Kingfish are Godzone’s top pelagic species that will test an angler’s ability, strength and gear, editor Matt Hewetson looks at three ways to target them over summer.
Kingfish are always a challenge, no matter if you have caught one or 100. They are the fish that most Kiwi anglers want to tangle with to test themselves and when you successfully land one, that cold beer at the end of the day tastes that little bit better. On my travels around Godzone, I get to talk and fish with many people, and it often surprises me how many people say they are yet to land a good kingfish. They have usually scored a few rats and hooked bigger ones but got owned with the kingie earning its freedom. This is where you really need a plan to stick with before heading out in the boat, it is not like snapper fishing where a trusty old 10kg bait runner combo can land big snapper and you fill the bin easily. Kingfish are tough customers and deserve respect or you will find yourself facing a good beating.
Doing your homework and prepping with your tackle before you get out on the water will increase your chances of successfully catching a kingie and you need to look at your options on where you intend to go to find them. They are a successful species that can exploit shallow water harbours and coastal areas, and out in deep water over reefs way offshore. Fortunately, in summertime kings gather in large numbers across most of the country and if you spend the time looking for them, your paths shall cross sooner or later. I like to employ three key methods targeting kings and will run through these tactics for you to adopt in pursuit of landing a yellowtail kingfish.
Without a doubt the best way to tangle with a kingfish is to deploy a live bait. The NZ and World Record 52kg kingfish taken on 15kg line was caught on a live kahawai off Tauranga. If you head out and come across a school of kahawai or trevally on the surface, there is a good chance a kingie or several are below them. Use a lure or small bait with hook to catch a kahawai or trevally, even try foul hooking one with a treble hook will do and send the live bait down on a 24kg ledger rig under the school of baitfish. A second livie can be used under a balloon on the surface. Keep the live bait(s) close to the baitfish, watch the surface activity and below on the sounder. Move the boat slowly when needed to keep closer to the schooling fish. Overhead lever drag reels are best as you want the live bait in free spool with the clicker on for that strike. Make sure you also use a circle or recurve hook too, these are the best for hooking in the mouth if you want to release the fish unharmed after a few quick photos. I would recommend going on a specialist kingfish charter like Epic Adventures who put people onto kingfish off the Coromandel every week. They often spend up to two hours in the morning filling the live bait tanks with mackerel before heading out, caught with sabikis and small baits at change of light is the best. You will learn a lot from such a trip to grow your fishing experience. My favourite live baits in this order are mackerel, grey mullet (west coast), kahawai and trevally. These are the hardiest live baits and high on a kingfish’s menu, whereas squid, piper and yellow eyed mullet are also dynamite if you find them but are harder to keep alive over long periods. Spend the time gathering live baits and find the places kingfish inhabit and don’t give up if nothing happens for a while. Don’t get impatient and head off snapper fishing, stay the course and try berley to bring baitfish and kings into the area.
Lures work well on kingfish and some of my best kingfish action has been when fishing by mechanical jigging over reefs in Northland and the Bay of Plenty. You need a quality jigging combo, look for a rod rated for 200-350gm jigs with matching narrow-spooled reel with a fast retrieve, at least 10kg of drag and spooled with 50-80lb braid (PE3-5). Having multicoloured line is also key as the colour changes every 10m and you can determine how many colours to drop the jig down when in deeper water. E.g., If you are fishing over a reef that is 90m down and the bait school and kingfish sign is sitting at 60m, then you drop down six colours to start your jig action back up. Sunline’s Siglon PEx8 Multicoloured braid is excellent value for money, with high strength and abrasion resistance. Its low diameter also helps provide a better knot. It is now the braid I use on all my jigging and lure fishing sets. Mechanical jigging requires a synchronised rhythm of half winding and short lifts on the rod to best work the jig. There are plenty videos on YouTube to check out and we also have a great how-to video up on FIGZ Club if you want to sign up to view it. The more you do it the better you will get at it, and I believe it is more rewarding tricking a big fish to take your lure over a live bait. For the jigs, I would suggest any brand from 200-300gm to start out with, the lighter jigs are easier to work for longer and if the current or drift picks up you may need to go up to 300gm or heavier jigs. When the kings are hungry, jigging can be fast and furious, and you and the crew can land a dozen kings in no time. It is a remarkably effective way to fish for kings in deeper water. Gloves are another good idea to help hold the jig or line when boating them providing better grip and protection for the hook with a thrashing fish.
Another lure that might surprise people that kingies love to strike are softbaits. Typically, these are usually employed by anglers for snapper fishing, but kingfish will happily grab them. Their lifelike profile falling through the water obviously fools the fish and we have often hooked up on large kings when softbaiting. They will take most colours or styles, but I have found the Z-Man Atomic Sunrise to be a top performer on kingfish. When you hook a kingie on a softbait combo, it is heavily favoured in the fish’s odds as you are fishing using lighter braid (12-15lb) and with light fluoro leaders (20lb), which are most popular with snapper anglers. I have gone up to 18-20lb Sunline braid and use heavier 25-30lb leaders if I want to target kingies on softbaits. This gives you a better chance to help land a good fish. Remember that on lighter softbait combos that you need to be patient, it can take up to half an hour at times to land a king on this tackle but that is the fun of it. Your skipper also needs to be at the ready to start the engine to assist you during the fight, following the fish in shallow water or carefully leading you away from reefs or structure that a kingie can bust off on. Teamwork is key with fighting big fish. Kingfish are street fighters and will exploit any weakness in your tackle, you will bust off a lot but if you keep targeting them, then you will land your fair share. Long live the king!