Scott’s Species – bartail flathead, a shallow water sensation

For many WA fishers, summer is the ideal time to target flathead. Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan explores the sought-after bartail flathead in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species.

Species: Bartail flathead, Platycephalus endrachtensis

Eating: 3.5 stars

ID: Yellow bar on middle of tail fin.

Summer is almost here and for many of us that means it’s flattie time!

Scott Coghlan with a lovely Swan River flattie!

It’s the time of year when bartail flathead move into the shallows in the Swan River and offer some fantastic light tackle fishing.

They sit buried in the sand, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey like prawns and small baitfish, which in turns makes them an ideal target for anglers working the shallows.

Swan River flatties will take a variety of lures including soft plastics, prawn imitations and bibbed minnows.

The latter are particularly effective when able to be worked along the bottom, digging up sand as they go with their bib.

Feather jigs are another cheap option and can easily be bounced along the bottom. There are numerous spots in the Swan which will produce and a quick look at Google Earth will show some of the more likely stretches of sand flats to find them.

Flatties are often found next to patches of weed or rocks, which offer an extra element of surprise and cover. Drop-offs are another prime location for flathead. In the Swan any flattie more than 40cm is a good one, but a few measuring more than 50cm do get taken each year.

Not a patch on their giant east coast dusky cousins, but still a lot of fun in their own right, and good on the plate as well. An incoming tide is good as the bar-tails move up with the tide looking for ambush locations, and dawn and dusk are also good bite times for flatties.

When wading be on the lookout for puffs of sand which show that you’ve spooked a flathead and it has shot away to find more cover. They can be in surprisingly shallow water not more than a few centimetres deep.

Also keep an eye out for obvious signs of where they have been sitting, as they make a distinct imprint in the sand.

Flicking lures along the flats is a great way to catch flathead.

Some of the big flattie imprints will make you wonder about how big they do get! After all, they are known to reach around 80cm in length and a weight of around 2.8kg.

While they are the main flatfish attraction in the Swan, bar-tails are a widely spread inshore species found from our South West all the way across the top of the country and back down the east coast as far as southern New South Wales.

There is no need to go heavy for flathead, especially when specifically targeting them in the shallows, and a 3kg to 4kg spin outfit will do the job just fine. Blind casting is the way to find them and is usually just a matter of covering ground.

Some slightly heavier fluorocarbon leader, around 5kg, is recommended as they do have small raspy teeth that can damage light line when they are hooked.

Flathead are good fighters on light gear, often making a series of zig-zagging bursts. Flathead will also happily take baits bounced along the bottom, such as river prawns, whitebait, bluebait and even mulies.

A simple running sinker rig with either a large single hook or set of gangs will suffice when using bait. However, bait in the Swan means blowies – and lots of them – so lures are often a better option!

While the flats are the best location to target bar-tails they will show up in the deeper holes in the Swan as well, and this is often where some of the biggest fish are caught.

And although they are primarily targeted in summer, they can be caught in the river all year, often pushing well up both the Canning and Swan.

Check out this great flathead Peter Zahradka pulled from the Swan.