When it comes to fish that pull hard, kingfish are right up there with the most brutal line-busting and tackle-destroying thing that swims.
While they can grow in excess of 50kg, anything over 10kg is hard work and with anything over 20kg you are in some serious trouble, no matter what gear you’re fishing with.
They have a wide distribution. They can be caught by anglers fishing 200m or more of water and at the same time by land-based anglers inside bays and estuaries. Their fighting quality coupled with their willingness to eat anything from live baits to surface lures and jigs, make them an exciting prospect and accessible to practically all saltwater anglers.
Perhaps the most challenging environment to catch them in is the shallow reefs in less then 30m of water. In these places they seem to know every little feature of the reef and will beeline straight towards the most gnarly drop-off or bommie in a bid to stream roll you.
Without a doubt the most effective method to catch kings, especially the big ones, is live baiting. Depending on where you’re fishing and what you’re using, there are a few different approaches.
If you are fishing shallow reefs in 5-10m, an effective technique is to suspend and drift baits under a float and drift them back with the wind or current. Spend a bit of time before you anchor working out what direction your baits are going to move in. Then, position the boat so your baits will drift back towards likely kingfish territory.
Prime examples of areas you should be looking for is places like offshore islands and headlands with shallows bays or coves holding garfish or close by shallow bommie reefs or points holding schools of baitfish.
For this style of live baiting I prefer to use a slimy mackerel or yellowtail as bait, as they tend to quickly take the float into the strike zone, more than a squid or garfish would. They also tend to move back and forth slowly, which means they will cover a lot more ground for you.
I generally run two rods when fishing this method, one with a bait suspended around 1m under the float and the other around 5m under to cover the water column. The slimy is gently pinned just behind the head and above the lateral line with a single Black Magic KS hook in a 7/0-8/0, depending on bait size.
I use 80-100lb fluorocarbon leader to 80lb braid on a 20,000 size reel with a stack of drag over it to have any chance of stopping the larger fish. For this style of fishing, you can’t skimp on gear, as any weakness will quickly be found by a hoodlum king. The KS range of hooks will never let you down, being super strong and razor sharp. Black Magic fluorocarbon trace will give you the best chance of surviving the often unavoidable contact with the reef from a big king.
The other very popular method that you can use in this depth of water and deeper to around 25m, is to slow troll live baits around the same kind of environments. This covers lots of ground, and gives you a good chance of finding the fish. It also gives you the ability to use the boat as an aid to try drag a fish away from structure, or to drive on top of it to cut the line angle down, limiting the chance of a bust off.
When fishing this way I use the same leader and braid size as previously mentioned, but bridle rig my live baits through the nose, which allows them to swim freely and last much longer while being towed. The KS range is again perfect for this style of fishing, with size depending on bait size.
The only exception to this is when I run live squid or cuttlefish, which are lethal on kingfish. For these, two 6/0-10/0 KS hooks snelled together with one entering where the body meets the head and exiting through the underside of the head section, and the other, which takes all the weight and strain, is placed through the last few centimetres at the rear of the squid.
I like to run two rods when fishing like this, with the boat just in gear. I have one around 15m behind the boat and the other around 30m, with one completely unweighted and the other with added weight to get a little deeper. This can be easily done by attaching a sinker with an elastic band around 1.5m up your leader.
The size of the sinker will depend on the depth as well as current, so use anything from a number 3-10 sized snapper lead. A downrigger is another great option, especially when you get deeper than 20m.
As you’re trolling, try to systematically cover the ground you’re fishing and pay close attention to your sounder for schools of baitfish and keep an eye out for bust ups or bird activity. Anywhere that looks like there is a bit of action should be given looping and zig-zagging passes through until you a satisfied the area has been sufficiently worked.
With both of the above methods, it can often pay to have a couple of casting spin rods rigged and ready with a stickbait or popper. You never know when or where that big bust up will happen, and sometimes it can be right next to the boat or within casting distance, but can often be all over by the time you get a bait to it. The key is having a rod rigged and ready to deploy in a matter of seconds when this opportunity presents itself.
Simply blind casting around is also worth a try.The surface activity created from a popper or stickbait while at anchor, or on the troll, can often rev-up shut down fish. While it’s not hard to do while at anchor, to do it while trolling requires an extra angler constantly throwing a surface lure on a forward angle ahead of the boat.
I’ve had a lot of success doing this using the Ocean Born range of surface lures, especially the Flying Poppers in both the sinking and floating variants. These are the perfect size to represent a slimy mackerel or yellowtail, which are both the staple of a kingy’s diet. The green mackerel and bunker are perfect colours to match the hatch and the lures themselves are easy to work. They also come pre-rigged with 6X strong treble hooks, so they are up to the task straight out of the box.