Fly fishing for Flathead with your trout gear
Solitude can be compete when wading a peaceful sand or mud flat, gently fishing through gutters, around weed beds and along coloured water lines. Doing it with fly tackle makes the outing all the more enjoyable, and just as productive!
Targeting Tasmania's salt water flats opens up a new world of fly fishing for anyone owning an outfit suited to trout fishing. Flathead lurk all over these flats, and are accessible to the shore based angler throughout the tidal changes that occur. The fact that the flathead love flies makes it the ideal introductory species for budding salty fly rodders.
Any mud or sand flat will do. Check out the area at low tide so that you know where to wade, and make some mental notes of structure that may attract fish, such as gutters, channels and weed beds. One of the flatheads favourite tricks is to lay in a gutter facing a large flat as the last of the tide drains. All the small bait fish that lurk in the shallows as long as they can scurry into deeper water at the last minute - making this time an ideal opportunity for the angler.
The upper Tamar region, from Gravelly Beach to the river mouth has many areas waiting to be fished. The sand flats just north of George Town are expansive and worthy of an outing. Kelso holds some good ground, but heavier gear needs to be used to muscle fish away from the oysters. Despite the unfortunate oil spill earlier this year these areas are starting to fish right now, and will continue to fish well until March and April; when its time to think of the tropics rather than the Tamar.
Port Sorell has much to offer, as do many areas towards the north west coast. Travelling east from the Tamar, most river mouths are worth a try. From Bridport, around Musselroe Bay and down to Ansons Bay, anglers will be spoilt for scenic beauty as well as great fishing. Georges Bay yields many fish species, the channel leading from the bay to the bar way being very productive. Coles Bay is definitely worth a visit, with many productive fishing grounds readily accessible.
Tackle for venturing into salt water is not expensive or exclusive as some people would have you believe. Average trout fly outfits, from four to eight weights, is all that is needed. It is not necessary to fish with special salt water rods in a southern estuary (unless you chase sharks!). The only difference in the building of a salt water rod is the addition of a fighting butt - a small extension from the reel seat. These help in an extended fight and are usually found on rods heavier than an eight or nine. The rod should be rinsed with water after every outing paying particular attention to snake guides.
Reels should hold at least fifty metres of backing, and have a light drag. Trout reels are fine to use in salt water as longas they are looked after - always rinse with warm water after use, and make sure that goes for the line as well. Periodically lubricate moving parts with light reel grease or machine oil.
Fly lines come in all shapes and sizes. For shore based fly fishing I would recommend sticking to a floating fly line and moving on to an intermediate or very low sink line if you decide you like fly fishing in the salt. I always recommend weight forward lines, and if you are serious, salt water or bass tapers. Lines that I highly recommend are the clear (yes, perfectly CLEAR) Scientific Anglers Stillwater or Monocore, and the new Airflo clear glass series fly lines. All the bugs have been worked out of the new Airflo lines, now having no memory or sticky coating problems. They come with a phenomenal non crack guarantee, to boot! Leaders don't have to be complicated. A simple step down to a six or eight pound tippet is fine. A standard length is nine feet, but as wind and/or fly weight increases this will have to be shortened to as little as four feet. Where large flathead prevail (I won't tell you exactly where) use a shock tippet. This is a short length of heavier mono tied between your normal tippet and the fly. You only need about six to eight inches for flathead. Ten to fifteen pound hard or "˜saltwater"type mono is perfect, but normal mono in these breaking strains will do.
Many flies work on flathead, but the most consistent is the Clouser Deep Minnow. This is a simple fly to tie, consisting of a bucktail wing, a set of lead eyes and some flashy material such as crystal flash. Colours such as white/chartreuse, white/red, orange/black and all hot pink work very well. You may catch some unwanted species (such as bream, trevally, salmon, flounder and mullet), but they are another story altogether!
Other flies to try are Bendbacks, Lefty's Deceivers, Crazy Charlies and many of the popular Bonefish flies form the U.S Trout flies that imitate baitfish (such as the Matuka) are also worth a try.
When trying your own, use a stainless steel or plated fine wire hook. Mustad 34007's and the VMC 7755SS are popular and do the job. Kamasan and Gamakatsu have some really good plated hooks. Try not to use bronzed hooks - these will rust in a very short time.
Always be careful when wading salt water flats. Be extra vigilant against the sun, and be wary of where you wade on an incoming tide. It pays to drag your toes when wading so that you don't step on a ray hiding below the slit.
To effectively fish your selected area, try to let the fish bounce along or just above the bottom. Always mover quietly, as any fish in shallow water is more wary than a cat in a pound. Work along the edges of structure close to shore before venturing into deeper water - especially in early and late hours.
Peak times are first and last light with a rising barometer, from the late December to early March. Light tackle provides much sport, and an added bonus of never quite being sure of what you will hook next. See you out there!