Catching the tailor train
  |  First Published: July 2004

WHEN WINTER arrives and you dread getting out of bed each morning because it’s dark and cold, there is one compensation: the Tailor Train has arrived. From June through to October in South-East Queensland the tailor infest our waterways like mice in a wheat silo, on their annual spawning migration.

You can catch them just about anywhere in saltwater, as I discovered a while back on a warm October day, while fishing the Fitzroy River in the middle of Rockhampton. To our surprise a fellow angler, trolling lures for barramundi, hooked and landed a 1kg tailor. This was rather odd as we were 45km from the sea and I thought tailor’s most northern range was Bundaberg.

Tailor are ruthless predators that hunt down small school fish and prawns. These ravenous feeders devour pilchards, sardines, garfish, herring, mullet and whatever else has the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – and this is when tailor are at their most vulnerable to the fly angler. Like tuna, they slash through bait balls on the surface of the water. This commotion attracts birds, making it easier for the fisher to find them.

Tailor concentrate around rocky headlands, beaches and river mouths like moths to a flame. Their motivation to frequent these areas is the congregation of baitfish, which makes it easy to select an artificial. Any fly that imitates a small fish, like a Surf Candy, Lefty’s Deceiver, Clouser Deep Minnow or a Joe Brooks Blond will produce strikes. The Clouser is my first pick because of its versatility. Fished and tied correctly, the Clouser will cover the top, middle and bottom of the water column on a floating line. Hook size varies between 2 and 1\0. If possible, use a stainless steel hook. As you will be fishing in the salt, this will allow for a few outings, if not a few seasons, before the flies need replacing due to rust – if you haven’t already lost them to fish or snags.

Tailor have a set of interlocking triangular teeth that can cut through mono. When rigging the leader, the safest method is to haywire the fly to the leader with 25kg single-strand stainless steel trolling wire. The wire trace only needs to be about 100mm long with a 20kg swivel at the leader end. This ensures that you won’t lose flies, but if the fish are ‘wire shy’ you’ll get fewer strikes than with mono. I tie my own flies so I don’t mind losing some of them, and I use a 15kg mono leader about 1.2m long as the whole leader, no taper. This helps turn a weighted fly over and generally has enough abrasion resistance to land the fish.

The best fly line I have found for chasing tailor is a weight forward floating line matched to the weight of the rod – around a 7-9wt should do the job. A 7wt is great from a boat and a 9wt gives the extra power required to punch through wind if you’re fishing from the beach. The brand of fly line isn’t important in this instance, as long as you can cast it adequately. In fact, the cheaper the line the better, because when tailor are in a feeding frenzy they sometimes bite through a fly line turning a $135 line into extremely expensive string.

A corrosion-resistant fly reel is recommended but a well maintained freshwater reel with a minimum of 50m of backing will be just fine; tailor generally don’t run more than 10m during the fight. An average saltwater fly reel with 200m of backing will see many seasons. The reel doesn’t need to have a tuna-stopping drag as most tailor are fought off the rod with the reel being a line holder only.

Once you’ve located a feeding school of tailor, cast the fly into the centre of the action and proceed to strip the fly slowly. If you’re getting bites but not hooking up, the tailor are tail nipping. If this happens, slow down the retrieve or change to a smaller version of the fly you’re using. Don’t change to a different pattern that has little or no tail like a Crazy Charlie, as I have tried this before and it resulted in the fish going off the bite. The tail of a baitfish pattern has a seductive movement that screams ‘eat me’. It’s certainly eye candy to fish.

One of the good things about tailor is that they hunt in packs, so if you land one you’ll know there are plenty more that can’t wait to ravage your fly. A good trick is to start berleying with small pieces of pilchards after you’ve located a school of tailor. You’ll have to change to a berley fly like a Skinners Pillie Head or similar. This should stop the tailor from wandering off and give you ample time to land a brace or two for a friend’s dinner. – by Robert and Melody Jarvis

1) Melody Jarvis with a 1.5kg tailor from Couchin Creek that was fooled by a size 1 chartreuse Clouser.

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