So you want to catch a kingfish

Quality gear will make all the difference.

Here in The Bay of Plenty we are very fortunate  to have one the best fisheries for yellowtail kingfish anywhere in the world. From right up in the shallow estuaries and out on the pins down to 200m of water, these hard fighting fish have earned their reputation for destroying tackle and leaving  anglers broken-hearted.

There’s so many stories about ‘the one that got away’ so in  this article I’m going to share with you a few tips I learned over the years working as a deckhand on one of New Zealand’s top kingi fishing charter boats, Pursuit.

First of all you need to know where to start looking. From late spring and right through summer our harbour is loaded with baitfish, and shadowing them are packs of kings. They can be found right up in half a metre of water chasing mullet and piper, or hanging around marker poles in the channels.

Current is very important, so if you find an area with tidal flow plus the baitfish, there’s a good chance predators aren’t  far away.

Piper are a perfect bait to use inshore, they’re prolific throughout the harbour and respond well to a burly trail. Tiny hooks are required to catch one and a bit of gentle handling while rigging them up to ensure your fragile bait is fresh and lively once deployed.

Match your tackle to fit your live bait, small but strong hooks with leader as light as possible depending on the area you’re fishing. For example off a wharf use 50lb fluorocarbon leader, 1-2/0 hook and 50lb braid. Kingfish have a dirty habit of heading straight for the piles once hooked so you really want that stopping power if you need it.

Out of a boat over the sand flats I’ll down scale a bit to maybe 30lb leaders and 20lb braid since there isn’t as much structure to be busted off on. The lighter your leader the more bites you get and the more fun you’ll have.

We have a huge area of offshore reefs which hold kingfish all year round. From Mayor island, Okaparu, Schooner Rocks, Plate Island and right out to White Island.

There are countless pins and reefs with potential, some more well known than others. The same rules apply out here, current plus food equals predators.

The bait schools will usually sit on the up-current face of a pin, where the nutrient rich water gets pushed up from the depths by currents.

Some reefs come right up and break the surface, these  areas usually hold kahawai and trevally which you’ll see feeding on krill. Situations like this can be a good opportunity to cast a stickbait or catch one of the kahawai and put it out under  a balloon.

Target techniques

There are a few different techniques to target kingfish in the deeper areas. Mechanical jigging used to work really well but over the years the more popular spots have seen fish become ‘jig shy’ meaning you really have to work hard for a bite some days.

My favourite and what I consider the most effective method to catch a Kingy would have to be with a live bait. Jack mackerel, koheru, kahawai, squid and flying fish are all top performers. Hooking your bait through the nose will help it get down faster and prevent spinning.

Keep your rig simple, 4ft of 130lb trace, strong hooks to match your bait size and ball sinker running free on the mainline connected with a good quality swivel. You want your sinkers to be just enough to get your livey down to the bottom but not so much that it gets skull dragged. High quality 80lb+ mainline, braid works well in deep water but mono does give that extra little bit of abrasion resistance if your fish gets its head into the reef below.

Kingfish are the ultimate test on your gear so make sure it’s all up to scratch before wasting money on fuel and terminal tackle. I have seen so many reels fall to bits mid-fight, which never ends well. There’s a huge range of rods and reels on the market which will do the job for less than $500, but remember, you get what you pay for.

Dirty fighters

So once you’ve got all those parts sorted, it’s time to get a hook in one of these reef thugs.

Use your fish finder to locate the targets and set a drift upwind/up-current which will mean your offering arrives in the bite zone as you drift over the spot.

I like to leave the reel in free spool and keep in contact with the bait to make sure it doesn’t become snagged or torn off the hook.

Once you think you’ve been bit, (usually indicated by line rapidly spilling off the reel) give it a second or two then engage the drag, retrieve any slack and set the hook. Making sure the line stays tight is crucial in this first part, quite often the bait will still be swinging off the hook and kingy just has to shake his head and it’ll fall out.

Once connected you’ll want to apply as much drag as possible without breaking the line, kingfish are dirty fighters and will head straight to the nearest obstruction to try break you off.

The first and last 30 seconds of the battle are usually when things go wrong, so when your fish finally comes into view don’t panic or do anything stupid. Ease the drag off slightly and if you’re with a mate, get them to grab it by the bottom lip and tail once it’s tired enough to come aboard.

Remember to always look after the fishery and only take what you need, one average sized kingfish yields a lot of meat.

White Island has had a voluntary bag limit set up by the local charter operators of one fish per person, per day and has to be over 1 metre in length. This has worked well in maintaining the marine life as it still is one of best places in the world to catch a kingfish over 30 kilos.


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