Flathead Fishing: The Ultimate Guide For Catching Flathead

Flathead fishing is popular throughout Australia. Learn how to enjoy fishing for this remarkable saltwater species. We will take a look together at where to target flathead. Proven flathead baits and lures. As well as some simple tips on optimising your flathead fishing technique.


Scientific Name: Platycephalus sp (16 species in Australia)

Australian Flathead Species

Most people simply refer to them all as flathead. However, there are in fact 40 species in Australia pursued under the generic phrase flathead fishing.

The most popular – and commonly caught are:

  • The Dusky Flathead
  • Blue Spotted or Southern Flathead
  • Tiger Flathead
  • Southern Sand Flathead.

Common names used by Aussie fishos include “lizards”, “frogs”, “dogs” and “croc’s”

These names refer to the flattened head and body of the flathead.

Though in some cases the size some species attain adds to the flavour of the naming jokes.


Flathead At A Glance

Flathead can be found commonly within bays and estuaries.

Often laying in wait for food along drop-offs, weed beds and gutters.

Sandy flat areas can produce good flathead catches too.

So an outgoing tide is often best for flathead fishing.

You may improve your results on flathead by keeping your bait or lure slowly moving across the bottom.

I have found a running sinker to work better with flathead than a paternoster rig*

But it depends largely on the environment and how the fish are reacting to bait presentation.

There are several ways of approaching these structures. Like all fishing, it’s important to first get the lay of the land, as it were.

I strongly recommend you use a tool like Google Maps satellite images for the location you intend to fish. Studying that will show you features in the water, off the pier, breakwater etc.

Key Flathead Information
  • Peak Season: October – March in Victoria. But can be targeted all year round.
  • Method: Bait fishing using a paternoster and/or running sinker, increasingly soft plastics retrieved or trolled.
  • Best Baits: Pilchards, whitebait, prawns, squid.
  • Times & Tides: All day, but best times either side of high tide.
  • Tip: A run out tide in areas where there are sandbanks or just outside of an estuary can be productive as food washes over.
  • Hot Spots: St Kilda Pier or Kerford Road Pier.
  • Areas: Beaches, estuaries, piers, rocks, breakwaters and boats. Flathead are widespread and live in variety of bay environments.

How To Catch Flathead – My Personal Best Flathead Fishing Tips

Flathead

My #1 flathead fishing tip is to learn as much as you can about the flathead species.

That’s what this article aims to get you started on doing. It links to other flathead articles on the Getfished website so you can drill down and get even more information.

Understand that:

  • The flathead is an ambush predator.
  • That tides current flow plays a major role in flathead food availability.
  • That ambush predators, such as flathead, prefer to expend the minimum amount of energy possible to secure food.

Then use these things to our advantage!

I talk more about this issue about how understanding the factors of patience in flathead fishing, sight vibration and smell and flathead and why you should look for where baitfish gather when fishing for flathead.

Plus what I view as the most important thing of all when fishing for flathead and that is: If You Are Fishing For Flathead Then Focus Entirely On Catching Flathead!

Why’s that important? Because trying to “catch any fish” more often results in doughnuts. That’s to say no fish at all. Than, if you focus on a single species. Do all the right things to catch that single species any other species becomes a by-catch bonus!

Flathead Fishing: Understanding Flathead Behaviour

Like all fish species, the flathead family have certain quirks. Patterns that we can learn to help predict flathead behaviour.

One of the most obvious flathead behavioural indicators we have is the shape of the fish.

flathead fishing the ultimate guide

The outline of the entire body, from head to the base of the tail is basically flat. In fish, this is a pretty sure sign the species lays flat on the bottom. The bulbous frog-like eyes of flathead also indicate they stare upwards and possibly bury themselves in the sand or mud.

Of course, we know that these are more than just indicators. These are the things flathead do more often than anything else.

But it also tells us flathead are ambush predators. This is important information. It’s important because ambush predators generally display several very important behaviours.

  1. They Lay in wait for their food to come to them.
  2. They prefer to expend the least amount of energy they can.
  3. This makes them less picky about the kind of food that passes their way.
  4. These factors open up the opportunity for us to use a variety of baits and lures.

Check my Flathead Fishing Tips article here for more information.


Catching Flathead Off Piers

For most land-based fishos catching flathead off piers is probably the most prevalent method tried. After that would come beaches followed by flathead from rock walls and breakwaters.

Not all piers are ideal for flathead fishing. So I’d certainly recommend you take a look at Google Satellite maps or Google Earth before heading out to a pier.

In particular look for sandbars, holes and areas around reefs. These are the places flathead are likely to be found. Also mudflats.

if there’s a ton of weed then you may find fewer flathead. Though there will probably be many other species of fish to consider.

You can take a look at some of my own suggestion in my Catching Flathead Off Piers article here.


Beach Fishing For Flathead

Catching flathead from beaches is probably the next most likely method tried by land-based fishos.

There are a number of things you can take into account to improve your success rate. These include:

I’m a huge fan of berley.

Er – because it works. Right?

No. It really does work.

But did you know on a beach – and this can be applied on a pier or in an estuary too – the direction of the current is vital to how effective your berley will work?

Yup. It’s true. That’s why I take into consideration natural phenomena called “Longshore Drift” when placing my berley and where I’m casting out to.

When using berley (also known as “chum”) from a boat this technique happens kind of automatically. You see, berley is normally distributed from the back of the boat. A boat is usually anchored at the front. So the back of the boat is nearly always facing the direction the current is flowing.

Now you can take advantage of this when land based fishing for beach flathead too!

This not only reduces berley wastage – but it also improves your chances of catching flathead. Sounds interesting? Check out the details here.


Catching Flathead In Estuaries

Flathead estuary fishing is probably level with flathead pier fishing when it comes to popularity in Australia!

Apart from flathead species that live in the deep water most Aussie anglers target flathead in shallower bays, inlets and estuaries.

Because estuaries can be so easy to access. Both land-based, boat and kayak fishing a lot of people target flathead in estuaries.

Estuary systems are a rich food source for many predator species. This is the case for several reasons.

  • The relatively protected nature of an estuary makes them ideal places for fish to spawn.
  • Food is swept into the estuary from the sea. It is swept downstream from the river system.
  • Flathead can move in and out of estuary systems according to the tides, weather and salinity.

Estuary systems range from sandy-bottomed. Muddy bottoms. A mixture of both. Surrounded by earthen embankments. Sandy dunes to mangroves and even swamp and marshland.

You’ve Got To Use Berley To Catch Flathead!

I really don’t get tired of saying this. So – I’ll say it again because its just so darn important. Using berley helps you catch flathead.

This is probably one of the main reasons so many people return home without out catching any fish. Beyond the days everybody gets. People who use berley catch more fish.

Flathead fishing is no different. I go into more detail in this article and expand further over here.

In a nutshell berley brings both baitfish and predator fish (like flathead) in towards where you are fishing.

It’s true you should look for where the baitfish are. But often you’re going to turn up at your fishing spot and they are not going to be visible. Berley brings them in.

The odour floats through the water. This is what attracts both prey and predator. Your bait should then be an easy meal – from the perspective of the flathead. Slower than the bait fish.

Boom!

It’s really that simple. Look. Doesn’t matter if you are bait fishing or lure fishing. Berley can – and should – play a role.

Get the berley out before you’ve even got your line in the water. Before your first cast.

The Role of Attractants in Flathead Fishing

I am a huge fan of the use of attractants* when flathead fishing. Whether they be commercial preparations or DIY Attractants I create myself.

Basically the idea of these is to add some extra enticement to bait and lures – and if possible – get the fish to hang on to the bait. Increasing hookups.

Attractants can actually achieve this. Which is why I’m so keen on using them.

A good attractant*, however, will encourage the flathead to swallow the bait, rather than pick at it.

There’s a lot of them on the market. Some, I think it’s fair to say, are questionable. Others are absolutely outstanding.

Whenever possible I like to choose tools that appeal to a wide variety of species. So while this article is about flatties, a good all-round attractant/scent is always preferable. This is why I use and recommend wholeheartedly Squidgy S Factor Scent**.

I use it on hard body lures, soft plastics, frozen and freeze-dried baits. While you can overuse these products I find smearing some between your index finger and thumb, then rubbing that liberally on the bait or lure is all that’s needed.

It lasts several casts, too. If there’s fish in the area you’ll be amazed at how fast they start smashing your line.

When I first started using soft plastic lures, like Gulp**.

I was surprised by the results I was getting didn’t match those reported overseas.

Adding S-Factor** scent made the difference. As it was designed in Australia I do wonder if it was the missing ingredient needed to get the mouths watering of Aussie fish.

Note, this isn’t a substitute for berley, discussed earlier. Rather it’s a tool to use in conjunction with berley. So use berley and attractants for flathead fishing in combination for best results.

Get the flathead into your zone with the berley. Then the S-Factor* to get them to choose your bait or lure.

The Best Bait For Flathead Fishing

pilchards snapper bait

If I really had to pick a best bait for flathead fishing I’d say prawns!

However. In truth. As in most fishing. The best bait is going to depend on what’s happening locally.

This is referred to as “fishing the hatch.”

In other words, if there’s no prawn activity locally it’s very likely flathead interest in prawns will be reduced. Replace by whatever local food is active.

This could be baitfish. In which case, whitebait, bluebait, pilchard or a minnow style soft plastic may be best.

I guess the reality is flathead can and do have preferences. But there is no hard and fast “best bait.”

I have a range of suggestions in an article on flathead bait where you can begin exploring this topic a little deeper in What is the Best Bait For Flathead Fishing?

Choosing A Flathead Lure

If there’s a single style of fishing for flathead that has grown in leaps in bounds in the last few decades then it’s fishing for flathead with lures.

I’ve written two separate articles going into more detail on this popular subject. The first looks at flathead lure preferences and the second takes a closer look with video analysis of flathead behaviour with lures.

When I began fishing most flathead were caught on bait.

Sure – some people used spoons and other lures.

But most folks used bait. I caught more flathead back then on bait than on hard body lures.

flathead fishing soft plastic lure

Fast forward to today.

A huge number of people, possibly a majority, are using soft plastic lures for flathead fishing.

Used well with techniques that work with flathead they get awesome results! In fact, you could now argue that soft plastic lures out fish all other flathead bait.

I get into this a little deeper in an article on Choosing a Flathead Lure.

Flathead Rods & Reels

While you may have studied the flathead species. Gotten into their heads. Chosen a great flathead bait or opted for a killer flathead lure. There’s one pair of items that you’re going to need before you head out.

Shimano Eclipse 8 foot Rod and Reel combo with Hyperloop Reel
Shimano Eclipse* 8 foot Rod and Reel combo with Hyperloop Reel

A rod and reel. Thankfully it need not be all that complex – or expensive.

You can start with a cheapie combo from K-mart if you wish. I personally recommend you aim a bit higher. Enjoy some of the benefits slightly dearer, but still entry level, fishing rod and reel combos offer. But…

You can start cheap – and upgrade later.

A good all round rod and reel combo for flathead fishing need be no more than a 7 to 9foot rod and a 300 size reel.

What’s more important is choosing a rod size that will work well where you’re going to fish.

If you’re land-based then a shorter rod in a pier or estuary – the 7foot range – is a great choice.

if you’re fishing off a kayak or small boat that 6 to 7foot is almost a must as any longer can be very difficult to manage.

If you’re fishing off a beach then a beach or smaller surf rod* is ideal. The 9 to 12foot range with a 500 to 600 reel be a good balance. Allowing you to case out a bit further from the beach into the “strike zone.”

Fishing ocean surf usually requires a heavier rod and reel. 12foot upwards being common. I’ll leave the discussion on surf fishing to another day.

For today – check out a more in depth article on choosing a flathead rod and reel setup.


All Getfished Flathead Articles


Dave
Dave

G'day!

I'm Dave, I live and fish in and around Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
When it comes to fishing I love going out to land-based fishing spots, heading out in the tinny (aka an Aluminum Boat) and kayak fishing.

I've been fishing since I was a teen. Beginning way back in the 1970s. It was a hobby I picked up myself as my family certainly had no interest. Making me the black sheep! My favourite fish is Flathead and Snapper. Though I'm partial to Flake (Gummy Shark) and Calamari too! While I enjoy fishing for freshwater species like Redfin and Murray Cod I prefer eating saltwater species. They're just so mouth-wateringly tasty!

I love writing about some of my favourite Melbourne Fishing Spots while fishing around Victoria. As well as the tackle I use and test.
If you see me while you're out fishing say "G' day" - I'll be the one in a bush hat.

When I'm not fishing I'm working on my websites, such as Getfished, or writing computer software (my profession.)

I try to be as accurate as possible on this website. Most of the information is based on personal experience. However, if you spot an error or think there's something that I should add - no worries! Please use the Contact Form.