The use of flathead berley to catch flatties is hardly new.
However, it’s surprising how many people still don’t use berley when fishing!
To be clear flathead berley is much like any other kind of berley used for catching other fish species. We could just as easily be talking about snapper berley or bream berley here.
The key with berley, that is often overlooked, is that it is as attractive to the likes of schooling baitfish as much as it is to the target species.
In our case flathead.
This is critical.
Baitfish attracts in predator fish, like the flatty, as well as stimulating feeding due to the feeding frenzy good berley triggers in the baitfish.
Potentially becoming a kind of mass hysteria of feeding.
1. Choose A Good Mixture – Fine Mist Is Better Than All Chunks
While some larger chunks can certainly be included as they often contain a lot more oils and blood a fine mist is desirable.
A fine mist is used to attract smaller baitfish and avoiding over-feeding our target species. As well as to get some smell moving through the currents at our selected fishing spot.
This is why many commercially made berley packs are made of fine breadcrumbs, chicken pellets etc.
They effuse a mist of tasty particles in the water column.
This fine mist is largely responsible for attracting and keeping smaller bait fish in the area.
At the same time the odour attracts target species, such as flathead, into the area where where out berley is working.
This is the same area you want you’re hooks to be waiting, baited up.
2. Use Berley To Match Your Bait In Your Flathead Berley
While there’s nothing wrong with using fillers like breadcrumbs, chicken pellets etc it’s important to include some of the bait you’re using in your berley.
So, if you’re fishing with pilchards then include some pilchard heads, guts etc in your berley.
The same goes for prawns. Toss in some prawn heads. Prawn shells etc.
You can either include this whole or grind it up.
It’s up to you. I tend to throw in a handful or chunks and mash up the rest.
Another addition that works really well is fish oil. It’s common to use Tuna oil as it is largely available in bait shops in litre or more bottles.
This works well. It stinks to high heaven frankly. While spreading a great smelly slick around your fishing area.
You can however also use olive oils etc at a pinch. You need to add your berley flavours to them.
Personally I’ve found tuna oil to be far more effective than any other oily substance. It is extremely dense and is full of natural enzymes.
Given that flathead spend a lot of time on the bottom of the sea-bed tuna oil floating around on the surface may seem to be counter-intuitive.
It isn’t however. Remember – we are also attracting in bait fish into the area. The oil slick helps with this goal. Also, it is still effusing through the water column even though the oil itself floats on the surface.
A final point. Don’t make the mistake of thinking flathead are only caught off the bottom. They are to be found at all water levels depending on what is happening around them. So they can and do get caught off the bottom, midwater and even the surface!
3. Strong Scents Attract Bait Fish & Flathead
Strong scents play a huge role in attracting fish. So including blood and offal is common in making up berley. Note that in many Australian states the use of mammal meat, blood or offal is prohibited in order not to attract sharks to mammal meat (which includes us, humans.)
Chicken meat, blood and offal is an excellent choice. Chicken liver, heart and other items can all go into your berley. Even if you’re not using chicken as a bait.
Likewise fish offal etc. Sometimes referred generally as “fish-frames.” Anything goes. Scales, blood, guts, heads, tails – whatever you’ve got.
Salt is a major component of blood. So adding rock or sea-salt to your berley is a great idea. Fooling fish into thinking a wounded fish that is bleeding is in the area.
Other strong smells to include in a good flathead berley are garlic and aniseed. Both are powerfully good berley additives. Use aniseed in particular sparingly. It can, if you are heavy-handed, drive fish away. A couple of drops in 500g is perfect.
The same goes for garlic. I use garlic powder and use no more than half a teaspoon of garlic powder in 500g of the mixture.
Other berley additives you can experiment with include cheese such as Parmesan or other aromatic cheeses.
Even frankfurts can be used chopped up. Some people have even used them for bait! Why does it work? They’re full of salt, garlic etc.
Experiment with your berley. I love eating seafood. So table scraps from seafood meals go into my berley. Don’t throw out offcuts of calamari (also good bait), prawn shells, fish heads and tails. Freeze them and include them in your berley mix.
4. Control Your Berley Release With A Container
While you can – and should – toss out the odd handful of berley, especially when you first begin the fishing session. It’s important to also control the release of your berley.
Controlling release is critical as it keeps the berley in the area you are fishing longer, limits the amount of berley in the water. Making it last longer.
Also reducing the likelihood of fish getting full up on berley – and losing interest.
To do this a container can be used. You may have seen the little berley cages you attach like a sinker to your line? These are on the method.
Great for estuary fishing for flathead.
On boats you’ve probably seen the buckets with the holes or mesh to allow the flow of berley, too?
These are also excellent.
In fact, they can be used effectively beach fishing as well. Simply attach the rope or line to the bucket to a stake on the beach and let the contents of the berley bucket move about in the wash at in the water.
Similarly, you can use a berley cage on a pier. Lowering it off the side into the water and tying it to a handrail. This is excellent when the pier is busy and it’s risky to cast too far. Bringing the fish into your little area of the pier.
I use a combination of berley cages, both metal and plastic. Plus the kind you place on the end of your line when estuary or pier fishing.
I’ve also made a berley cage using PVC pipe. You can also use the humble mesh onion bag. simply fill it with a berley mix, tie a line to it and drop it in.
5. Ignore People Who Tell You Flathead Berley Doesn’t Work
There are folks who will tell you berley doesn’t work. Sometimes at your fishing spot, sometimes on forums and social media.
A person trying berley once or twice, catching nothing and concluding it doesn’t work flies in the face of logic, let alone the experiences of fisho’s who’ve been at it for years.
There are too many variables in play. We do not know where they were fishing. When they were fishing. What bait they were using etc.
Simply put you can prove for yourself that berley works. Try this simple experiment on a pier.
Lower a berley cage with a good aromatic berley mix over the side of the pier. Tie off the berley cage to the pier handrail. Sip a cold drink or a coffee. Wait ten minutes or so. You should have attracted a school of baitfish. This works in nearly every instance. Short of a local environmental disaster!
The baitfish are your key indicator. The rest is up to your bait, local conditions and you!