How to catch flathead

Fishing for Flathead in the Hawkesbury River


Flathead are a common fish in the Hawkesbury & Pittwater. The reasonably shallow water & an abundance of weed beds & drop offs to hunt around are ideal for flathead & flounder. The 2 main species taken are the Dusky Flathead & the Sand Flathead. Fishing for Flathead with lures or bait is successful with the majority of the large fish coming in on live baits or lures. Flathead are pretty good on the table & are reasonable fighters when hooked on lures in the jaw but can be a bit sluggish when hooked deep on bait.

Flathead Seasons

The summer months are generally the best as the flathead are more active , & any time between October & may will produce a flathead or two. I think if I had to more specific March & April would probably be the best 2 months for producing large flathead. There are always a few flathead about even during winter & a bit of effort will normally produce a fish.


Flathead are spread right through Pittwater & the Hawkesbury & will turn up just about anywhere in the area. I will list a few areas here for those unfamiliar with these areas but there are dozens of good spots which are worth looking at particularly if you are fishing lures. Firstly Pittwater there is a good Flathead drift between Stokes Point & Taylor's Point & another good drift is across the entrance to Towlers Bay. Drifting between Observation Point & across to Mackerel Beach is good also. My favorite drift is from Barrenjoey down along the flats at the back of Palm beach to the red navigation mark off Palm beach wharf. This is a good area for casting lures & jigs for flathead in amongst the weed beds. In the Hawkesbury itself there are many good areas as well. The well known drift between Juno Point & Flint & Steel has produced many flathead as does drifting between the road & rail bridges. If the wind is right a drift from Dangar Island down to Juno along the shallow eastern shore works well but there are some very shallow areas. I have had a fair bit of success drifting in close to the rocks at the eastern side of Patonga Beach also. Flathead like weed beds & drop offs & there are many suitable areas for them but these few should give you a starting point.

Flathead fishing tackle

Tackle for flathead fishing covers a wide range depending on how you want to fish for them. You can drift with a hand line & catch just as many flathead as a bloke fishing with a $500 overhead or threadline outfit. I use either a bait casting or threadline outfit with either 3 or 4 kilo line for most of my flathead fishing. I use a fly outfit at times also. The tackle you use for bream fishing will do fine. There are some good size flathead around in Pittwater & the Hawkesbury River but the flathead that cannot be stopped on 3 kilo line has not been made yet :-) . Using light line reduces water drag when drifting & allows the use of lighter sinkers when drifting & if you are lure fishing it aids casting distance. A range of hooks is needed in different sizes from 2/0 through to 6/0 to cover the different baits used. A couple of sets of ganged hooks as well. If you intend lure fishing I have found Mr. Twisters in fluorescent green & hot pink work very well & you will need the heads in a couple of weights. I have also been using rubber worms & getting results. There are many deep diving minnow lures on the market which work on flathead & I like the Mann's range in 10+. A few sinkers ranging from small ball sinkers through to aboutÊ 50 grams & you are in business. I will not go into lure fishing too much in this article as it will be covered properly in a later article.


Like in all types of fishing the more simple the rig the less drama you have & the more success you have. When I am drifting for flathead I simply use a 3 way swivel with a dropper of about 1/2 of a meter to my sinker at the bottom of the rig. I use a slightly shorter dropper to my hook. I rig like this as I prefer to have my bait suspended up slightly off the bottom particularly when using pilchards on ganged hooks. A rig I have used a lot & had a lot of success with particularly in the shallow areas in Pittwater is use a Mr Twister jig at the bottom of the rig instead of a sinker so you have a lure / bait combination out. This works well for me & apologies now to the lure fishing purists. Sorry its not conventional but it works really well :-) I have in a fast drift just simply a running sinker on top of the hook works best. I DO NOT use any heavy trace at all as it detracts from the appearance of the bait or lure & is a waste of time. Flathead DO NOT saw through through line if handled properly! More on this in methods. When lure fishing with minnow lures etc I use a loop knot to attach them as it helps the lure work at its best but just a normal Uni knot on the rubber lures like twisters.

Bait for Flathead

Flathead will eat just about anything they can swallow. But like any other fish the better the bait the better the results. I like to use small mullet live for bait & in my opinion these would be No.1 for flathead. Fresh prawns are great too even better if they are live. If you aren't using live bait whole pilchards on ganged hooks go well as do strips of fresh mullet , tuna, or even tailor. I personally don't use yellowtail much as cut bait as I have not had a lot of success with it. Frozen prawns & worms are OK if you are stuck as flatties are not very fussy but use fresh if you have a choice at all.

Fishing methods

I prefer to drift when bait fishing for flathead & prefer a run out tide same as when lure fishing. Moving baits that cover a lot of ground score fish. When you are baiting up especially when using small mullet as live bait it is important to match the size of the hook to the bait. too large a hook will make the bait tire & die rapidly as well as making it look unnatural. If the drift is fast I hook my live baits lightly through the top jaw starting from inside the mouth. The reason for this being the bait gets towed along head into the current & can breathe properly & will survive much longer than one hooked up in front of the dorsal fin. In a fast drift a bait hooked through the dorsal will end up being towed tail first & being unable to breath will die rapidly. If using live prawns they can either be hooked up by inserting the hook through just under the horn on top of his head in fast drifts or in a slow drift just hook him up through the second last section of shell in front of his tail. pilchards are just baited up as you would normally rig a pillies same as the baiting up with strip baits. A point to remember is make sure the baits lay straight on the hook so as to avoid twist in the line while drifting. A poorly rigged bait will twist your line into an unmanageable mess in no time. As with all bait fishing use sharp hooks & leave the point of the hook clear. Make sure you use enough lead toÊ stay on the bottom. You do not want the bait planing up away from the bottom at all if possible. You need to be able to feel the lead bumping along the bottom constantly. In this type of fishing better a bit heavy than light. Try slowly lifting the bait off the bottom about 1/3 of a meter & dropping it back as a bit of added movement will often attract a flatheads attention & if you are using a jig on the bottom it is important to do this to give the jig some action. When a flathead bites you will often feel a couple sharp tugs as he first grabs the bait then you will feel his weight as he goes back to the bottom. I find just winding the line tight & a gentle strike is enough as flathead generally hook them selves when taking the bait provided plenty of point has been left exposed. If you have hooked a big flathead he will take a few short runs but the flathead gives up pretty quickly when hooked on bait as they normally are hooked deep in the gills or guts. Just take them easy as flathead don't normally spit the hook. Where most people lose flathead is right at the boat. The reason for this is that when the fish comes to the surface if his head breaks the surface he will immediately start thrashing his head from side to side & those little spike teeth of his will saw through even 10 kilo line very quickly. LEAVE THE UNDER THE SURFACE until you are ready to gaff or net him. A flathead will swim along next to the boat very happily provided his head has not broken the surface & he will not start that sawing action at all. While fishing the far south coast & wading large sand flats for whiting using 2 kilo line I have led large flathead up too 100 meters or more to get to a dry bank to slide them up on. I simply held the tip under the surface & they just swam along no problem at all & I was NEVER bitten off. I prefer a small sharp gaff for flathead but if you prefer a net get it under the surface & lead the fish into it. When I gaff flathead I gaff them about a foot under the surface & preferably through the head as they are an easy target. If you are caught without a net or a gaff then just start them a couple feet under the surface & keep them coming over the side in one movement. I have dealt at length with this aspect of flathead fishing at length as 9 out of every 10 big fish are lost by being held on the surface while they saw through the line.

When lure fishing for flathead I like to work weedy banks & shallow areas & work my lures along or near the bottom in the gaps between the weed beds. If you are using rubber lures the slower the better. With hard bodied lures speed varies as the speed of the retrieve will govern the depth to a degree but try to get the lure as close to the bottom as possible with the maximum action. Areas & methods for this will be covered in detail in a later article.

Kill your flathead quickly if you intend to eat them by putting a knife through the head just behind the line of the eyes. I like to gut & gill the fish quickly & ice them down as fast as I can as this improves the taste. I like flathead wrapped in foil on the barbecue or grilled & they come up well. A couple points I would like to make on the eating qualities of flathead & that is that flathead over 2 kilos in my opinion are very ordinary eating & the flesh is dry & coarse. If you do land a big flathead say 2 kilo or more consider netting her & I say her as most large fish are females getting a brag picture & releasing her unharmed you will be doing your taste buds & the fish stocks a favor. The smaller fish around a kilo are MUCH better eating. Secondly the flavor of flathead seems to improve if the fish has been frozen for a week or so before cooking. Anyway go score a flathead or 2 it is a fun fish to catch & not a bad feed either.