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Long Toms


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Long Tom's are a fish that many saltwater fishers encounter throughout their fishing activities. Sometimes you hook them, but more often than not, they're seen cruising around on the surface and occasionally have a slash at a bait or lure. Mainly though, if you do hook one on a lure, they'll jump off in a wild series of acrobatics and free themselves before you get a chance to bring them in. Bait fishers seem to stay connected a bit better.

As a kid, I loved catching Tom's because they skipped along the surface, jumped and even did mad cartwheels after being hooked- regardless the ones we caught were pretty small, they had 'scary' teeth and were still a trophy catch for a boy. The ones we got regularly were only about the same size as a good sized Garfish, but they were fun and easier to find than the Gars. Initially, we caught the odd one while float fishing for poddy Mullet, but as the bait for Mullet was always bread and the Toms are pretty much carnivorous, only the odd one was tempted. 

One Christmas holidays we went to Toukley, situated on Tuggerah Lake and stayed in a holiday unit really close to Canton Beach- a well known prawning area of the lake. The water was pretty shallow with a sand bottom and patches of that thin brown lake weed around the shore. A good safe fishing spot for kids and plenty of 'tiddlers' to catch.

The first day, after arriving at the unit- which was one of four- we discovered there were a few more kids around the same age as my brother and I and it seemed everyone was a fisherman. Within a couple of hours, there was a group of us, all standing about thigh deep in the water, fishing for whatever we could catch, only about 150 meters from the units. Like a lot of kids rig up (or are rigged by their parents), a simple rig of some type of small float, set around a foot or so deep, with a tiny long-shank hook and a piece of split-shot will catch you almost any of the small fish around the lakes edge. It's the universal rig for kids, because it gives you something to watch and is relatively snag-free (great for the 'riggers-up') and most kids will be using it at some stage in their early fishing expeditions.

The target species for the most part were poddy Mullet, as some of the men wanted them for bait, but any type of fish including tiny Luderick, Bream and Tarwhine were a welcome catch and each admired in their own right. Most of us were using bread, but one of the boys had a few prawns and he caught a Tom. Celebrations all round! I still remember the kid that caught it- not his name, but I remember him trying desperately to convince us that Toms were in fact baby Marlin. He was pretty convincing, but I remembered my Grandpa telling me that Tom's were their own species, after I'd asked him if they were a sort of Garfish.

When we ran out of bait and went back to the units, we only took the poddies and the Tom and on showing them to the adults, one of the men said if we wanted to catch Toms, we should have cut some of the Mullet up, because you could get them on "a bit" of Mullet gut. Not knowing what "bit" of Mullet to use and not wanting to ask in front of the other kids for fear of looking stupid, I left it at that.

The next day we went to Budgewoi, staying for the day and didn't get back in time to fish with the other kids, but went down again with my brother after breakfast the next morning. Once again we fished with bread under our floats and caught the usual poddies and small Bream, before deciding to try for Toms using some of the Mullet. As I'd never cut a fish up by myself and the little knife in our tiny fishing kit was really blunt, I made a real mess of the small Mullet, trying to cut it up on the sand. In the end I managed to cut it's head off and most of it's guts came with the head, now what part to use? The red part looked OK (I later learned it was the heart) and I gave half (less than half the size of a pea) of it to my brother and put my half on the hook.

One thing we'd all noticed with the Toms was that they were always cruising around on the top of the water, just under the surface and also they often came in for a look at anything splashing on the surface. The small red plastic floats we were using had a short stems with a hole in each end of the stem to put your line through, but not knowing any better, ours were just tied on to our main line at the top and another piece of line with the hook tied to the bottom. Worked OK, but the depth couldn't be adjusted. After casting out as far as you could (which was probably only about 10-15 meters at most) if you wound the float back quickly, it splashed along on the surface and often a few Toms would cruise in for a look. With our new bait of Mullet heart, we cast and retrieved a few times before half a dozen or so Toms appeared and it was as simple as stopping winding and one would grab the bait right in front of us! They were 'big' fish to us at about 15 inches long, because fish always got measured by holding up your fingers, so regardless they were really skinny, they had the length to be 'big'.

We only had a few poddies to cut up, but caught half a dozen Toms on them, before trying the other red parts of the gut like the intestine and this worked as well. After a couple more sessions there, we could easily get a few Toms once we'd caught some poddies for bait and soon all the other kids from the units were catching them as well. Red 'meaty' bait was the go- after attracting them with the splashy float. They weren't big fish, but their 'crocodile teeth' and acrobatic jumps were enough to make all the kids want to catch them and we fished for them almost every day of the holiday.

Years passed and Long Toms never came into the picture again until a few of us went live baiting to the "Ovens" around from South Whale Beach. Top spot the Ovens and plenty of big fish have been caught there over the years. There's a small 'gulf' adjoining the platform and very early morning you can catch Yellowtail there for live bait, which in turn are then sent out under a cork or balloon for big stuff like Tuna and Kingfish. The times I fished there, once the sun was well up, catching Yellowtail in amongst the masses of Sweep and Mado's was difficult, so baits were treasured unless you lugged them in from somewhere else. This day I only caught 4 Yellowtail, so that was my live bait for the day. 

Not much action through the morning, we only got a Bonito between 3 of us and a couple of other guys got another Bonnie on a lure. Finally, mid-morning, one of the Yellowtail gets taken and after feeding the fish a bit of line, a solid hook-up. No line comes off the reel though and then a big Long Tom starts jumping around. A bit of laughter from the other guys using live bait and the call of "Thommo" from the couple of locals.

When I lifted it out onto the platform, I was pretty impressed by the size of it, around three and a half feet long and by far the biggest one I'd ever seen, but before I even got a chance to get it off the hook, both my two mates Wayne T and Manuel V were both hooked onto them as well. They were all around the same size, green in colour with light coloured bellies. As we'd never seen them like this before, all three of us were happy to get them, but the local guys said although it meant the water was a good temperature for game fish, when the big Toms were around, you may as well go home. They'd beat the quality fish to the bait and if they didn't hook up, your bait was killed straight away anyway. They went on to say that on some days, heaps of them would get caught and they were pretty common in the area during summer. Other than the ones I'd caught as a kid, I hadn't encountered them for years and certainly never off the ocean rocks, or of such size.

We fished on for another couple of hours and just as the local guys had said, all the remaining Yellowtail became victims to the Toms. Sometimes you wouldn't even get a run, the first thing you knew was one would be jumping around on the surface, after swallowing your Yakka. Wayne and I ended up with 3 each and Manuel 2 and the other guys live-baiting got a few as well. A couple were hooked by the spin guys also, but they jumped off pretty quickly.

The next couple of trips to the Ovens we got a couple more Toms and I gave one to George F who owned the "Fisherman's Friend" tackle shop at Yagoona (long closed now) who wanted to get it mounted for the shop wall- so impressive are their teeth. Since then however, the only ones I've hooked have been on lures and they've always jumped off, other than one I caught at Mermaid's Inlet on Beecroft Peninsula, which was sent out as a live bait- no takers on it as a livey, but it swam all over the place and created enough commotion in the flat ocean to attract anything I thought.

The last experience I had with one was at Fingal, right near the entrance to the Tweed River. We'd been spinning for Flathead with hard body lures and ended up at a spot called the 'Blue Hole' at the junction of Kerosene Inlet and the Tweed. The water was beautiful and clear and there was a fantastic looking deep hole, into which you couldn't see anywhere near the bottom- looked a prime spot for a big Flathead or two.

Four of us tried a heap of lures, but other than two trevally that only stayed on for a few seconds before busting us off on something down deep in the hole, the only other fish was a Tom I caught. When I tried to unhook it for release, I wasn't paying it enough attention and it grabbed my index and middle fingers and bit down hard. I screamed in pain as I got multiple puncture wounds on each side of both fingers. My three mates gave me heaps and the one-liner jokes were constant, but the Tom really hurt- it was like getting about 20 needles at once and the blood really spurted out. Again, this Tom was only about 15-18 inches long and I still can't believe how well it got me. You sure wouldn't want to get bitten by one of those real big ones!

 

 

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Long toms are an aggressive fish when trying to unhook them. Their heads sway from side to side and the jaws continually snap away, trying to grab hold of your hand.

I would rather unhook an angry tailor than a long tom, though I once was bitten by a tailor about 35cm long. When I looked away for a fraction of a second (another line was getting a bite) the little bastard grabbed a finger and would not let go. I literally squeezed the shite out of it until it relented.
 

Toms frequent Port Hacking, mainly over the sand flats, and grab my nippers at times. They are Slender Long Toms, very skinny but still armed with many teeth. The biggest I have pulled out would be about  70cm, and quite often will spit out the hook or bite it off. They are edible, but not as nice as garfish.

I once had a Stout Long Tom grab a pillie, it was easily 90cm long, and I watched the pillie on ganged hooks go down it's throat, gave it a few seconds, lifted the rod but the pillie came out and the Tom swam off. The Stout Toms are thicker in body than Slender Toms, but there is no difference in the teeth.

As a kid fishing Lake Illawarra many years ago, I saw a dead Tom on the bank so rowed over for a look. It was a Stout Tom, I measured it against myself and it was easily 4 foot long (1.2 metres) and the teeth more than 1cm long. As a little fish, that would be the last thing you would see closing around you, there would be no escape.

So Waza, I could just imagine what a Tom bite would feel like latching onto your fingers.¬†ūüė≠

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Another great read Waza, thanks.

When they've been destroying every live bait off the rocks, I've put a few out under a float and the only time one was eaten, was by a hammerhead.

They're a not so common bycatch in St Georges Basin and get up to around a metre or so. Oddly enough, all my fish have been caught on lures, but that's because I rarely fish with bait.

Viscous little buggers.

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56 minutes ago, bessell1955 said:

Are they good to eat? 

Similar to garfish, but I prefer the garfish. Long thin fillets.

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5 hours ago, Yowie said:

Long toms are an aggressive fish when trying to unhook them. Their heads sway from side to side and the jaws continually snap away, trying to grab hold of your hand.

I would rather unhook an angry tailor than a long tom, though I once was bitten by a tailor about 35cm long. When I looked away for a fraction of a second (another line was getting a bite) the little bastard grabbed a finger and would not let go. I literally squeezed the shite out of it until it relented.
 

Toms frequent Port Hacking, mainly over the sand flats, and grab my nippers at times. They are Slender Long Toms, very skinny but still armed with many teeth. The biggest I have pulled out would be about  70cm, and quite often will spit out the hook or bite it off. They are edible, but not as nice as garfish.

I once had a Stout Long Tom grab a pillie, it was easily 90cm long, and I watched the pillie on ganged hooks go down it's throat, gave it a few seconds, lifted the rod but the pillie came out and the Tom swam off. The Stout Toms are thicker in body than Slender Toms, but there is no difference in the teeth.

As a kid fishing Lake Illawarra many years ago, I saw a dead Tom on the bank so rowed over for a look. It was a Stout Tom, I measured it against myself and it was easily 4 foot long (1.2 metres) and the teeth more than 1cm long. As a little fish, that would be the last thing you would see closing around you, there would be no escape.

So Waza, I could just imagine what a Tom bite would feel like latching onto your fingers.¬†ūüė≠

Hi Yowie I still to this day can't believe that thing bit me that day. My fishing buddies had never heard me scream, but scream I did- it bloody hurt! It was only a real small Slender Tom, one of the big ones would be dreadful

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4 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Another great read Waza, thanks.

When they've been destroying every live bait off the rocks, I've put a few out under a float and the only time one was eaten, was by a hammerhead.

They're a not so common bycatch in St Georges Basin and get up to around a metre or so. Oddly enough, all my fish have been caught on lures, but that's because I rarely fish with bait.

Viscous little buggers.

Hi Pete I wasn't careful (obviously!) enough and never expected it to bite me, wasn't much bigger than a big Gar. Even worse than the bite was the continuous stream of one-liners from the boys!

The one I put out at Mermaid's swam all over the ocean

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5 hours ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Yowie I still to this day can't believe that thing bit me that day. My fishing buddies had never heard me scream, but scream I did- it bloody hurt! It was only a real small Slender Tom, one of the big ones would be dreadful

I would rather juggle hand grenades than an angry Tom, and I cannot juggle. :074:

Edited by Yowie
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 Another top yarn thanks mate. The missus rang me once while away at tweed heads she said you should of come some guy just caught a baby marlin of the beach. She sent me a photo of the biggest long tom ever. I read a story once about a guy who  had one stab him in the chest whilst wading in the shallows attracted to his gold necklace apparently. Never caught one myself but have seen plenty.

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6 hours ago, kobi caught a fish said:

each year when we go up to south west rocks we get longtom while we are wading in the shallows trying to net them is a nightmare and trying to gaf them is even worse.

Hi Kobi Try fishing for them! They're fun to catch- just watch those teeth when you're unhooking one!

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