How to catch flathead…looks like a lizard, tastes like chicken

How to catch flathead…looks like a lizard, tastes like chicken

Flathead are easy to catch and great to eat….and there’s plenty about in our bays.


When I was younger, I’d fish Port Phillip bay, practically anywhere, and always come home with a feed of ‘flatties’. These days the numbers have declined but there are still plenty around willing to take a bait or a lure.


Flathead will bite on the incoming tide but they also like the outgoing tide. This gives you more time to target these great eating fish.


If you watch a film on the way these fish feed it’s a real eye opener on how predatory fish catch a meal. They are ambush predators and lay in wait in gutters, dips, the edge of channels and drop-offs….anywhere that food will pass by.


Flathead tend to stay still until they launch a fast  attack…and then go into ‘wait mode’ again and wait for the food to come to them. This means that once you catch a big fish it may be the only one around and you have to move on to get another.


Ever since soft plastic lures came out they have been popular choices for targeting flathead. These fish lay on the bottom and a plastic lure bouncing on the bottom with plenty of tail action is almost irresistible to them. The size of the lure doesn’t seem to matter and I have been amazed at how small a flathead will take a big lure.


Flathead have small sharp teeth. I found out just how sharp they are when I landed one in the Yarra river, just near the entrance to Port Phillip bay. It was a good fish, around 40cm and I tried to pick it up by the mouth. The fish shook its head real fast a number of times and removed all the skin from my thumb…I never did that again!



The head shaking that flathead do when hooked often results in lost fish. They have thin skin on the top of their mouths which easily tears as they thrash their heads…so bringing them in slowly is the best approach. This way you stop them over reacting and either cutting your line with their teeth or gill rakers.


Bait for flathead is pretty easy. They take most stuff but love live food!


When I used to target the big fish at Mallacoota inlet, in eastern Victoria, I’d catch a few small live mullet and use these as live bait…big flathead found them irresistible. Other good baits are live prawn, fresh fish fillets, frozen prawn and whitebait….in that order!


Gear for flathead is simple. A 2 to 2.5m graphite rod in the 2 to 4kg range with a 2500 series reel. This will cover most fish unless you get a monster….and just in case you do it always pays to tie a leader to your line that will resist those sharp teeth. I prefer fluorocarbon line usually 2 to 3 kg stronger than your main line. 


Lure fishing is great fun for these fish. They hit hard and your lure action doesn’t have to be too complex….bouncing a soft plastic along the bottom is a good starting action.


If you don’t get bites then the next action to try is the lift and wind or “whipping” action. This just means you cast out, let the lure hit bottom, quickly lift your rod tip up and slowly wind in as the lure drops to the bottom again. This action looks like a wounded fish trying to swim to the surface then falling to the bottom. You can cover a lot of ground doing this and flathead, especially big ones, seem to love this method.


Some years ago I fished Merimbula Lake, in southern NSW, using this method and caught my biggest flathead ever. It measured 68cm and hit the lure like a stampeding bull. I decided to release it as a fish this size could be 7 or 8 years old and definitely be a breeder. As I let it go, it rewarded me for my kindness by spiking my hand with its spiny dorsal fin…I never thought the bleeding would stop!!


Flathead aren’t fussy eaters…and love a moving meal so lure selection is easy. I mainly use paddle tail soft plastics ‘cos they look like the real thing….and adding a bit of extra colour and flavour can improve your chances of a hook up. I particularly like Spike-it lure paint, the red colour in garlic flavour. Dipping your lure tail in this stuff adds a bit more “zing” to the whole look, and taste, of the lure.


Keep your lure low, with occasional change in action and depth and you’ll get the interest of every flathead around. Sometimes just stop winding and let the lure lie on the bottom….then give it a twitch.

Catching flatties on lures can be as simple as this and they love all your lures – paddle tails, grubs, minnows, worms…they all seem to work.


As an eating fish, flathead are good, real good. They have a subtle, light tasting flesh that even non fish lovers tend to appreciate. Unfortunately they have a very large head so even big fish tend not to have as much flesh as you expect…so take your time when you fillet them to get as much off as you can.


So when it comes to bait fishing, lure fishing and catching a meal, flathead have it all. It’s worth targeting these “chicken of the sea” for the fun and food they deliver!


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