Massive Tuross Lake flathead, plea to release big fish

We all know that anglers like to exaggerate their catches but sometimes numbers are lost in translation.

Initial reports that a 130cm dusky flathead was caught in Tuross Lake were incorrect and the fish caught and released by expert flathead angler Pam Feeley turned out to be 103cm.

But either way it was a great fish and was her personal best. It also raises the issue of some people not doing the right thing and releasing the big female breeders.

We were supplied with the 130cm figure by a go-between who sends in fishing reports and hence the confusion, but this fishing writer should have known better as 130cm is just too big.

Or is it?

Pam and her husband Mark are out on Tuross Lake just about every week targeting and releasing big dusky flathead.

The couple have unconfirmed reports that two fish, one nearly 130cm and another 127cm, were caught on live Coila Lake prawns near Cooper’s Island two weeks ago.

Fortunately these two massive fish were apparently released, according to the Feeleys and a Moruya tackle shop.

Finding out just how big dusky flathead grow and any world records is not easy, because in the old days big fish were killed and their weight measured in pounds.

These days it is all about placing the fish carefully on a measuring or “brag” mat and recording the length before releasing them back in the water.

The Australian Museum’s excellent fish website states dusky flathead grow to 120cm.

Mark Feeley’s previous biggest fish was 102cm, meaning wife Pam has outdone him with her latest catch by 1cm. She got the fish on a live poddy mullet.

Mark and Pam take their big fish over to the Tuross boat ramp and adjacent boatshed cafe to be measured and photographed before being released.

They are careful to drape the fish in a wet towel and support the big fish’s weight. They also suggest cutting the line rather than trying to remove the hook.

And this was the case last week when Pam’s big fish drew a lot of attention with bystanders commenting on her big “crocodile”. They put the big girl on the brag mat and she measured 103cm before releasing her back into the water.

“She took off like she had never been caught,” Mr Feeley said.

There have been some disturbing developments on Tuross Lake and also down at the Bega River with reports of big dusky flathead being killed.

Educated anglers know these days that the big fish are the females and breeders creating the next generations and should always be released.

NSW fishing regulations allow one fish over 70cm to be kept, while other states require all big fish to be released. Victoria has a maximum size limit of 55cm.

Some anglers appear to be not doing the right thing. The Feeley’s last week saw a visitor to the area with “no idea” filleting a 87cm dusky flathead while at the same time having five undersize fish in his creel.

Then two big dusky flathead frames were also found at the Tuross boat ramp last week, with local concerned anglers measuring the skeletons at 85cm and 83cm.

Meanwhile, a Facebook post by the Bega District News of a large flathead caught on the Bega River caused some consternation with lots of comments from upset people, who assumed it had been killed. The person who sent it in claimed it was a 10-pounder and caught on pilchard. 

Mark and Pam Feeley are concerned with the word getting out about Tuross Lake being so good for big flathead, there was more and more boat traffic, and even if only a few anglers did the wrong thing, that was enough to negatively impact on the lake. 

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for tourism but even if every boat kept just one fish over 70cm then that is not good for the lake and flathead stocks,” he said. “I think we need to change the fishing laws so that the flathead can keep getting bigger every year.”

The flathead fishing on Tuross Lake had always been exceptional with Mrs Feeley catching and releasing five fish over 90cm in one week last year, he said.

Former commercial fisherman Ron Snape of Tilba also has concerns about people holding up big flathead by the head and not cradling them properly. 

“I note that the large flathead numbers have dropped off dramatically from nearly one a week to  just about zero,” Mr Snape said. 

“From my marine biological background, I think there is a good hypothesis that by holding them vertically, the gut distends to a point where the mesenteric membrane that holds the gut and supplies the gut with its nerves and blood supplies is compromised to a point where blood and nerves are damaged leading to death.”

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