IT IS the time of the year when many local anglers are starting to think about chasing tailor. I will certainly be around the bayside very soon chasing them land-based – something I have done religiously for over 30 years. Tailor are great eaten fresh or smoked.
Tailor is a widely distributed species in temperate and tropical waters. It is commonly referred to as ‘elf’ in South Africa and ‘bluefish’ in the US, Brazil and the Mediterranean. It is the only member of the family Pomatomidae and it is unusual that a family of fish has only one species. Tailor around the world show a preference for water temperatures between 18–27°C.
There are two separate populations of tailor in Australia. One on the east coast and one on the west coast. On the east coast of Australia, tailor range from about Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria to Fraser Island with a few straggling a bit further north. Australia’s tailor populations are separate from those elsewhere in the world.
While spawning was initially considered to occur during a single period between August and October, information on the distribution of tailor larvae along the coast identifies that the spawning period is much longer. Although the main spawning activity occurs at Fraser Island, spawning is recorded further south. The run of “Christmas choppers” on surf beaches in summer are typically in roe. Larvae produced during spawning are washed south on the East Australian Current. Some juvenile tailor recruit into estuaries while others stay in coastal areas.
Tailor are a fast-growing species, reaching about 27 cm fork length in their first year with most fish caught under four years of age. Tailor spawn in only their second year. Very few tailor on the Australian east coast are older than seven years of age. Larger adult tailor enter Moreton Bay itself predominantly between April and August. Some of the biggest fish are caught on surf beaches such as North and South Stradbroke Island in October and November.
Throughout their range, catches of tailor are highly variable, driven by interannual variability in stocks and variations in local movement patterns. In the case of fish along surf beaches, an appropriate set of beach conditions that attracts the fish very close inshore and available to anglers is also required for successful catches. It can be a source of frustration that the tailor that were there yesterday are gone today, or that the same beach location that was productive last year, has no fish this year. That is just the nature of the beast. At times, boat anglers report large ‘plagues’ of tailor on offshore reefs, often when beach anglers are not catching many fish. The environmental factors which drive the interannual variability in tailor stocks are not well understood.