The flathead season on Australia’s east coast hits its peak in Southeast Queensland in late September, and the action filters its way south as water temperatures increase in December and January. Anglers all the way to bottom of East Gippsland in Victoria, and the southern coast of Western Australia, head out looking to tussle with a flat fish.
Those of you who follow the Tackle Testing Booths in the magazines and the www.tacklejunkie.fish website know I love targeting flathead. When the team at Rapala Australia wanted to do something flathead-related, I was on board straight away. Much of what they sent me was newly released in 2019, and I could see that the lures were likely to catch their fair share of flathead. For now though, let’s start with the rod, reel, line and leader.
The Rapala Maxwell rod that they matched with a Rapala R-Type reel immediately intrigued me. The Maxwell rods are available in nine different spin configurations, two of which are new for 2019. The rod to be tested was the 7’ 2-piece, 2-4kg model (MXS702L). Maxwell rods fit into the finesse spectrum of rods – super lightweight, quality Fuji KR Concept guides, skeleton reel seat with an EVA foregrip and composite cork rear grip. They are a fast taper configuration.
The Rapala R-Type 25 reel they matched it with is a new size within the R-Type Spin range, added in 2019. It and the R-Type 35 have been added to the three other sizes available this year. These reels have 6+1 ball bearings and the new models have a 5.2:1 gear ratio with a 6kg drag rating.
A big part of the Rapala Australia portfolio is the Sufix range of lines. I was provided with a 10lb 150yd spool of Sufix 832 Advanced Superline in coastal camo colour to put on the reel, and some Sufix Super 21 fluorocarbon leader to go with it. Both lines are recognised for their abrasion resistance and sensitivity.
The Sufix 832 is an interesting concept. It is an 8-strand line with 32 weaves per inch of line. The line itself is a blend of 7 HMPE fibres and a GORE performance fibre. The GORE fibre assists with abrasion resistance while the HMPE fibres provide the strength and sensitivity. The Sufix Super 21 complements the main line, providing a strong, supple and invisible leader to fish with.
VMC Coastal X and Storm 360GT Coastal
The Coastal X jigheads and 360GT Coastal soft plastics were a new release for 2019, following on from the highly successful Storm 360GT Searchbait range. The VMC Coastal X jigheads range from 7-14g and come in 2/0-4/0 hook sizes. I would call the hook medium heavy, certainly fine enough to get through the top lip of a flathead. Storm 360 Coastal plastics come in a number of profiles and sizes, and you can find more information in the fact box hereabouts. Each style has eight colours.
The combination of the Rapala R-Type reel and the Maxwell rod is a good one. It is well balanced, and although the reel feels a little heavy compared to some out there, it is spot on for the rod. Initial impressions of the rod where that it is quite soft or very tippy, whichever way you want to say it. I did have concerns that casting a 3/8oz or 1/2oz jighead and plastic may be a challenge, and that the initial power required to set the hook on a larger flathead may not be there. Loading the rod correctly (not the wiggle test) alleviated this concern. As tippy as the rod may be, there is plenty of power from two thirds of the way down the blank to deal with the above lures and to drive that hook home.
The VMC Coastal X jigheads are also a little different. Their medium heavy wire covers the best of both worlds – fine enough for quick hook penetration with the strength to give you peace of mind if you need to dictate terms while fighting a fish. I would have loved for the 3/8oz to come in a 4/0 hook (like the 1/2oz) not just 2/0 and 3/0. It just has that hook point a little further back when you are fishing 4” and 5” plastics. I did love the concept of a second eyelet under the head. You can run a blade or add a treble or stinger hook, something that shifts the odds just a little more in your favour.
The 360GT Coastal plastics range has five styles, of which I selected four, and they are a good variation on traditional proven profiles. The Coastal Shrimp and the Manta Tail were my initial favourites. I also like the colour range, as I have always been a fan of contrast colouring, whether it’s layers or tail contrast. Each model has enough natural and ‘out there’ colours to meet most anglers’ needs.
IN THE FIELD
It has been an interesting three months testing the gear and plastics on my local flathead. Lower rainfall and longer than expected warm weather has my local haunts fishing a little differently from previous years. Smallish (3-3.5”) baitfish profiles have been the go.
I expected the 3” Coastal Shrimp and Mangrove Minnow to be the standouts, and I was half right. The Mangrove Minnow paddle tail comes in two sizes (3” and 4”) and is quite a slender profile. What was unexpected was how hard the tail thumps. The feedback through the rod in amazing considering the profile of the plastic. This has translated into some good fish being caught, but not as many as I expected it to. The season has been about finesse, and maybe the Mangrove Minnow was a bit full-on for some of the fish.
The Coastal Shrimp, however, has exceeded my expectations. The profile suits any style of retrieve, and I don’t know too many fish that don’t like a feed of prawns. Also coming in 3” and 4” sizes, the larger size seems bigger than it is. I did use a stinger hook set-up with it on those occasions when the fish weren’t in full smash ’em mode. It has proven to be the downfall of plenty of flathead, and has its fair share of bycatch as well.
The Coastal Manta Tail and Trick Tail Minnow are a jerkshad configuration with different tail set-ups. Flathead love this style of plastic, and this proved to be the case with both lures. The Trick Tail Minnow is a 5” plastic where the Manta Tail is available in either 4” or 5” sizing. Flathead are not afraid of a large plastic, and the Trick Tail Minnow has caught its fair share of fish, but the Manta Tail has been winner between these two plastics. Like the Coastal Shrimp, the Manta Tail has accounted for some fun bycatch as well.
The Rapala combo has been ideal for targeting flathead. The reel has a smooth drag and the rod is easily powerful enough. The combination of the Sufix 832 braid and Super 21 leader with the outfit is next level. The feedback through the rod from the line is second to nothing I have tested. You feel everything that is happening at the end of line, which is exactly what you want when you’re fishing plastics. The marketing for the Superline in particular is all about abrasion resistance, and I can’t fault it. More importantly for me, they are great to tie knots with. You can deal with your line being rubbed through, but not your knots giving way.
As an overall package, Rapala Australia has done a great job, and anybody who likes chasing a flathead or two should check out these products. The standouts for me were the Storm 360GT Coastal Shrimp and the Coastal Manta Tail. The Sufix 832 Superline is amazing too. Although I did like the coastal camo colour that I tested, I would probably steer towards the neon lime colour, as my aging eyes need all the help they can get.
You can check out these products in your local tackle store, on their website at www.rapala.com.au or like Rapala on Facebook to get all the updates on their new products.