Tailor: The scourge of the suds
  |  First Published: August 2003

If you’ve ever snorkelled under whitewater that’s spilling across the top of a gutter or rocky point, you’ll remember the shadow it casts on the bottom and the reduction in visibility this aerated water creates.

In clear, open water salmon, mackerel tuna and striped tuna use speed to force hapless baitfish to the surface, where they can be picked off. As they are forced towards the shore into the seeming safety of broken water, out of the white haze an even hungrier set of jaws arrive. Once blood is spilt, it’s the beginning of the end for the bait – tailor rarely hunt alone, much like piranhas. Wave after wave of tailor will descend on the school until it is forced back out into open water or completely devoured under a relentless and savage attack.

These wash zones that spill through deeper water are exactly where you’ll need to land your bait or lure. Tailor are very predictable in the areas they frequent and once you learn to pick this tailor water, you’ll find that consistent and large catches will follow.

There’s no doubt that the best catches of tailor will take place when using whole pilchards or sea garfish. Both of these baits should be rigged on ganged 3/0 or 4/0 hooks, with four hooks per gang the norm. When using the heavier and more solidly built sea gars, the unweighted bait can be cast out a greater distance and then allowed to slowly sink before being retrieved and allowed to sink again. The same can be done with pilchards, except that you won’t get as many casts out of the much softer bait.

The only lead that needs to be added to the rigging is a small bean sinker which may help when casting into the wind, when there’s a strong sideways current running along the beach, or when looking for a faster sink rate in deeper water off the rocks.

This style of bait fishing is almost the exclusive domain of sidecast tackle, matched with a 3.7- to 4.0-metre beach rod and 8kg or 10kg line running straight to the hook. An almost unlimited number of casting options present themselves. With a strong westerly at your back, distant bommies and gutters are well within range of a ganged bait.

The beauty of bait spinning, as this technique is known, is that tailor, salmon, snapper, jew, kingfish and Spanish mackerel all love a free-falling garfish or pilchard. The excitement of not being quite sure what you’ll hook next is what keeps anglers coming back for more.

One of the secrets of bait-spinning is to keep landing your bait in the same patch of water cast after cast – tailor are messy feeders and oily baits like pilchards are bait and berley all in one.

Much of my tailor fishing is done with lures and here I favour overheads and threadlines over sidecast tackle. Essentially, there are two styles of metals I throw for tailor. The first are regulation high-speed-spin jigs. These are 60g to 70g and can easily be pelted into a headwind or over the breakers on a surf beach.

When spinning for tailor with high-speed lures, opt for a more subtle stop-start approach rather than a flat-out pelagic overdrive that is better suited to tuna. Tailor are opportunistic feeders, always looking for injured or panicking baitfish, so it doesn’t hurt to skitter a lure along the surface. In creative hands, metals often make better surface poppers than the purpose-built thing.

The second group of lures, lighter metals with spoon-like qualities, are essentially purpose-built tailor lures. When cast on threadline tackle, these lures have a built-in flutter and wobble at a much slower retrieve rate and can be deadly when worked through deep or shallow water.

It always pays to bleed tailor immediately and put them in a wet hessian bag or wrap them in a towel to keep the fish moist and cool. Tailor are best left in the fridge overnight and eaten the next day, so keeping more tailor than you can eat in one sitting is pretty much a waste of time.

Smoking tailor is another option that will allow you to keep more fish, but again for best results smoking has to be done prior to freezing.

My favourite method of cooking tailor is to simply lay the fillets skin-down on aluminium foil under the grill, add a bit of butter and lemon and the slow heat and natural oils in the tailor’s meat will do the rest.



A nice tailor taken from the rocks on a chrome slice lure, one of the more popular tailor-takers.


A great place to chase tailor with spinning gear: A good wash close in and nice wave action around sunken rocks.

Dave Rae caught this chopper at Hat Head. Remember, minimum legal size is 30cm and the bag limit is 20 – easily attainable on days when they’re slashing through the bait schools.

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