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FINDING FLATHEAD

Justin Willmer

Plenty of people will say 'flathead are the easiest species to catch on lures' and 'flathead eat anything you throw at them' and it's true, they are often pretty co-operative... but let's look at how you can turn a 2 or 3 fish session into a 12 or 20 fish session. In this article I am going to focus on fishing the shallows, as that's where most of us will target flathead. There are also plenty of flathead in deep water... big ones, but that's another story.

Locating Flathead

Flathead are common in most creeks, rivers and estuaries and like when targeting most fish, structure is key. Structure that attracts flathead includes drop offs, weed edges, mangroves, rock bars, sand banks and my favourite, drains. These are areas that hold bait, concentrate bait when the tide drains and allow flathead an ambush point from which to accelerate rapidly and smash unsuspecting prawns and baitfish.

Tides

If you persist, you can catch flathead throughout the tide cycle. I find the most productive time to fish is the last few hours of the run out and first hour of the run in, as this is when the flathead are concentrated along the edge of drop offs, sand bars and in the mouths of drains, waiting for bait to be forced off the flats with the receding tide. As the tide floods the flats the fish tend to spread out and feed less aggressively, making them more difficult to locate and entice.

On the run out, focus your casts around changes in depth, any deeper pockets on the edge of the flats, the mouths of drains and any weed, sand points or other structure that is creating eddies. Also keep an eye out for bait in the water or flicking in the shallows and spend some more time casting in these areas.

If you arrive at your fishing location and the tide is higher, don't despair. Try fishing a slightly heavier jighead than if you were fishing slowly and roll your plastic just above the bottom, touching down occasionally. This allows you to cover plenty of ground and hopefully swim your lure past more fish and in turn trigger more strikes. When the tide is up I focus on flats with sand patches and broken weed beds, mangrove edges and drains that have been covered by the tide.

Gearing Up

Light spin gear is the go. A 7', 2-4kg graphite rod and 2500 spin reel, loaded with 6-10lb braid and 8-12lb leader is ideal. This will allow you to cast lightly weighted lures a long way, while keeping the presentation natural and still give you enough stopping power to slow down a big flatty.

Lures

Soft plastics are by far the most popular lure choice for targeting flathead and there's a couple of good reasons why - they are soft and feel realistic, they look realistic, there are a wide range of colours available and when you stop your retrieve, they sink, ensuring that they are down around the bottom where the flathead is waiting in ambush.

When fishing soft plastics, the saying is to fish as light as possible and I totally agree, but for flathead err on the side of heavier rather than light. The plastic needs to be on or near the bottom and it doesn't hurt to upsize the jighead a little and stir up some mud or sand. When taking beginners or kids out fishing for flathead I will upsize the jighead from 1/4oz to 3/8oz, or 3/8oz to 1/2oz and get them to say in their head 'wind, wind, wind, 1, 2, 3'. The three winds gets the lure moving and the three second pause allows the lure to sink back to the bottom. This is a good way to get started chasing flathead.

For this slow rolling retrieve, without imparting much action yourself, a paddle tail or curl tail plastic is the go, such as a ZMan 2.5" GrubZ, 4" StreakZ Curly TailZ, 3" MinnowZ, 3" Scented PogyZ or 4" DieZel MinnowZ, as they have plenty of action built into the lure. Once you have caught a few and you want to slow things down and control the lure more yourself, with twitches and hops, you can add a selection of lures that have little built in action. This would include ZMan 3.75" StreakZ, 5" StreakZ and 3" Scented ShrimpZ.

Here's a few of my go-to plastics for flathead:

ZMan 2.5" Slim SwimZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 1/4oz 1/0 jighead
ZMan 2.5" GrubZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 1/4oz 1/0 jighead
ZMan 3.75" StreakZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 3/8oz 2/0 jighead
ZMan 3" MinnowZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 1/2oz 3/0 jighead
ZMan 3" Scented PogyZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 1/2oz 3/0 jighead
ZMan 4" StreakZ Curly TailZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 1/2oz 3/0 jighead
ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ 1/8oz - 3/8oz 3/0 jighead
ZMan 5" StreakZ - Rigged on a TT Lures HeadlockZ HD - 1/8oz - 1/2oz 4/0 jighead

HeadlockZ jigheads are available in a HeadlockZ Finesse - built on a light wire Gamakatsu hook for maximum penetration, especially on light line and a HeadlockZ HD - built on a brutally strong Mustad hook for stopping power, especially on larger fish. If the area is snaggy or there's more chance of larger fish then it may be worth tying on a HeadlockZ HD. In relatively snag free country or on a tough bite, the HeadlockZ Finesse will turn virtually every tap into a hook set.

As you can see, if you set yourself up with a few 1/0, 2/0, 3/0 and 4/0 jigheads in a variety of weights, along with a selection of 2.5" - 5" plastics, you have everything you need to successfully target flathead in less than a metre to 3m of water. I primarily fish a 1/4oz in the shallows and a 3/8oz along the drop offs, with a 1/2oz coming into play on deeper ledges and when the current is strong.

Colour

Colour is a subject that is often debated, but here's my thoughts after years of chasing flathead. Yes, colour makes a difference on any given day, in different water conditions and even at different times of the day and tide.

My belief is that natural colours are a great starting point when the water is shallow and clear, and the day bright. Go-to colours in these conditions include Opening Night, Pearl Blue Glimmer, Bad Shad, Baby Bass and Pearl. If the day is overcast or the water dirty, then it's time to go to a darker colour that offers a better silhouette. Go-to colours in these conditions include Gold Rush, Motor Oil, Mood Ring and Bloodworm.

What if none of these are firing? Then it's time to pull out the fluoro colours. Fluoro colours can produce when nothing else is firing and favourites include Electric Chicken, Glow Chartreuse, Space Guppy and Pink Glow.

Other colour patterns that seem to have formed in my fishing include -
Natural colours fish better over sand.
Darker silhouette colours fish better over weed.
Fluoro colours are deadly over muddy bottom.
When the tide is running in and the water is cleaner, fish natural colours and when the tide turns and the water gets dirtier, fish darker and fluoro colours.
Some anglers will have differing opinions based on their local area and experiences, but the key take out is - if it's not working, change it up!

Scent

I have used scent off and on in the past and wasn't sure whether it made a massive difference or not. Pro-Cure has made up my mind though and I always ensure that I have Pro-Cure Super Gel with me. If the fish are biting I may not even apply it, but when the bite is tough it's straight on my plastic. The difference with Pro-Cure is that it combines the best of the laboratory and science side of things with bite stimulants, amino acids and UV enhancement, with good old fashioned mashed up dead things! It's hard to beat that natural bait and burley combined with the science of manmade attractants and bite stimulants.

My go-to Pro-Cure flavours are Mullet Super Gel Scent and Bloody Tuna Super Gel Scent, but I speak to other anglers who have confidence in Shrimp, Inshore Saltwater or other flavours. When I add scent I find that I get more bites, the fish hit the lure more aggressively and if they miss they often have another go. I also find that the variety of by-catch increases and the lure will get rattled more often, even while sitting still on the bottom.

Starter Pack

If I had to put a starter pack together for someone wanting to target flathead on soft plastics, it would consist of -

TT HeadlockZ HD jigheads - 1/4oz 3/0 and 3/8oz 3/0
ZMan 3" MinnowZ - Opening Night, Gold Rush and Electric Chicken
Pro-Cure Super Gel - Mullet

I would confidently fish any location I hadn't fished before armed only with this pack. Then I would start adding a few more favourites ;).

Another great option is a TT Lures HeadlockZ River & Estuary Value Pack, containing 5 different hook and weight combinations in the HeadlockZ HD jigheads, enough to suit all of the ZMan soft plastics mentioned in this guide.

Anchoring

When targeting flathead the ability to hold position is crucial to increasing your catch numbers. If you have and electric motor, you can hold position easily, but if not an anchor will do the trick. Keep moving and casting until you catch a fish and then anchor. Flathead will often school, so if you catch one, there are probably more in the area. Cover the area with casts and then up the anchor and move again, until you find another fish. The anchor also allows you to effectively work a drop off, drain, mangrove edge or weed edge more effectively.

Where possible I try to hold position and cast upstream, bouncing the lure back along the bottom with the current. By concentrating on areas where we locate fish, we have had some memorable sessions, including four anglers in kayaks landing 82 flathead in an afternoon, ranging from mid 30's to high 60s.

If you haven't given flathead on soft plastics a go, give it a crack, it's great fun, not expensive and if you cover some ground you will find some fish. You can also target flathead walking the bank, wading the flats or from out in a boat or kayak, so it's accessible to everyone. If you are already targeting flathead I hope there's a tip or two here that helps you hook into a few more.

Remember though that with increased angling skill comes great responsibility and as you start to catch more fish it's important to let a few go so that there are plenty of flathead out there breeding and producing more fish for us to catch.

See you on the water...
Justin Willmer

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017