Flatheads are a very distinctive species of fish, known for (and named for) the unusual shape of their heads. There are up to 70 different sub-species of flathead found off of the coast of Australia and in Australian estuaries, where they are a popular table fish and often caught for sport. The majority of sub-species of flatheads have flattened, triangular shaped heads with long, tapered bodies. Flathead species are most commonly caught during the summer months.
As bottom dwellers, many sub-species of flatheads lack the swim bladder which most fish use to control their buoyancy, and therefore they spend most of their lives on the seabed. However, Tiger Flatheads which are the most commonly seen flathead species in Sydney do have swim bladders and will frequent mid level waters as well. They can also be found much further offshore than any other common species of flathead, living and feeding in the soft sand around larger reef areas. Dusky Flatheads, which are also frequently found around Sydney, are estuary dwellers which sometimes frequent small bays. Look for dusky flatheads in the mud, gravel or seagrass in estuary beds.
The colouration of flatheads varies, depending on what sub-species of fish that they are. Tiger flatheads can be identified by their distinctive orange – red spots. They have a sharp spine on either side of their heads. Dusky flatheads are a brown, sandy colour fish with brown spots and blotches, which allows them to camouflage themselves easily with the seabed or riverbed.
They often use the shape of their body to help them to hide in the sand, preparing to pounce at any prey which comes close enough.
Dusky flatheads also have a distinctive black spot on their caudal fins, which many anglers use as a way to confirm the sub-species. Dusky flatheads have similar spikes to other flathead species. Anglers are advised to be very careful of these spikes when they are handling the fish, because they can be very sharp. There is a minimum legal length limit of 36cm for Dusky flatheads and 33cm for tiger flatheads. The catch limit is 10 per day for dusky varieties and 20 per day for tiger flatheads.
Flatheads feed on many smaller sea creatures, including small baitfish and prawns. They will also feed on squid, small octopus and cuttlefish should the opportunity arise.
Younger seafish will feed on krill and other micro species. Tiger flatheads will often follow their prey during the night before feeding, and rest on the seabed during the day.
If you are fishing for flatheads using bait, small live fish such as pilchards offer a high degree of success, as do marine worms.
Flatheads are considered to be a good table fish, because they have relatively few bones, and the bones which they do have a relatively easy to remove. Fillets have a slightly sweet flavour and are low in oiliness. Flathead fillets go well with flavours like capers, horseradish, dill, vinaigrette and mayonnaise. Wrapping fillets in foil or a banana leaf before cooking can prevent them from drying out.