Year of the big chopper
  |  First Published: June 2006

The leader hissed through the guides and the 60g slug glittered out towards the rosy sunrise, splashing down about 60m away at the edge of the wave-washed sand bank. A couple of cranks of the reel and I was on.

I’d waded through a thigh-deep beach gutter to a shallow sand bar, the surf lapping around my knees, and there I was, battling a first-cast chopper tailor. The fish rattled away for a while and then went berserk before a wave built on the bank and washed it towards me.

I had to wade back in through the gutter to beach the 600g chopper and as I removed the hooks, I saw the deep, bloody slash on the fish’s flank. I’d been sharked.

I bled and bagged the fish and waded back across the gutter a little more cautiously, checking its depth to ensure no bitey critter could reach me. I cast again and hooked up. This time the fish fought frantically before suddenly submitting. When I landed another chopper of similar size, it was easy to see why: its tail was almost severed.

Preferring the safety of the sand, I moved a little farther along the beach and cast towards the other end of the bank. This time I was onto a good one, every vicious head shake transmitted up the 10kg braid to the bucking rod tip as the 4kg of drag reluctantly conceded a few metres of line. The water erupted in a foamy boil and the lure came free.

The fourth cast of the morning met another wrenching strike and the reel smoothly peeled off about 10m of line before the head shakes thudded again. Thoughts of jewfish crossed my mind a few times over the next five minutes until a 6kg-plus tailor launched its head and shoulders through the backwash and the lure came free again. Whoo!

I got a few more fair choppers that morning but no more greenback action. It wasn’t until I was preparing to clean the fish that I had a good look at the wounded specimens. Those bite marks weren’t made by sharks, they were made by big tailor – roll on the rest of the season!

From the many reports further south it looks like the rest of the local tailor run is going to be a cracker. There have been big fish around since Christmas, whenever the rough seas have relented, and it looks like there are more coming.

Renowned big tailor spots in the region include the sections of Cape Byron and Lennox Headland outside the marine park sanctuary zone, Seagull Rocks at Brunswick Heads, Flat Rock and Skennars Head and the Evans Headland. However, calmer beach holes and gutters can be rewarding, especially at night using 15-25cm fillets of bonito, mullet or mack tuna belly rigged on a couple of 5/0 or 6/0 suicide hooks with 20kg mono wire.

Bream, blackfish and, of course, mullet should be running on the beaches as well, so big jewies should be worthwhile targets on similar baits.


Bream should hit their straps in the lower estuaries this month with bait working at night and soft plastics and crankbaits during the day. Best baits are mullet strips and gut, especially the ‘onion’ if you can get it since it became an Asian delicacy, chook gut if you can stomach the stuff, or fillets or heads of trawled whiting. Yabbies will also score plenty of fish after dark, with the bonuses of blackfish and whiting.

Speaking of whiting, hordes of them infested the area around Woodburn in April-May, a rather unusual occurrence. Although the water was quite murky after all the rain, the fish happily devoured everything except their traditional river fare of bloodworms and other worms, happily dining on yabbies, prawns, pipis and even squid ribbons. What happens to these fish once the water cools off and clears is anyone’s guess.

Blackfish, at long last, are starting to appear in better numbers in the Richmond but, as is often the case early in the season, good green weed is at a premium. Fortunately the fish just taking up residence in the river remain partial to cabbage, especially when they’re around the sea walls. As they become more at home weed will become essential.

Bass and estuary perch will also be in the lower reaches this month, seeking water of the correct salinity to allow them to spawn successfully. Depending on the rainfall, the bass will be somewhere between Coraki and Wardell, while the EPs will be lower down, between Broadwater and the river mouth. It’s not uncommon to encounter an EP within sight of the open sea over the next month or so.

Offshore action should focus around snapper and jewfish this month, although we just may be lucky enough to find a pod of mackerel heading north if the water stays warm. There’s also still the chance of a big beachcombing Spaniard shadowing the mullet schools, too, as well as longtails and mackerel tuna.

The snapper should be gathering in pre-spawning schools, often moving in to the shallow reefs in search of more baitfish to allow them to put on condition. This puts them within easy reach of the ever-growing trailer boat fleets, whose members mostly anchor and berley.

There’s often a good run of school jew on the inshore pinnacles and ledges this month, with evening outings perhaps the best chance of bagging a few. The offshore winds frequently die down in the afternoons as well, making for calm, pleasant conditions as the sun goes down and the fish come on. Perhaps the biggest shock comes as you re-enter the river after a night offshore and the icy air over the land comes chilling through the lungs.

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