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Fraser’s fabulous tailor
  |  First Published: August 2015



If you were to ask me where I’d like to go fishing tomorrow, Fraser Island would instantly pop into my mind. It’s given me a lifetime of good memories and good fishing and hopefully many more to come. I’m sure countless other anglers and their families would feel the same way I do – Fraser is just one of those unique places and it’s virtually on Brisbane’s back door.

At this time of the year there’s an annual run of tailor along the northern beaches, in particular Fraser Island. This run is held high in the minds of beach fishos, some of whom consider it to be the Mecca of tailor fishing. Still, these seasonal runs (like all fish) vary from year to year. Generally the season starts in late July as the first run of fish move through. Most anglers pass up on the first run, which is often short. The few schools can move in and out pretty quickly.

The two best months are definitely August and September, with anglers planning their trips around either the full or new moon. It just depends when they fall in the month. There are several reasons for this. Most fish are more active around these moon phases, feeding and spawning. Food and sex: powerful motivators and natural instincts for fish! Bigger tides occur too, so more movement of water and food result in a better bite for anglers.

I’ve seen a spawn take place only once, and that was while I was standing on Indian Head looking a school of tailor the size of a football field just to the north. In the calm waters the agitation of the tailor was clear and the dark brown/black colour of the school changed to a lighter colour as thousands of tailor released their milt. It was quite an awesome sight to behold.

Fishing the moons you sometimes find there is a good daytime bite around the top of the tide, but usually early morning, afternoon and night are the best times to fish. When I say ‘early morning’ I mean before the first hint of light starts to sneak over the horizon. The bite continues until about 8am. Sure, you will still get a few fish if you are a late riser, but you’ll miss the best of it. If you are going to have a fish during the day, try changing to a metal lure and casting right out to the white water at the back of the gutter. Tailor take refuge during the light of the day in this zone.

The afternoon bite starts about 4pm and is at its best as the sun disappears behind the dunes with their shadows casting over the water. When darkness falls (around 6pm) the main run is pretty well done and the bite drops off.

Tailor do feed well at night though, and this is when those big greenbacks of 3-5kg move in. To catch them you need to find the right gutter and be patient.

CHOPPER TAILOR

Before we get too excited about the big ones, let’s first have a look a catching a few of the more common schooling fish, or ‘choppers’, which these days average around 1kg. For this, a rod from 12’0” to 13’6” is about right, loaded with 6-8kg line on either an Alvey side cast or a spinning reel. Using a long rod is less about casting distance and more about keeping the line out of the wash and sweep. It avoids unnecessary drag, which will see your line wash up onto the beach quicker or down the gutter with the sweep.

The same applies for the line strength that you use, which is a bit of a compromise. Go too heavy and you have the wind resistance on your cast and that drag in the water due to the extra thickness of the line. Go too light to get better casting distance and you can often snap off while trying to cast a reasonable weight and pilchard out to the back of the gutter. Additionally, all the striking at the fish when they hit is tough on knots and light line, with plenty of break-offs happening on the strike. If you are reasonably skilled, 6kg line is good for those smaller, chopper-sized fish. It’s hard fishing, so good gear and good knots are essential.

The terminal tackle is pretty basic and straightforward, though a few refinements will help you be more successful. I like to run about a 60cm length of 40lb fluorocarbon leader. It ties well, has good knot strength and doesn’t nick or fray easily.

On average, a no. 5 ball sinker is placed between two black crane swivels about 10cm apart. The purpose of this is to reduce line twist due to all the casting and retrieving that you do, and it also prevents the sinker running back up the line when you cast, which reduces your casting distance. Fewer twists and tangles mean more time spent fishing.

At the business end of the rig, 3 x 5/0 Mustad 4200 hooks ganged together will accommodate your average pilchard nicely. This is a straight eye, closed hook pattern so you’ll have to open the eyes and close them again when you make your rig. Before doing this, I place a small bend in the shank about 1cm below the eye of the bottom two hooks, but not the top third hook. When you put the three hooks together you will see that the eyes now all lie in a straight line. This allows the pilchard to be pulled straight through the water, and the shanks now hold in firmly against the body of the pilchard. It all adds up to a bait that stays on the hook better and longer, and hooks up more positively. You will also find that you can put the pilchard on the rig faster than if you were using a greater number of smaller hooks.

When the fish are schooling and feeding well in the gutter, the cast and retrieve method works best. The speed of that really depends on the sweep in the gutter and how quickly the fish are hitting the bait. When they are really on the chew your bait can be ripped off before you even get the slack out of the line, so you need to be quick. The longer rod can also help you here as you can lean back on it, which aids in pulling that slack out.

If the bite is slow and the gutter not too crowded, a slower retrieve where the bait can sink a little or even sit on the bottom will do the job. Be prepped all the way through the retrieve, as tailor travel those little low waves at your feet or move through the white water during the lower light hours.

GREENBACK TAILOR

If you think 1kg tailor hit hard and fight well, you’re going to love catching fish of even 2kg let alone big angry greenbacks of 3-4kg. For these fish you need a different approach and different gear. Find yourself a nice, short, deep gutter where the fish can come over the bank into the gutter and then move out of a northerly facing exit. Even better if there’s access out to the main back gutter.

It’s a waiting game now. The big fish require heavier gear – at least 10kg line and a wire trace will join your fluorocarbon leader. If you don’t use wire those razor sharp teeth will snip through mono easily. Use at least 15cm from a swivel at the fluorocarbon leader to the hooks for the wire trace.

I recommend still keeping the same leader above the wire for some extra protection and security to hang onto as you try to land the fish dragging it up the beach. There’s no just swinging them up into your arm like you do with choppers. The big fish will fight hard right to your feet and then some.

Instead of a pilchard bait on a gang, the preferred bait is bonito or horse mackerel fillets. Not a massive bait, just big enough to load up a 5/0 octopus hook. I run a second 2/0 octopus hook above this as a stinger hook. It helps hold the bait up, preventing it from sliding down into a big blob, and it’s very efficient in hooking up as well.

Guys who chase big tailor a lot often use long 15’ rods. Here it is about keeping the bait out in the gutter as long as possible. The big rod keeps the line out of the wash and in the gutter where it needs to be, waiting for those fish to move in.

I’d like to say that the fish always hit hard and fast but plenty of times they don’t. You can get just a few nibbles that make you think it’s a small pesky bream or dart, then SMASH, you’re trying to stop the rod being ripped from your hands. And that’s what keeps you on your toes – the anticipation of the unknown.

The times they do come in and hit hard, you well and truly know about it. The fish use every muscle in their bodies and the wave action to their full advantage. It's an adrenaline rush that’s hard to beat.

Big fish moving into the gutter can be short and sweet so you should always have a second rod rigged up ready to go to avoid delays in re-rigging. Just imagine a few big bullies rushing into a room, running around causing chaos all over the shop before a quick retreat. That’s what I picture greenbacks doing. If there is enough bait about, they may stay in the gutter a little longer, bit if not, the handful of fish that do move in can be gone just as quickly.

Whether the tailor are big or small, you should always bleed them. Cutting their throat and putting them head down in a bucket of cool seawater is the best way. If you are fishing during the day, change the water regularly. Don’t let the water go warm.

Once you’ve finished the session, place the now clean and bled fish into the ice for a few hours. This firms the flesh, makes them easier to fillet and greatly enhances the texture and flavour of their soft flesh. These days I cryo vac (vacuum seal) all my fish fillets. You can buy a good quality portable unit and an inverter, which will allow you to run it through the car’s cigarette lighter. This extracts most of the air from the back and excess water with a welded seal. It’s well worth the cost and effort in doing.

There are many ways to cook tailor, but my Dad and I prefer grilled tailor with lemon pepper on toast and a cold beer at around about 10am (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!) See you on the beach!

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