Sandy Straits Flatties – Andy Pennell 2017

The humble flathead may just be the perfect fish. From its accessibility to shore-based anglers to its qualities on the table, there is a lot to like about our flat boned friend.

A lot of my time during the cooler months is spent chasing these fish with various methods and while the modest flathead may not draw the ‘bookface likes’ that a big barra or red emperor demand they still get the heart racing when their speckled flanks materialise from the depths.

Due to the warmer than average water temps our annual run of snapper has been noticeably thin on numbers within the Hervey Bay region.

This has in turn seen increased numbers of anglers chasing everyone’s favourite back up plan, the dusky flathead. Much of the Sandy Straits consists of mangrove-fringed shoreline that drains onto shallow sand flats. This is where most anglers concentrate their efforts with generally favourable results.

On a recent trip I began systematically hitting these expansive shallow margins paying particular effort to work my lure through the slightly deeper drains chiselled by the last of an outgoing tide.

As I worked my way down the coast I began picking up the odd rat flathead and felt as if I was not achieving much for my effort.

As the tide bottomed out I made the decision to try something different.

After a 20 minute run I spied an area where fingers of coffee rock ran perpendicular to the bank.

As the tide began to pump back in, things immediately looked more promising.

The oxygen charged water began to cover the ridges of these rock formations and bait started to aggregate tight to them within minutes.

There would have been no more than three inches of water over one particular rock when a handful of prawns showered in panic trying to escape the jaws of an oogly below.

I grabbed a rod rigged with the only presentation I could tweak in water that skinny. That happened to be an Atomic Hardzin the shallow style.

I fired it out and tentatively worked the tiny hardbody over the oyster-covered pinnacle before it was crunched by something with serious weight.

I am sure we have all been met with the odd fish that distinctly feels as though it doesn’t know it’s hooked before it ‘wakes up’, so to speak. This was one of those occasions.

As I loaded the rod up and applied pressure the sizable thing on the other end did the same.

After three or four 20 metre runs, I began to think I had pinned a stray tailor or possibly a diamond trevally.

As I eased the fish up through the water column, an absolute donkey of a flatty slid into view and doggedly began to shake its shovel fashioned head from side to side, as they are famous for.

It’s about that time of the fight when you begin to second guess the light leader material you chose in a bid to maximise how natural your offering looks.

Fortunately, the fluorocarbon leader held and around 80cm of dusky flathead slipped into the net.

I know, I hear what you’re saying, 80cm is no world beater and there are plenty of 90cm plus flatties pulled every week in the Gold Coast Broadwater.

My point is this fish wasn’t caught on a 5 inch plastic bombed to the bottom of deep water on a beefy lead endowed jig head.

It was sight cast in mere inches of water.

There are literally thousands of these locations throughout the Hervey Bay/ Sandy Straits area and there definitely seems to be a good number of 70cm to 85cm flathead to   be caught if you are prepared to try something different to the rest of the crowd.

It appeared like these big flathead where using these rocks as barriers to herd bait up against similar to the way a G.T would do with a school of  fusiliers and a coral reef edge.

I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility to target these types of environments with surface lures like Bassday Sugarpens with good results.

Really big flatties off the surface would take this exciting style of fishing to the next level so watch this space.

As the afternoon wore on I repeated the same process over the next hour and scored a few more quality flathead.

Tweaking little bibbed, floating, hard-bodied lures in insanely scant water over these barnacle emblazoned rock bars proved to be the winning formula.

I was using what would essentially be classed as ‘bream’ gear purely to get distance on my cast but after the first big croc I upsized my leader from 8lb to around 14lb and landed every fish with little fuss even when hooking some specimens deeper in the mouth.

The only technique to note would be to keep your rod tip as high as possible once these big flathead are hooked.

They have a habit of dipping below these encrusted outcrops once hooked, leaving the obstacle between them and the angler which shreds leaders quicker than your mother can unbutton her overalls.

While it can be difficult to resist trying to bully a big flathead over a rock in these situations it can pay to motor up on the hooked fish either under extremely light drag or with the bail arm over until the line is free before winding tight again.

A three or four kilo flathead has enough bulk and drag in the water to require a game plan when targeting them in tiger country like this.

I don’t know if it’s my memories of flathead being the highlight of my school holidays many moons ago that keeps me romanticizing this iconic, everyman’s fish or the fact that the sight of a big flat girl sawing through my leader still makes me weak at the knees.

However, one thing is for sure. I am always happy to see one.

So next time you’re out on the water remember this simple technique and file it away as it might just see a few big flatties hit the deck.

See you round the ridges.