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Livebaiting For Kingfish

Due to the kingfish’s range and location around the country, it opens up a whole host of angling methods, with jigging probably being the best-known technique. However, past years have seen topwater fishing with poppers and stick baits become hugely popular, and while I do love these forms of fishing, it’s live baiting that really gets me excited – as live bait often gets you bites when fish are being fussy or have shut down.

Added to this, kingfish can be total pigs and it’s a great thing to keep in mind that the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish.

Get the Bait

One of the best tips I can offer you is to get good at catching bait. This may sound silly but in reality, when you really need bait it can be very difficult to catch. With that in mind I always try to give myself plenty of time to get the bait before it’s time to fish the key periods such as tide changes. In some locations this will mean getting on the water before first light to get the bait in the dark, and while it may mean getting up earlier, or on the water sooner, the results can make it well worthwhile. Key baits for live baiting are yakkas, slimy mackerel, salmon, and garfish, but they really do love calamari squid and probably my all-time favourite bait is arrow squid. The time taken to track these angry things down can really make the difference as kings just go wild over them.

Areas to Fish

Kings are spread widely, from the ocean coastline to bays and estuaries, offshore islands and deep reefs, so when it comes to finding locations, there are a few key points to look at.

Firstly, current or tide is always good, especially if it is running past or over reefs and drop-offs or

structure such as headlands. In these locations the kings will sit in the current waiting to ambush any bait fish that are pushed towards them. Other areas to look for are quiet ocean or estuarine bays, as in these areas kingfish will cruise the shallows feeding on available bait and just generally hanging out in the warm shallow water. Prime examples of this are over in New Zealand and South Australia, where monster kings are regularly targeted in areas where you can clearly see the bottom.

Live Baiting Techniques

Once you have the bait it’s time to get it in the water and in front of a fish – and the technique will depend on where you’re fishing. A good method in the shallows is to anchor up and get a fine berley trail going and suspend a few live baits out the back below a float or balloon. The berley will not only attract cruising kings but also the bait fish such as garfish, mullet, salmon or squid (depending on your location), and these bait fish in turn are the best attractor to bring in the kings.

In deeper areas, slow trolling with live baits is deadly and with fish baits I prefer to bridle rig baits as they tow better and last longer when you pull them over the kingfish haunts.

Doing this method there are three methods I like to employ, depending on the conditions. The first is an unweighted live bait out the back, just the same as when chasing marlin; the second is to have a bait or baits with a sinker at the top of the leader, and here I like a fixed 8-10oz fixed barrel sinker in front of a 4ft section of 60-80lb leader. This pulls the bait down deeper, and if you don’t have fixed sinkers a rubber band attached above the swivel where your leader and main line join allows you to quickly loop on bomb sinkers of various sizes to get the bait to different depths.

The third – and my all-time favourite way to fish with live bait – is with the use of a downrigger. It constantly amazes me that they aren’t more popular in this country, as what could be better than being able to place your bait at a specific depth? It also allows you to get the bait down, no matter how deep the fish are holding. There is also the bonus of not having sinkers attached to your line, as the bait is attached and lowered down via a peg-style clip that allows the line to come free when the bait is eaten. The other advantage to this is that it allows you to run the reel with minimal drag so when the bait is eaten you can give the fish just a few seconds to swallow the bait before you put the drag up to set the hook, which is especially important when you’re running bigger baits.

Hooks, Line and Leader

The gear you use on kings is really a personal choice and will depend on your location, the size of the fish you are chasing and how you plan to fight the kings you hook – with either a toe-to-toe battle with heavy drag and try to muscle them to the boat, or (as I like to do) go with more of a gentle approach and with just a good fighting drag guide them off the structure and ease them to the boat without upsetting them too much. For this reason my live baiting outfits are a pair of Shimano Speedmaster 12 reels matched to the Terez 66H rod; the lever drag reel allows me to have the reel in free spool or just in gear so the fish can take line when it eats the bait, then slide the lever up to set the hook. One reel is loaded with 50lb braid and the other with 30lb mono, which I love as the stretch in the mono has time and again proven not to upset a big fish anywhere near as much, and has definitely helped me to get a few nice fish to the boat in rough country that wasn’t working with braid. As for leader, I like 60-80lb but again it will depend on the fish you’re after and the areas you’re fishing, but you can easily go lighter or heavier. When it comes to hooks I really like the Owner SSW Inline or the Black Magic KLT, the size depending on the bait used, but generally it’s the 7/0 and 8/0 that gets most use. The circle hook gets a good jaw hook-up and makes it easy to get the hook out for release. What about long baits like live squid, you may ask? Unless they are really big I still usually just run a single circle in the top of the hood, or if it’s bigger I’ll do a two-hook snell rig with the trailing hook pinned about halfway or lower down the squid hood – the single circle on squid, however, is definitely better, though if you can do, free-spool the fish for a few seconds before setting the hook and for this reason I like to run them on the downrigger.

Free-spool Tip

As I’ve mentioned, I like that ability to run the reel in or close to free spool while towing live baits but with a sinker on the line or a big livie kicking along out the back, you often need drag tension to hold the bait that will be too much to properly allow the fish to turn away with the bait. To get around this I run a downrigger clip off a bollard or my rod rigger as this takes the tension off the bait so the reel can be in free spool (or even have the bail open on a spin reel).

Once the clip pops and the ratchet howls, I don’t give the fish long, literally picking up the rod and smoothly sliding the drag up – so you’re probably talking a matter of a couple of seconds and this gives you a perfect jaw hook-up.

Let’s Look After This

Years ago, yellowtail kingfish were on the brink of total collapse but thankfully nowadays, through better fishery management, we are seeing more and more kingfish turning up in waters around the country and it’s our part as anglers to look after them as it will only benefit everyone long term.

With this in mind I am the first to say I love eating kingfish cooked or raw – they are my favourite sashimi, but like all fish need to be bled and placed in ice or even better a slurry. So take a feed but also think about letting a few go; I’ve let a bunch of 110-120cm kings go over the past few months and get a real buzz out of getting a picture for my kids or friends before watching a big king swim away.    

Words & Images: Lee Rayner

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