Category: Medium Risk
Tailor are one of the most popular targets for recreational anglers along the lower west coast. They are aggressive hunters in the surf zone and there are very few anglers who at one time or another, have not stood on a beach at first or last light and cast a mulie westwards, hoping for a tailor hit. The place, the time and if you're lucky a feed of tailor to go home with - it's the epitome of fishing for thousands of anglers around WA. I confess to not being a big fan of tailor as a table fish, but many people love them, and a fresh fillet cooked in egg and breadcrumbs is a delight for many anglers' families.
There's generally little confusion in identifying tailor. They are usually silver in colour, with a distinct green or greenish blue on the backs of bigger fish, and have quite large, obvious scales. Smaller fish that have spent time in estuaries may have a brownish back with golden flanks and silver belly. These little fellas are generally referred to as choppers. There are two dorsal fins with seven or eight short spines on the front one. The second dorsal fin has soft rays and is higher and longer than the first.
If you're in any doubt about identifying a tailor, check out the mouth, which has numerous razor sharp teeth and a protruding bottom jaw. Fingers and tailor teeth have no affinity whatsoever. Use a Hookout, or pliers, or whatever, but don't be cute in handling tailor of any size - even tiny "razorbacks" will chomp down on you and the wound will bleed for ages.
Fishing the Wild West refers to a huge tailor weighing 12.9kg that was caught off Dirk Hartog Island in 1983. There's no doubt that the species grows to well over 10kg, but a tailor of two kilos is a super fish for metropolitan anglers. In fact, school tailor of 500-700g will keep most local fishos happy. Even allowing for the fact that tailor are cyclical species, recreational fishing pressure in metro waters appears to have had an impact on the average size of fish. Generally, tailor caught south of Dunsborough and north of Geraldton tend to be bigger than their metropolitan cousins, and are well and truly worth the long drive for keen tailor anglers. Estuary tailor are invariably smaller - often barely legal size.
Tailor are generally targeted between Albany and Quobba, though their distribution is assumed to continue from Albany right across the Great Australian Bight into South Australia. They are found in most estuaries open to the sea within this range. They are also found in some closed estuaries, even in brackish water. Most really large tailor - fish of 3kg plus - come from the rugged stretch of coastline north of Geraldton right up to Quobba Station. Great locations such as Wagoe, Kalbarri, Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island are synonymous with big tailor.
Breeding and migration
Overseas studies have shown that tailor are pulse spawners, which means that they release eggs and milt on a number of occasions during the spawning season in spring. Large females release more than one million eggs to drift in the ocean currents and take their chance in nature's huge lottery. Juvenile tailor turn up in our estuaries and near shore areas at just 4cm and stay in schools until their second year when they head out into the ocean. They grow to 25cm in the first year, 100% of the stock reaches sexual maturity at about 35cm and grow up to 40cm after two years.
Anglers should keep in mind that sexual maturity is 10cm above the legal minimum size, so it is important to follow bag limits and carefully return undersized fish. Fishing the Wild West says that tailor migration along the WA coast starts in September as fish move inshore between Busselton and Geraldton. Then there's a push northwards in January. Tailor are big travellers, although there's plenty of evidence to show that big, old jumbos find a choice location - an offshore reef, for example - and call it home for good.
The main threats to tailor stocks are recreational over-fishing and a recent and rapid decline in the natural supply of their staple baitfish. The good news is that the 1990's have seen the tailor fishery regulated to offset natural cyclical declines and perceived over-fishing. We have come a long way - from open slather straight to an initial daily bag limit of 20 and then down to the current limit of only eight fish a day. The much-publicised and lamented fish kills which have devastated mulie populations around the Australian coastline - including WA - are certainly a huge negative for our tailor fishery.
The last viral infection accounted for an estimated 61 per cent of the mulie biomass. Unfortunately the virus is likely to lay dormant in the remaining stock and possibly flare up from time to time when conditions are conducive. Like the original virus, the last outbreak emanated from around the oceanic tuna farms in the Port Lincoln area. There are also fewer mullet schools for foraging tailor. The spring mullet run along the metro coast was a ready source of food for big migrating tailor, but a combination of commercial over-fishing, loss of shallow estuarine habitat and pollution have taken their toll. The loss of habitat and a decline in water quality around Perth for these and other baitfish have created problems for our tailor fishery and this key recreational species will need careful management in the new millennium.
As I indicated earlier, small tailor favour estuaries and surf beaches are their preferred habitat when they grow big enough to head out to the ocean. Beaches with gutters are not as common along the west coast as they are over east, so tailor need to look for other opportunities to feed such as at the back of rips. However, big tailor love structure. Surf beaches with well-aerated white water washes created by onshore reefs are prime locations for these predators. Boat anglers would do well to troll and cast for them around offshore reefs with breaking water.
Tailor will patrol even quite shallow ledges looking for an unsuspecting fish dinner. Keep your eyes open for gutters that allow prowling fish access to protected water where baitfish could be hiding.
Tackle and bait
Tackle for tailor obviously depends on whether you're fishing a surf beach with a bottom rig and sinker, baitcasting around a reef wash, or fishing from a boat. West Aussies tend to prefer a lightish rod of 3-3.6 metres with a medium-size spinning reel or occasionally an overhead or sidecast Alvey. For close range bait and lure casting, and boat fishing, a rod of around 2.5m is the way to go. Six to eight-kilo line will handle most tailor, but it's more practical to step up to 10kg if you're chasing really big fish - 3kg plus - in reefy country. Check out Fishing the Wild West (and your Wangler back issues) for appropriate tailor rigs and baiting techniques.
Mulies are the standard bait for tailor but fish of various sizes will readily take fillets of fresh fish, even tailor, when fishing with a bottom rig. But the bait for big tailor (just ask our Editor!) is garfish. Not little gardies either - big baits which take a gang of five 6/0 Kendal Kirbys. Of course, catching tailor on lures adds to the thrill for many anglers these days. Casting poppers to jumbos around onshore and offshore reefs offers a special buzz. Throw the popper out to likely looking ambush spots and wind in fast, or work the rod tip to give the lure a varied and erratic ride. Like queenfish and GT's, big tailor crash poppers in a shower of spray, so make sure you always carry a couple of big bloopers in your tackle box or backpack.
Big chrome slices and lead baitfish replicas are also popular and effective, but remember that they don't float in reefy territory. No need to go past a Halco Twisty or Abu Toby when the choppers are on. If you're using lures or rigs with treble hooks, crush the barbs down flat so that hook removal is easy and far less likely to damage the fish (see Tackle and Tactics in this issue). Finally, if you do catch a tailor over five kilos, think seriously about putting it straight back as the survival of big breeding fish is a vital factor in ensuring the future of tailor stocks.
References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.
Text: Ian Stagles
Art: Roger Swainston