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NOCTURNAL FLATHEAD

Cameron Cronin

The ever popular dusky flathead is an aggressive, bottom-dwelling predator that spends most of its time buried in the substrate, waiting for an unsuspecting baitfish or shrimp to wash by and become its next meal. As flathead are such a heavily targeted and popular fish, we as anglers are often looking for that edge that will allow us to gain the upper hand over the rest of the pack and catch us more fish. This may include changing lure sizes and shapes, downgrading leader size, working the lure in a more subtle manner... but often it's as simple as changing the hours we fish from daylight hours to night fishing. Working your favourite plastic or blade under the moonlight may not sound like the most conventional way to snare a few bottom dwelling flathead, but take it from me this highly addictive type of fishing produces a tonne of fish and not all of them are rats either.

Why at night?

Those who are unfamiliar with this type of fishing may be wondering 'why fish at night?' This is most simply summed up in one word, bait. Small baitfish, like poddy mullet and prawns (especially prawns) prefer to use the cover of night to move around the estuary in hope that they will be less vulnerable to predatory fish and birds. However, unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us) flathead know about this free smorgasbord dinner and lay in ambush waiting for these hapless baitfish to come cruising by.

However, this isn't the only reason we should fish at night. Under the cover of darkness, flathead will often feed much more openly for a variety of reasons. Reasons include, less boat traffic and surface noise, as well as the fact that most of the birds that wouldn't mind a fishy snack or two (pelicans and eagles) are not actively feeding at these times. A combination of all the above factors means that by fishing at night, you can tip the scales in your favour and make it little bit easier to have a successful session, be it to take home a few fish for the table or land that shovel headed monster you've always dreamed of!

Night gear

If you are planning to fish 'the night shift', there are a few small things that you may need to adjust / pack before you set out on your first night mission. Firstly, a light but powerful led head torch always comes in handy for anything from tying a knot to seeing your line twitch as a flattie intercepts your lure. I find it much easier to use a head mounted version so that I can keep my hands free at all times. In more lit up areas though, I often just make do with a small handheld torch.

Although the following may not apply for hot summer nights, where nothing but boardies and a tee shirt is needed to stay comfortable, I make it my number one priority to dress appropriately to keep myself warm, especially in the cooler months of the year. Try multi-layering a short sleave tee shirt, a long sleave tee shirt, a jumper and keep a few layers in your pack. That way if you do feel uncomfortable, you can simply add or remove layers to suit the temperature. Other things to include are a pair of crocs or similar for foot protection, a landing net, lip grips,  brag mat, a camera, a beanie, a few snacks and a uv buff, which although was originally to protect users for the sun works pretty well in reverse and does a nice job of keeping your neck / face toasty and warm.

Now onto the fishing...

Now that we have our gear sorted we're ready to hit the water. Start off by planning an area to fish. This could just be your usual day time flattie haunts or as I prefer, an area lit up by artificial lighting. The most likely place to find this scenario is a small road bridge where the lights are fairly close to the water and shine on the area you're fishing. This tends to attract the baitfish that were mentioned earlier, as well as tailor of all sizes that also enjoy a baitfish snack. All of these fish are prime flathead fodder, so when choosing a lure I find that it is important to imitate these particular food items.

Recently there have been a lot of small tailor and poddy mullet moving around my local system, so to do the job I have turned to the ZMan 4" SwimmerZ (and sometimes even 6 inch) and the ZMan 3" MinnowZ to do the job, and I have to say I haven't been let down. Both these plastics feature an awesome slow body and tail roll on both the retrieve and the drop which hungry predators like flathead can't resist. Sometimes, after losing count of the amount of fish I've landed in the session, I wonder if it's even fair to use these two plastics on my local lizard population. They are just that good!

When casting I aim to cover areas that are likely to hold concentrations of bait, such as bridge pylons, drop offs and weed edges, as the flathead shouldn't be too far behind. As soon as I feel a strike, which often comes as a sharp tap in the braided line and a quick jerk in the line resting on the surface of the water, strike and strike hard. I have seen many a fish lost at this stage so it is important to make sure the hook is firmly set before continuing on with the fight. When the fish is close enough to land simply beach the fish, or where this isn't possible use a landing tool such as lip grips or a small net to secure your catch.

Retrieve wise I like to mix it up, throwing in single, double and triple hops, fast burn and kill and slow lift and draw style rod work all in the one cast. I find that as long as I make regular contact with the bottom, any of these retrieve styles may produce the goods on any given day, which is why it pays to experiment.

Because it is important to be constantly in touch with the bottom, I like to fish a jighead that will reach the bottom in a slow count to five. This can mean that I fish TT HeadlockZ HD jigheads in weights anywhere from 1/8 to 3/8oz, (hook sizes ranging from 3/0 for the MinnowZ and 4/0 for the SwimmerZ) depending on current and water depth.

Other lures worth a flick are the ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ and ZMan 4" Scented ShrimpZ, TT Lures Switchblade in all sizes and the ZMan 5" GrubZ, which have all accounted for some thumping fish in their time. The tackle used in night time flattie fishing is much the same as you would use at day, just bring along your favourite flattie spin stick and a reel to match. However I like to take advantage of the reduced visibility and fish heavier leaders to prevent the larger fish that are often encountered at night from wearing through my light trace. Fluorocarbon in 14lb is a good starting point but if you are struggling for bites, it may be necessary to downgrade leader strengths. On a sidenote, fishing at night also produces a lot more (and a lot better quality) by-catch than fishing in the daylight hours, with everything from jewfish (mulloway) to estuary perch regular candidates for a well rigged lure meant for flathead.

So there you have it! Now you know the basics, get your gear together and instead of having that lazy night on the couch, head down to our favourite estuary for some light tackle sport fishing action under the stars. You won't regret it!

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017