Fishing shallow tidal flats is a very enjoyable form of fishing & rates as one of my favorite methods of fishing. There is a lot of enjoyment to be had fishing with light tackle & using either bait or lures & working a sand flat for species like Bream ,Flathead & Whiting. I am going to concentrate on these 3 species but all types of other fish can & do turn up when fishing shallow water flats. This type of fishing is not solely restricted to boat fisherman & the land based angler can get into the action as well. At times wading can be more effective than fishing from a boat. I am going to lay out some of my methods & the type of lures I prefer in this article & cover the rest in later sections. These methods are effective on most tidal flats but are a guide only & may need to be adapted to suit your local area & conditions. Lures are personal choice & with soft plastic lures in particular there is a huge range available in many types & colours & sizes & most will catch fish so always have a few alternate types & colours & don't be afraid to experiment. I am trying different methods & ways of rigging almost daily so I will update these pages as I find more effective ways of fishing.
Flats Fishing Areas Every flat is has a different make up but the type I like to fish border on deeper channels & have some current running across them during the tides. To be a good area it needs some type of structure on it as well. Flats with some type of structure generally fish a lot better than those without. By structure I mean weed beds , rock outcrops, mangroves & anything else that will provide either shelter for bait fish or a home for small crustaceans. Other things to look for when searching for a good flat are yabbie (nipper) holes & areas inhabited by soldier crabs. There are some examples of structure at the bottom of this page. The best way to get to know an area is walk it at low tide (check the firmness on mud flats first) & look for signs where fish have been feeding or laying on the bottom in the case of flathead. If the flat is soft mud then drift over it on a rising tide so you can have a good look at the bottom. Bream & whiting leave small crater shaped depressions about 5 to 10cm across where they are sucking crustaceans out of the bottom while flathead leave a very distinctive outline where they have been laying waiting to ambush baitfish. Make note of the areas where the fish have been as they will return to these same areas to feed. These are the areas you need to be putting your lures or bait in at high tide & if in an area where the water is murky during the tide some sort of marker can be handy to help locate it at high water.
Checking an area out thoroughly before hand will improve your results but keep in mind that some areas fish better on different stages of the tide than others as the fish are moving around feeding & I like to have 2 or 3 different flats sorted out so if one is slow I can move to another to search the fish out. Think of flats areas like paddocks & the fish sheep. Fish can deplete an area of flats by constant feeding so they move from one flat to another when the food diminishes in the same way farmers give a paddock rests to let it recover from grazing. The other point is fish become semi resident in an area & once you have taken a few good fish from an area it can take a little while for others to move in especially so with flathead.
I prefer a light thread line outfit for this type of fishing so I can cast light lures & bait a good distance. When I am using soft plastics I mainly use jig heads of 1/16 ounces or lighter so a rod with a light tip is very important. I prefer a rod of between 6 & 7 feet in length that will suit 2 or 3 kilo line & definitely lean towards the longer end of the scale. In flats fishing being able to make long casts is extremely important . There are quite a few suitable rods on the market for this type of fishing but if you intend to do a lot of lure fishing I would recommend a high quality rod preferably a high modulus graphite rod for lightness & durability that will cast & give a good feel of the lure. I use an Okuma Epix EFS-20 spooled with 2 kilo Fireline in smoke colour. The reel has an excellent drag & handles the braided line well. I use fireline for its thin diameter & the non stretch properties so I can feel every touch on a lure or soft plastic bait. In reality 2 kilo or 4 pound fireline breaks well over its rated strength at around 10 pounds or 4.5 kilos & this strength of line is more than ample for any bream or flathead in this type of fishing but heavier breaking strains may be needed for casting lures into snaggy areas or around oyster leases. I normally use a trace of either 3 or 4 kilo material attached to the end of my fireline to reduce the chance of spooky fish seeing the line & depending on the species I either use 4 kilo Berkley Vanish leader material made from Fluorocarbon or 3 kilo Platypus Platinum nylon line. More on leaders later. I will leave it at that for rods & reels as there are many reels suitable for the job & everyone has there favorite brand & opinions vary on the best type of rod for the job. I will only say if you intend to do a lot of this type of fishing spend the money & buy a top line outfit both rod & reel. As this type of fishing involves a lot of casting weight is a very important factor when considering an outfit. The lighter the better.
There are many types of hard body lures that are effective on bream & flathead when fishing shallow flats.
When targeting bream in these areas when I am using hard body lures I prefer a lure which dives to around 1.5 meters in depth & which floats or at least holds its depth when the retrieve is stopped. I prefer lures of around 30 to 35 mm long for bream. Lures like this are very useful as they can be fished around around structure & the edges of weed beds & will take both flathead & bream plus the odd whiting but can also be used to fish directly over the top of shallow weed beds at high tide which often results in a strike from a flathead laying in ambush.
When targeting Flathead I like larger lures that dive deep & dig into the bottom causing a lot of disturbance of the bottom & I generally go for lures of 35mm plus in length. I have found when lure fishing around the flats that small lures consistently produce small flathead & an increase in lure size means an increase in the size of flathead but less strikes as the bigger flatties aren't nearly so prolific. With Flathead fishing bigger is better in my experience & lures of 150mm in length are fine for larger flathead.
Carry a couple colours always as fish will eat one colour one day & then change the next at times. Some of my favorites are the Ecogear SX-40F Tournament Special , Halco Sneaky Scorpions , Halco Scorpions, Deception Palaemon, Rebel Crawfish, Attack Minnows , Mann's Lures, Tilsan ,Oar Gee Li'l Rippers , Rapala Jointed Minnows, Lively Lures Mad Mullet & Shads. That's just a few of what is available. Examples of some are shown below.
It is a must that you check the lures action in the water before using it. Small minnows are sensitive little things & can be fiddly to tune so they swim properly. Attach the lure using a loop knot so the lure is free to swim properly & then check the action. I use an 8 turn Uni knot to attach my lures & leave a small loop instead of pulling it down tight. After a fish check the knot has not pulled tight as thing can wreck the lures action. The lure must swim upright & if not adjust the front eyelet until it does. If the lure runs left then bend the eyelet slightly right & visa versa if it runs to the right. A well tuned lure is critical in this type of fishing especially for bream. Time spent getting the lure right will pay off in fish caught.
I replace the trebles on my lures with chemically sharpened treble hooks such as VMC or Gamakatsu's & depending on lure size I use anywhere from Size 12 up to size 8. Bream are the main reason for this as when they take a lure you are normally trying to penetrate the tough lips or corner of the jaw. Still hooks need to be sharp whether for bream or flathead & I carry a fine diamond hone for touching up hook points after a fish. The hard mouth of a bream takes hook points off very quickly so check your hooks after every strike whether you hook up or not.
Now here's a real can of worms pardon the pun. Soft plastics have taken off in popularity over the last year or so & there are many brands available. The choice of sizes , colours, shapesÊ is mind boggling to say the least. It seems everyone you talk to has there own favorite type/ colour. Nearly all the soft lures available will catch fish & some more than others. They are not expensive to buy & I like to carry several sizes & colours & keep changing until I get strikes. If I had to name a favorite for flats fishing it would be the Ecogear Paramax grub in the 2" model or Pumpkinseed colour . Other types I use are Atomic 2" Fat Tail grubs & 1.75" Paddle tails in Crawdad Chartreuse & Pumpkin seed respectively. There are many brands & styles of soft plastic baits around now & they are changing constantly. Lately the Berkley Bass Minnows are very popular& its almost impossible to keep up with the favorites in an article like this. There is more information on on fishing soft plastics in the 3 articles I have written on them & it can be found at my Articles Page.
It is extremely important to have razor sharp hooks when fishing with soft plastic lures. Even more important than when fishing hard body lures. Due to the soft nature of the lure & the fact that many have either scent built in or scent you have applied to them fish especially bream will mouth them as they would a bait & the hook needs to penetrate then. Often your line will not be as tight to a jig as it would a hard body lure due to the lightness of the jig head plus wind & current so it needs to penetrate at the slightest touch. Check your hook points every few casts whether you get a bite or not & ensure it is very sharp. I use Owner & Gamakatsu jig heads as in my opinion they are the best around.The Nitro jig heads are very good also. The hooks are very sharp & even though they are made of fine wire they are very strong.Ê In my area I use the Round 25 size 2 Hook in 1/16 ounce plus Round 29 size 4 hook in 1/16 ounce & Round 211 size 2 hook in 1/32 ounce. With the slider heads I use the 1/4 ounce size with a number 1 hook & these are mainly used for flathead. I also use the Owner weedless jig heads a lot & they are very handy .There are 3 important things to remember when using soft plastics. Firstly they must be rigged so they lie straight on the hook. Secondly the hook must be very sharp & thirdly try to use the lightest head you can get away with under the conditions.
I prefer to use fluorocarbon leader for all my SP & HB fishing. I have tried many types & I have that Yamatoyo suits my needs perfectly. It has great abrasion resistance & excellent knot strength. Again it's a personal choice thing. Ask 10 different anglers & you will be told 10 different answers on brands.
I like to use a leader of around 2 meters fishing around the flats & normally I use 4 pound Yamatoyo. I change up to 6 pound if I am fishing around any type of structure. I think a reasonably long leader is preferable when fishing flats especially in clear water.
There is more detailed information on SP fishing in my SP articles.