Luring bigger flathead

Flathead, we know are one of our most loved fish. They are the backbone of Tasmania's recreational marine fishery and as table fare they are considered by many as second to none. Fresh or frozen it doesn't seem to matter too much; as nuggets, fillets or barbequed you can't ruin flathead.
Some years ago I was shown how trolling shallow water will yield bigger than normal fish. Why this is so I am not too sure, but perhaps it is a territorial thing where bigger fish keep smaller ones away. Regardless of this, it is worthwhile trying trolling beaches and inshore sandy areas. Any beach with gently sloping bottom will hold flathead. You probably won't find flathead every 20 metres, but with patience you generally find bigger specimens. It is quite common to find these fish are up to 25% bigger than bait caught fish in deeper water.

What you need
A boat is a big advantage if you want to do some trolling, but there are some opportunities to lure fish from the shore. Bright coloured lures are best and larger sizes work better than smaller ones. Big lure - big fish.

I love the range of Lively Lures - especially the Mad Mullet range, and in particular the 4 inch deep diver in pink. The Predatek Boomerang in medium depth is another great lure as is Manns Stretch 10. In fact any bib lure in around 75 - 100 mm will work well as long as it bumps along the bottom in 2.4 to 3 metres of water. I like the pink and bright colours the best, but this may just be a personal preference as I have rarely tried dark colours. I am sure this is pretty much a confidence thing as it is a lot in fishing. Fish with what you have confidence in and you will catch more fish.
One thing I do is often take the front set of trebles off the lure. It doesn't seem to affect the action much and fish are much easier to deal with when there is only one set.
Visit your tackle store and ask about their range of lures. Every store has a different range and you are sure to find a few lures that will work.

Rod and reels
My preference is for a short, strong overhead rod and reel outfit. Currently in use is a Abu 6500C3 with an Abu 5" 6" 6-8 kilo Morrum rod. This is spooled with 8 kilo line and it works the bigger lures well. Lures can still be cast and line twist is never a problem. Shimano has an excellent reel in the Calcutta 200 as well. Match this with a Steve Starling or Backbone rod and you'll have a great outfit as well. Threadline reels are outclassed here as they are in most trolling applications, and whilst you can use them at a pinch, a small overhead or strong baitcaster will serve you much better. A preference is for a rod that isn't too long and 5" 6" is best. Look for a rod with a longish butt as when the rod is in an in deck rod holder it keeps the reel away from being damaged by being in contact with the boat. A reel with a good loud clicker is also an advantage to let you know you have a fish on or are snagged.

Rigging up
Good quality eight kilo line is perfect and if you do get hooked up on the bottom eight kilo line will give you plenty of opportunity to retrieve your gear. Eight kilo sounds like overkill, but for trolling and pulling a bibbed lure it works a treat. Unclip the lure, clip on a paternoster and you can use it for bottom bouncing as well. A simple snap swivel is fine to connect everything together. Use a six turn full blood knot when tying on the swivel. I don't use a leader, nor anything else. I keep it simple.

Dead slow troll is what is needed. Even though I have a 130 hp Honda on my boat it trolls at idle at about 3 kph. This is perfect to get your lures to the bottom and puff up plenty of sand - attracting the flathead as you go. If your boat won't go this slow you need a trolling motor, or try towing a bucket or troll into the wind.
Make sure your lures are running true. If they swim to the right - bend the eye to the left slightly and vice versa. Usually only very small adjustments are necessary, but it is very important. You should test every lure by trolling it next to the boat before casting it out.
Cast your lures out 15 to 20 metres or so and starting at a water depth of four metres or so slowly move into more shallow water until the lures start bumping the bottom. You'll be able to see this at the rod tip and feel it through the rod. It is essential that the lure is bumping the bottom. If it isn't you won't catch any fish. Simple.
Occasionally you will get "weeded" and this is usually easy to see at the rod tip. The vibrating - or constant action will stop. Watch carefully and if in doubt check your lure. You should be trolling over sand though and weed is not too much of a problem.        
Once you have found the right depth take careful note on the fish finder. Remember you want lure that swim in the 2.5 to 3 metre range so keep aware of this. Track your depth on the fishfinder and keep within the range that will have the lures on the bottom.

Where to fish
Any Tasmanian beach or estuary with a sandy bottom will yield fish. An offshore breeze will make it easier to work a beach as the depth of 2.5 to 3 metres will often be in the wave and surf zone. This is not the place to be when it is rough. Not only will the fishing be tough due to the rise and fall of the boat, it is also dangerous. You are better in these conditions to be in an estuary.

In conclusion
Grab some lures from the tackle store and try this at the start of a fishing day when the breeze is at its lightest. Cover at least a couple of kilometres of beach whilst refining your technique. If you do no good, get the bait out and move a little offshore and catch some flathead on bait. Try this technique, but most importantly enjoy your day.    
Mike Stevens
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