How to catch flathead

Flathead are hugely popular in Australia, being easy to catch and good to eat.

Australia has several species of flathead found throughout the tropical and temperate coastal environment, from far up tidal rivers to the deep sea.

They have similar feeding habits, therefore the same methods catch them.

Flathead generally lie on the bottom, waiting for a passing morsel.

All you have to do to catch them is find the flathead and present a suitable bait or lure.

When they are not lying in ambush flathead can be quite mobile, usually moving along with the tide.

They are generally targeted by amateur fishos in rivers, estuaries, bays, coastal lakes and shallow coastal waters.

Flathead-shaped depressions on sandflats at low tide reveal where numbers of fish are likely to be at high tide.

Flathead take a variety of baits.

Effective baits include live or fresh small fish, prawns and squid.

Soft plastic lures and hard-bodied lures that imitate small fish or prawns are often effective.

Where possible, use baits that are commonly found locally.

Otherwise, packet baits such whitebait, bluebait, pilchards and prawns will catch fish.

Flathead lie in wait on sandy or muddy bottoms, near structure such as sandbars, drop-offs, channels, weedbeds, and around and on rock outcrops.

Look for areas where bait is present.

Flathead are caught all year but are often most active in the warmer months, so focus efforts during spring and summer.

Flathead are a bit difficult to handle, having sharp spikes on their gills and sharp teeth. This, and their unusual shape, can make them tricky for newbies to fillet.

Flathead fishing techniques

There are several effective ways to catch flathead.

Casting and retrieving soft plastic lures or hard-bodied lures is a popular method.

Bouncing a soft plastic lure or bait along the bottom, mimicking a wounded or struggling prey, can usually trigger a strike.

Fish the mouths of mud drains on an outgoing tide, and flats edges on a rising tide.

Drifting or slowly trolling with live or fresh bait on a running sinker with a long trace is also effective, especially in areas with some current/tidal movements.

Flathead will often lie on flat rocks near sand, so these areas are worth a try too.

Flathead are opportunistic feeders but can be selective at times.

Vary your retrieve or bait presentation until you get hits.

If landbased, choose a spot where you can walk along the bank to cover more ground.

Deep water fishing for species such as tiger flathead usually involves drifting over suitable grounds with baits set on or near the bottom.

Fishing tackle for flathead

A 3-6kg spinning outfit is suitable for general estuary and light boat flathead. See eBay listings for 3-6kg spinning combos and more here.

The above outfit can be used on shallow, low-energy beaches, but a dedicated light surf rod would be better for beach fishing. See combo listings here, or buy a light surf rod separately to use with your 3-6kg reel.

For boat fishing in estuaries, use the 3-6kg spinning outfit. A shorter, stouter rod/spinning reel combo loaded with 10kg line is ideal for flathead fishing in deeper water for species such as tiger flathead, and can also be used to cast lures to pelagic fish. See eBay listing here. Rods around 7′ long are ideal for boat fishing.

Soft plastic lures work well on flathead, see eBay listings here.

Jig heads are needed for unrigged soft plastic lures. See eBay listings here. Once again, choose smaller sizes and lighter weights to help you present a lures in a realistic manner. Resin jigheads allow suspension-like presentation of lures, but their light weight make distance casting more difficult.

For most flathead bait fishing, ball sinkers are used as part of a running sinker rig where the sinker slides along the line, allowing a fish to easily run with a baited hook. See eBay listings for ball sinkers here, see listings for star sinkers here. For deep fishing with paternoster rigs use snapper leads, see here.

Hooks in mixed sizes are needed. Around 4/0 is ideal for flathead. See eBay listings here.

Ganged hooks (joined chains of hooks) are often used when fishing pilchard or garfish baits for large flathead. See listings on eBay here.

Other items you may need are wire trace to stop big flathead biting through your line, see eBay listings here. Heavy nylon trace can be used for average sized flathead. Use swivels to stop line twist when using spinning lures here.

A good filleting knife helps clean your fish, see some here, use a sharpening stone for knives and hooks here.

Bait jigs can be used to catch baitfish for flathead, see here, a sharpening stone for knives and hooks here, or use a cast net or drag net.


Flathead have a spiky dorsal fin, gill spines and sharp teeth, so handle them with care.

Use a landing net or gripper to handle the fish and avoid getting spikedn. If you plan to release the fish, minimise handling and return it to the water quickly.

Here’s are two good ways to fillet them.

How to fillet flathead – Method 1

Put the fish on its back and cut across the body through the belly flap behind the pelvic fins.

Put the knife in the anus and cut lengthwise up to the first cut behind the pelvic fins.

Remove innards.

With the fish on its back cut through each side of the backbone.

Put the flathead on its side and cut through along each side to the backbone.

Put the fish on its belly and cut through the back skin.

Separate the fillets from the backbone.

Run the knife down each side of the rib cage bones to separate the fillets from the ribs.

Skin part of the tail end of the fillet by running the knife between the skin and flesh with the skin-side down and the knife angled to the ground, then use the small flap of skin to pull the skin off the flesh.

How to fillet flathead – Method 2 (simpler)

Put the fish on its side and cut into the thick end of the fillet just behind the pelvic fins.

With the knife still in the fish, angle the knife to the back of the fish and proceed to cut the fillet along the backbone down almost to the tail, but leave the skin attached to the tail.

Pull the attached fillet away from the fish and start skinning the tail end of the fillet by running the knife between the skin and flesh with the skin-side down and the knife angled to the ground.

Once about 3cm of skin is off, grab the fillet and skin and carefully tear the skin off the flesh, this will take the bones with it and leave you with a fillet.

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