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Measuring up Victorian tailor
  |  First Published: February 2009



‘Rubbish fish’, ‘nuisance fish’ and ‘mother-in-law fish’ are all tags the poor old Pomatamus saltatrix regularly has to wear. To my mind though, the lack of respect Victorian anglers pay tailor needs a bit of a re-think.

By European standards our Victorian fishing is a class act, but by national standards we lack some of the good, get up and go stock that entertain light tackle fishos in northern states. Tailor are an overlooked and neglected species that can add to a day’s takings as by-catch. Better yet, bigger tailor can be specifically targeted in either small boats or kayaks. Bigger tailor have it in them to test small craft anglers with good runs and spectacular aerial flips, flaps and flops designed to throw hooks.

Heading east

While tailor are found all along the Victorian coast and bottom half of Australia, better numbers and sizes tend to be found in the East Gippsland estuaries. Systems like Lake Tyers, Marlo, Tamboon Inlet, and Mallacoota Inlet are the ideal locations for tinny or kayak based tailor scraps.

In these systems tailor are common. Most often anglers will encounter smaller tailor of 20-40cm. These guys often hit tackle that is searching for the more fashionable bream and flathead. Even a 30cm tailor has a denture set-up that can nip through smaller-sized leaders or halve soft plastics in a single slash. Undoubtedly these fellas are largely responsible for the bum wrap the species wears.

Bigger tailor of 50-60cm can also be taken, along with occasional monster trophy fish that hit lie detectors at over 80cm. The Mallacoota Hotel wall has a mounted tailor of 7.7kg. He’s a well-smoked looking fella, but a quick beer if you’re down that way shows what Victorian tailor fishing can produce.

Interstate the numbers seem to get even bigger, and a quick Google of national growth rates shows tailor can reach up to 1.2m and 14kg. That’s a big angry fish worthy of serious attention!

Like many species, tailor are known to enter estuaries to breed. One line of thinking suggests that the upsized tailor mostly enter systems in winter and exit by summer, leaving juveniles behind. If this is correct, a winter or early spring trip working the areas around an entrance could prove worthwhile. Ideally, lures would probe down to around 3m in the cooler months. Typically salmon will compliment catches at this time, but even in summer the odd salmon seems to turn up without warning.

However, I’ve spoken with locals from these beautiful East Gippsland coastal towns that believe bigger brutish tailor can be targeted inside estuaries all year round. The old timers back their words by saying estuary mouths often close over, a scenario all too common lately due to the absence of rain. When this happens, any tailor trapped inside an estuary just get bigger and bigger. They say that, closed water or not, big tailor remain behind in summer months, moving throughout a system and showing up unexpectedly.

Where?

Despite summer tailor having a habit of moving throughout an estuary, there are definitely areas that provide greater opportunity for a successful big fish encounter. Any deeper channels should take priority. The big fellas seem to love to cool their heels down deep when the hot weather turns up, so working down in around 4-5m produces good results.

Tailor also like to school up in an area that funnels a food source to them, so a second option is to look for topography that is not only deep but narrow as well. If these two features of an estuary can be combined, mark the spot with an X as a starting point and expand the search from there. A deep channel that extends from a narrows is prime tailor real estate.

Part of the joy of fishing for big tailor lies in exploring a Victorian waterway. Even an uneventful trip is not a total loss, as there’s always plenty of wildlife in the bush, while the bellbirds provide a songful backdrop. More often than not a deeper lure designed for big tailor will also help put a feed of flathead tails in the pan, or see the catch and release of a long, long length of dusky flathead.

Deep water that narrows also provides a chance at mulloway. One old salt even let slip that his mate had once nailed 12 mulloway in a single session in one of the areas I like to target tailor.

In terms of the ‘winter versus summer’ theories I’m not sure what to believe. Admittedly this is partly because I haven’t searched for them much in winter. Generally though, my gut feel is that tailor can be caught all year round.

Gearing up

In terms of the rigs and tackle required for tailor, there are quite a few options available to the small craft angler. Trolled lures are my favourite method as they cover the territory needed to find a school. However, once located, many other techniques will land tailor. The fishing techniques that require more style and finesse, such as casting soft plastics and ‘tweaking’ them back, may prove more effective than slow trolling.

In some ways, fishing for tailor reminds me of pinky and snapper fishing in Port Phillip Bay. Just like pinky snapper, any offering to small tailor can be rewarded. They are not fussy about what they take. However, the bigger tailor have been around the traps a bit and they’ll take more effort to hook – just like larger snapper.

Be prepared to sharpen your thinking and angling style to entice a strike. They don’t exactly need bream finesse, but they do take a commitment to hook into. Other methods such as live baiting garfish, or the old favourite of throwing metal slug style lures can also be employed, but getting your presentations deep can be the key.

The most important factor for catching big tailor is not so much the presentation at the end of the line, but the line itself. It’s imperative to use a leader that can resist being bitten through. A small wire trace is not out of the question, as tailor are not dissimilar to barracouta in the teeth department.

One product that doesn’t need crimping is known as Twist Weld: a few twists and a cigarette lighter flame to fuse the wire gets the job done on a 30lb set up. A monofilament or fluorocarbon leader in the 40lb range is another leader options.

If you ever encounter an East Gippsland dentist with only seven fingers left, you’ll know he does the work for the local tailor population. Be careful when tailor are brought in. They won’t exactly take a limb off, but they can latch on leaving a nice old bite mark.

It also pays to be wary of a seemingly subdued fish, as they may have a couple of kicks and flaps left in them. I found this out one day when I’d left the landing net in the car, and in reaching for a fish I thought was exhausted a set of treble hooks got driven into my hand. That’s a mistake I won’t make again, and keeping tailor in a net until they’re ready to be subdued is the safest way of handling them.

If you’re after a feed, tailor need to be bled and iced immediately, then cooked within two days after capture. Tailor do not freeze well, so limiting your catch to what the belly can immediately handle is the go. The dark grey and oily flesh is ideal for smoking, but a grill, BBQ, oven bake or shallow fry pan also work well for cooking tailor.

Metro tailor

While the bulk of Victorian tailor action happens in East Gippsland, the Melbourne-based angler is not entirely overlooked. Western Port and Port Phillip also see these fish appear.

One kayak angler with a sharp hook who has targeted city tailor with great effect is Adrian Di Cesare. Adrian says the The Warmies and around the mouth of the Yarra offer good tailor prospects in winter. Adopting either shallow running hardbodied lures, or soft plastic lures like red Berkley Gulps, is the key to Adrian’s metro tailor success, with fish up to 45cm.

Admittedly city tailor are unlikely to make the pub wall at Mallacoota, but with our winter light tackle fishing largely revolving around Australian salmon, squid and gummy shark, it’s small crafters like Adrian who show the Victorian angling world that some more variety is on offer. And with climate change showing no signs of letting up, who knows if the bigger tailor will make an appearance on Melbourne’s doorstep in the future?

Whether you’re after big tailor in the east of the state, or sourcing some Melbourne winter variety, Victorian tailor definitely measure up pretty well!

In Victoria, the bigger models of tailor are found in the east of the state.

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