Growing up in Moreton Bay I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of tailor fishing. I love a feed of fresh tailor, and I love chasing these great fish – it’s a perfect match!
Tailor are great fun to hook and fight on lures. Their aerial acrobatics and especially their surface strikes on poppers make for plenty of enjoyment for kids and adults. I remember a few times as a primary school youngster catching, tagging and releasing so many of them that my tiny little arms hurt.
My first ever tag returns were from Moreton Bay tailor. More specifically they were taken on high speed chrome slices cast and retrieved from a boat positioned near to the breaking waves around Gilligans Island.
The traditional image of Moreton Island tailor fishing is to stand on the ocean beach, often in waders, in the cool winter/start of spring months, casting into the surf gutters with your 4WD parked up the beach behind you. Your outfit would be a long surf rod and a 6.5" Alvey sidecast reel loaded with 15-20lb mono line. Over your shoulder would be a bait bag on one side, and a fish shoulder bag diagonally across the body from the other shoulder. The typical bait would be a WA blue pilchard on a three or four-hook gang rig using Mustad 4200 hooks in 5/0 or 6/0.
Most tailor caught today would still be targeted on pillies and medium weight lead ball sinkers. Sea garfish are a good back up bait to the pillies. A lot of anglers chasing the big specimens in the 3-4kg range like to pre-catch their bait often in the form of tuna fillets or whole yellowtail pike, which they cast out unweighted.
Tailor will run on Moreton’s 40km of ocean beach from Long Point (aka Short Point) up to the Cape, from winter through to December. Deep gutters, open at both ends, are prime territory for bait fishing for the bigger versions. Good fishing for chopper tailor can be had at Readers Point at the southern end and also Combie at the northern end of the island.
The tailor migrate along Moreton Island, north to Fraser Island, and then run back down along Moreton Island’s ocean beaches and through the bay. When soliciting information about happening locations (such as when you are buying some bait and tackle from local tackle stores) you’ll normally get details such as gutter formations and tailor schools referenced in relation to the features, such as White Rock, Eagers Creek and the dunes. Make sure you know where the greens zones are at Braydon Beach MNP06 and Mirapool Islands MNP16.
Dusk and dawn have always been the best time, especially when bait fishing. However, some days they’ll also bite pretty solid during the day and at night.
For sheer fish-catching fun, fish the washes by lure casting from a boat. The prime spots for this activity include the locations where the surf meets the bay at the north and south ends of Moreton and Stradbroke islands and also the rocky headlands on the northern end of both islands. We stand off the rocks in the boat (good weather only) and cast lures towards the crashing surf. The lures are then retrieved with a fair bit of speed (metal lures) or a walk-the-dog action (poppers).
Some of the rock washes today are green zones – I’m referring particularly to the area adjacent to North Point on Moreton Island – so you’d be well advised to check the finer letter of the law and only fish in the legitimate areas.
Other spots that we fish include, but are not limited to, the back of the surf line along the eastern side of Bribie Island, up to Caloundra headland and Brays, the eastern side of Mud Island in a few metres of water hard up against the island (the wash doesn’t have to be breaking here), similarly the mouth of the Brisbane River around the rock walls, Gilligans as mentioned before, the coffee rock along the front of Redcliffe Peninsula (take note of the yellow and green zones) and any of the islands in the Southern Bay where the incoming tide (or receding tide) causes washes to break or foam around hard structure. Fish every single island (avoid the green zones of course) and as far as structure goes it can be just a single rock, a coral clump or a big ‘reef’ or something artificial like a wreck or jetty.
The types of lures that are typically cast at the washes are surface poppers, chrome metal lures, and bucktail jigs (these days you can tie your own jigs by tying bucktail or feathers onto the same jigheads that you use for soft plastic fishing).
You can also cast minnows, however they are less popular because you normally can’t cast them as far, particularly into the breeze. We also catch quite a few tailor by trolling hardbodied minnows along the edge of the washes or along the edge of structure, like the walls on the southern and eastern side of Mud Island.
Applying the trolling tactic in slow times, such as a snack break during the fishing outing, often locates another school of actively feeding tailor that we then get stuck into with the cast and retrieve lures. In this trolling situation I’ll run one shallow runner, about the size of a Norman Razor minnow, in a bright colour and one medium to deep diving minnow. Typically the tailor will show a preference for one lure or the other. I run the most productive lure on both of the boat’s troll lines.
Working poppers around the shallow bait reefs (such as the coffee rock areas where yellow tail pike hang out) can also be productive. I retrieve the poppers with either a stop/start retrieve or a flat out high speed retrieve.
You can also lure cast to tailor around sandbanks with waves breaking on them or rocks with wash. Another piece of structure to look for are rips in the water along which two flows of water interact. Such confluences are particularly evident at the southern end of the bay’s islands.
The following isn’t a hard and fast rule but it is a good basis to start. I recommend that you have one baitcaster type troll out-rigged with a minnow and two 7’ spin outfits for each person on board. If one spin reel is faster than the other then tie the chrome slice to that outfit. On the spin outfit with the slower retrieve ratio tie on a popper; when retrieved with a walk-the-dog cadence then you don’t need speed to be successful with surface lures.
I try the popper first when there isn’t any of that white surface foam that results from breaking wash. If there are patches of broken water around then I rip a slug or slice through/under the foam as fast as I can. If high speed chroming doesn’t work then try a medium speed retrieve with a spoon type metal lure such as a Flasha.
I regularly catch tailor on lures at Easter (April) and I have caught them every month of the year with greater predictability occurring when you time your trips to coincide with the north-south tailor migrations.
Switch yourself back to being land-based and you can cast the same metal lures on your beach outfits. Use a high speed spin reel on your 12-13’ beach rod to get the right combination of casting distance and retrieve speed. Again the best place to work lures, including tail weighted poppers, are the same foamy washes that you cast to from a boat. Accordingly the rocks are a good place to start. You can also target tailor in the foaming surf on the bank edges of deep holes and gutters.
Tailor should be bled immediately after capture to allow the blood to drain away from the flesh. Breaking the gill rakers with your fingers is the time honoured traditional way to bleed tailor.
Cook them fresh, from the ocean if you can. Sprinkle fillets with a few light spices and or herbs and then straight onto a warm BBQ plate. My tip is to keep a keen eye on them while they are cooking. Since the fillets are delicate and fairly thin the cooking time is very short.
If you are intending to put the fish into storage then get them into an ice slurry pretty quickly after capture.
The legal length for tailor is now 35cm and they have an in-possession limit of 20 fish per angler/person.Reads: 6390