathead live on the bottom so that’s where your lure has to be. How you achieve getting to the bottom will change depending on water depth, current and wind. In shallow water all our lure options here will work but in deeper water you will be more limited in the tactics you can employ.
Hard Body Minnows
Many years ago hard body minnows used to be the go-to lure for flathead. Either trolled or cast they can be deadly when the bib shovels through a sandy or muddy bottom. They can also be floated through difficult terrain unlike some of the other lures on our list. On the other hand they don’t fish weedless and are limited to the diving depth that lure can achieve. In shallow water they can be extremely productive and I’ve caught heaps of flathead when casting hard bodies at mudflats for barramundi.
Blades & Lipless Crankbaits
Blades, vibes and lipless crankbaits are all great for catching flathead. Flathead will often follow a lure for a while before hitting it and the vibrations that the blade sends out can often entice a strike. Blades also work great in the huge variety of water depths. They cast like a bullet so you can cover lots of ground, they work fine on windy days and they can take quite a beating.
A steady lift and drop is all that is required to get these lures to work and the vibration provides great feedback indicating when lure has fouled. If this retrieve isn’t working then a slow steady retrieve with the occasional pause can also be effective.
I really like using copper coloured blades, particularly when the water gets a bit deeper. I’m not sure why but I find this colour works better on big bream and whiting as well. The downside with blades, particularly the small ones, is that the flathead can get them quite a way down their throat exposing your leader to their abrasive teeth.
I’ve saved my favourite for last. I love soft plastics because you can fish your favourite lure style throughout all situations by simply upsizing your jig head. It’s important though that the lure maintains a lifelike presentation so the weight needs to be adjusted to the prevailing conditions such as the depth, current, wind etc. The other awesome thing about plastics is that you can fish them weedless around rocky and weedy structure where bait likes to hang out.
Patterns that work well include jerk shads, minnows and prawn/shrimp style flick baits. I like to go with a smooth but firm lift and drop retrieve that puts out a beat in the water and kicks up some sand/mud. A little bit of aggression in the retrieve will get the attention of any nearby flathead that will come to investigate the disturbance.
To be honest soft plastic lure colour is still a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve caught heaps of flathead on realistic looking minnows and prawn/shrimp plastics. I’ve also caught heaps on pumpkinseed (orange) and nuclear chicken (green and pinky-orange) colours. Some flathead gurus seem to prefer the darker plastics while others swear by lighter colours.
I Need to Fish the Drop-Offs Right???
Well kind of… Flathead are an ambush predator and they do hang around drop-offs. But heaps also hang around weed beds, mudflats, boat moorings, oyster leases, on top of sand flats and out in the open ocean miles from nowhere.
What flathead do like to hang around is bait. My 2 PB flathead were hooked several hundred meters from shore in 8m of water over a sandy bottom. You are probably wondering why we were fishing there? Our sounder kept blacking out with bait schools hanging in the bottom half of the water column.
If fishing from the shore look out for schools of mullet, flicking prawns, or baby whiting. As the tide starts to move all this bait needs to keep moving to find new shelter and the flathead will be waiting for an easy feed. If fishing deeper water from a boat try moving around until you see bait aggregations on the sounder. Ideally the bait will be holding in the bottom section of the water column. These are sure signs that flathead will be within casting distance.
Should I Upgrade my Leader?
Flathead are known for their abrasive teeth that when combined with vicious headshakes will work through light leader very quickly. The general approach is to upgrade the leader to around 20lb to overcome this. However you’re also in the game to hook some massive bream when fishing for flathead so I like to use 6lb leader to maximise my by-catch.
The key to lighter leader is to not let the lure sit too long otherwise the flathead will have time to get the lure down deep when the grab it. Let the lure hit the bottom, count 1 and… then lift it off the bottom again. Using this technique you can often pin them in the corner of the mouth or upper lip.
The other technique needed when fishing light leaders is to prevent the fish thrashing around on the surface. Once they break the surface they seem to be able to work through the leader very quickly.
If you’re struggling to get your lure down to the bottom you can always tie a ball sinker into a loop knot along with the lure. This works well when using worm hooks where the hook eye sits horizontally and the sinker can be positioned under the chin of the lure. The sinker will move freely with the loop knot and it doesn’t seem to impair the action of the lure at all. The fish don’t seem to mind the presence of the sinker either.
Well that’s my take on flathead fishing. My final tip is that you aren’t going to catch a flathead until you get out there, try some of our tips and give it a shot.