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Tailor made fishing for Fraser
  |  First Published: September 2013



It's official, Fraser Island is the tailor capital of Australia. Don't believe it? Then why not come and find out for yourself. This month is prime tailor time but there will still be plenty of action during October. Let's look at how we can make your Fraser Island tailor expedition successful and enjoyable.

A little background

Over 100km of sandy beaches make up most of the island's east coast. These beaches are broken only by the volcanic rocks of Indian Head, Middle Rocks and Waddy Point, as well as a number of coffee rock outcrops.

Although a few tailor are taken along the island's western shores, it is the eastern coast that sees all the action. It is possible to catch tailor all year round at Fraser Island but it is only during late winter and spring that mature fish congregate where there is plenty of food and where conditions are right for spawning. There appears to be a general northward migration from the south and along Fraser's ocean beach.

It is interesting to note that Sandy Cape is the northern extremity of open surf beaches, and holds significant aggregations of spawning tailor. Research has shown, by the existence of tailor larvae, that spawning takes place at least in the vicinity of Indian Head but is to be assumed that the entire surf zone of the island, as far north as Sandy Cape and Breaksea Spit, with good food supply as well as highly oxygenated water, would support successful spawning.

Of course tailor are well known along beaches and within estuaries further north but nowhere are they found in abundance to rival Fraser Island.

accommodation
Camping

The majority of tailor fishing families camp along the coast in clearly marked camping zones. The most popular are Eugarie, Yurru and Gurruman, Wyuna and Burad between Maheno Wreck and Indian Head, and Marloo and Ocean Lake, between Orchid Beach and Ngkala Rocks.

These open beaches have absolutely no facilities so parties need to be well set up for the essentials. However, these camping areas are usually close to excellent features that make for good fishing for the whole family.

Sites in these zones are very popular in the peak of the season and they are among the few that are suitable for taking campervans off the beach. Although caravans are often seen in camping zones, the problems in getting them there, particularly after this year's erosion along the island, need to be considered.

Camping zones, other than those already mentioned, are well worth looking at, as there are sure to be good tailor features nearby. The only possible exception would be between Hook Point and Dilli Village where beach and gutter structure is not as conducive to tailor fishing as beaches further north.

Queensland National Parks and Wildlife service operate controlled camping areas with facilities at Dundubara and Waddy Point.

Camping permits are required for all beach side camping as well as those at Dundubara and Waddy Point. These must be booked and purchased before arriving at the island. The easiest way to do this is to log into the ParksQ website, register an account then easily make bookings and purchase your permits. Permit tags are then issued through email. Alternatively permits can be purchased at QPWS offices and agencies. Current camping fees are $5.45 per person per night or $21.80 per night for a family group of two adults and children under 18.

While on the subject of permits, all vehicles are required to display a current permit to enter the National Park. Currently this fee is $42.15 for one month or less and can be obtained online or through QPWS offices or agents.

There are privately operated campsites at Dilli Village, Kgari and Cathedral Beach. Fees for these camps can be obtained through direct contact with them.

Camping not your scene?

If camping is not your scene, there are plenty of more ‘civilised’ options. There is a wide range of accommodations from cabins to luxury apartments available in the townships of Eurong, Happy Valley and Orchid Beach and at Cathedral Beach.

In addition there are a number of delightful waterfront properties in isolated clusters at Poyungan Rocks, Poyungan Valley, Yidney Rocks and Indian Head. Most properties are advertised through holiday rental websites.

Getting there

A competent high clearance 4WD is essential when heading across to Fraser Island. If you need to hire a vehicle this can be arranged by contacting one of the reputable rental companies at Brisbane, Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. Vehicular barges leave the mainland for Fraser from Inskip Point and River Heads.

via Inskip Point

The barge Manta Ray makes the short 10 minute crossing from Inskip Point to Hook Point at the southern end of the island. The barge runs continuously from 6am to 5.30pm and there is no need to book a passage. Currently the return barge fare is $110 for a 4WD with an extra $60 for a trailer. This includes all passengers and there is no charge for independent passengers.

To reach Inskip Point from the south, turn onto the Tin Can Bay road on the outskirts of Gympie, then follow the signs to Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point. At Rainbow Beach there are lots of facilities for anglers heading for Fraser Island. These include the QPWS office, fuel and provisions.

At the barge departure point it might be necessary to cross some soft and churned up sand, so be prepared with appropriate tyre pressures and drive selection.

On arrival on the island, beach travel right up the ocean beach might be possible if the tide is an hour or two either side of low water. If this is not advised, the road behind the dunes might need to be used as far north as beach access points south of Dilli Village. From here, beach travel becomes easier provided the tides are taken into consideration.

If using this barge, the ideal plan would be to arrive at Inskip Point about half tide down, thus providing the lower part of the tide for travel well up the ocean beach of the island. Another smart idea, if in any doubt, is to have a chat to the barge operator about beach and road conditions.

Travelling north along the ocean beach, Eurong appears as the first sign of habitation. It takes about 50 minutes to reach Eurong, very much dependent upon tide, beach and track conditions. This could be your first sign of one of Fraser's specialties – a dingo fence complete with cattle grid and electrified wires.

A lot of Eurong is owned by Kingfisher Bay Resort and there are high rise units, cabins, hotel, restaurant, bakery, general store and fuel outlet. Be prepared for higher prices on the island. Diesel is selling for $2.10 per litre at Eurong at present.

via River Heads

Kingfisher Resort operates two services from River Heads to the island. The preferred service for anglers heading to the ocean beach goes to Woongoolbver Creek on the island's western shore. From here the road leads to Eurong. The beauty of this access is that for the most part it is a pair of one-way tracks, removing the possibility of dealing with oncoming traffic.

The regular barge, Fraser Venture, leaves River Heads for the island at 8.30am, 10.15am and 4.00pm, returning from Woongoolbver Creek at 9am, 3pm and 5pm daily. Occasionally departure times might vary due to adverse tidal conditions but such changes are advised upon booking. Crossing time is about 40 minutes and allow about another 50 minutes to reach Eurong.

The service to Kingfisher Bay resort doubles as a passenger ferry. It has a number of departures daily. Crossing time is about 45 minutes. The road crossing from the resort to the ocean beach at Cornwell's Break is a single track so there is always the possibility of meeting oncoming buses and other vehicles.

The return barge fare is currently $160 for either service. Prior reservation is essential and payment via credit or debit card must be made at this time. The booking phone number is 1800 227 437 .

Eurong to the Maheno

In common with beaches right along our southern coast, the eastern beach has copped a real hiding this year. The result has not only been severe erosion of the beach and dunes, but also the exposure of huge coffee rock outcrops, some having remained unseen for 20 years.

The result has been stretches of very narrow beach, even at low tide, fallen trees and extremely difficult and dangerous ‘moon scapes’ of coffee rock. Already this year we have seen many vehicles come to serious grief. As I write I am looking down the beach to where a healthy build up of sand is forming a double beach to the south. Hopefully we will soon see many of the rogue outcrops covered over but I think that we can assume that there will still be problems well into September.

The mostly permanent outcrops of Poyungan Rocks, 11km north of Eurong, may have to be negotiated using the ‘somewhat’ maintained bypass and very rough exposed rocks on the northern side. Depending on the state of the beach, but certainly not as it is now, it may be possible to drive with caution around the front of the rocks at low tide.

The next set of major coffee rocks are south of Yidney and between there and the entrance to Happy Valley. Again on low tides it might be possible to drive around the front of the rocks. Otherwise it requires using the Yidney bypass as far as a beach ramp immediately north of Yidney, or continuing on to Happy Valley township.

Regulars will know that the shop, bar and restaurant here were closed for some time but the good news is that they are well and truly back in business. North of Happy Valley, McLaughlins and Chard rocks have caused problems in recent months, particularly when the tide has been well in.

A little further up the beach, the eastern beach's largest stream, Eli Creek, spills its load of clear fresh water into the ocean. There may be serious washouts where it crosses the beach. At any stage of the tide it should be examined carefully before crossing. If in doubt, watch how experienced drivers deal with it.

At this point I should mention that although the general speed limit on the beach is 80km/h, there are reduced speed limits (40km/h or less) in the vicinity of towns, tourist attractions and trouble spots. These are well signed as are the restricted speeds at Eli Creek and a little further on at the wreck of the Maheno.

Maheno to Waddy Point and beyond

The 32km of beach to Indian Head is almost devoid of coffee rock but there are still a few creeks and plenty of washouts to keep the driver alert. 

Continuing north from there requires negotiating the soft sand behind Indian Head. Almost every time I go through here, someone is seriously bogged. Invariably the problem is either inexperience on the part of the driver and/or high tyre pressure. Once through to the northern side of Indian Head, another kilometre takes you to the Middle Rocks jump-up. Most of this hill is boarded but the approach and lower section can be very soft. Yet another spot to find drivers in trouble.

The parking area and toilets at the top of the jump-up service the popular tourist attraction of the Champagne Pools. From here to the Orchid Beach township, the road is conveniently two one-way tracks. Orchid Beach was originally set up as a tourist resort in the early 1960s. Following its demise, land was opened up and the town of Orchid Beach was born. As well as having lots of private homes and rental accommodation, it has a well stocked shop with fuel supplies.

Shortly before reaching Orchid Beach there is a turnoff that leads to the Waddy Point campsites. Another turnoff just a little further along, leads down a cutting onto the beach. From here it is a short drive east along one of many tracks to Waddy Point.

Ngkala Rocks and beyond

About 13km north of Waddy Point, the major coffee rock structures of Ngkala Rocks provides a serious barrier to travel further north. There have been bypass tracks that have suffered at the hand of the weather as much as the beaches.

The beaches north of here are designated semi-remote having no facilities and without reliable phone coverage.

Well prepared parties that venture north need to negotiate further coffee rocks at Browns Rocks on the 20km run to Sandy Cape. Once around the Cape, a further 7km takes you to the entrance to the track leading to the Sandy Cape lighthouse. From here to Rooney Point and then south to Wathumba Creek, the beach is closed to all vehicles.

For the first time Fraser Island tailor adventurer, I would be reluctant to recommend a trip beyond Ngkala Rocks, even though these beaches can turn on some of the best tailor fishing.

Let's find those tailor

As already mentioned, there appears to be a general migration north to Fraser Island and then along the ocean beach. Before the season gets into full swing, schools of tailor are often seen well offshore feeding ravenously on pilchards and other baitfish. As prevailing winds tend to be more offshore and seas become calmer, baitfish tends to move inshore, with tailor not far behind.

There are conditions under which tailor can be caught at any time, day or night, but it is more likely that they will hold wide of the breakers for most of the time, only to make savage forays into the inner gutters when conditions suit them. This is why it is usual to experience frantic bursts of fishing in the first hours of daylight and again at dusk.

Of course some excellent fishing is to be had during the night as well. In fact, this is when most of the very large tailor are taken, but more on that a little later.

On the open beach

It is true that one of the easiest ways to find tailor on Fraser Island is to drive along the beach until you see gatherings of 4WDs and long rods pointing skywards. Even though joining such a gathering might not be your cup of tea (it certainly isn't mine), there is much to be learnt by getting involved or at least watching what goes on.

It is most likely that such a gathering will not be too far away from a popular camping area. More importantly it will be at a long and fairly calm gutter with waves breaking on the outer bank. Although fish would probably enter the gutter chasing baitfish, the presence of lots of pilchards being broken up during the feeding frenzy, keeps the fish in the gutter and in feeding mode.

Other species, dart in particular, love to join in with the spoils, and at these times, serious tailor anglers find some not-so-nice words for them. The bonus here is fun that all family members using lighter tackle can have with the hard fighting dart.

Long gutters full of feeding tailor are great as long as participants show respect for fellow fishers. Before joining the action it is a good plan to stand back and watch how the gutter is being worked. As importantly, the new chum needs to be as competent with his equipment as those already fishing.

Around the rocks

Headlands and coffee rock outcrops produce the kind of features that concentrate tailor and other species. Indian Head in particular produces some of the most frantic tailor fishing available on the island.

Although they can be caught from any point it is the northerly face that produces most of the action. Here, the southeasterly swells curving around the headland, break and form plenty of that magic white water. Indian Head fishes particularly well when southeasterly winds make beach fishing difficult.

In suitable conditions it can be shoulder-to-shoulder fishing around the northern side of the headland. It is certainly not the place to be if you are not totally confident about negotiating the rocky pathway out to the best vantage points.

The northern side of Waddy Point also fishes well in the white water produced by breaking swells.

Having wetted the appetite for some exciting tailor fishing around the headlands, now I need to tell you that they are closed to all fishing during this month. From noon on August 1 to noon on September 30 each year, from 400m on the beach south of Indian Head to 400m north of Waddy Point, as well as 400m seaward of these points, fishing for all species is prohibited. It also needs to be noted that the headlands of Middle Rocks are zoned green so are closed to fishing all year round.

What about equipment

After checking out the equipment being used along Fraser's east coast, we recognise three broad categories, each very much related to their terminal gear, baits and artificials.

Rod and reel

By far the most popular is the typically ‘Queenslander’ approach where 3.5-4m surf rods and 650 Alveys are putting ganged pilchards out into the white water. Suitable rods are readily available in major tackle shops and it is convenient to say that these are generally ‘tailor’ made for the purpose. These are powerful rods with less tip action than we would expect.

As well as being able to handle long casts with relatively light baits, it plays important roles in hooking and retrieving tailor. The bite of a tailor is better described as a ravenous attack that is likely to end up damaging or severing the trace. On feeling the first indication of a bite, the line should be retrieved at a moderate pace to encourage the fish to chase and attack the bait, and become hooked. In addition to this, once a tailor is hooked, continuous pressure should be applied. A slow tapered rod cannot do this as effectively and gives the fish a better chance of throwing the hooks. At times a tailor will leap into the air shaking its head vigorously in an attempt to free itself.

There are very good reasons why the Alvey reel has become synonymous with tailor fishing on Fraser Island. Its ease of casting, direct wind, and its ability to handle the harsh conditions of surf and sand, justify this reputation. However, we must take nothing away from the other excellent surf fishing reels that are on the market.

The rod and reel must make an ideal match. The side cast reel, particularly larger diametre models such as the 650 Alvey need a large stripping guide well up the rod so as not to inhibit the coils of line coming off the reel while casting. A short butt is also best suited to the casting action of this reel.

Although most rods suitable for tailor fishing come with these requirements, longer butt models are available.

Line and terminal gear

Now comes the question about line. Which way to go: mono or braid?

Tailor fishing requires a line that enables that constant and direct pressure when playing a fish, at the same time being flexible enough to deal with the sudden forces being applied by the tailor in its attempt to escape. Naturally, braid with its near zero stretch doesn't fit here.

I would never recommend using braid with the Alvey, as this reel requires the angler to guide the line onto the reel with the fingers. With spinning and overhead reels, this problem is overcome but there is still the low stretch problem. Most anglers using braid on spinning reels, compensate by using leaders, as long as practicable, of high stretch mono.

When choosing a mono, check out the credentials of the manufacturer then go for one that suits your requirements. If you pick one with very low stretch then if you are not used to it, you will suffer being broken off by hard fighting fish. Going to the other extreme might mean the loss of direct contact with the fish.

I have used both Trilene Sensation and Platypus Lo Stretch mainlines, both with medium stretch mono leaders. Ideal mono line diametres range from about 0.30mm to 0.40mm, that is breaking strains from about 5-8kg.

There are certainly many ideas about how the terminal gear should be assembled. However to keep life simple at this point, I will deal with the way I set up for tailor.

Being an Alvey user, the first hardware my main line comes to is a good quality swivel, to help eliminate twisting as coils of line come off the reel during casting. From here the leader is 0.50mm diametre or greater through to the hook assembly.

There are at least two good reasons for the heavy leader: Firstly, it gives the tailor something a bit more substantial to chew if it wants to eat nylon as well as metal; Secondly, when the angler brings a fish in through the surf, it gives him the opportunity to grab the heavy trace and pull the fish up the beach. For this reason the leader needs to be up to 1m in length but not too long so as to inhibit casting.

Before someone says, “Where's the sinker? It has not been forgotten, after all, the best rig doesn't have a sinker at all - if you can get away with it. In ideal conditions bait spinning without lead is the ultimate in this sort of fishing. Back to the other 95% of reality, the sinker is needed to get the bait out there and perhaps have it stay there long enough for a tailor to find it.

Usually the sinker is included on the trace and positioned by a swivel or solid ring. Placing the sinker directly on the hook assembly or very close to it might help the bait to bury, while having it too far from the hook hampers the direct contact with interested fish. As well as that I have found that the further the sinker is from the bait, the less control you have during casting with bait and sinker wanting to do their own thing in the air.

My preference is for a compromise, one which, in the prevailing conditions does not cause the bait to bury, but at the same time doesn't interfere with the cast. I usually start with the sinker set 10cm from the gang of hooks. The sinker should always be the lightest the conditions will allow. In heavy conditions it might be necessary to go as far as a number 7 ball. I always use ball sinkers but concede that other patterns have their place where baits might move too quickly in a heavy sweep.

Most commonly the hook assembly is a gang of 4/0 or 5/0 linked together. Ready-made gangs are always available in tackle outlets. Also hooks with shanks already bent at the eye and with eyes partly open are available to make linking easier. The Mustad version is 4202D. My preference is to purchase model 4200D where the shank is not bent and the eye is closed. I then open the eye and bend the shank the way I like it before assembling the gang. The number of hooks in a gang is usually 4 or 5.

Baits

West Australian pilchards make up the majority of baits used along Fraser Island's ocean beach. Before they became readily available, the premium baits were sea gar and locally netted blue pilchards. Many top tailor anglers continue to use sea gar and claim that they are still the best. Unfortunately they are not as readily available as pilchards.

When preparing to place a bait on the gang it is best to lay the fish along the hooks so that the top hook, where the trace is attached, is level with the eye of the bait. Then note where the bottom hook should penetrate. Starting from here the hooks should be progressively inserted through the baitfish finishing with the hook through the eye. When properly mounted, the bait should hang straight and limp, not like a bent banana. It doesn't take long to become an expert.

If the bait is shorter than the gang of hooks, this is not a problem at all. The last hook should just be left free at the bottom of the gang. In fact, it is this free running hook that often scores the tailor.

This method of fishing for tailor has been around for more than 50 years having been developed by Tweed Heads club anglers including the legendary Len Thompson.

Another approach

Although some very large tailor are taken on the beach during the day, it has been established that most of the very best tailor come inshore at night to hunt their prey. So to score a real trophy fish, you need to join them, on the beach that is.

Again West Australian pilchards will prove successful but anglers who specialise prefer to use bonito or horse mackerel fillets mounted on a pair of 6/0 hooks linked by steel trace.

What about artificials

We have had a lot to say about bait fishing for tailor, probably because that's the way most of it happens. I have experimented with a variety of hardbody lures as well as soft plastics. Certainly if you can get an artificial out there they will not hesitate to attack it with gusto and with damaging effect. I thought I had them beat when I sent an almost indestructible Snap Back out on a heavy jighead. Well, I think I will keep my Snap Backs for flathead and snapper!

The only artificials that I continue to persevere with are the almost indestructible metal lures. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as spinners – they don't spin at all, they have an attractive movement through the water, producing a light display that fish find irresistible.

There are many home-made versions out there, some simply made by running a heavy wire through a barrel sinker then flattening it out, with hooks and swivels attached to the wire. Today we are fortunate in being able to choose from a range of affordable, and very effective metals. The Raider range by Spanyid is right up there. Combined with the right rod and reel outfit, there metals can be cast well beyond the range of bait fishing.

Very often it is the bigger fish holding wide out, that fall for the speeding metal. I use both 65g and 85g Raiders in the blue, black, green and silver patterns that pretty much ‘match the hatch’ of the baitfish the tailor are feeding on. I use my Okuma EFS60 with one of my light surf rods effectively but I am told that I should be upgrading to one of the super graphite items that are designed for the job. I use 10kg braid with a length of very stretchy leader. The 6.3:1 Okuma could be a bit of an overkill as tailor don't insist on the rate of retrieve that we need working tuna in Hervey Bay.

Some of the best tailor fishing using metals is to be had casting over the outer coffee rocks at Poyungan, Yidney and Ngkala. Of course this outfit is also suited to spinning off Indian Head and Waddy Point.

Fishing done. What now?

Fraser Island certainly offers the visitor a great range of angling experiences. And all who love and respect their sport are keen to follow the rules and guidelines laid down by the Queensland Government with respect to fisheries and national parks.

The minimum legal length for tailor is 35cm and a bag limit of 20. The bag limit is strictly in possession, whether it be whole fish, fillets or cooked. With an abundance of tailor often available on the island, it is not difficult to score a bag limit on a single tide.

A solution could be to do some serious fish frying between sessions, but a better approach would be practising a little catch and release. Invariably some tailor will be damaged during fishing process, and will be bleeding profusely. These are the ones that should be kept for the pan, with others being released in good condition.

I am fully aware that there are island visitors who do not take these regulations seriously. They are also the ones who give recreational fishers a bad name. Fisheries officers are able to check catches on the island, even at the barge landings or on the road.

Queensland National Parks and Wildlife service have in place a number of regulations impinging on anglers on Fraser Island. Many of these relate to the management of dingoes and include the prohibition of feeding dingos either intentionally or otherwise. One of the major concerns is the disposal of offal. There are sections of beach where this is not allowed but these are indicated by signage. Regulations say that offal should be buried between high and low water marks so that it is all at least 50cm below the surface.

However the conclusion that I come to here is that policy makers must not have a very good understanding of the sense of smell of canines. The dingoes must start salivating while watching from the scrub as yet another hole is being dug to bury offal. I have watched, and photographed, dingoes digging up correctly buried tailor frames, then feasting on it, sand and all, which can't be too good for the health of the dingo. There are better and more environmentally friendly ways of disposing offal but these are illegal, so we must continue to dig those holes in the beach, preferably much deeper than 50cm.

There are a number of other rules that relate to visitors generally and these are laid out clearly in the literature that comes with vehicle and camping permits.

My intention here has been to give you what you need to make your Fraser Island tailor adventure a rewarding experience. I hope I have succeeded.

The total package

Regular readers know that I like to mention the ‘total package’ when it comes to total enjoyment and satisfaction in a form of fishing. The ability, through experience, research and experimentation, to locate tailor along an open beach is part of that package.

The key to finding tailor, particularly in daylight hours, is locating white water. On the ocean beach this could be anywhere that the white water, or suds, formed by a breaking wave, washes into deeper water. Recall of past experiences and an understanding of the habits of the fish also come into play. It might be that baitfish congregate here, or it could be that the tailor prefer the cover provided. Of course once the fish come on the bite the feeding frenzy might take them out of their comfort zone and into more open water.

So on the ocean beach, look for gutters, spits and any other features that produce this all important white water.

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