During winter and spring, Southeast Queensland anglers have a great opportunity to take home a feed of tailor. However, if you don’t plan ahead it’s easy to miss out.
For example, sometimes the higher intensity of a tailor bite lasts only a short time, especially when tailor are passing through an area. This is often the case around Moreton Bay’s many reefs, and if you aren’t properly prepared you could miss the opportunity.
Let’s say you are running around Moreton Bay in your tinnie when a school of tailor cruises through and bites your lure off. Because you haven’t thought much about it you pick up your back-up outfit and cast out another soft plastic, and it too gets bitten off.
By the time you re-rig both of your rods the tailor are long gone. Furthermore, you’re probably not thinking too fondly about tailor, or even too fondly about fishing for them. After retying two outfits do you really want to risk getting bitten off again?
It’s a different story if you have a popper outfit on hand with an 8kg hard abrasion-resistant leader, rather than the 5kg leader you’d use for squire. After the first bite off, or when you see the surface activity that indicates tailor are on their way past, you can just grab the popper rod, whip out a few casts, crank the popper back skipping across the surface and you could end up with fresh tailor for dinner.
Let’s say you’re up on the flats casting lures rigged on a 3-4kg leader for bream. The tide is dropping and it’s getting pretty close to low tide. This is the time to pick up the spin stick rigged with a medal slug tied onto a slightly heavier leader.
As the tide drops, areas that are covered with water become exposed. Waves that used to flow over these areas an hour ago now bash into the exposed banks, creating the washing machine effect that tailor just love to hunt around.
In the early days we fished the Gilligan’s Island sand bar just south of Bribie Island, and since then my low-tide wash tailor experiences have wandered up to the Sunshine Coast and down to the Tweed. I generally plan to spend some time tailor spinning in these locations about an hour either side of low tide when there is just enough current flow to stir things up.
Sometimes the tailor fishing lasts until your arms are sore, while on other days there’s only a small window in which conditions combine with the tailor moving through. The baitfish are either just about to be washed off the flats or are marshalling up to move up onto the flats (depending on whether the tide is at the last of the run-out or the first of the run-in) and if there are any tailor in the area, these predators aren’t going to wait for someone to serve them up a garfish or hardihead. The tailor will just rush in and serve themselves, and after a quick feed they move on.
To be ready for it, have your rod rigged with a heavier leader and a tailor lure. You could even position your boat towards the edge of the flats, particularly any rocky areas where wash will be created. With your boat within casting range you’ll be ready when you see those telltale slashes and swirls on the surface that signal feeding tailor. Some days, if the action level is intense enough, birds will flock to the melee, making the tailor easy to find. On other days you’ll need to be within visual range of smaller signs such as a spray of water against the prevailing wind direction or a free jumping fish.
When I know there’s the chance of a tailor encounter, my tackle kit includes a mid-sized storable tacklebox with a few tailor lures in it. I carry a full range of sizes of metal lures, from around 10g up to 40g. Raider, Snipers and Maniacs make up the majority of the metal lures crammed into the box, with a few lead slugs from the old days. I also include some Flasha Spoons; Flashas are heavy enough for trolling and they serve well as casting lures too.
I recommend keeping a pair of nail clippers on hand as well, as you’ll often have to trim or cut line as you change lures up and down to match the size of baitfish and combat the wind conditions and casting distance required. It does get a little frustrating when the situation calls for enough lure weight for a long cast, yet the tailor only want to eat the smallest 10g metal that you have. But then, that’s fishing.
In the same box I keep a half dozen surface poppers of around 70mm. Smaller poppers do catch tailor but they also get swallowed by the tailor and often get bitten off.
Poppers are a must as there are times when the tailor will be there but they won’t eat metal lures. On these days twitching, stabbing or flat-out cranking a popper can really turn the tailor on. When you get 50cm of tailor sideswiping and crash tackling your surface lure three or four times before hook-up, it makes for exciting fishing.
Lipless crankbaits work like all other tailor lures – just cast them out and let them sink a half metre or so and then wind them back. You’d probably be wise not to donate your expensive bass vibrations to the gnashing teeth of a tailor. Cheaper versions are just as good in most tailor situations.
The other lure that I’m fond of is the shallow running minnow or twitchbait, and I have about four of these down at the end of the box. I don’t get too excited about colour but I do like to have a variety – gold, silver, smoky clear and maybe a bright fluoro option such as bubblegum pink or chartreuse. These lures cast very well because of their slim profile and many of them are designed and balanced for casting with internal weight systems made up of ball bearings and glass beads. I think the noise of the balls and beads rattling around inside the lure during the retrieve encourages the fish to strike and complements the baitfish profile.
Either wind the lure back to the boat as fast as the lure can handle or twitch and pause it. Alternatively, you can troll two, three or four shallow running minnows during an on-water lunch break. You may want to time your lunch break a little earlier or a little later than usual to coincide with the best stage of the tide.
The beauty of long, slender-profiled, shallow running minnows is that tailor seldom gets them all the way down into their mouths so there’s less chance of you getting bitten off. You may choose to downsize to a thinner, lighter leader in this situation. A lighter leader has the added advantage of a less bulky connection knot between your braided mainline and the leader, and because this smaller knot won’t clang through the guides as much you’ll get a little bit extra into your casting distance.
Even when tailor are fussy about other lure sizes, they are not put off by the length of long minnow lures so your size selection can be flexible. Start with a lure that is about 9cm and 6 or 7g. Generally, the smaller the bib the better that the lure will cast, and you don’t really need the lure to dive that deep.
An important factor to bear in mind are the hooks on your lures. Tailor often sideswipe hard-bodied lures, especially minnows, and when they slash at the lure a chemically sharpened treble can hook the tailor and take hold for the full duration of the fight. A blunt hook will see a missed strike. If you like a feed of tailor, ditch cheap and nasty hooks (such as the bronze budget models) and upgrade to something like Daichi, Owner or VMC trebles. For tailor on long minnows I run size 6 or 4 trebles.
A basic threadline spin rod around 2.1m long coupled to a high-speed spin reel will do the trick. I currently use a Pflueger Trion PTSP 4770-1MFT spin rod matched to a prototype Pflueger high-speed spin reel but any fast retrieve rate threadline will be fine. At the higher end of the price range I have a similar reel matched to a GLX BSR852 rod.
Tailor fight pretty cleanly, and they’re not often eaten by sharks when you’re working the washes, so you can let them run a little bit. I’ve found that 2kg to 6kg braid works fine, and it’s light enough to give good casting distance with the range of lure weights suggested. Using light line means you will get a good fight out of the fish and enhance the fun of catching a feed.
Handling and caring for your catch properly can make a world of difference to how it tastes. You should always bleed your tailor over the side of the boat and then get them into an ice slurry straight away.
A hot BBQ plate or a smoker are two simple and easy ways to prepare tailor. My mum also has a great tailor recipe in her Cooking Corner this issue, and another good one in the July issue.
1) David Holman shows off a tailor trolled up on a Flasha spoon from the shallow washes around Mud Island as low tide approached. These spoons are heavy so you get good casting distance and medium speed retrieve action, and they also stay in the water when trolled.
2) A 50cm tailor taken on a shallow running, cast and retrieved minnow lure.
3) This 53cm tailor smashed a surface popper four times before hooking up.Reads: 3772