Taming estuary tailor
  |  First Published: April 2012

You either love tailor or you loathe them. When schools of tailor plague an estuary, these saw-toothed assassins are considered by most bream anglers as real nuisances. If they’re not devouring your hardbody lure collection, they are nipping the tails from every soft plastic in your collection.

The tailor has the best set of dentures in the business and can slice through any size leader with ease. When a tailor crashes your lure, you want to hope it’s pinned by the rear treble, otherwise you can kiss your lure goodbye.

I’m actually a fan of the tailor. Although their average is around only 30cm to 50cm, they fight really hard all the way to the landing net, with blistering runs and acrobatic aerial displays.

They can be caught with a variety of methods in all estuaries along the NSW coast and their fresh fillets perform nicely in beer batter.

In a healthy system they have the potential to grow quite large and I have seen them up to 1m long and caught them up to 70cm. At this size they make exceptional sport targets.


Quite often you’ll see tailor smashing into baitfish on the surface.

You can witness this scenario year round, any time through the day in any part of an estuary.

It can be a case of being in the right spot at the right time or you can prospect the system for these bust-ups.

The tailor will be hunting for baitfish, so a good method to locate them is to start trolling the fringes of drop-offs, weed beds, rocky points, and channel edges.

Prospecting the transitions from deep to shallow water can really narrow down your search because baitfish aggregate in these areas.

While trolling, keep an eye out for surface activity and have a secondary rod rigged and ready to fire a cast into a likely area.

Tailor move fast. They’ll launch an attack, eat, and then keep moving as they chase the baitfish. Having that spare rod ready will pay dividends if a school launches an assault at short notice.

Once a patch of tailor is located, it’s possible to engage an electric motor or simply drift around the school.

You can present a series of speculative casts in the general area in the hope of hitting the target or you can wait until the tailor push the bait to the surface and bust into them again. Then it’s just a simple cast at the feeding frenzy.

Tailor can push right into the brackish regions of an estuary and particularly like areas with deeper sections close to or adjacent to flats or shallows. But you’ll fare better concentrating your efforts toward the mouth or entrance of a system.


While smaller tailor are nicknamed choppers, their larger siblings are referred to as greenbacks.

As a tailor grows older and larger it adopts a slightly different hue from its juvenile colouring.

Silver flanks merging to a blue steel/gunmetal grey turrets are common in choppers but larger fish can have flanks of pewter and olive green backs.

Greenbacks usually swim solo and call one particular domain home. This is usually based around good structure like timber snags, oyster racks and rocky outcrops, which they can patrol and feed on anything that ventures too close.

You can find them hunting open water but these opportunities are rare.

Larger tailor are exceptionally challenging to catch. They have an enormous amount of power when hooked.

The added disadvantage you have with these brutes is where you hook them – generally too close to their chosen structure. An angry, leaping tailor deep in tiger country can be hard to stop.

When it comes to XOS tailor I tie fine single-strand wire bite tippets to the tow points of my lures to avoid being bitten off.

Unlike their tail-nipping smaller siblings, big tailor have big mouths and tend to swallow lures.

I also run a hefty fluorocarbon leader to minimise abrasion from nasties like rocks, weed and timber.

Unfortunately there is no solution to the cruel oysters – just hope for the best.


A standard bream spin combo will do the job nicely for choppers – a 7’ 2kg to 4kg rod, 1000 to 2000 spin reel, 2kg braid and 3kg to 4kg leader.

For greenbacks, I like a 2500 size reel with 10lb braid and a 3kg to 6kg inshore-type rod.

Lures range from diving and lipless minnows around 60mm to 100mm long to metal slugs and slices. Surface stickbaits and poppers also work a treat.

Jighead-rigged plastics work but hook-up ratios can be poor due when tail-nipping fish are about. If a tailor does manage to find the hook, it means those super sharp teeth are dangerously close to your line.

When you pause a hardbody this problem also arises when a tailor hits the tow point end of your lure.

The best method is to simply crank the lure at pace with the odd twitch.

Catching tailor on surface lures is champagne action, with fish slicing and slashing as they hunt it down before an explosive take.

Erratically-retrieved topwaters are deadly over shallow weed beds.

It’s difficult to get a walk-the-dog surface lure to function with a steel tippet, so heavy mono and a box of tissues for the tears is the only advice I can offer with these.

You will lose lures when fishing for tailor but it’s a lot of fun.



It becomes very expensive to chase tailor with premium lures. A good way to spare the expense is to buy cheaper models and retro-fit them with quality hooks and split rings.

Cheap lures may need tuning because a lot will not swim straight out of the box. Bend the tow point left or right accordingly with a set of long-nosed pliers.

Many cheap lures are not balanced or weighted like high-end jobs and some tend to be pigs to cast. This can be rectified by strategically adding some adhesive lead weight to get the lure flying through the air like a rocket. – AB

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