Kingfish are the NSW blue water mongrel. They fight hard and dirty, always putting your equipment to the test. Anyone not well equipped will learn the hard way, fast. There is a necessary standard level of gear required to land something decent. They taste amazing, sashimi, seared or thrown on the BBQ. That is why we love them.
Kingfish can be caught in a variety of ways, but none are more successful than live baiting. Collecting fresh bait and presenting a number of tasty choices to any school of fish makes hooking one almost a certainty. They find live bait irresistible.
The techniques in this article are geared towards fishing in a harbour, however, can be transferred to offshore waters just as easily. Fishing in a harbour generally allows anglers to escape poor weather or manage to find exceptional fish with nothing more than a tinny. Harbours generally have easy access with boat ramps and can be fished before or after work without having to chuck a sicky.
Most people believe that you must set sail and get to deep water to find big kingfish, but this is a common misconception.
WHERE AND WHEN
In colder locations, the warmer months usually fire up the kingfish as they come into spawn. Big schools of smaller fish are in abundance with the larger fish being scattered amongst them. In the cooler months particularly Autumn, there are much larger fish patrolling the headlands and waterways, more often than not on their lonesome. In harbours, kingfish are more frequently caught when it is warmer.
Let us talk about Sydney Harbour, which is the most widely used fishery in Australia. It is so big! Exploring and learning where the fish are holding at certain times of the year can take a lifetime. Having a general understanding of what to look for can save a lot of time and maximize your chances.
Dispersed throughout the harbour are numerous marker buoys, light houses and timber posts. The ones located in water around 10m deep are usually the best spots. The basic principle is to scoot around to as many of these locations as possible to see if you can mark bait on the sounder or even better, arches, which indicate larger pelagic fish. If you do not have a sounder you will know very quickly if the kingfish are there if you present them a live bait. The more places that you visit the more likely you are to cross paths with a kingfish.
Other areas in the harbour that are going to hold kingfish are steep drop off’s, wrecks or pinnacles. Any structure below the surface is just as likely to help the bait congregate as something above. They are just harder spots to find. Looking around moorings is optimal as the boats, lines, buoys depth usually have kingfish zipping amongst them at some stage. However, if you know the exact position of some underwater structure, that is much more suitable to live baiting.
Too often people chase kingfish or accidentally stumble upon one and are drastically under gunned or lack the experience to land a viscous kingy. When fishing structure a kingfish will head directly for the reef, anchor line or timber. They punch well above their weight; a small fish can pull a lot of drag. There are finesse ways of catching kingfish, but live baiting is best done with solid equipment and a go forward attitude.
Let us start with the hook, a live bait hook is essential. The have a much heavier gauge and can handle much more pressure then other bait style hooks. I use Gamakatsu chemically sharpened live bait hooks. I adjust the size of the hook based on the live bait and knowledge of the size of fish in the area. I often Snell two hooks for a larger bait similar to a stinger rig for fish that do not engulf the bait entirely. Leaders are usually no less than 80lb Unitika fluorocarbon.
The rod and reel combo must be heavy set, although spin or overhead are both suitable depending on the choice of the angler. An ideal spin rod is the samurai X Tracta jigging rod, the long butt makes it comfortable to fight the fish with strong drag. For overhead I like to use the Samurai Osprey rod which has an outstanding parabolic action. The rods are both ideal for jigging as well, so you can always keep fishing when the livies run thin. Reels with 20 plus kilos of drag are what we are using. If a ‘rat’, small kingfish took a live bait from our setup it would not be able to click off any drag, in fact a fish is usually over 80cm to be able to take any line at all. The fact that we are setting drags so tight means that you should never leave them in the rod holder as they may snap.
Quality baits are the key. Jigging up slimy mackerel and yellow tail ‘yakkas’ are a good start. You can catch these little guys, sounding around wrecks, drop offs or even burleying up your local Warf. Spending time catching squid will give greater options and improve your chances. Squid are abundant in Sydney harbour, look at weedy ground on headlands during low light periods.
Live baiting is a team effort. Usually the driver stays at the helm ready to drag the fish out of the structure onto deeper and safer territory. Once the angler is hooked up it is imperative that the boat maneuvers the fish away from the structure to avoid getting bricked. An electric motor can also assist in getting the boat into position, quietly.
Looking at the sounder, kingfish will appear as arches. The live bait is best placed in front of their noses so match the line you let out with the corresponding depth of the kings. When the kingfish are having a sniff, the live bait can become excited, do not strike to early. Allow the rod to do the work and load up.