Time to tame a tailor
  |  First Published: April 2008

Autumn and Winter is tailor time along the NSW coast and encountering these hard-fighting fish along our rocks and beaches can be a load of fun.

In decades of the past tailor were caught in big numbers, often by the 50s and 100s, and it also customary to line up a pile of dead tailor on the beach or back lawn to take a proud photo of all the carnage.

Thankfully the days of catching equating to killing are a thing of the past. We all know better now but regardless of our current attitude, tailor stocks just aren't what they used to be back in the 1960s and ’70s

. Two anglers fishing a good beach gutter or headland back then may have had a good day catching 50 or 60 fish but a good day in 2008 would be more like 15 or 20.

The good news is that we still have tailor cruising the inshore reefs, headlands and beaches in enough numbers to make it well worth fishing for them.

There are also some quality fish, with 2kg tailor not uncommon. A sprinkling of much larger greenbacks up to 6kg or 7kg still exist, but not too many of us are lucky enough to tangle with a big tailor like that.

Most inshore tailor are between 400g and a kilo and are often referred to as choppers.

For their size, tailor are quite stubborn fighters, especially on light tackle. Not often regarded as top table tucker, when treated appropriately a fresh tailor is as good as any and when smoked they are just delicious.

Generally tailor are very aggressive fish but they can also be moody and difficult to catch at times.


Threadline and sidecast reels tend to be more practical than overheads for coastal tailor fishing. They are better at casting very lightly-weighted baits, are less affected by sand intrusion and less prone to bird’s nests or tangles.

Because some of the better tailor spots can have a snaggy bottom, the last thing you need is to be picking out a tangle while your bait or lure sinks down to the rocks and kelp, where it will stay.

A 3.6m rod is suitable for most situations, although one of my best beach rods is 4m and another favourite is 3m. Basically, a longer rod will serve better on the beach, while you can generally get away with a shorter rod for rock fishing.

One of the all-time favourite rod blanks for tailor anglers is the MT7144. This blank has been produced by a few different manufacturers and is also available ready-made off the shelf.

In all honesty, though, I reckon there are much better rods around these days, including some with a high graphite content and quality fittings for a reasonable price. They are much lighter than the old 7144 and more crisp in action, which is better for casting baits or lures and hooking fish.

I prefer to fish with braid these days, mainly because it casts further and more line will fit on the reel spool. Nylon mono still does a great job and overall you'll probably catch the same number of fish on either type.

Remember, when using braid it's a good idea to tie on a length of 8kg to 12kg mono leader of about the same length as the rod you're using. This absorbs the shock of casting baits or lures and the erratic, often acrobatic fight of a tailor in the surf.

Without a shock leader it's noticeable that more tailor will jump off the hooks.

Other handy tailor fishing items are a torch, belt with a bait bucket, a shoulder bag, a rag to wipe your hands clean and a light raincoat or spray jacket.

A lot of good tailor fishing spots can be cold, windy or a bit wet so being prepared and remaining comfortable means you can stay longer and enjoy your fishing.


The most reliable way to catch tailor is by casting whole pilchards on ganged hooks. From the rocks, the pilchard can be suspended under a torpedo float or lightly weighted with a small ball sinker and slowly retrieved to keep it off the bottom.

A small light stick attached to the float is great for fishing after dark so you can see when the float darts under. It makes a lot more sense than sticking one to your rod tip.

For beach fishing, a larger sinker is required to pelt the bait out into the surf. A number of different styles of sinker can be used but I always prefer a size 8 or 9 ball sinker but in a very calm surf a size 6 will do.

A nylon or fluorocarbon trace about 40 cm long is all that's required between the ganged hooks and a swivel. Wire can be used but you'll get more bites without it and it's much easier to rig up without it.

As far as bite-offs go, the combination of ganged hooks and a 10kg to 12kg trace is generally quite sufficient protection.

Other great tailor baits are strips of mullet, tailor, pike or bonito, cut to about the same length as a pilchard. Mullet is quite firm on the hook but because the other types of fish flesh are a bit soft, I prefer to use them salted, which toughens them up.

Even when I buy a block of pillies I always break them apart and wrap them in newspaper after giving them a generous sprinkling of sea salt or rock salt. These smaller, salted bundles are very convenient when one person wants to have a two-hour fish off the local beach or rock platform.

Larger tailor respond better to big baits. They seem to have a particular liking for whole garfish, whole small pike or a bonito fillet.

Live-baiting with mullet, slimy mackerel or yellowtail is another way to interest the big ones. When live-baiting, it pays to use a wire trace because a big tailor will very quickly swallow a whole fish.


Although baits are very reliable, casting lures can offer some advantages. Quite often a patch of tailor will be feeding a bit farther from the shore and can be difficult to reach casting even a heavily-weighted bait.

Metal lures are much better for distance casting and as soon as the lure splashes down, the retrieve is commenced, meaning that a tailor could hit straight away.

Lures are also a cleaner and more convenient option so you can just grab a few lures and go fishing without worrying about buying bait on the way.

Lures don't take up much space, either, so you'll be carrying less weight around and they won't leave your fishing bag or bucket all smelly and grotty.

There are plenty of different makes of metal lures on the market that will work on tailor. Some of my favourites include Surecatch Knights, locally made half-by-quarters and the good old ABU Toby. These days it's hard to find the original ABU Toby but they are widely copied under names such as Big T or just Toby so have a look around and you're sure to find some.

Surface poppers are another fun thing to cast for tailor. They won't get the distance of a metal lure but are a much better idea when casting over shallow, snaggy rocks or reef.

If you simply cast out and start winding back in at an average pace it will interest tailor, but a stop-start retrieve with a few extra sharp jerks thrown in along the way is more likely to get the fish keener to strike.


Tailor are definitely low-light predators, meaning that you're more likely to connect with them early in the morning, late in the afternoon or through the night.

At times, though, they will be found through the middle of the day attacking baitfish or hiding under some foamy whitewash near headlands or other rocks.

You're more likely to encounter them in an active mood during the day when the weather is overcast or windy.

Tailor aren't as responsive to tides as most other species although I've often found a rising tide to be best. Another good time is around high tide at night with some moonlight in the sky.

Tailor are one of the few species that will still actively feed with a bright moon overhead.

Like most species, tailor are where you find them but close in along rocks and beaches is where they prefer to travel. The ends of river breakwalls, shallow rocky points near beaches, major headlands and small reef systems that get exposed at low tide are very good places to start looking for them.

On the beach they cruise in and out of gutters quite rapidly, although they tend to favour the edges where a shallow, washy flat meets a deep gutter with a clear access path to the open ocean.

At high tide they may be more inclined to feed right over the top of a shallow flat, as long as it's regularly covered by some foam.


Pomatomus saltatrix roams most of the coastlines of the world apart from the western Americas and eastern Asia. accumulating well over 100 common names in the process in languages as varied as Mandarin, Portuguese (anchova, dichova), Afrikaans (elf, elwe), Croatian (strijelka), Italian (serra), Somali (qayak), Arabic (tekwa), French (tassergal) and countless more. Most English-, German- and Scandinavian-speaking nations call them bluefish and it’s a safe bet that Bluefish Point on Sydney’s North Head was named after some early catches there.

Fishbase.org lists names used in Australia for this species as bluefish, choppers, elf, jumbos, razorbacks, skipjack and tailor. Only the Brazilians seem to have more names for this one fish!

Maximum published size worldwide is 14.4kg and 1.3m. Maximum reported age is nine years.

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