Words & Images: John Cahill
For those that haven’t had the pleasure…..
Kingfish are widely distributed around our coast and are an iconic sportfish. Renowned for being fussy, uncooperative and dirty fighters with a bag of tricks to bust you off, they are well worth the effort to find and catch by any method.
Kingfish are a member of the thuggish Sarioli family that includes deep reef dwellers such as amberjack and samson fish. If you aren’t familiar with these species then let me familiarize you; if these fish were people they would have the attitude and manners of heavyweight boxers with kingfish being the Mike Tyson of the ocean!
Whether you are tussling with an undersized rat or an XOS jumbo their never say die attitude and ability to earn freedom seconds after being hooked or once you have them boat side is second to none. Whilst they can be incredibly elusive at times, part of their great appeal is that they are predominantly located within proximity to shore and can often be targeted in medium sized trailer boats with ease. Kings are susceptible to a number of methods; down rigging live baits and jigging metal knife style jigs are very effective methods when targeting numbers of hungry kings holding deep. Higher in the water column trolled hard bodies and unweighted live baits are also an effective method. These techniques for targeting Kings have been around for a while now and here at Hooked Up we are all about showing you new and exciting ways of targeting your favourite species, so without further ado, read on and learn how to have some of the most fun fishing you’ll ever have catching Kingfish on soft plastic stickbaits.
But wait! What the hell is a Stickbait?
Ok, so there are thousands of styles of soft plastic lures available and a soft plastic stickbait is pretty easy to identify amongst them. It’s important not confuse a stickbait with a jerk shad or jerk bait or a hard bodied stick bait. A stickbait has little or no built in action, hence its name, it’s kind of like a stick. The idea is that the angler works the stickbait with a variety of techniques in order to present a very realistic representation of a wounded baitfish. This method when targeting Kingfish has been very popular around Sydney harbour for some time and produces excellent results when targeting surface feeding kings. The general philosophy behind stickbaits is that once the fisherman works them properly, they will present like a live bait better than any other lure available. An increase or decrease in jig head weight when using soft stickbaits will change the way you need to work the lure quite dramatically so its always good to have a play around and ensure that your set up swims well. The goal is to mimic an injured baitfish, so when it comes to choosing size and colour it is always best to find something that is a close impression of what the Kingfish are feeding on.
Where to find the fish!
Kingfish are structure oriented but not exclusively so. The most reliable place to find them will be on reef. As a rule of thumb kings will be often be found deeper during cold water periods and shallower as the water warms. Usually found mid water to the bottom, they cruise in schools of varying sizes and will switch on and off quickly when a meal presents. At times kingfish get the inclination to chase down a feed or frustratingly sut down completely even though you will see them on your sounder. At pretty much any time in the day they may choose to rise to the surface or near it to harass bait schools that they may have herded up themselves or often other species have and this is where kingys come and join in on the party – a common attribute of kingfish is to hang with other species such as Australian salmon and let them do the bulk of the hard work. When targeting kings on the surface it is not an exact science and you are left with two main options as I see it. The first involves blind casting at likely structure rich area’s and wash zones on the edge of deeper water where kings are known to frequent, this prospecting style, without any obvious show of fish, is usually done in these ambush area’s where kings may well be lurking but are out of sight, a breaking surf zone around an offshore pinnacle being a prime spot or even land based at headlands. The second and in my opinion more reliable method involves zoning in on surface boils; these frenzied action packed events will often contain a number of other predators such as salmon and tailor or even coota, but on plenty of occasions the kings will be there to raid the festivity and it’s a matter of luck locating them in the melee. All you can do is cast, work the stickbait and hope and hang on for a hit. It can be as frustrating as it can be rewarding but when a surface strike is a solid king , it is well worth the effort.
When very large kingfish are about the appropriate tackle would be 8 foot GT rods suited to PE10 (hello New Zealand) with a big high quality spin reel. When smaller fish/rats are prevalent, a four to six kilo rod and a 2500 spin reel will keep you on your toes. Gel spun lines are a mandatory requirement from 80 pound at the top end down to about 5 kg for the light tackle enthusiasts. These lines allow you to remain in close contact with the lure and increase lure action through no stretch. A couple of rod lengths of fluorocarbon leader material is essential. It’s best to use 10-15 kg for small fish and up to 50 kg and beyond for horse sized beasts are required. My favourite outfit at the moment to suit a variety of applications is a 15kg ,7’2” spin stick with a 4500 size reel and 50 lbs braid. A secure and low profile join between the braid and fluorocarbon leader is a pre requisite for prolonged casting sessions. Avoiding knot hang up’s on guides and weak connections giving way on good fish is mandatory. Whilst there are plenty of knots that ‘will do’, personally I cannot go past the FG knot – it’s a superior application fit for the purpose of zipping out long casts and a strong connection to boot.
Working the stickbait
Sometimes a rip and pause technique works best which is achieved with the rod tip held high ripping the lure across the surface of the water before pausing, then repeating. At other times a faster steady retrieve with a plenty of action imparted on the rod tip in order to create that injured bait fish look work best. On some occasions top water fishing is made near impossible or at least difficult due to very rough water, current or concentrated bird activity, this is an excellent time to go just under the surface and increasing the weight of your stickbait with a lead jig head will enable you can to work the lure just subsurface in pretty much the same way as on the surface. You can also change this up by allowing a sink time before ripping the lure back to the surface. Whatever method you use or choose, if you have fish following the lure but not hitting it, wind faster as this may entice the king to bite. I find that with the lack of natural action in a stickbait if you pause too often you will put them off in an instant.
Depending on where you are located you can expect a host of by-catch but don’t fret, it’s a pretty good indication you are probing the right areas and it will most likely be enjoyable. This technique can be applied to other species such as Australian salmon and will be good practice for when the kings are about. If the surface is not working for you, make sure you have some other deep-water options available as some days the top water just won’t work. Now this summer get out there and whip that water into a frenzy, it will be worth it when the bit hit comes!
What size and style of stick bait is best?
Kingies love soft plastic stick baits, especially big ones, you want to be using 6 inches plus. There are many brands producing stickbaits that suit this technique and your local retailer will most likely stock them. You can also use hard body sub surface stick baits, however, when there are birds everywhere in the boil it can be challenging.
Should I leave the boat in gear while casting at the school?
The current and wind will dictate this as will the conditions you are fishing near. If casting near or towards large offshore bombies it always safest to leave the boat in gear. The perfect situation is a bow mount high thrust electric motor or someone at the helm keeping you in a good casting position. If you don’t have these luxuries keep the motor running and re position as required.
How should I approach a boiling surface?
Slowly until you are in casting range. If you are finding that the boat keeps spooking the school, increase the weight of your jig head (if possible) in order to increase your casting distance and decrease your distance to the boil.
What knot is best to tie to the jig head or hook?
A uni knot or locked blood knot will do the trick, but make sure your mainline to leader connection is spot on. Although it may be a little more challenging to tie, I find the FG knot to be very strong and it leaves no tag ends to knock on the guides.
What is the best kind of rod to use?
It all depends on the kings you have available and the casting conditions, but something with good length for casting distance and a lot of power in the butt are the best merits to look for. Staying within the 10-15kg range will be your best bet at not losing a larger fish and still having fun with smaller fish.