Bridge Lizards: Flathead Around The Pylons

Some of the best fish attracting structure is the manmade variety. Unlike many other human exploits, constructions around estuaries, bays and harbours are by no means a bad thing, unless of course they cause some form of pollution. Aside from that, structures such as bridges, wharves, rockwalls and docks often provide first rate habitat for a range of different species.

As a kid, I spent many hours with my mates and alone, soaking baits down at a local timber bridge, which was only a ten minute bike ride from home. Times were a bit safer for youngsters back then, so even fishing into the night wasn’t a concern. The rickety old bridge is just a memory now, having been replaced by a larger concrete structure in the 1980s.
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The author with a nice specimen caught from the shore, adjacent to a road bridge. This is one style of fishing that doesn’t require a boat or kayak.

The Humble Flathead

One of the most commonly caught species around the older and newer bridges was the humble dusky flathead. In fact, even now, a few decades after first catching flathead there, it’s still a flatty hotspot through the warmer months, with a few fish lingering on through the cooler months. After becoming so familiar with catching flathead at that bridge, it’s only been natural that over the years I’ve tried similar techniques to find flathead around many other bridges up and down the coast, often with good success. So even though they’re a widespread and very adaptable species which turn up almost anywhere around an estuary, I would have to rate bridges as one of the most reliable flathead spots of all.

Choosing The Bridge

Like anything, not all bridge structures are the same. We have smaller timber walk bridges, mid-sized road bridges and larger road or rail bridges, with the biggest ones normally being around our larger cities. Of course, they all span different places and types of environment. In many cases, bridges span the narrowest part of a waterway, which means current flow also encourages fish to hang around, taking shelter and feeding. To be a reasonably good place to target flathead, the bridge firstly needs to be accessible by boat, car or foot (legally of course). Quite often, best results actually come from fishing the shore, casting back towards the bridge. Sometimes though, a boat or kayak may be better and it’s possible to fish from the walkway on some bridges. Mostly though, I would be leaning towards fishing from the shore, at one end of the bridge or the other.
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Plenty of fish attracting structure here. Most flathead will be found closer to the pylons through the day, but after dark when the street lights come on, it’s best to cast lures into the illuminated water, which may mean away from the pylons.

 

Casting From Shore

Shore based fishing is simple, easy and when it comes to this style of angling, it produces the goods. So if pressed to nominate the best type of bridge to try your luck, I would be scouting around to find one with some sort of adjacent carpark close to the bridge, a pathway or track that runs along the shoreline and if possible, strong overhead lighting that illuminates the water at night. Another factor that helps is if there are shallower areas somewhere close to the bridge, as this is where bait and flathead often congregate. This generally means smaller to average size bridges are better than really big ones which may be hard to access and only have deep water running below the structure. Deep water is ok, but shallows tend to be better.
Twilight is when most fish are actively moving around, in search of a meal. Flathead do the same, but if there is permanent overhead lighting, they may be keen to swipe at lures right through the night.

Twilight is when most fish are actively moving around, in search of a meal. Flathead do the same, but if there is permanent overhead lighting, they may be keen to swipe at lures right through the night.

Tackling The Task

Pretty much any sort of tackle can be put to use and when soaking baits even a simple handcaster can be great. My preference through, is for a light threadline outfit, similar to what’s commonly used for bream, whiting, bass or flathead in other places. So this means a 1.6 to 2 metre rod matched with a 1500 to 3000 size reel. Mono or braid can be used, but as this article is largely about flicking lures for flathead, I would recommend 3 to 5kg braid, as it provides more sensitivity than mono, so it’s easier to feel the lure bump along the bottom or a fish take a swipe. In the bad old days, wire traces were often used when flathead were the target species, but in modern times nylon mono or fluorocarbon leaders have proven much more successful. Because flathead have those raspy teeth though, a reasonably hard wearing 5 to 12kg leader provides better insurance against lost fish than a finer leader that may be better for bream or whiting. Most of the time a 6kg leader should do the trick and I can thoroughly recommend Sunline FC Rock as a tough leader material.
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A small selection of first rate lures for targeting flathead around bridges. The author favours white soft plastics, but vibes are also top performers.

Bait Versus Lure

Natural baits like live prawns, whitebait, small mullet or strips of fish flesh are very effective on flathead, but lure casting can be every bit as good and a lot more convenient. It’s largely a matter of selecting some suitable lures for the job, using them properly and just being persistent. Without question, soft plastics are proven winners for flathead and around most bridges I would recommend trying white or at least light coloured softies, as they show up well in illuminated water at night. Some excellent models worth trying include 100mm Squidgy Wrigglers and 100mm Berkley Powerbait Minnows.
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Lots of lighting around this bridge, but due to the depth and speedy current, the best approach here is to cast closer in around the edges and shallows.

Not Too Heavy, Not Too Light

Match these or similar plastics to a light to mid weight jig head that sinks to the bottom without being pushed along by the current too much. In very shallow or still water go as light as possible with the jig head, as it may only have to sink half a metre down. Alternatively, vibe style lures are also very good, with metal blades being a smart choice if the water is deeper or the current is flowing hard. If you’re only fishing over those shallow spots then hardbody lures that resemble a small baitfish or prawn are also top performers. Whatever the style of lure, it’s hard to go wrong with white or lighter colours, particularly when those lights are shining down at night. A landing net is very handy when chasing flathead. If fishing from the shore, particularly from higher banks, a net with an extended or extra-long handle is beneficial.
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Small metal blades are rarely refused by flathead and are a good type of lure to try if current flow is pushing soft plastics along, making fishing difficult.

Best Techniques

Through daylight hours its worth casting a lure almost anywhere around a bridge structure to until a fish or two is found. If success is slow to come, then perhaps its best to concentrate more around the actual bridge pylons, including well under the bridge, into the shaded water. Closer to any nearby rockwall, weedy edge or sandy spit is also likely to house a few flathead. As the sun sinks and the lights come on, fish start to move into any illuminated water, especially the shallows. Think along the lines of moths and other insects being attracted top outdoor lighting and you’ll be on the right track. Under the water things work very much the same. Baitfish, prawns and squid are attracted to the lighter spots and predators such as flathead are very aware of this and so move in for a meal. If casting from the shore, stand back from the water to begin with, to avoid spooking any flathead which may be camped right up close to the shoreline. They often do this and have no fear of extremely shallow water at night. After half a dozen casts, move closer to the water and keep fanning out casts in different directions until a fish is found. If anything, put in a lot more casts where it’s lit up by the overhead lighting and the shallower looking spots more than the deeper or darker water.
Those upwards facing eyes are always on the lookout for a meal above. Flathead can easily see a lure falling through the water column and quickly swim towards it.

Those upwards facing eyes are always on the lookout for a meal above. Flathead can easily see a lure falling through the water column and quickly swim towards it.

 

Impart Action For Best Results

  Once a cast is made, allow the lure to sink to the bottom. Then give the rod tip a flick so the lure lifts off the bottom and falls back again. With each hop of the lure, slowly retrieve the line to take up the slack. This doesn’t have to be done super slow, but slower is better than faster. Most flathead will pounce just as the lure is about to hit the bottom. Their eyes are always looking above, for a potential meal or danger, so they can certainly see the lure coming if it’s close enough to them. At times, this style of lure casting, around bridges at night can be extremely effective and a lot of fish are caught. Yes that’s great, but it also means that thoughtful handling and release of fish is a good idea, so you’ll end up bring a few home for a feed, while other fish are left for others to catch or for them to simply go about their business and live to make more baby flathead!
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This fish hit a 100mm Squidgy Wriggler in the ‘drop bear’ colour, which is basically white. It’s a proven winner on bridge lizards.

 
Jamie Robley

About Jamie Robley

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, less than two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Jamie Robley started fishing around his local lakes at an early age. Bream, flathead and tailor were the main source of entertainment for a young Jamie but of course, like many other kids who’ve been bitten by the bug, he quickly became interested in other species and more advanced styles of fishing.

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