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The Mallacoota Lakes are home to a huge variety of fish, but one of the most sought-after is the dusky flathead. To access the best spots, though, you’ll need a specialised boat that can sneak into shallow water but still handle the rough stuff. Bernard Clancy’s found just the thing...


To wake at dawn in the  Mallacoota campground  and watch the rising sun cast sheets of silver and gold over the still waters of the inlet, broken only by the contrails of black swans and ducking pelicans, is really something special.

This is a beautiful place; and while,  as an angler, you feel some urgency to get out there to catch an early-morning fish, you can't help but soak in the wonder of it over a leisurely breakfast.
But as the sun rises higher, thoughts switch to giant flathead, shiny black and mottled, with jaws big enough to swallow a woman's fist. No one really knows just how big they grow in this lovely environment, but 10-pounders are not uncommon.
So what's so special about the common old flathead? After all, every Jack and Jill has caught a flathead by the time they're three years old.
True. But let me tell you, giant flathead are very different. They're older and smarter, and they're also terrific fighters on light gear. I had one that leapt out of the water like a barra earlier this year, shaking its head wildly before plunging deep and running hard, resurfacing and then jumping again. Terrific stuff!
Mallacoota flathead launched the career of Flathead Fred, the pioneer of spin-fishing for big flathead at Mallacoota, Tamboon and other places along Victoria's rugged Wilderness (east) Coast, with soft plastic lures.
Flathead Fred had tremendous success on a modified Mr Twister. He used to reduce the size of the jig's lead head by half and fiddle about with the hook point. Before that, a live poddy mullet would often bring spectacular rewards, and still does.
Freddy taught a lot of people to fish his way, including myself. I had spent many years gamefishing, but I'd grown tired of it and was looking for a new adventure. Fishing with Freddy about 10 years ago gave me what I was after, and I still enjoy the challenge today.
There are two ways you can fish: either by wading in shallow water or from a boat, usually drifting across shallows. Yes, you'll catch these fish in deeper water, but most times you'll find them in just a few centimetres of water - even in bright sunlight.
In this article we're looking at boat-fishing for flathead from a Formula 15. We water tested this beaut little Victorian-built centre console exclusively in Trailer Boat when it was launched a year or so ago, but this particular  side-console variation of that craft is purpose-built for bay and estuary work while still retaining the ability to fish  calm offshore conditions.




The Formula is a 'glass boat - unlike most of its bass-style competitors, which are tinnies. Its wide, flat chines give it exceptional stability despite a 20° deadrise, and its performance in rough water will leave many flat-bottomed "bass and bream" tinnies in its wake.
While it makes no statements about being anything other than a fishing platform, the Formula 15 is nonetheless beautifully and practically fitted out. It's obvious that the guys who designed and built this little craft are serious fishermen.
In fact, the boat we used for this photo shoot was customised for inshore work by Shaun Clancy of BLA - Australia's largest marine wholesaler. The company uses the boat for training, promotion and competition, mainly in bream and flathead tournaments.
The bass-style boat has a Minn Kota Riptide electric motor mounted on the bow, which had either a foot control or a small remote control to guide the boat into shallow inlets and over mud and sandbanks without fear of getting stuck.
As we were doing this we came across another older runabout anchored bow and stern to stay in the one spot. The freedom the Minn Kota allowed in comparison to this old-fashioned way of doing things was a revelation.
Although the Formula carries an anchor in a large bow well, it is rarely used. The securing cleat is inside this lidded well; not on the deck, where it may snag lines or feet.
The bow is very clean and low, without a bowrail, for ease of fishing from the forward, raised deck. And it's high: just below gunwale height and ideal for casting. Of course spotting fish from this height is also a lot easier. It's wonderful to see a flathead puff up from a sandy lie and charge away. It's rare that you'll spot them until they move.




The casting platform is quite large. It is also carpeted and features four lidded compartments. Three of them, which are very spacious, are for gear (and the second battery), while the fourth is a livewell large enough to hold and keep alive four 50cm flathead.
A Humminbird Matrix 37X sounder is also mounted on the bow gunwale, so you can see what's happening underwater as you  guide the boat along under electric power without having to move. Pop-up stainless-steel cleats on the gunwales are designed not to snag lines.
The waist-high side console is mounted on the starboard side of the boat, roughly amidships, with the control lever on the left-hand side. It's easy enough to get used to, but it does tend to snag clothing a little as you move from stern to bow and back - likewise the knob on the stainless spoked steering wheel, which is otherwise brilliantly smooth.
The boat also tends to wander a little  too much under 10kmh.
The console front features three tackle drawers in a lidded box in the back, while  all instruments including a DC meter and  the main sounder - a Humminbird Matrix  97 colour combo GPS and sounder - are directly in front of the skipper. A six-switch panel is left of the helm. There is no windscreen and no weather protection for instruments, which is an option that could be considered.
Three heavy-duty battery switches (one for each battery and a cross-over) are on the left side of the console. The batteries are maintained by a BEP battery management system, which automatically monitors and charges both batteries.
Beneath the helm is an open storage area for odds and ends; and below that are recesses for the EPIRB and fire extinguisher. In case of an emergency, they couldn't be in a better spot.




Adjacent to the console, you step down into the boat from the raised forward platform; and again, everything is carpeted.
There is a short sidepocket on the starboard side, but the port coaming is a custom-built rod rack for five rods - the tips of which are protected by feeding them through a side opening in the forward deck.
The main battery is on the port side beneath the transom bulkhead, leaving plenty of room for tackleboxes and other awkward gear.
The Formula 15 features twin pedestal seats as well as a leaning post or casting seat, which can be quickly slotted into  a fitting in the bow. The second seat has a stainless grabrail adjacent.
The boat is fitted with four stainless rodholders in the gunwales, two of which can double as baitboard holders. There is a small storage bin in the port transom and pop-up cleats for mooring.
This boat was designed for slow work in very shallow areas, and it works very well indeed. However, the Formula's versatility was brought to the fore on our way home one evening when it was forced to negotiate 20kt winds across both the bottom and top lakes in the estuary.
The Formula ran flat and smooth, with just a touch of windblown spray coming aboard occasionally from the windward side. It was terrific to be in an open centre console on a rough day and not get drowned.




The Formula has a 90lt underfloor alloy fuel tank, which lasted us for three days of fishing. The Mercury 75 is mounted  on a standard transom and swings up  in a compact engine well, the back of which is a Teflon door that swings down with the engine in the "up" position.  This maximises useable interior space.
The whole package comes on a Mackay single-axle braked trailer fitted with centre and side-balance rollers with Teflon guide bars, which should make for easy one-person operation.
While the test boat was highly customised to justify its all-up price of $30,000, the basic boat is very competitive at under $25,000.
To my mind, the Formula 15 gives a far more comfortable and dry ride than a comparable tinny and is very stable  at rest. Being heavier (hull weight 450kg), it sits in the water better, and  its 20° deadrise gives it the ability to handle some pretty severe chop.
It positively flies down and across sea (WOT at 5800rpm gave us a top speed of 72kmh on the GPS) and  handles a headsea with delightful smoothness and dryness for such a  small, open craft. I found the cruising comfort zone at 3800rpm and 48kmh to be very respectable indeed.
The boat is rated to 90hp, but I found the 75hp Mercury ample for this style of fishing. It was obviously more economical than a 90 would be, too.
On the road, the boat weighs about 1100kg which, while certainly being heavier than a tinny, is still an easy tow for most family cars.
Formula Power Boats Australia has built an enviable reputation for build quality, finish and performance with its 21-footer, and this heavily customised 15-footer certainly reinforces that reputation.




• Stability
• Customisation and fishability
• Soft, surefooted and dry ride
• Heavy-duty engineering
• Excellent finish




• No weather protection
• Centre-mounted throttle
• Knob on helm might not suit everyone




Specifications: Formula 15 SC




Price as tested: $30,000
Options fitted: Custom fitout, GPS/sounders, bilge pump, hydraulic steering, extra chair, battery, Minn Kota remote electric motor
Priced from: $24,990




Material: GRP
Length (overall): 4.6m
Beam: 2.06m
Deadrise: 20°
Rec/max hp: 75/90
Hull weight: 450kg
Towing weight (as tested): 1100kg




Fuel: 90lt (underfloor)
Passengers: Four adults




Make/model: Mercury
Type: Oil-injected carburetted
Rated hp: 75
Displacement: 1386cc
Weight: 139kg
Prop: Three-blade 18in Vengeance s/s




BLA Fishing Team through Formula Power Boats Australia, Bulleen, Vic, tel (03) 9850 9280

Originally published in TrailerBoat #187

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