Scientific Name: Platycephalus fuscus
Ideal Temp: 60-79°F (16-26°C)
Environment: Inshore, Surf
Technique: Bottom Fishing
Lure Type: Bottom Rig
World Record: 6.33 kg (13 lb 15 oz) Wallis Lake, Forster, N.S.W., Australia 07-Jun-1997
The dusky flathead or black flathead (Platycephalus fuscus) (literally translating from Ancient Greek as "flat-head dusky") is a large predatory fish and the largest member of the Platycephalidae family. Dusky flathead are a largely estuarine species and are found in estuaries, estuarine lakes and coastal bays on the east coast of Australia, from Cairns in Queensland to the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. They occur over sand, mud, gravel and seagrass and can inhabit estuarine waters up to the tidal limit.
Flathead are notable for their unusual body shape, upon which their hunting strategy is based. Flathead are dorsally compressed, meaning their body is wide but flattened and very low in height. Both eyes are on the top of the flattened head, giving excellent binocular vision to attack overhead prey. The effect is somewhat similar to flounder. In contrast to flounder however, flathead are much more elongated, the tail remains vertical, and the mouth is large, wide and symmetrical. Flathead use this body structure to hide in sand (their body colour changes to match their background), with only their eyes visible, and explode upwards and outwards to engulf small fish and prawns as they drift over the hidden flathead.
The dusky flathead can be distinguished from other flathead by a row of fine brown spots on the pectoral fins.
Dusky flathead are the largest of the many species of flathead found in Australia, and the most commonly caught. Dusky flathead have very rarely been caught at sizes up to 12–15 kg and lengths up to 1.5 metres, but average size is 0.5–1.5 kg and 40–50 cm. Typically a fish of estuaries and estuarine lakes, dusky flathead are rarely found in other habitats.
The diet of dusky flathead is typically composed of smaller fish and prawns.
Dusky flathead are reported to be hermaphroditic, starting as males and changing to females at a relatively large size, but this has been disputed in more recent studies. Certainly only female fish attain the larger sizes. Breeding is reported to occur in mid to late summer around estuary mouths.
Dusky flathead are a popular species for commercial and recreational fishing in eastern Australia. They readily take baits and minnow lures, and on such lures are good fighters. Recently they have proven to be very vulnerable to fishing techniques using jigged soft plastic lures. In the face of heavy fishing pressure and more effective techniques, a largely catch and release approach from anglers is essential nowadays to conserve dusky flathead stocks. Many fishermen generally release dusky flatead over 70 cm, recognising that they are important large breeding females.