Deepwater Flathead On Fly
Dave "Nugget" Downie
Fly fishing for flathead conjures up thoughts of wading shallow sand flats or casting deceivers at draining creek mouths, however a major increase in recreational water activity throughout most estuary systems means that stealth casting in the shallows can be slow and unproductive. A fish lying in less than a meter of water is a very weary hunter. The same fish using bottom structure for cover in five to ten meters of water is less concerned about boat noise and more inclined to feed longer and less cautiously.
Techniques needed to target deep water flathead are totally foreign to a fly fishers perception of luring a lizard. Firstly forget notions of sand hiding crocodiles and look for bottom structure that gives the fish its ability to ambush, the lee side of a sunken tree is a prime hiding spot. Logs strewn on a sandy bottom is like a McDonalds drive through to a hungry flathead. These snags are usually found on the edges of the main water flow or at a junction or split in a water course where flood tides deposit them. A sand spit that drops into deep water can be a catchment for debris. This means that in many prime looking spots the tidal flow can be a raging torrent. The technique used to present a fly to these fish is far from accepted flathead fishing methods.
Lets start with fly patterns. In a fast flowing waterway bait is carried past a prospective hungry flathead at a fair rate of knots. The fish has a split second to decide whether to eat it or not. As long as it resembles some form of bait-fish, a hungry lizard will pounce on it. It has been my experience that high contrast colors such as pink and black, yellow and black or light and dark is a good choice. It is not necessary to present an exact imitation, it is more important to get the fishes attention than to mimic a particular bait-fish. Leftys Deceiver, Pink Thing or any other streamer type fly will do the trick. The most important characteristic of the fly is to give it life. A varied retrieve of short jerks and long strips will bring the fly to life and entice a feeding flathead to take. A good tip is to spend lots of time in shallow water practicing stripping hand techniques to add life to your retrieve.
So now we have a realistic behaving high contrast fly pattern the next requirement is to get it within the strike zone and keep it there for as long as possible.
I use a very fast even sinking line and a technique specially developed to get the fly in front of the fish and keep it there as long as possible. Drift with the current 20 meters or so away from the area you want to fish and cast towards it. The problem with this method is you will drift past prime country too fast, so I use half a small bucket of concrete as a slow me down anchor weight. You can use a brick or a full bucket of cement depending on the size of your boat. Dragging this weight does two things. Firstly it slows down the drift to allow you more time with your fly in the strike zone. Secondly it stops your boat spinning around, keeping it in the one direction which makes life a lot easier.
You cast towards the front of the boat and as the line sinks and tries to overtake the boat you strip line. By the time you have the fly back in the boat you have retrieved over an arc starting at the bow and ending at the stern. Depending on the amount of current flow you can usually get four or five casts in a 100 meter stretch of bank. You could anchor up within casting distance of a good looking spot but when you cast the current flow will only give you seconds with your fly in the area were the flathead are likely to by lying. By drifting at about half the current speed you keep your fly in the water for twice the length of time.
This technique used along Kalinga Bank, Short Island or any other deep water bank has been very productive over the past few seasons.
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