On 15 January, 2019, I received some very exciting news from NSW DPI Fisheries. It seems that a large dusky flathead I tagged and fin-clipped for DNA analysis on 16th October, 2018 had recently been recaptured and re-released.

This is the fish I tagged and fin-clipped in Tuross Lake on 16 October, 2018. It measured 84.5cm in length at that time.

When tagged and fin-clipped on 16 October, 2018, the big flatty measured 84.5 cm in length.

The fish measured 84.5 cm when I caught it in mid-October, in the lower reaches of Tuross Lake. On 4th January, 2019, when recaptured by Ian “Hoots” Cowie, it had grown to 86.5 cm (that’s 2 cm of growth in just 80 days!) and had moved at least two nautical miles (close to 4km) up the Tuross River. It was also in excellent condition at the time of recapture and had clearly put on weight. The fish swum away very strongly when released the second time. (As an interesting side note, Ian reports that there was quite a bit of weed growth on the tag that had to be scraped off to reveal the serial number.)

When recaptured by Ian "Hoots" Cowie the flattie had been at liberty for 80 days. It had grown an impressive 2 cm and put on weight in that time.

When recaptured by Ian “Hoots” Cowie she’d been at liberty for 80 days and had grown an impressive 2 cm.

Interestingly, this fish was hooked quite deeply when I caught it on a big, un-weighted soft plastic, requiring the use of long-nosed pliers to remove the hooks, and it did bleed slightly. It was then held in the circulating live-well aboard my boat for approximately 20 minutes and transported several hundred metres to the boat ramp so that I could meet my wife Jo and John Suthern from the Tuross Heads Fishing Club, who had the fin-clip sampling kit. None of those original handling parameters were optimal or ideal, yet the fish not only survived, but clearly thrived. For me, this is EXCELLENT news and bodes very well for the survival of large flathead that can be quickly unhooked and released with minimal handling at or near the capture sight, as recommended. (For details on how to best handle flathead intended for release, click here.)

For me, the message from this experience rings loud and clear: catch-and-release works! It’s also obvious that at this size flathead are still vibrant, energetic, growing fast and contributing an enormous number of eggs and offspring to the population pool each year. These big breeders are CRITICAL to the future of our sport. Handle them carefully and let them go, exactly as Ian did.

FOOTNOTE: The Tuross estuary system is one of three designated “Trophy Flathead Fisheries” in NSW (along with Lake Macquarie and St Georges Basin). Anglers are being strongly encouraged to carefully release all flathead over 70 cm long that are encountered in these three key fisheries, and selected local anglers have been given tagging kits to tag larger flathead in these waters. Please keep your eyes peeled for tagged fish, and if you encounter one, record the serial number on the tag (you may need to scrape off any weed growth with your thumbnail in order to do this). Also accurately measure the length of the fish, note exactly where it was caught and then quickly return it to the water. (You can read more about this great program here.)