Flathead on Fly: Catching flatties with the long wand

Baitos, lure fishermen and flyfishos all share a pretty solid common interest in flathead, probably more so than any other species, Flathead are easily targeted by all three codes at all levels of experience. Flathead, lizards, frogs or crocs range in types but you will find them all over the country, known as many different names, they nearly all basically behave the same and are a year round option. So much has already been written about these predators but not much really focuses on fly fishing for them. For me it was the first species I caught on fly, and is the species that I highly recommend to those getting into flyfishing to get the monkey of their back. In saying that and as it turns out they are not easy but are very accessible for all levels.

Perfect conditions and a perfect fly fishing target … the flathead.


The Perfect Fly Target?

It’s amazing that there isn’t reams and reams written about them when to comes to flyfishing, they would have to be hard to beat for a beginner species that also regularly attracts the interest of the experienced flyfisho. From a beginners perspective they don’t require big long stealthy casts, they don’t require expensive gear or multiple setups, even the flies are relatively simple. Experienced guys can easily target big crocs with specific gear and fly selection when choosing to either sight cast fish in shallow water or dredging fast sinking lines in deep water where bait is likely to hold.
A full box of flies ...ready for a session on flathead.

A full box of flies …ready for a session on flathead.

 Starting Your Journey 

I am going to assume that by engaging in this article, you the reader are not looking for tips to get your first ever flathead on bait or lures as there is heaps of info available here on Kaydo which is a fantastic resource for this bread and butter species. I want to expand on how accessible they are to the average flyfisho, in fact they really are an easy target for flyfishing.

This angler enjoyed picture-perfect conditions and reaped the reward – a flathead on fly.


Easily Accessible

We already know that flathead can be found in mere inches of water, and shallow drop offs, this a great scenario that is perfect for flyfishing. Using an intermediate line the angler can simply cast a nice and simple white clouser up into the shallow water and with short sharp strips, start to retrieve the fly as the bottom falls away into deeper water. The perfect technique is very simple, it is assisted by fly and line selection and as long as the fly is allowed to make contact with the bottom throughout the retrieve you are doing it right. The fly mentioned earlier is called a Clouser, or Clouser Minnow to be exact, and is probably the most adaptable fly you can own for all species but in this circumstance the Clouser is a slayer for Flathead. Essentially, you have a hook with a set of usually brass dumbbell type eyes tied onto the hook shank on the opposite side to the gape so that it rides hook point up.
Flat-Attack: A nice flathead boat side prior to being netted.

Flat-Attack: A nice flathead boat side prior to being netted.

Perfect Action

This action and the keeling properties of this fly is highlighted by the body material which is traditionally Bucktail, a natural hair harvested and processed from Deer. Bucktail is hollow or more accurately cellular, the advantage to all that trapped air in every strand allows it to have a very enticing action in the water even when stationary, and when tied correctly, ensures the hook point is always riding up. Riding hook point up is handy when you need constant contact with the bottom for optimum success with Flathead. In my opinion, the only synthetic needed is a couple of strands of flash, it’s not necessary to use synthetic material for the body or winging material, in fact it you will reduce the action and fish attracting attributes of this pattern, again in my opinion , you can’t beat the action of natural materials.

Big Girls Down Deep

It’s pretty common knowledge that the big girls reside down deep, the same sort of water you would expect to catch aJewfish for example is a great place to start. Targeting these big girls on fly is well and truly in reach of the average flyfisherman. Keep your Clouser on, again this will be a great choice for this style of fishing, bigger versions of Clousers or even bigger profiles like flash tail whistlers or variation of like pink things and black and barred flies will do the trick here. A fast sink line is a must here, sinking at a rate of 6-8 inches per second allows you to get you fly down quick, but even more importantly, knowing that sink rate allows you to put your fly exactly where you want it. It is ideal that in both deep and shallow water, your fly sinks quicker than your line, this allows a jigging action when stripping the line in and imparting the desired action on the fly, all the time while maintaining contact with the bottom after the appropriate pause. I might add here that slack line is your enemy here, casting up current or across the current will not allow you to feel the sometimes subtle eat of those big fish very well, it will also not allow you to achieve a very good action on the fly.
Using a sinking line or heavier weighted fly such as a closer minnow will help you get to the deeper dwelling flathead.

Using a sinking line or heavier weighted fly such as a closer minnow will help you get to the deeper dwelling flathead.

On Top?

I am yet to see too much success on surface fly fishing for Flathead, I know it’s been done however this is pretty much an unexploited fishery. Small Gurglers, booby flies and disco shrimps would have to be the fly of choice with this style of fishing, matched with long leaders and a flats style line, like a clear line with mono core such as the lines available Monic range, will allow a good level of stealth needed for skinny water predators. As with all of the above methods, I choose a rod length two piece leader for Flathead, with my preference leaning towards fluorocarbon. I know some guys will choose 10kg for abrasion resistance due to the set of teeth these fish have and the violent head shakes they have at the surface, but I generally find flies remain in the lip most circumstances and so I usually fish a 5kg tippet and a10kg but section of equal length.
Casting flies to shallow water is the way to search out feeding flathead.

Casting flies to shallow water is the way to search out feeding flathead.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, Whichever way you look at it, flyfishing for flathead can be as agricultural or as technical as you like, it’s not limited by experience either. You would expect reasonable success from wading the sandbanks on the run out tide as you would sounding deep channels with a boat. In my experience, I’m not sure how long it would have taken to fall in love with flyfishing or flats type fishing in general if it wasn’t for Flathead.

‘But it could have only been better if they didn’t have those bloody spikes.’ Chris Adams

Chris Adams

About Chris Adams

My name is Chris Adams, I am based on the Sunshine Coast and have been fishing my entire life, from simple hand lines and a prawn on a hook off jetties as a kid to nothing but artificials from the age of 10. I cut my teeth on bass in the local creeks and from there, progressed from Lures to Flyfishing. Having been Flyfishing exclusively for the past 12 years, I have been to many places all over Australia and the world all thanks to my love of sight fishing. I have previously been the president of the Saltwater Flyfishing Association and a certified casting instructor with the Federation of Flyfishers (FFF), I am still a practising casting instructor and most recently a low volume commercial fly tier. These days I have evolved into a more all rounder and will mix it up between conventional and Flyfishing whenever I feel as though one has more of an advantage to the other. My favourite type of fishing is any type of sight fishing, from bream on the flats in landlocked lakes, to the pelagics cruising the flats inside Fraser Island, saratoga both wild and impounded to nones and GTs on the flats of Kiritimati. Sight fishing is my preferred style is of hunting but my heart will always be with Aussie bass.


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