SETTING up before dark and watching a spectacular sunset as the waves dance at your feet has to be the ultimate way to start a fishing session. Beach fishing is one of the most relaxing ways to fish, and when you add to that the panorama of a setting sun, the rhythm of rolling waves and even the chance of watching the humpback whales as they migrate up the coast, and the tailor coming on the bite can almost be a distraction.
The golden rule for fishing after dark is to make sure you have the weather on your side. There is nothing better than a beautiful night out on the beach but there is also nothing worse than strong winds, sweeps and big seas that can render a beach unfishable.
When picking a spot to fish after dark, the rules are the same as when picking a gutter during the day. The only difference is that all you have to work with is the white water to show you where the waves are breaking. It sounds a little difficult but it’s something that you will master on your first outing.
When picking a spot to fish at night, I prefer the deep gutters and, if possible, a smaller hole is the way to go. Holes have school fish like tailor in a much smaller area and they also attract big jewies, which can be a great by-catch when fishing for tailor.
Another trick is to make sure that the deep water isn’t too far out from the shore so that you don’t have to cast too far out. At night, you won’t have the advantage of sight to see how far out you are and there is nothing worse than not knowing that you have been fishing on a sand bank all night. A detailed rundown on reading a beach can be found in the Qld Fishing Monthly September 2003 issue, and also in the 2003 Fishing Queensland annual.
Good lighting is a must, and the new lightweight headlamps that are on the market are perfect. Thinking that you have just hooked a massive tailor only to find yourself standing in knee-deep water with a cranky shark is not a good scenario, so it’s a good idea to have some form of lighting that can be taken with you.
Apart from the lighting, the fishing gear is the same at night as it is during the day. If you have a little bit of a sweep running, however, you can get away with a little more lead after dark as the fish seem to be more aggressive.
Big greenbacks are what drive a lot of anglers to the surf after dark. These fish can sometimes turn on some great action.
I rig up with three ganged 6/0 Mustard 4200D hooks for pilchards and four ganged hooks if I am using garfish. I never use wire in my tailor rigs; instead, I use a black bearing swivel with a snap clip on the end of it. This gives me protection against the teeth of the tailor as well as avoiding a lot of line twist that you get with a pilchard that spins when retrieved through the water.
Let me assure everyone that while you do catch tailor on wire traces, the bigger fish almost defiantly steer well clear of it. Most catches of tailor on wire that I have witnessed has been in a situation where there is an entire tailor school feeding and the competition has them biting at everything. Tailor over about 90cm spend most of their time as loners or in groups of only a few fish, and because they are rarely found in big numbers they can afford to be a little picky about what they eat. The biggest tailor I have landed weighed in at over 7kg and was caught on a jewie rig with a big live tailor as bait.
Rigs for tailor vary. I use a simple running sinker rig on a short trace. Big spoon sinkers on the bottom of the rig and a set of gang hooks coming off a short dropper is a rig I see a lot of good tailor anglers use to great effect, and I believe it is a common rig for southern tailor and salmon anglers.
Keep in mind that tailor often come on in spurts, so don’t be too concerned if you have been there for an hour or more without a bite. If you have selected a good gutter, at some stage of the tide the tailor should move into the surf zone and feed. Unfortunately, tailor do migrate up and down the coast and some nights they just don’t move into the gutters at all. Fishless nights are all part of tailor fishing, no matter how good you are at it.
Most of my tailor fishing is done on sunset, and about 20 minutes after the sun has gone down would be the prime time for the tailor that I catch on South Stradbroke Island. It’s commonly believed that a tailor’s eyesight adapts to night from daylight a lot quicker than all the other fish that frequent the surf zone, and the tailor use this to their advantage when feeding. Their big eyes catch a lot of light and they can see quite well just a short time after darkness has fallen. Having said that, I have also been kept waiting until 10pm or 11pm before the first tailor has hit the beach.
Tailor can be caught in southern Queensland all year round but the bigger fish and the better sessions are from July to October. Cold nights and a little westerly wind is a formula that has proven itself time and time again.
I can’t say that I have caught a lot of jew from the open beach. As a young fella, before the Gold Coast Seaway was built, we used to see a lot of jew caught on the beaches and my first fish was a big mulloway of about 20kg. Since the Seaway opened, jew seem to prefer the deep rock walls to the beach, and catching a jewie in the open surf on the Gold Coast is now very rare. I have been lucky enough to land a couple of big mulloway from the beaches of Fraser Island and around Iluka in Northern NSW, and I would rate these big fish from the open beach as some of the best fishing sessions that I have ever experienced.
You can expect some long nights of lobbing your bait out into the gutters time and time again for no return, but if you are persistent, sooner or later that huge silver flash of a big jewie will be visible in the night surf.
For the serious jewie angler, I recommend using a live tailor on big surf casting gear. A live 40cm tailor is about the perfect jew bait. On trips to Fraser Island, big tailor are violently attacked by both sharks and massive mulloway. Big livebaits are hard work though; they are very active and need a lot of attention. You can’t just pitch them out because tailor are very hard to keep alive. You may only have one or two on hand so you don’t want to lose any while casting out.
Dead tailor, mullet and squid are a lot easier and can be placed out as set baits. How we like to set them is by using big pyramid sinkers with twin, snelled 9/0 hooks and lobbing them out into the deep water. It needs to be good weather; a winter night with the freezing cold westerlies blowing is ideal. If the weather isn’t mild and winds aren’t light, set baits will be moved around with the sweep and waves crashing down on the line will mean that you will lose touch with the bait. These nights can still be fished, but having the bait set will be out of the question.
The cold months of the year are the best time for mulloway, and I have found that the colder I am when fishing for jewies, the better they seen to bite.
Sharks are found in the deep gutters, and are caught most often as a by-catch by anglers targeting tailor and jewies. Catching five or six sharks in one night isn’t uncommon as long as you have selected a deep gutter and there is plenty of fish around to keep the hungry sharks interested.
I wouldn’t waste a livebait on a shark as they are never fussy about what they eat. As long as the bait is big, it will be eaten. Mullet and tuna strips are ideal.
If you are serious about your shark fishing, time your trip to coincide with tailor, pilchard or mullet runs. This will almost guarantee that there will be sharks in tow. This puts winter and spring as the prime shark times, but on South Straddie we also get a good run of bull sharks around March before they move into the estuaries.
Tailor are by far the most popular night-time surf fishing target, but everything from whiting to kingfish can be caught in the gutters at night. Bream are a great catch in the surf, and pulling a genuine 1kg bream from the beach after dark is not that uncommon. When tailor fishing, you will quite often get some big bites taken from the gut of the pilchards. More often than not these bites are caused by bream, so changing to a single 1/0 and a pillie tail will often see the culprits caught.
With the hours that a lot of us work, fishing after dark is a great option. Wait for the weather to be right and you can be surprised at the quality of the fish that come out of the gutters after the sun goes down.
1) Setting up before dark has its advantages.
2) The right gear can make all the difference. Alvey reels, long rods and waders are standard equipment.
3) Kevin Ward with an average South Straddie tailor.
4) Light tackle surf fishing can be very productive after dark, especially during the warmer months.Reads: 5639