Fishing For Flathead In The Far North

The humble flathead is a much adorned and desired species in the southern part of the state. However in northern waters it loses much of its southern shine when compared to other target species such as barramundi, mangrove jacks and thread fin salmon, as North Queensland fishing expert Dan Kaggelis explains here.

This is a bit of a shame as the flathead is just as much a great sportfish and table fish as the aforementioned species and can be just as challenging to target. Whilst many of the same techniques and methods used in the southern part of the state will work on the northern flatties, there are a few lesser known facts that will help to nail a trophy lizard in northern waters. 
First up its important to understand that not all northern systems will hold good numbers of flathead and those which are predominately sandy featured will be better than those deeper muddy creeks. This is because flathead prefer to live and feed off sandier bottom creeks in the north. These creeks are usually much shallower than the predominately mud bottomed creeks as they tend to silt up during flood events. Some systems are characterised by both sand and mud and if you are chasing the sandier ends of creeks fishing towards the mouths will usually find more suitable locations.
Big flathead love a big vibe lure.

Big flathead love a big vibe lure.

Where To Look

You can catch flathead in muddier creeks but they will be less prevalent. 
Once you have found a suitable system it’s time to look at where you will be fishing. When chasing jacks and barra many anglers will target the snags and mangrove ridden banks and forget about the shallow flats style banks adjacent. These flats banks are where you will find the best flathead numbers as they like the baitfish they are chasing are a tasty prey for jacks, barra and cod. Flathead are best found in these relatively shallow flats or drop offs where the flats fall away to the deeper water.

Find A Drop Off

The flatties will often sit on these drop offs and wait for the bait fish like mullet, herring and whiting to slip off them as the tide begins to fall. Waiting patiently they lie completely camouflaged until these unsuspecting bait fish cruise past unaware before being engulfed by their sand paper like mouths. Alternatively they will wait on top of the flats on a rising tide waiting for the bait fish to move up on the flats to feed. The result is the same either way and if you can understand this then you are a good chance of finding a north Queensland flathead. In the north they love to hang around semi submerged timber structure. This is a little different to the southern fish which will quite happily out in the open.
The author with a solid northern flathead.

The author with a solid northern flathead.

Predators

This is because in the north, the flathead have bigger predators to deal with and fish like barramundi, groupers and even crocodiles love to inhale a big flathead. The timber structure not only provides an excellent ambush point but also a point of safety to hide from predators. 
Tides do play a major role in the feeding habits of big flathead and it is best to chase them when the water is at its lowest or is beginning to run out. This will congregate the fish in areas and make them easier to track down. It is a lot easier to see the semi submerged structures as well. Drains also become quite pronounced in the low tides and flathead love to sit at the mouths of a spilling drain waiting for the bait fish to flow out. This is why having that run in the tide is important as flathead love to use currents and flows to funnel bait fish towards them.
Flathead are the masters of camoflage

Flathead are the masters of camoflage

Low Tide Options

If you can read the way the tide is pushing the bait then you are a long way to finding a fish. 
Whilst low tide is a great time you can chase them during times of high water. This is when you can use the high water to get up onto flats which are high and dry on low tide and fish some real shallow water. Getting up amongst the sticky patchy mangrove roots and forests where the bait love to move on the top of the tide is a prime spot to find a big flathead. Using a shallow draft boat to get up and pepper an area with big long cast will help to locate where the fish will be. 
No matter where you fish or what tide you fish on the presence of bait is always important. Look for big shoals of mullet or whiting in the shallows and concentrate your casts in this area.
Long rods are ideal for chasing big flathead as they allow you to cast further.

Long rods are ideal for chasing big flathead as they allow you to cast further.

Fishin’ The Edges

You can bet your last length of leader that there will be a flathead not too far away. Don’t cast into these schools as this will disturb the bait but more around the edges of it as the flathead will see your lure as a loner or separated bait fish and easy prey.
When chasing flathead a thread line or spin outfit is best suited as you can cast further and work soft plastic and vibe lures better with a softer tip. You do want a fairly long rod as this will allow you to get that lure out further and cover more ground. In terms of main line braid you can fish really light as flathead are fair fighters and will not run you into structure. Leader material on the other hand is vital as the sand paper like mouth of a flathead can quickly rub away a poor quality leader. You want to be using a fluorocarbon leader as stealth is important. Fishing shallow sand bottom creeks usually means relatively clean water which makes seeing line pretty easy. You don’t want to fish too heavy with leader for this very reason so finding a quality non abrasive leader is important. I use Sunline Sniper as it provides plenty of toughness but is almost invisible under the water. 
When it comes to lures it’s hard to go past soft plastics in the north. Unlike the southern anglers who fish relatively smaller soft plastics, fishing larger plastics (4inch and above) will result in bigger trophy fish.
Flathead love a prawn lure as well.

Flathead love a prawn lure as well.

Small Plastics

Using small plastics will see plenty of smaller fish hit the mat but not the larger ones. I prefer to use a 5 inch plastic with plenty f tail action fished with small hops across the bottom. I love the colour red, white and pink for flathead and these are my go to colours. When soft plastic fishing be on the feel for small bites and sucking feeling as flathead love to engulf lures with the most subtle of action.
My favourite northern flathead lure- the Berkley Crazy legs.

My favourite northern flathead lure- the Berkley Crazy legs.

Game, Set, Match

  If you feel a bite make sure you strike as its more than likely that a flathead has your lure in its mouth. Vibes are also ideal in deeper water drop offs as they bounce well across the bottom providing plenty of action. Hard bodies can be used and trolled but are not as effective as they can create too much disturbance and scare the fish away. Bait is also an excellent option and there is little better than a live whiting floated across the flats. Flathead love whiting and will quickly devour one if presented in their area. When using a bite rig fish as light as possible 
Flathead are a top target species and one which very much flys under the radar in the north.

‘They are certainly worth the effort and are fun to catch and taste great.’ Dan Kaggelis

Dan Kaggelis

About Dan Kaggelis

Born in Tully, North Queensland, Dan cut his fishing teeth in the region’s freshwater rivers chasing the tropical triumvirate of sooty grunter, jungle perch and barramundi. With fishing running thick in the Kaggelis family, Dan was fortunate to experience many extended trips to the Western Cape and Gulf of Carpentaria from a young age. This instilled a deep affection for the sport. Living so close to Great Barrier Reef, offshore fishing was also very much included in recreational activities as was free diving and spearfishing.

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