Shane Porter’s personal best is 93 centimetres.
He was walking a sandbar in the Myall Lakes — a topwater lure did the trick.
- Anglers are calling for a 36–70cm slot limit for dusky flathead
- They say a slot limit will future-proof the fishery by protecting large female breeders
- Dusky flathead produce 700 eggs per gram of bodyweight and can spawn up to five times per year
“It was so visual,” Mr Porter said, describing the chase.
“The sprinting runs across the flats almost looked like a propeller throwing water out the back.
“But the best part was meeting the fish and watching her swim away safely.”
Mr Porter targets, and releases, large dusky flathead.
He is part of a growing number of anglers calling for the New South Wales Government to strengthen the protections around these trophy fish.
Calls for a slot limit
Mr Porter wants the NSW Government to introduce a 36–70cm slot limit for the popular estuary species.
This would mean anglers can only keep fish inside that size range.
It would require changing the current rule, allowing anglers to keep one dusky flathead larger than 70cm per day.
“This isn’t about stopping people getting a feed,” he said.
Mr Porter believes a slot limit will increase flathead numbers by preventing large females from being overfished.
Professor Iain Suthers, a fish ecologist at the University of New South Wales, said the idea “makes sense”.
“Dusky populations are generally fine, but there aren’t many larger than 70cm, and those that are there are absolutely essential for doing the heavy lifting for reproduction,” he said.
Professor Suthers cited Department of Primary Industries modelling that showed flathead produce 700 eggs per gram of body weight and can spawn up to five times per year.
To put that in perspective, a 9-kilogram dusky flathead, in favourable spawning conditions, could produce up to 31.5 million eggs annually.
“The science on this is clear,” he said.
Professor Suthers believes more anglers would support a slot limit if they understood dusky flathead biology.
He said the main things to know are that male duskies only reach about 60cm, so anything larger than 70cm is a female, and that unlike mammals, fish do not become infertile as they age.
Increasing pressure on the fishery
When Port Stephens-based fishing guide, Paul Lennon, worked in a tackle shop in the late 1990s, the lure section was about “the size of a poster”.
“Today entire walls are dedicated to them,” he said.
“They’re getting more real looking, and the different styles allow us to fish deep or shallow areas in a way we never could before.”
Mr Lennon believes advances in fishing tackle technology, social media tutorials and an increase in the number of people fishing, are putting too much pressure on the dusky flathead fishery.
“There are no secrets anymore,” he said.
“And while more people fishing is great, the accessibility of dusky flathead means their numbers are going to be affected.”
Mr Lennon said the introduction of a slot limit would ‘futureproof the fishery’.
“It makes sense … their biology, the fact that 94 per cent of them survive when they are released … they really are the perfect candidate.”
A lifelong pursuit
With or without a slot limit, Shane Porter will continue to catch and release trophy flathead.
“These are true trophy fish of the lakes, rivers and estuary systems.”