Catching tailor in W.A: Bait and Tackle

Spring tailor

Spring Tailor

By Rusty Hood-Penn


Well my fellow piscatorial enthusiasts Spring is upon us once more and not only do the longer days and warmer nights herald the imminent arrival of summer, but it also means that the Spring Chopper Tailor run is about to kick off!!

So what is a Chopper? Well “Chopper” is the term affectionately used by WA fisherman when describing smaller Tailor in the 300-450mm range. Bigger Winter Tailor are often referred to as Greenbacks and the real big specimens over 800mm are reverently called Jumbo’s.

Chopper Tailor can school in very large numbers and during spring and summer it’s not uncommon to catch 20 or 30 in a session. At times they can be simply Piranha like in their actions and will take almost any bait offered including a fillet of another Tailor.

Conditions and Locations

Being West Australian means that unlike our eastern state Brothers and Sisters we don’t have a great deal of fresh water fisheries to choose from, so for most WA fisherman, saltwater disciplines make up a very large percentage of our chosen pastime. This also means that any WA surf fishermen -worth their salt- will be able to instantly tell you what the tides are currently doing, what the current moon phase is and without so much as a licked finger in the wind how many knots the “Doctors” at.

Southern Western Australia is famous for its afternoon sea breeze – The Freo Doctor- which starts gently appearing in October, turns into a roaring 25 knot monster at the height of summer and starts to little by little fade away by late April. There is nothing Chopper Tailor like more than a strong afternoon sea breeze, stirred up water and confused baitfish. Sunrise and sunset are typically the most productive times for Chopper Tailor and I like to refer to this time as the “Hour of Power” 
It’s not uncommon for bigger Greenback Tailor and Mulloway to be taken in the couple of hours after a good Chopper session as they swim through cleaning up the leftovers from the carnage. 

Most of WA’s south west beaches will produce Choppers during summer but as with most surf fishing, choosing a good location is the key to success. Fishing on or near gutters, plate reef, sand spits, weed banks and marina mouths will all increase catch rates as like most Pelagic fish Tailor will use structure to ball up bait fish, especially their favourite meal- Mulies.

Bait and Tackle

Now if you’re reading this and wondering what the hell a “Mulie” is then I’m not at all surprised. As Ross Cusack explained in his outstanding book Hooked for life, Mulie was the term given to the West Australian Pilchard by one of our pioneering fishermen – Hec Simpson – it was smaller than a Scaly Mackerel and bigger than a Blue Sardine. Hec called them Mule Mackerel as they were like a hybrid of the two. Hence the name Mulies.

I would have no reservation in saying that the humble Mulie would be responsible for more catches of Mulloway and Tailor than any other West Australian bait. At an average of 20cm long it fits just perfectly onto a gang of 3 x 4/0 size hooks and emits an oily slick that fish find irresistible. 

When surf fishing most WA fisherman use rods in the 3.5 to 4.5 meter range, matched with a 10000 – 14000 size reel. Monofilament and Braid lines in the 8 and 12 kilogram range respectively will be more than enough when targeting Chopper Tailor and would have no problem handling and surprise Mulloway or small Shark that may decide to make and appearance. Personally I have been using a 3.66 meter Shimano Aerowave and Ultegra 14000 XTC spooled with 20 pound Power Pro and found it to be nicely balanced outfit. Long enough to keep the line out of the shore break and light enough to hold for a few hours easily.

There are two standard rigs for Chopper Tailor – Paternoster with gang hooks and star sinker and a simple bait casting rig. I normally make my own gangs and I find that open eye hooks make the process a lot easier and in addition to this I slip a 2/0 tarpon onto the last hook which I find to dramatically improve tasty Herring by-catch rates.

I really do love spring. An afternoon on the beach with friends or family is great but throw in all the action of a frantic Chopper Tailor session and not only will you have an afternoon to remember but a decent feed of fresh fish as well!

All that left now is to “gang up a mulie and belt it out”