Fraser Island has an abundance of beach and headland species, not to mention the great range of reef and pelagic species that can be accessed offshore. However it is the tailor that causes the most excitement when the spawning greenbacks make their annual migration along the island’s ocean beach in late winter and spring.
The mention of Fraser’s fabulous annual run of big tailor engenders memories of the massive kills of spawning fish of the past. Fortunately things have changed. Reasonable in-possession bag limits have put a brake on catches and a shift in anglers attitudes. We even see catch-and-release happening regularly. Unfortunately there is still a minority of fishermen who disregard the rules and I am yet to see a fisheries inspector on the beach during the tailor season.
A reminder of current regulations – the minimum legal length for tailor is 30cm and the in-possession limit is 20. A concession of 30 fish currently applies to visits of three days or more on Fraser Island but it is likely that this will be abolished under pending legislation.
From midday on August 1st to midday September 30th, the waters from 400m south of Indian Head to 400m north of Waddy Point and 400m seaward, are closed for all species. As part of the Great Sandy Marine Park, a green zone makes all forms of fishing illegal at Middle Rocks for the entire year. Also part of the Marine Park, most of the east coast of Fraser Island has been declared yellow zone. For the angler this means that only one line and one hook can be used at a time with lures and gangs considered as single hooks. For the commercial fishermen, this means no netting, a factor that can only be good news for anglers. Blue zones at the southern end of the island, and north of North Ngkala Rocks, are open to net fishing.
There are tailor along the eastern beach all year round but from December to May most are in the chopper category. The start of seasonal offshore winds in mid winter usually heralds the arrival of the breeding fish making their way to the spawning grounds believed to be around Indian and Waddy headlands and Sandy Cape.
These pre-spawning fish move in along the surf zone following baitfish such as sea gar, small dart, blue pilchards and Australian anchovy. It is not uncommon to see anchovy (froggies) become disoriented and beach themselves when schools are broken up by feeding tailor.
The best locations to try for tailor are features that tend to congregate bait or provide the cover for ambushing tailor. An example of such cover is the white water caused by breaking waves, coming off the shallows into deeper water. The classic tailor spot is the long blind gutter, a feature particularly common along the beach between Happy Valley and Indian Head. As well as being ideal for herding baitfish, the gutter produces a long expanse of white water coming off the outer bank.
Long gutters are ideal for large numbers of anglers to fish with ease. They become extremely popular as scores of fishermen and seemingly almost as many 4WDs line the beach. As much as being a great spot to fish, the congregation of so many like-minded anglers and their families becomes a big social event.
I have to admit that I am not big on crowds. Fortunately there are many other features to choose from apart from long gutters but these, though more numerous, do not hold as many anglers comfortably. Sand spits, extending out into the sea and separating deeper water on each side, are features well worth trying. These may not be as comfortable to fish as there is little protection from the incoming swells. However the spits produce the white water that the tailor love.
Another excellent feature, certainly my favourite, is where there is a short sandbank bordering a deep double-ended gutter. A good cast is often needed to reach the white water inside the bank but these short gutters invariably hold a better class of fish.
The island’s headlands – Indian Head and Waddy Point – are extremely productive and popular tailor spots. Remember, however, that these are off-limits during August and September. Along the northerly faces swells curling around the headlands, produce ideal white water cover, and attract crowds of anglers. These rocky spots are only for the sure-footed and those who don’t mind the shoulder-to-shoulder experience.
The coffee rock exposure is also worth mentioning, particularly when associated with a gutter. A lot of gear is lost on these rocks, particular by anglers using baited gangs. These rocky areas at Poyungan Rocks, Yidney, Happy Valley and Ngkala Rocks are better suited to spinning.
The equipment and techniques used on the island are typical of Queensland fishing. One of the best outfits are 3.5-4m purpose built composite rods teamed up with Alvey 650 reels. Tailor rods come in a variety of weights but have relatively inflexible tips. The strength at the tip not only aids casting but also helps to set the hooks – tailor are masters of throwing hooks – and keep the line tight on the retrieve. When choosing a line, go for a reliable brand in low stretch mono, around 6-7kg.
For bait fishing gangs of four 4/0 or 5/0 size hooks in Mustad 4200 or 4202 are the best to use. A 1m trace of up to 15kg mono is useful as it gives the tailor something a little tougher to chew through and a stronger line to drag the fish up the beach. Pilchards are by far the most popular bait on the beach but horse mackerel fillets account for some very big fish, particularly at night.
In ideal conditions, the most effective way to fish with pilchards is to cast an unweighted bait and retrieve slowly. When conditions of wind or sweep are less than ideal, then you need to use lead, but always the lightest you can get away with. Often a tailor will attack with great ferocity and at other times they just seem to be toying with the bait. Whatever the bite is like, the best plan is just to wind steadily until the weight of the fish is felt. Then it is time to set the hooks and enjoy the ride.
Spinning for tailor can be very rewarding but not always appreciated amongst a crowd of bait anglers. Spinning with the right gear enables much better casts than can usually be achieved with baits, so selecting one of the less comfortable spits or offshore banks is the best way to go. When spinning I use my Okuma EFS60. Its 6.3:1 ratio makes spinning for tailor a breeze. At the business end, just about any decent metal will do the job. I have been using Raiders and Knights in 65g with good results.
You are likely to find tailor along the entire ocean beach of Fraser Island. There appears to be a tendency for the southern beaches to fish well early in the season with those to the north coming good later. The beach between Cathedral Beach and Indian Head is usually the most reliable over the entire season. It is also the most popular section with anglers who visit regularly. The beach is usually adorned with those classical long gutters that can support the numbers.
There are other great fishing opportunities on Fraser Island during the tailor season. This is good news for those who prefer a less rigorous light-gear approach. Anglers fishing in areas where there are tailor can take big dart and mulloway.
As regular visitors will know only too well, weed has been a problem for a number of years at Fraser. The last six months or so has seen the beach take a battering and it was only in late April the continual barrage of strong south easterlies started to abate. The conditions seem to have been responsible for clearing all traces of the red-brown algae that causes all the problems. Lately the beach has been clear except for a little ‘snot’ weed and some eroded dune grass. We can only hope that this favourable situation continues throughout the tailor season.
All things considered, Fraser Island’s reputation as a top tailor location seems assured. The closure of most of the beach to commercial fishermen and the imposition of sensible bag limits can only help ensure that the resource is maintained. What a combination – the beautiful beaches of World Heritage Fraser Island and the abundance of Australia’s top beach sport fish.
Short Outer BankReads: 1990