Tailor start to school
  |  First Published: April 2009

As the weather cools down and we prepare for another Winter, that wonderful sport fish the tailor will be starting to school.

Even the fish that have not reached maturity are still great fun on small metal slices and the bigger fish are enormous entertainment.

On calm mornings the schools are easy to spot as they herd baitfish to the surface, then it’s full attack mode.

Seabirds get a feed out of the debris and they follow the schools, waiting for the next bust.

One of my favourite eating fish (as well as my wife’s) is the john dory. About now these slow swimmers leave the offshore reefs and make their way into Pittwater and up the Cowan.

It’s so easy to fish for them. Getting live bait could be a hurdle, but when you secure a live yellowtail, suspend it near the bottom off a bobby cork.

Use a fairly hefty weight to slow the bait down to give the sloth-like dory a chance of nabbing it.

Takes are slow and you need to wait as the dory engulfs the bait and slowly swims off. Strike just hard enough to set the hook and bring the fish to the boat.

They are feeble fighters but it’s always a good idea to land them in a net as they have a propensity to fall off the hook when lifted aboard.

I also start to get my hairtail gear into shape. I make at least half a dozen wire traces with 8/0 single hooks to guard against the incredibly sharp teeth that these primitive fish sport.

Cold, still nights with no moon are my favourite time to go hunting these beasts up Cowan Creek. Spots such as Cottage Point, Akuna and Illawong Bay all have fish and a good session should see around a dozen fish taken.

Discard the bottom third of the carcase because it’s all thin bones, but slabs from there up to the head make delicious eating.


Bream are also Winter targets. Pittwater becomes home to some whopper fish that come out to play only after dark.

Fresh bait, such as pumped nippers, bloodworms or strips of chicken or skirt steak, are all proven attractors.

Berley is an essential and I have used boiled wheat as an additive for decades. Mixed with bread, the seed attracts fish whose stomachs, when cleaned, are usually bulging with the cereal.

Because bream are so finicky, fish as light as you dare. Run a minute pea sinker down to a swivel. Have at least a metre of fluorocarbon trace and then tie on a 1/0 Suicide hook.

Dunking a choice of baits will give you an idea of what Mr Bream has a fancy for that night and then use that particular bait on all rods.

If you have never had a kilo bream running around on the end of your line, you’re in for a big surprise.

Now let’s have a gander at what’s been happening on the Northern Beaches.

It’s been a bit quiet offshore and even snapper gurus like Mona Vale’s Peter Ryan are not finding fish. It seems that the action, or lack of it, has been close in. That’s good news, as the jackets are in full attack mode out wider.

Drifting off Long Reef, Claude Toia and mate Colin Hill came across an active patch of flathead in 15m. Nearly bagging out, they were pleased as punch to catch enough for their families as well as neighbours.

Mark Rice reports of a rare capture off Long Reef. The fish is an almaco jack, which looks a bit like a kingfish but is stubbier, more like an amberjack. He also berleyed up sweep, samson fish, chinaman jackets and these almaco jacks.

It’s a shame that two large flathead fell off the droppers as he would have won the day but Balgowlah Fishing Club member Ches Wotjulewicz realised he should have called for the net. All in all, a good day out, notwithstanding the jackets stripping baits most of the time.

Anglers winding in across shallow beach flats have seen a lot of swallowtail dart hooked. These thin fish adore beachworms and can be pests when you’re after tastier fish like whiting.

However, dart boiled up make a delicious fish stock to add flavour in stews and stir fries.

Working cabbage weed off Whale Beach rocks, Avalon’s Bob Dean had a ball on blackfish. Bob tells me the fish were starving and every cast resulted in a down, with about a one-in-five hook-up rate.


Small rat kings are in numbers off the Curl Curl rock platforms. A group of anglers got themselves in a fine mess with triple hook-ups, running and weaving rods over each other as the rats led them a merry dance.

Spiky flathead were the bane of Jody Tennyson’s day as he flicked live nippers at Snapperman Beach in Pittwater. He eventually caught a couple of keepers.

Hawkesbury anglers tell me there is still dirty water coming out of the river and, all in all, fishing has been slow. Quiet, secluded areas such as Porto Bay have seen bream taken near the racks.

Don’t you just love it when you hear great fishing stories? Emily Johnson emailed me to tell of her husband’s battle with a huge jewfish which nabbed his prawn bait as he fished close to the Narrabeen bridge. He drew quite a crowd as the line on the reel flowed and ebbed and the mob followed as the mulloway ran up and down the lagoon.

Eventually the fish rolled in the shallows, all gasped at the size and then with a lazy flick, it was gone!

There are feeble moves by Pittwater Council to upgrade the Iluka Road boat ramp at Palm Beach.

A recent meeting took into account anglers, commercial users and local residents. This is a difficult one and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s put in the too-hard basket, like a lot of other fishing and boating questions we have on the peninsula.

My weekly column in the Manly Daily has fallen victim to the current economic downturn. After 12 years’ service, I received a call from the editor saying that my services were no longer required.

Monthly Tip: If you are not using chemically sharpened hooks, make sure you hone the points with a quality sharpening stone each time you go out.

More fish are lost by blunt hooks not finding their targets than for any other reason.

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