Bumper tailor hopeful
  |  First Published: July 2012

After months of indifferent weather conditions along with well below average catches, what Fraser Island needs right now is a bumper tailor season.

If these last months are likely to be a pointer to the next few months, then we are in for a hard time. Take heart in the history that shows that some of the greatest movements of tailor along the island’s eastern beach have followed lean times in the first half of the year.

In earlier columns I have predicted that the season will be well underway by mid to late July. When we mention the tailor season, we are referring to the migration of generally mature spawning fish along our east coast, culminating with concentrations of hungry fish heading for spawning grounds, particularly around Indian Head, Waddy Point and Sandy Cape.

It is around these locations that research has revealed the presence of fertilised larvae, but it is reasonable to expect that spawning is more widespread, possibly right along the surf zone of Fraser’s eastern beach. Tailor certainly come here to reproduce, but to do so they need massive amounts of food not only to maintain their energy but to produce eggs and sperm. Tailor have great dependence on the schools of baitfish that are also in a migratory mode along the coast. Various species of pilchards, anchovies, mullet and gar go a long way towards providing tailor with their essential food.

As a prelude to the tailor season, huge schools of baitfish are seen beyond the breakers, with early tailor and other predators making inroads into them. The arrival of offshore southwesterlies often bring the baitfish closer inshore, accompanied by tailor, heralding the start of the season.

When the season becomes established, tailor will be taken right along the beach and around the headlands. Almost every season, the best catches are made between Cathedral Beach and Indian Head, in the well-developed gutters that carry the white water coming off the outer banks.

As a general rule for finding tailor, look for gutters, spits and holes where breaking waves send white water over the deeper inshore waters. At Indian Head, the most productive spots are along the rock’s northern face, where breaking waves curl around the headland.

We need to remember however, that the beaches and headlands between Indian Head and Waddy Point are off limits for all fishing during August and September. The arrival of tailor usually signals a renaissance in the fishery as a whole. With tailor chopping into baitfish, dart and bream making themselves available to pick up the scraps.

Fish File

There can only be one contender for this month’s fish file. This is where we take a look at the tailor and its distribution throughout the world and, more particularly, its distribution in other parts of the Fraser Coast.

In universal circles the tailor is best known as Pomatomus saltatrix. It only has few close relatives, that is other members of the genus Pomatomus, however, it has one of the most widespread distributions of marine fishes. They are found along the fringes of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, in mild to warm latitudes. The Pacific Ocean misses out to some extent with only southern and eastern coast of Australia, and to a limited extent, the north island of New Zealand making tailor feel at home. There must be interesting reasons why the remainder of the Pacific rim, including the western coast of the USA miss out.

Australia is just about the only country where they are called tailor. Just about every country has its own name for this species. Along the east coast of the USA it goes by the name, bluefish. Here it has a big following as a top sportfish being taken along surf beaches and offshore. Everything I have learned about bluefish suggests that its overall quality exceeds that of our Australian fish.

Back to our own shores, the east coast population moves freely along our coast from northern Tasmania to Fraser Island, and just a little further north. On the west coast it is found as far north as the western shores of the Northern Territory. The eastern and western populations of tailor appear to be mutually exclusive and have some minor differences to the extent that they might be regarded as separate sub-species of saltatrix.

Tailor in the Straits

While the main migration of tailor finds its way along Fraser Island’s eastern beach, significant numbers of fish opt for a journey north through the Great Sandy Straits and into Hervey Bay.

Some tailor may enter the northern parts of the bay, via Sandy Cape. Areas around Tinnanbar, Poona, Boonaroo, Stewart Island, Ungowa, Bookar Island, McKenzies, River Heads, the Picnics and Woody Island all produce tailor each year.

Unfortunately you can’t expect quality tailor comparable with east coast fish, neither can you expect them in the numbers. I am always reluctant to dwell on the past in these columns, but I will say that in earlier decades tailor in big numbers, and of great quality, could be relied upon throughout the Straits. There may be many suggested reasons for their demise but the excessive netting of yellow zones could possibly be one of them.

I have had quite a lot to say about tailor fishing along the eastern beach and much the same principles apply through the quieter waters. Of course you don’t need the 3m rods that are almost standard equipment on the beach, but ganged 4/0 and 5/0 rigs with WA pilchards are still the popular way to go. Metals like the popular Knights in 65g or less always produce results. Berleying is not practised widely on the beach, but it is very effective in the quieter waters of the straits. Finally a reminder that whether they are caught on the beach or in the Straits, the bag limit of 20 and minimum size of 35cm applies.

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