how to catch hairtail

Fishing for Hairtail in Cowan


Hairtail are one very interesting fish & a lot of fun to catch. they fight pretty good & are nice to eat also. There is something that gets you in about pulling fish in that are 1.5 to 2 meters long that are as shiny as a chrome bumper bar & have teeth that put most dogs to shame. Almost nothing is known about these fish. Once upon a time Cowan Creek was the only area these fish were caught & for one to be taken anywhere else even just a couple miles away in the main Hawkesbury system was most unusual. Now days they show up anywhere & everywhere. On a trip to Cairns recently I was surprised to be catching large Hairtail in Trinity Inlet during the day. They are thick enough up there that they become a pest when Barramundi fishing. In this article I will stick to the more traditional grounds in Cowan Creek fishing during the winter months.

Hairtail seasons

Hairtail fishing is normally a winter thing with the months from May through to September producing the best fishing. Recently there have been some good runs of these fish at other times of the year but you need to think winter & for some reason known only to the fish the colder the night the better the fishing seems to be


There are a few very well known area in Cowan like Jerusalem Bay, Akuna Bay & the ever popular Waratah Bay. Be warned these spots are BUSY during Hairtail season. In Waratah Bay when the Hairtail are about you could just about walk across the bay stepping from one boat to another. They are the places to go if you like company. I have had good catches at most of the bays in the system but my favorite spots are the northern shore opposite Cottage Point. There is a bay that runs in a hundred meters or so & the eastern side of this & the area just of the sand flat at the end of it fish well. Directly opposite Cottage Point Restaurant there is a sand flat in the north eastern corner which also produces great fishing if you anchor up about 30 meters out from the area where the sand flat drops into deeper water. heading up into Coal & Candle creek the Illawong Bay area fishes well & the shore based angler can score here as well it is one of the few areas where fishing from the bank is productive ( I have seen the bank a bit crowded though). In Smiths Creek you will find fish off the flat in Stingray bay as well. These are a few of my main spots but Hairtail move about a lot so it is worth a try in any of the small bays dotted around the area.


Depends a lot on how many baits you intend to have down at one time really. I often fish 3 kilo threadline tackle to enjoy the fighting capabilities of these fish. Any quality outfit whether it is an overhead or threadline spooled with 3 to 8 kg line will be fine for Hairtail they don't need specialized tackle. I often use hand lines in 10kg to 15kg range. Don't ask me why I just like using hand lines for a lot of my bait fishing. You will need some wire traces as well. I use nylon coated wire in 10kg range & make my own traces about half a meter long. I use whole pilchards for bait mostly so a few ganged hook rigs & your ready. Most people fish using a light stick rigged over the bait & Hairtail certainly respond well to these as well. I will go into some experiments I did with light sticks when I cover rigs.

Bait for Hairtail

Hairtail are predatory fish & will eat just about anything. I don't worry about using live bait anymore I stick with whole pilchards I find the hookup rate is far better than when using live baits. If you want to use live bait the yellowtail would be number one but I have caught Hairtail on hardiheads , mullet, small slimies, garfish & little tailor. If its alive it will be eaten. Pilchards are just convenient & effective plus Hairtail respond well to berley so the a few bits of pilchard tossed over helps.


The rigs used in Hairtail fishing are very simple indeed. A wire trace rigged with a gang of hooks ( I prefer 4 hooks linked in size 3/0) tied direct to your main line is all that is needed. No weight is needed in most areas & don't weight the bait unless you have to. As far as using light sticks or night lights as they are sometimes called I find them very effective. They come with a piece of plastic tubing which is slid on the main line prior to tying on the trace & when the light stick is activated it is simply jammed into the tube. A lot of people are unaware that light sticks come in both different sizes & different colours. I began using the standard size which is approximately 4 mm in diameter & around 20 mm long in the green colour. These worked fine until I tried using the larger type which are depending on the brand around 8 mm diameter & 40 mm long. I had a lot more success with these it was then the BIG discovery was made. These larger stick come in other colours also. I bought a few blue & red coloured ones to try & was amazed at the results. Blue sticks got double the amount of runs as green ones did & red ones got hit at the rate of 5 takes to every one on green & consistently got double the takes blue did. Red light sticks stood head & shoulders above the rest & on nights when the fish were slow & scarce produced fish when the other lines were ignored. I fish 4 lines at a time & used a red light on one with blue & green on the others & no matter which position the red one was in or what depth I fished it at the red out scored the other 3 put together. Talk to your local tackle store & try red light sticks you will not regret it.


I prefer to fish a rising tide for Hairtail & prefer a tide which is high about 2 hours after dark. I prefer to fish from new moon up to about three quarters of a moon I have never done much good on the full moon at all. There are no great secrets to fishing Hairtail at all. Rig your pilchards on your ganged hooks then start your light sticks (red of course) & lower them over the side. I stagger the depths of my baits until I get a take then bring all lines to that level. My first bait I let go all the way to the bottom then raise it about a meter. I then stagger the other 3 from that using one only a couple meters deep & 2 at mid water. A little trick I use to hold them at that depth is clothes pegs. I just tie a peg to each of my stern cleats & another 2 of my bow rail & when the bait is where I want it just very lightly clip it with a peg. Works very well. I toss a few pieces of pilchard in from time to time & then its just a waiting game. The bite of a Hairtail can come in many different forms as you will discover for yourself. Sometimes they hit the bait fast & take of & other nights you will barely feel it at all the line will just slowly move off. They will pick up the bait & swim to the surface with it just causing the line to go slack as well & all you will see is the line angle changing. The best advice I can give on the bite is watch your lines & anything unusual that happens treat it as a Hairtail bite. I let the fish have about 3 meters of line before striking & this works OK. You need to try different things if you are not hooking up as they can be frustrating to hook to say the least. Some nights I have hooked 100% of my bites others 0%. A point well worth remembering is that if you miss the bite & can still feel some bait left on your hooks just leave it sit the fish will often return to it. Once hooked Hairtail go pretty well some run around at midwater while others go deep & circle but just like the bite they are all different. You will not be disappointed I promise. When you get the fish to the boat they are OK to lift straight in but I find the best thing to do is grab them very firmly around the gills then give them a good hit over the top of the head with some type of club before lifting them into the boat. There are 2 reasons for this the first one being I still have the scars on my fore arm from being bitten by a 2 meter fish about 20 years ago & the bite needed stitching. The second one is the tail of these fish will whip any loose line on the deck into a mess very quickly. Hairtail generally travel in schools so when the action starts it can be very fast indeed. you will be surprised at how many fish just have the hooks tangled in their teeth & are not really hooked at all.

Once you have your Hairtail back at the ramp the easiest way to dress them is just clean them as per the way you clean any fish then cut them into sections about as long as your dinner plate is wide. The silver coating on them rubs of easily with a piece of coarse material like hessian & some prefer to wash it off. Myself I have never worried about it & find it does not affect the flavour of the fish at all. I normally put a section of Hairtail on a lightly buttered piece of foil give it a squirt of lemon juice then roll it up & put it under the griller turning it once to cook. It cooks very quickly as it is so thin so make sure you don't over do it.

Hairtail fishing is fun even though it can be very cold in Cowan fishing for them but if you have never done it before have a lash its a great night & you will score a few nice meals. Remember though there is a bag limit on Hairtail these days of ten fish & I would say even that is a bit generous I reckon 5 is plenty. Think about tomorrow & just take enough for a feed they don't freeze well anyway.

cowan Hairtail

A couple nice Hairtail from Cowan


The business end


A nice catch of Hairtail from Cowan