Hunting hoodlums off the rocks

Releases from the rocks can be tricky, especially when you’re so far away from the water!

by Jacob Crispe •

Hoodlum: someone who is never up to any good, one who indulges in a life of crime and violence; a hooligan, thug or gangster.

Fact: Yellowtail kingfish can grow up to two meters long and can weigh up to 70kg.

The yellowtail kingfish, or ‘hoodlums’ as they are often known, has a well-earned reputation of winning nine out of ten battles when hooked by even the most serious of land-based anglers. Not only does this fish have ultimate brute power for its size, it’s also got to be one of the smartest fish in the ocean, as not long into any fight, a kingfish will find the closest bit of reef or structure and swim around it and quickly bust off the most experienced anglers. When targeting these yellow tailed gangsters, most anglers will run a line class of 80-100lb braid and use heavy mono leader line from 130-200lb and a near locked drag.

Identifying areas to target

Kingfish are a serious predator fish and are always on the move, often hunting in bays and coves where baitfish get trapped. Capes and headlands are the best areas to look for these bays and coves, as there is always a massive variation in water depths within a close proximity.

Depths of 10-25m have always been productive, however we have found the areas that have deeper parts with water over 20m in depth to be a lot more productive. Heavily reefed up areas hold a wide range of other fish species, which the larger solitary kings will often cruise past on the hunt for the weakest link.

Best times

Between April to August has always been the most productive times of year, and when the kings are in bigger numbers. The new moon combined with a high tide is always going to be a great time get out there on the search for Kings, however we do find that the first light and around mid-afternoon of any day to be great times to have a line in the water. Always keep an eye on the tide times, as any tide change can fire up activity that can get the kingies feeding.

Windows of opportunity

Growing up a rock fisherman’s son, I learnt from a young age two very important weather conditions we always needed for that perfect window of opportunity, and I still check that at least one of those two conditions are in my favour before heading out. Those two important things are swell height and direction, and the other is wind speed and direction.

Swell height and direction is always the most important. The reason is that if the swell is in your face (coming straight towards you) it could become very dangerous and can potentially be fatal if you are washed in. Ideally, the swell coming from behind you will make for very safe and calm waters. This can make your day a lot more visual, as it’s easier to spot free swimming fish and can create sight casting opportunities.

The preferred wind conditions are light tail wind (coming from behind). The benefits of a tail wind (besides the comfort of no wind blowing in your face) means you can get a longer cast and you are also able to use a surface balloon and have it go straight out.

Bait fishing

Dead baiting

Dead baits can be rigged un-weighted on a two-hook snell rig or on a bottom dropper style rig depending on conditions. I find the unweighted snell rig to be more successful if the water conditions are not too rough, because it allows the bait to fall naturally through the whole water column. When casting an unweighted bait, pilchards have always been a successful choice, as they are native to the South Coast.

Live baiting

Live baits can be presented a few different ways, among the most common ways used are slide bait rigs, surface balloons and glitter bug float rig.

When using surface balloons there are two main techniques for this style of fishing. One is when the wind is in your favour, and you can inflate the balloon to 20-30cm in diameter and use the wind to push your balloon out to the desired distance. The other is when the wind direction is blowing head on, and by only inflating the balloon to 7-10cm in diameter it allow the live bait (most commonly herring) to swim the balloon out the desired area.

When putting your hook into the live bait, pierce the fish about one third the way down its body from the head end, as most times a live bait will be swallowed head first. Keep the pierced hook shallow, so you prevent damaging the fish and this will help keep it alive longer. If using a squid, do not pierce all the way through its body, keep the hooks in top side of its tube or one single hook right through the tip of its tube.

Glitter bug rig

A glitter bug rig is a simple and effective rig. Made like a standard float rig with the bait sitting around one meter below the float, the thing that makes this float rig special is the float itself, known as the glitter bug. This float is a diamond shape covered in a highly-reflective tape that acts like a disco ball, reflecting light all through the water column and attracting more fish attention. The best bait to use on this rig will always be a live squid or herring, because dead pilchard baits can be eaten by herring and stripped from the hook. However, if herring are not around, a simple pilchard will definitely be a worthy bait!

When using dead baits, a slow retrieve can help cover more ground and help produce more fish.

Slide bait rig

There have been a couple of different slide clip models over the years, however the most commonly used slide clip in current years has been the non-return slide clip. This is another great way to set a line out because once setting your bait into the water it has free run of the whole cast distance along your line, covering the whole water column from top to bottom.

The way this rig is used is quiet simple. When a non-return slide clip is purchased it comes with a solid ring as part of its kit, the solid ring is to be tied onto your main line with a sacrificial sinker leader (leader line at a lower breaking strain to your main line to break away easier if snagged) joined to it, and around 1m of sacrificial leader is ideal.

A grapnel sinker is the best way to go when it comes to sinker choice for this style of rig. Again, a live bait is always the preferred bait to present when chasing kings, however if a live bait is unattainable on the day, a dead bait can be used on this rig, but does not have the same appeal. Once the bait is rigged onto your hook, the clip can easily be attached to the main line with a series of wraps before closing the clip. A single live bait hook is fine to use, however where possible I find a two-hook snell to be more effective when it comes to hooking up once the bait has had a strike.

Herring is the one of the best and certainly easiest live bait to acquire generally, however if you are lucky enough to catch live squid then there is no better live bait in the ocean. A kingy will never swim past a live squid without striking.

A selection of the author’s favourite lures for hunting hoodlums on the rocks.
A pink glow Halco Madeyes Paddle Prawn proved to be effective on this healthy kingfish.
The author was happy with this fat kingy caught on a Maria Rapido surface stickbait.
This king was caught from sight casting with a Dr Hook Big Game Bully in holographic pearl.
The author applying pressure while trying to put the brakes on a hard-running hoodlum.
Nathan Brown displays another beautiful trophy fish. This picture really shows where the fish gets its name, with its bright yellow fins and tail and distinct body colours.
The author with another great shot of a king taken on a topwater Maria Rapido stickbait with a slow walk-the-dog action.
Nathan Brown and Tim Gorman with a pigeon pair caught out of a passing school.

Lures

Surface stickbaits

A popular and super fun choice is the stickbait. With such a big range to chose from, some people may be left wondering which one to use first! The easiest way to make your decision is to look at what fish smaller fish are around in the areas you intend to target.

On the South Coast here in WA a common baitfish around most rock ledges is the humble herring, with an average size of 15-25cm. This applies to all types of lures when chasing this species. Therefore if you chose a stickbait with a similar length or profile, then you are matching the hatch! Natural colours are always going to be appealing, however on a cloudy day the lures with some UV colours to stand out may grab the attention of a hungry king a bit quicker. Good UV to look for and use are pinks, yellows and greens.

Techniques for this type of lure can be very versatile, as the action of this lure is independently delivered from the anglers rod movement and winding speed. The first action I’ll describe is a popular swimming action delivered by long slow sweeps of the rod. With your body facing 90° side-on to the direction you have just cast, starting with the rod direction pointed towards the lure, maintain a low rod tip and pull the rod in one big action all the way past the front of your body, then quickly wind your slack line as you bring the rod back to the direction you started. Repeat this action until the lure is close to the rocks where you can carefully lift it out of the water without smashing it on the rocks and damaging your prized lure. This will deliver a nice long swimming action, similar to that of a fleeing baitfish.

Long slow sweeps delivered with a quick jerk at the end of each action will allow the lure to slide through the water onto its side, giving a more wounded appearance, and pausing between sweeps can help entice a hungry onlooker by making the lure look more wounded.

Another popular style when working a stickbait is called ‘walking the dog’. A walk-the-dog action can be easily delivered by holding your rod tip low and giving short twitches or jerks down with your rod tip as you do small winds between each twitch picking up the slack line. This gets the lures darting from side to side.

Surface poppers

Surfers poppers are another popular way to target kingfish. It’s very easy to mix up the retrieve of a surface popper with long sweeps and short jerks. Just remember there is no right or wrong.

As always persistence is the key, and it’s the committed Angler who will usually be the one to get the hook up and catch the fish. The best colours vary, and darks and blacks can work well because they throw a strong silhouette, but on the opposite end of the spectrum your higher reflective colours can work a treat, such as holographic chromes, natural blues, bright pinks, greens and chartreuse yellows.

Bibbed minnows

This can be another great choice of lure, especially if you like to cast and retrieve. Your retrieve speed can vary and the wobbling action can stay the same. By pausing or giving random jerks during the retrieve, you can sometimes fire them up more, as it gives a more wounded action. Personal experience has seen a faster retrieve to be more effective with this lure type.

The best colours have always been natural baitfish, pinks, chromes, holographic/pearls and chartreuse.=

Soft Plastics

Soft plastics can be another effective lure choice when targeting kings, with the wide range of plastics available. I’ve found the most effective to be the jerk shad style plastics, and while I have hooked a few kings on paddle-tails, it’s really the jerk shads that have stood out and proved to be a much better choice when worked quickly through the water column. Best colours would have to be pearls, pinks and natural blues.

Eating quality

While the yellowtail kingfish is regarded to be a great table fish, I myself am not the biggest fan of cooked kingfish, so I will release 99% of my captures and only keep the odd smaller-sized one for ceviche or sashimi.

Fun by-catch species

While targeting kingfish on the South Coast there is a good range of other fish that you may catch as a by-catch. The species will vary depending on the time of year, and in the earlier months of the year we see species such as striped bonito and Australian salmon in good numbers. Because these fish are in such good numbers through the earlier months they can deliver and action-packed day between kingfish hook-ups. Other species through the year such as samsonfish and bluefin tuna can make for more prized by-catch.

Safely when landing fish

When it comes to landing your fish there are a few different methods you can use. One method is to use a poll gaff. When poll gaffing your fish, it is best to familiarise yourself with the rocks that you are fishing from and find a safe low, dry platform that you can reach the water surface from easily. When using this technique we always try to get the fish in the jaw, as this makes for a healthier release if we do not wish to keep the fish.

Another method we use is a cliff gaff. When cliff gaffing it’s best to have a vertical drop straight down to the water with no rocks in the way, as this allows you to clip the cliff gaff straight onto your line and drop it down freely over the fish’s head.

The third method we use is leadering the fish and washing it up onto the rock ledge we are standing on. This method can only be used when we are fishing low to the water and the rock has a slight slope or near flat surface that you are standing on. Again this is a really great method to use if you are fishing to release, as there is no gaff actually used on the fish to prevent any injury and allows for a healthy release.

Conclusion

There are many different ways to target kingfish, and depending on daily weather conditions some methods will be more effective then others. For example, it’s hard to work stickbaits or poppers in rough water, and a bibbed minnow or bait rig would be a better option.

After learning about the kingfish with their brute power and smart-witted behaviour, you can respect them a lot more and appreciate that catching one land-based is worth so much.

Safety always comes first though, and if the weather conditions look a little bit sketchy for a chosen location on the day, then it’s not worth fishing it. You can never be too safe when rock fishing. Stay alive so you can come back tomorrow; There will always be better days ahead.

Remember that there are tackle stores all up the coast that loan lifejackets for free, and various high risk rock fishing locations with angel rings installed, and you can find out where these stores are on the Recfishwest website.

I hope you have been able to take away something helpful from this article, as I just enjoy helping people catch more fish!                  

Please feel free to stop into Anglers Fishing World in Fremantle to see me if you wish to learn any more about kingfish or any other species you intend to target from the rocks.

KNOTS TO LEARN

FG knot                 
This is the best braid to mono joining knot when it comes to casting. The FG knot can handle up to 98% of the main lines strength while maintaining a smaller, slimmer profile then any other joining knot available.

Uni knot                 
This is a fail proof knot if done right, and had a very high strength rating. This knot is good for most tackle items.

Palomar knot        
I like to use this knot when tying on a single item, as it’s one of the strongest knots you can use.

Perfect loop knot   
I love to use this knot when fishing with lures, as it does not limit the lure’s action. In fact, it allows the lure to swim freely for a more natural action.

MUST-HAVE TACKLE

Heavy leader line 100-200lb
Strong top quality hooks for bait and lures
A good gaff of choice to suit intended target area
Heavy duty split rings
Quality split ring plier

SAFETY TIPS

Always wear a PFD.
Never turn your back on the ocean.
Always have a escape route encase you need to run from king waves.
No fish is worth your life.
Always fish with a friend.