North Coast tailor tactics
  |  First Published: May 2004

THERE are not too many facets of Winter I enjoy.

I’m very much like a reptile – the colder it is, the harder I find it to get going. But there are some exciting fishing options available for those keen to brave the cool weather, with tailor arguably the pick of them. These fish bite freely on bait and lures during the cooler months.

I’ve always enjoyed chasing these spirited fish and have spent many a cold morning and evening flicking baits, lures and flies around likely washes. I remember some terrific sessions at places like Lennox Head, Broken Head and Brunswick Heads, as well points farther south like Point Plomer, Diamond Head and Point Perpendicular at North Haven.

Despite being hundreds of kilometres apart, the same techniques and tactics will produce the goods at virtually all likely haunts up and down the coast. And with the tailor season upon us, let’s look at a few different approaches to tempt them.

Most anglers look at tailor as a shore-based species, so we’ll first examine a few different tactics that produce results from shore.


Perhaps the most recognised approach is the trusty old ganged hooks and pilchards and it’s probably fair to say that more tailor have fallen to this method than most others put together. A major part of the ganged hooks and pilchard success is the way the pilchards invariably fall to pieces once a fish hits the bait. Basically, they berley the area you’re fishing, attracting distant fish and holding the ones that are already in the area.

A good session with a block of pilchards can see everything from bream to mulloway drawn to the zone you’re fishing.

Garfish are another popular bait for anglers using the ganged-hook rig. While garfish are nowhere near as oily as pilchards and create far less of a berley-trail effect, there’s no denying their appeal to tailor – especially the bigger greenback models.

I guess it’s the big bait, big fish theory with the gars as they’re usually twice the size of your average block pilchard. Either way, if you want to target the bigger tailor using the ganged-hook method, hunt around for some good-sized sea gars – you’ll be surprised at the class of fish they regularly attract.


Perhaps the second most common method to tempt tailor from the shore is with lures. There’s a whole range of lures out there that will tempt tailor; it’s more a matter of picking particular types that suit the location and conditions you’re fishing.

I’m a bit fan of the metal slices and the more traditional spoons. There are not too many tailor swimming that will baulk at a fluttering spoon like an Abu Toby, Wilson Big T or Maniac. Slices like the popular Halco Lazers and Raiders also pin plenty of hungry fish; it’s a matter of picking the size and weight of spinner to suit where you’re fishing.

If you’re fishing a wide open surf beach and the likely gutter is a fair way out, you’ll have to tie on the heavier class metal lures, around 60g to 100g. The same goes for rocky headlands where there’s deeper water quite wide. The lighter slices and spoons (say 20g to 50g) shine when there’s little swell and short distances to reach likely water. Best bet is to have a reasonable range of shapes sizes and weights, that way you’ll most likely have one to suit.


There are not too many tailor out there that won’t belt a well-worked fly. The problem, especially for shore-based anglers, is casting them far enough to reach the marauding fish.

Shore-based anglers will have to choose their fishing locations very carefully and fish only those with deep water right to your toes – headlands or surf beaches. But there’s no denying the fun to be had as you strip the Clouser or Deceiver back to your feet and it comes to an abrupt halt before heading skywards in a tailor’s mouth.

Both floating and sinking lines will catch fish, though I’ve found the sinking lines, being quite thin, cast greater distances with less effort than much thicker, floating lines.

As tailor have a fair set of dentures, it’s recommended you use a short length of light wire when fly-fishing. Multi-strand wire around 10kg breaking strain works pretty well, as does the new knottable wire now available. Whilst it isn’t certainly not essential to wire on your metal spoons and slices, it isn’t a bad idea and will give you a little insurance when a big fish does come along.


My favourite lure type for tailor is undoubtedly a surface plug such as a poppers or a fizzer. Those visual slashes and wild chops are a major drawcard for using surface plugs, not to mention how user-friendly they are in bad country.

There are not too many lures that can be worked in and around rugged bomboras and exposed reef with little fear of snagging up. But with a little clever rod work, you can virtually ‘walk’ most surface lures in and around structure that usually sees a metal lure snagged in a split second.

It’s the combination of profile and splash that make surface lures so effective. Many topwater lures have an inherent garfish-type profile. So as the tailor look up to see what the splashing is all about, they see a shape representing one of their favourite baitfish.

And being usually slightly larger lures, they tend to attract the better class of fish. In fact, many a greenback tailor up to 8kg has fallen to a well-worked popper, as well as quite a few mulloway.

My personal-best tailor was around 8 kilos. For most of the fight I had it pegged for a nice kingfish and only once it was at my feet did I realise it was a monster tailor. Sadly, a few frantic headshakes at my feet and the beast swam free, leaving me totally devastated.


While tailor fishing is traditionally recognised as a shore-based proposition, there’s a world of fun to be had by targeting these feisty fish from a boat.

First things first: We’re talking about headlands and inshore islands, not open surf beaches! The idea is to drift with the motor running and cast your lures and baits back to the shoreline.

This can be very productive and loads of fun, plus you get to scale the tackle down, allowing the tailor to preform even better.

Caution: You should do this only on days when the seas are slight and there’s an offshore breeze blowing. Don’t head out to sea on your own; you really need two sets of eyes to watch for incoming waves.

Being around headlands flicking lures back into the wash is certainly loads of fun and is practised by many North Coast anglers but it can be potentially very dangerous and should be done only under safe conditions.


Ganged hook approach

Mustad 4202 open-eye hooks, or their many copies, are chained together, each hook bend threaded through the open eye of the hook below until the ‘gang’ is almost as long as the bait. You can add a swivel to the top eye before you close them all shut with pliers.

Most gangs are between 2/0 and 4/0 size, depending on the bait.

You can buy pre-ganged hooks.

Measure up the pilchard or gar so that the bend of the hook closest to the line is level with the bait’s eye and note where the bottom hook locates on the bait. Push this hook through the side of the bait and work your way successively back to the top hook, which should pass neatly through the bait’s eye for a firmly rigged bait.

Add a sinker should you wish to cast farther or sink the bait deeper.

Slowly retrieve the bait back through the wash and don’t be afraid to skip it occasionally to stir up the fish.


Using metal lures

Have a choice of spoons of 20g to 50g for close work and slices from 50g to 100g for distance casting.

Add a swivel to the top split ring to reduce line twist and to make changing lures easier.

Customise metal lures by replacing the treble hook with two single hooks or adding a single hook as well.

Try rigging a treble or single hook on wire from the top split ring to prevent the fish using the weight of the lure to shake the hook free. Make the hook hang on the wire just behind the lure.

Vary your retrieve speed to stir up the fish – active fish, crank fast; subdued fish, wind slower.


When, where

Successful fishing is all about being in the right spot at the right time and targeting tailor is certainly no different.

The ‘right spot’ is usually a washy headland or prominent surf gutter on a nice exposed beach or headland. So much the better if there are plenty of baitfish in the water in the form of white, frogmouth or blue pilchards. Look for diving terns and gulls and the chops and swirls of feeding tailor.

The ‘right time’ is usually around dawn and dusk in late Autumn and Winter, especially during and after the annual mullet run. Plan to be out there casting as soon as you can see, with the best action likely before sun-up and from the time the setting sun leaves shadows on the water. Tailor will also feed all through the night and especially through a high tide change.


Look after your catch

NSW minimum legal size 30cm
Bag limit20

If you look after them, fresh tailor are quite tasty and a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Tailor should be bled immediately after capture by cutting the throat latch. Get them into a saltwater ice slurry or on ice as soon as possible. Use saltwater to rinse the fish or the fillets and avoid contact with fresh water, which may soften the flesh.

Tailor aren’t really suitable for freezing so keep only as many as you can eat fresh.

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