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Mythical monsters; debunking the dusky flathead metre myth

Friday, 24 July 2015

The weather might be cooling off but that doesn’t seem to be slowing the reports of big flathead getting caught. 

The latest big fish, caught by Chris Hollins near Mollymook, is truly enormous.  At first glance the fish looks well over the hallowed metre mark. But even after whispering her a few sweet nothings and some gentle massage, the fish refused to relax and stretch out any further. The big flathead measured a whopping 97.5cm and an estimated 7.5kg.

Chris was fishing from his kayak in a river near Mollymook on the NSW South Coast, slowly retrieving a 40mm shallow diving lure.  After a couple of hours he felt a sharp tap, followed by a dull heavy weight.  The kayak started to turn around under the strain of what he presumed was a hooked branch.  As he got closer however the branch started to move – sideways.  Then a massive head emerged above the surface of the water.  It was the fish of a lifetime.

After one quick run he was able to steer the fish back towards the kayak and into the waiting net of his friend Stuart Smith.  Only the front half of the massive fish would fit in the net but it was enough to control her and bring her ashore.  Fortunately the whole thing only lasted three or four minutes which didn’t put too much stress on the fish and more importantly for Chris, didn’t wear through his 8lb leader line.  After a couple of photos and a quick measure, the fish swam away with one big beat of her huge tail.

Despite the animated stories of anglers around campfires and BBQs, flathead measuring over a metre long are exceptionally rare. A series of studies led by Charles Gray in NSW highlight this point.  In 2003 a total of 4,327 dusky flathead were caught and examined as part of a study on age, sex and length in commercial catches.  The largest fish measured ‘just’ 96cm.  A second study published in 2008 caught and examined a staggering 7,783 dusky flathead from NSW estuaries including St George’s Basin and Tuross. The largest fish this time was 98.5cm.

Dusky flathead are reputed to grow up to 1.5 metres and judging by the specimens hanging proudly above the bar at pubs and clubs along the east coast of Australia, this was certainly the case once. A quick look on the internet for more recent evidence however has revealed only two fish over a metre pictured with a measuring mat or ruler, and both fish are only a few centimetres over.

Flathead don’t change sex as was once commonly believed, instead it is only the females that grow larger than 50cm.  So it’s in our interest to let these big female fish go again and here’s why. Each female can lay hundreds of thousands, or even millions of eggs, ensuring that there are plenty more pan-sized flathead for everyone in the future. Flathead are a fast growing and very sweet tasting fish making them a perfect candidate to take home.  Secondly, if we as anglers want to be able to tangle with fish over the magic metre, releasing all of the big fish above 80cm will certainly help - given another year or two of growth, they might just make it!

Graham Fifield

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