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bemm river beauties with geoff wilson
Geoff Wilson
Dated: 13 August, 2002
Flathead Fred with a 5.5 kg beauty from the entrance channel to Sydenham Inlet
I'd chased Dusky Flathead with Freddy Bayes at Mallacoota a number of times, and sometimes just followed him about with a camera over my shoulder when I found it hard to fish and take pictures at the same time. Now we were on the Bemm, or to be more exact at the entrance to Sydenham Inlet, the coastal lagoon into which the Bemm River flows, and which is periodically open to the sea after flooding.

This was just such an occasion; the entrance was still open to the sea after recent flooding but was doomed to close once more. This is because high water levels are rarely sustained in any of our coastal streams for various reasons, and because of reduced flows, closures to the sea are of longer duration than they used to be.

We'd originally planned a trip to Mallacoota because Freddy had done well there on fish to around 4 kg a few weeks earlier. However, Don Cunningham, a fishing legend on the Bemm, and co-proprietor of Cosy Nook Flats with wife Di, had mentioned to Freddy that he'd seen some beauties while out prawning with son Mark. That's why we were on the Bemm.

By late afternoon, the Bemm wasn't looking so good. We had no strikes on our lures, or should I say Freddy's lures, because I was using one of Freddy's creations as well, but more on that later. I suggested we might give lure fishing away for the evening, check the bait traps for mullet, and should we have caught any suitable baits, set up the bait rods somewhere.

Freddy demonstrates the Non-Slip, No-Flip, Flathead Grip on a 3 kg flathead.
We knew where; or at least we thought we knew where because Don and Mark had seen some good lays on the shallow bank in front of Mud Lake. Freddy had already tried here with his lure but without raising a strike, but that was the story for both of us. We'd caught nothing all day.

All we caught that evening was an eel of around 5 kg. It took a mullet on Freddy's live bait rig and wound the whole thing into such a mess it was hard to see where the eel began and the slime-covered line finished. The hook had gone through its lip and then caught it by the tail, so as well as being wound up in fishing line, the eel was bent around in a hoop. Eventually, we freed it, albeit with the loss of some slime which now covered our hands and clothes.

The following morning dawned calm and overcast and that's how the day remained. Whether or not flathead prefer those days is hard to say because Freddy has caught them under all conditions. However, just before stopping for lunch, Freddy caught our first flathead, an 89 cm speckled 5.5 kg beauty which took him fifteen minutes or so to bring to the net on 2.7 kg breaking strain line:

That one went in the bag.

Freddy shows his favourite lure which comes in various shades of black.
There is a lot of misinformation about the eating quality of big flathead as I found the first time Freddy cooked us up a ten pounder at Mallacoota. I had always been told the big ones are no good to eat, and with that firmly entrenched in my mind, objected.

Freddy said to wait until I tasted it.

Freddy was right of course. Big flathead are better to eat than their smaller cousins. The flesh is moist, and when prepared correctly, boneless and full flavoured. The only problem occurs when the flesh is overcooked, and as a consequence, dries out.

The fish Freddy caught today was even larger. It too was delicious.

That fish came from a shallow sand bar within the entrance channel, but although we both waded and worked this rea diligently for the rest of the afternoon, caught nothing else.

Bemm River Pontoon.
Come evening we moved to the area knows as "the Mahoganys." I set up a bait rod and made myself comfortable while Freddy set off along the sand bar casting his lure.

I enjoy watching my rod, waiting for a bite. I also enjoy wading the flats like Freddy, but run out of steam after doing it all day, especially with nothing to show for it. But Freddy even with his recent hip replacement, and just before that, an operation to replace a worn-out knee, still goes like a machine, and he's older than me, I just shake my head.

"Got one!" yelled Freddy.

I waded out to where he was with my camera over my shoulder.

It was a fish of less than 2 kg which Freddy said he would let go after I got a picture of it, but first he wanted to show me something.

"You're having me on, aren't you" I asked, as Freddy was obviously going to show me how to grab a flathead in his bare hands, or hand.

"This," said Freddy, is the "Non-Slip, No-Flip, Flathead Grip."

Freddie just grabbed the fish, still with all of its fins out, and held it while I took a half dozen or so shots before putting it back in the water.

All we caught on live baits were eels, but they were pearlers.
I was amazed. Being ever so wary of even the tiniest flathead I couldn't imagine picking one up by hand. But he said he'd learned this how to do this from, champion fly-caster and fisherman, Cameron Whittam. The trick is to grip the flathead with thumb and finger just behind the paired pectoral fins from underneath, and initially at least, to hold the fish upside down.

Next thing, Freddy's drag was howling again. He'd obviously hooked another big one: Things were looking up!

I glanced back toward my live bait rod, perhaps hoping to see a bite, but it stood straight as a die. Not Freddy's rod though, it arced over as the line squealed off the drag again and again as the minutes ticked by.

"Don't think it's that big said Freddy" even though he'd had it on for about ten minutes. "Might have just foul-hooked a medium size fish, it's a bit too lively for a real big one."

Lively or not, it was a fish of around 3 kg. Not foul-hooked or anything like that, just a very good swimmer.

"Now show us that Non-Slip thingamee again" I demanded.

He did, and held it there with a permanent grin while I snapped off frame after frame.

As night closed in, Freddie prepared another delicious feed of flathead with the bait rods out once more, but we finished our meal without interruption and had even washed the dishes before the first eel arrived.

The following day was hot and windy, not a pleasant day at all, and on top of that we caught no fish. Nothing! Not even a strike. But something happened on the last day that would delay Freddy's departure.

It was a Friday, and despite the fairly unpleasant conditions, there were quite a few people fishing the entrance channel toward evening as Freddy and I waded the first of two shallow banks he intended to finish before dark.

Pelicans are plentiful on the Bemm and proved a nuisance when live-bating for flathead in daylight hours.
A couple of old farts got the giggles as we waded past their boat which was anchored out in the slightly deeper water, but the rise and fall of green, cylindrical containers in their hands explained that. Another boat had pulled right into the bank ahead of us, the occupants catching, what looked like small bream, with some regularity but we caught nothing.

Suddenly a huge eruption of sand from the knee-deep water in front of us had our attention. I thought we may have spooked a ray, but Freddy was certain a really big flathead had come in behind his lure then spooked off at the last minute. In any event, Freddy was staying for a few more days. I could leave if I liked.

Freddy caught nothing the following day, or the day after that, but made up for it on the last day of his stay when he caught six fish, the biggest just over 3 kg. But that is the way fishing often is, feast or famine. In any event that big fish is sure to bring him back.

Yes, wading the flats and lure-casting for flathead is a challenging discipline. Especially when you can fish all day long without turning a scale. Maybe that's why you don't see a lot of people doing it.
Geoff Wilson Fishnet Pro Angler
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PO Box 384,
Geelong 3220.

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