by Jarrod Day
The foundations of saltwater fishing in Victoria are heavily built around the spawning cycle of snapper. Spawning begins in spring and continues right throughout the summer period.
Many inshore beaches have plenty of flathead lurking around.
During this period, thousands of anglers enjoy the sunshine and warmth but when the cold of winter sets in, boats and fishing gear are stowed away.
Though as cold as it becomes, fishing throughout winter really isn’t that pleasant and although you won’t get to experience the knee trembling runs from snapper, the winter months are an ideal time to pursue flathead.
Working the shore ling in deep water will bring success.
Flathead, being one of the most common species in Port Phillip Bay are in abundance year round and are quite easy to catch for every level of angling experience.
Flathead offer many levels of angling enjoyment from just your general bait fishing methods to lure fishing with soft plastics and hard body lures. For the beginner angler, flathead are one of the easiest species to catch and most Victorians cut their teeth catching flathead at a young age.
I’m constantly astounded by much fun flathead are to catch. Though you do still here the regular quote from an old salty 'only flamin flathead today mate'. When you see how much they are worth to buy in a supermarket, they wont be 'flaming' flathead any longer but become highly prized fillets.
If you put your mind to it, even the best of anglers throughout Australia still scream and shout in glee when they hook and land a 'good' frog, so they can’t be all that bad.
Regarded by most as one of the best eating fish in the sea, flathead are truly a great species to target due to their ease of catch-ability, strong side-to-side action head shakes and restaurant quality flesh.
Baits, plastics and hards:
Being a predatory hunter, flathead will eat absolutely anything on the menu, no matter how big the bait maybe. Remember the old saying, ‘the bigger the bait the bigger the fish’; if they can get their lips around it they will, even if they cant they’ll try.
Flicking lures from the sand can yield a good result.
Baits such as pilchards, prawn, whitebait, blue bait and squid can always guarantee the angler a good catch, but for a real challenge, soft plastics and hard body lures can be far more fun.
There are many different soft plastics designed for tempting hungry lizards, with fish, shads, wriggle tails and flick-baits, squidgy’s have probably been the most popular and successful plastic on the market. In a variety of sizes and colours, a selection in the 80 to 120mm is recommended, with the colours Gary glitter and grasshopper being the most favoured.
To accompany these lethal plastic weapons, jig heads in an 1/8th weight are dynamite when fishing around the shallow areas of the bay, while ¼ oz and 3/8th ounce heads will tempt them in the deeper channels.
Hard bodies on the other hand are very different compared to soft plastics, when choosing that 'right' lure many factors come into consideration, size, colour, swimming depth, sinking and suspending attributes are all very important.
Most of my assortment of flathead lures look like baitfish, colours range from blues to browns to greens with the occasional pink just for something different.
Pilchards and squid make excellent baits for flathead.
When targeting flathead in less than two meters of water, hard-bodied lures ranging 70-90mm that reach a depth of 1-2 meters won’t be passed up. Casting out over the sand flats and retrieving with a twitch of the rod tip will see the lure dive towards the bottom. As the lure is twitched over the sand/weed any flathead lying in ambush will set upon it without hesitation.
When using a paternoster rig, soft plastics can be used instead of bait.
When it comes to choosing a rig to use on this amazing ambusher, you need to look no further than the simple running sinker rig and paternoster rig.
If you’re choosing to anchor and berley for flathead, a running sinker rig is most commonly used. A bait-keeper style hook in a 1/0 size tied on a 2ft leader of 14Lb fluorocarbon with a ball or bean sinker threaded above a rolling swivel is all that is required to make the rig. This rig enables the bait to be placed on the sea floor, hopefully near a hungry flathead. When the bait is eaten the fish feels no resistance from the sinker weight preventing the fish from 'spitting' the hook. The angler can see the rod tip bending, then strike to set the hook.
A paternoster rig on the other hand is used when drifting an area. The paternoster rig can have two hooks suspended above the sinker with each hook loaded with a piece of bait. As the boat drifts along, the sinker will bounce along the bottom with both baits suspended over the weed growth. This is a very effective fishing method and allows the angler to cover more ground.
Big flathead are often hard to coomby unless you go off the beaten track.
Unlike many of our other Victorian sportsfish, flathead are built to prey on small marine life. With a mouth capable in swallowing a baitfish even half the flatheads size, they still don’t hunt fish down but rather stalk them and wait in ambush beneath the sand until the meal is within striking distance.
Due to this, we as anglers need to approach them in similar ways by taking baits into their territory, drifting baits on paternoster rigs over sand flats will encounter large patches of flatties and it’s not uncommon to catch 15 or more over one drift.
For boaties, drifting in 8 to 15 meters of water right around the bay will catch a bag without little effort as most of this sandy floor is flathead thick.
But for those larger Port Phillip versions start drifting around the sandy banks of the south channel.
For those willing to put in a bit more hard work, walking the sandy shores, casting amongst the sand-flats, drop-offs or reef structures are ideal places to find a preying lizard.
As the tide flows over a sand bar small baitfish can be washed into the deeper water and hungry flathead lie beneath the sand in ambush.
Flicking lures or casting baits around entrances to estuarine systems like the Patterson and Werribee rivers will also give anglers an opportunity in landing a few good size fish.
Just don’t underestimate the power of a river entrance, as many can be found throughout the entire bay, the pressure of water flowing out washes all sorts of marine animals out of the rivers and into the bay. Flathead will congregate around the entrance waiting for a small fish to swim past.
With many flathead under my belt, I am always drawn back to find that 'personal best' lizard, though the majority of fish in Port Phillip Bay are in the 30 to 40cm bracket, finding that big fish can become a challenging experience.
Searching new locations and varying your techniques may just assist in finding that beast your after.