Dusky Flathead - Platycephalus fuscus
Did you know? Almost all flathead over 55cm are females
Sustainability and stock status
Flathead reach sexual maturity around 35cm for males and 55cm for females, and are highly fecund, meaning they have a large number of eggs (300,000 to nearly 4 million!) and under the right conditions can grow and multiply rapidly. Male flathead reach sexual maturity at around 1.2 years and females around 4 years. Dusky flathead are targeted by commercial estuary fishers, and in recent years, catches and catch-per-unit-effort has been declining in some areas. It is unclear whether this is representative of a decline in biomass, or whether it can be attributed to reduced fishing effort, changing behaviour of fishers or some other variable. As with any fish stock, it will vary from year to year based on environmental conditions, so it’s difficult to make conclusions about the recent data at this stage.
The most recent data on recreational versus commercial catch of flathead suggests that reccies catch a lot more duskies than commercial fishers. It’s important to remember this when you’re deciding whether to keep a few for the table. It’s great to see that most anglers are letting the bigger fish go, as these are usually the breeding females. It’s interesting to consider that if you decide to keep a 55cm fish, it could be a female who has only had one chance to spawn. Some states have introduced slot limits, which makes a lot of sense.
Dusky flathead mostly live in estuaries but can be caught in some inshore waters, such as Twofold Bay in southern NSW and some of the larger coastal inlets. As for most fish, dusky flathead will congregate where the food is. Any processes that concentrate food or provide an ambush point will be where flathead are most often found. This can include sandy/weedy channels, drop-offs, rockbars, edges and flats. All of these areas have one thing in common – they provide a steady supply of small baitfish and food and some sort of cover for the fish to hide in (which is often sandy or muddy substrate).
Biology, behavioural characteristics and time of year
Flathead have large eyes and a cavernous mouth. A thick and long tail provides them with quick bursts of speed. All of this information means one thing: flathead are an ambush predator. They generally lie on the bottom, even submerged or semi-submerged in sand or mud, and their large eyes look up waiting for anything to swim past. When it does, a huge flick of the tail propels the fish towards its target. It’s sharp, raspy teeth leave little chance for anything that ends up in its mouth.
Fishing gear and techniques
Historically, flathead were targeted on baits, with the humble prawn and live poddy mullet being the go-to options. Sometime during the 70s or 80s, someone invented a weird looking thing called a ‘Mr Twister’: a soft plastic lure that flathead generally couldn’t resist. While people still catch flathead on bait, the most popular technique these days seems to be soft plastics. Anything from 3-5 inches long on 3-10 gram jig heads will catch flathead, with the depth of the water you are fishing in generally dictating the weight of the jig head. Some people are getting consistent results on the bigger ‘girls’ using larger lures in the 5 inch plus range.
A light spinning outfit is all that’s required – a 2500 to 3000 sized reel, 2-5kg rod, 6lb braid and 8-15lb leaders will be the undoing of most fish.
The important thing with flathead is to fish on or near the bottom. When fishing with plastics, watch the line as the lure is sinking. When the line goes slack, it means the lure has hit the bottom. Give the lure a good, sharp lift (or two), take up the slack line using a few winds on the reel, then watch and wait for the lure to hit the bottom again. Then repeat. It’s that simple. If using braid, it will often be possible to feel the hit transferred through the line and into the rod. At this point, it pays to strike to set the hook. Sometimes, however, you won’t feel the strike, but will see the line stop sinking or see it twitch. It’s worth striking at this too.
With a little practise, you will be catching duskies in no time.
Killing and cooking
The iki jime method is undoubtedly the best way to kill flathead. A small screwdriver or tent peg is sufficient, but you want it to be reasonably sharp. It should be inserted into the bony section directly in line with the middle of the eyes, but further back just before the bony section of the head meets the flesh, and angled towards the spine and middle of the head. Flathead are one of the easier fish to fillet, but the jury is out on the best technique. It’s best to watch a few videos online, and try a few different methods to see what works for you.
Crumbed and battered flathead are delicious. I like these methods as they allow you to experience the delicious flavour and texture of the fish. However, flathead are also an excellent vehicle for flavour, and are suited to a variety of Asian, Indian, European and Mediterranean-style cooking.
*Information provided by Lee Georgeson. Photos courtesy of Lee Georgeson.