It all started one day when keen fisho Hamish Webb and I decided to make the bumpy ride out to the spectacular North Head, at the northern end of Twofold Bay, near Eden, to see if we could muster up a few salmon off the rocks. After disembarking from the dusty car, we made the short walk down the track and onto the rock. We were greeted by about one metre of a north easterly swell, which suited us perfectly, as there was still a bit of wash but we were protected by the rock jutting south. After a few casts with a 20 gram raider, Hamish yells out excitedly: “Just had a follow!”
Next cast, and with me watching the lure keenly as it skips along the surface, we both see at least five big salmon materialise behind the lure, jostling for the best position. One of them makes a big lunge and engulfs the lure. By now, we were both satisfied – even if we went home fishless it would be worth it just to see that. After a few minutes, the fish starts to get tired and Hamish makes a few good turns on the reel. Soon we can see it flashing around in the water about five metres off a small ledge. All of a sudden, we see a flash of blue, silver and yellow, then another. Looking at each other in amazement, then looking back towards the tired salmon, we witness two 25kg-plus kingfish swim up to it and eye it as though they’d never seen a salmon before. By now we were both pretty excited and yelling ‘eat it! EAT IT!’, and to our amazement, one of the kings engulfs the salmon and swims off slowly. ‘Give it some line!’, I yell at Hamish. Obliging, he free spools for a second or two, then clicks the bail arm over and leans back on the rod, hoping that the small trebles on the lure somehow find the mouth of the massive kingfish. The rod loads up and the drag starts to click, slowly at first but then faster. Then the fish wakes up and realises that something isn’t quite right. And that’s when the drag really starts to sing. About 10 seconds later and after 200 metres of 20lb braid whistling off the reel, we both realise that this fish isn’t going to stop. Hamish tightens the drag, although the fish keeps pulling line off at speed. Mish thumbs the reel, then tightens the drag some more. By now he’s getting down towards the backing, and it was time to at least try to give it some stick. One more tighten of the drag, then ‘crack!’; the braid snaps.
From that point on we were addicted to trying to catch these majestic, curious and enigmatic predators. Kingfish are one of those fish that have it all – they can be difficult to catch, and present many challenges. They respond to a variety of techniques, and one can develop considerable skills in these various techniques. They can be caught in a variety of environments. They fight incredibly well and taste delicious. They require specialised, high quality gear, and damn good knots. And when they fire, you can be left with sore arms, bruised bellies and lasting memories.
Even though I don’t claim to be any authority whatsoever on catching kingfish, I have learnt a few valuable lessons over the past few years that will help anyone catch them. I’ll go through some of the techniques I have learnt and discuss some of the cues to look for when chasing them. There are plenty of articles on the gear, so I won’t touch on that.
Hamish and I were lucky enough to have a guru around when we were learning how to catch them. Terry had been catching these beautiful fish since we were both knee-high to a grasshopper, and I’ve little doubt that without him we’d still be losing salmon off the rocks.
One of the most important things I learnt from Terry was that a decent sounder is the most critical piece of equipment in kingfish fishing. Most sounders will enable you to find the fish in the first place, but a good sounder will enable you to make invaluable inferences about where the fish are and whether they are feeding. The thing to look for on the sounder is a pattern of broken up arcs with baitfish around them. It’s that simple – if you see something that resembles baitfish being broken up by larger fish you can bet that the kingfish, or some other predatory pelagic, are right there beneath the boat. The size of the school is also critical to your success. If you can see the pattern I have described, but it is concentrated on a single, isolated bommie, you might catch fish, but it’s likely that by the time you drop onto them, you’ll either be off the mark or they will have moved onto the next small school of bait to terrorise. The ideal situation is where you can see the pattern I have described on the sounder for a good 50 to 100 m. This indicates a good sized school.
The depth the fish are showing at is also an important factor. If the fish are sitting on the bottom, they can be shut down and difficult to catch. What you want is for the fish to be up off the bottom actively hunting the bait. In this situation, pretty much any technique will catch them. But as discussed earlier, kingfish are a temperamental, fickle fish and can be difficult to catch, and next I’ll discuss a few techniques that can be used when they’re firing, but also when they’re shut down.
I believe that if you know they are there – and your sounder should provide you with proof – they can be caught. It all depends on the type of technique you employ. The general rule of thumb is that if the fish are sulking on the bottom, finesse is the go. I have seen so many people sitting over fish like this, employing that ‘aggressive’ ripping jigging technique that is so common on the fishing DVDs. Next to them, we’ll be hooking the occasional fish using very different techniques. With a jig, perhaps the most basic of these techniques is what I call the ‘flutter’. Basically you drop the jig down to where the fish are holding and give the rod a short, sharp lift. Don’t even bother using the reel. Repeat this, so that the jig is basically giving the impression of a dying baitfish. Sometimes, the fish find this irresistible.
The next technique to try is the ‘flutter’ with a few winds. This enables you to cover more of the water column, and may trigger the response in the fish that see the food ‘escaping’ from the school. The third technique to try is what I call the ‘bounce’. This can be a little difficult to explain but I’ll do my best. Basically you jerk the rod to get the jig fluttering up through the water. When the jig loads up the rod again, jerk the rod up while giving the reel a turn or two. By timing the jerk with the turn of the reel, and using the ‘bounce’ of the jig to load up the rod, this uses surprisingly little energy and is probably the most consistent producer for me.
There are a few other techniques that are worth a try, but I would only try them after all else fails. The first is the flat out retrieve. I have found that this technique can catch the first fish, as it seems to switch them on. As they say, ‘action creates action’ and when it comes to kingfish it’s true. After this the fish can often respond to other techniques. Sometimes when using the flat out retrieve you will feel a lot of touches but be getting few hookups. This is when the flat out retrieve punctuated by short stops can be deadly.
Finally, I would suggest doing what you see on the DVDs. It works at times, but if you like sore arms, it’s definitely the best technique. Basically it involves dropping the jig down, then winding up flat chat with huge exaggerated jerks of the rod. My arms are hurting just thinking about it.
So far all I have covered off on is jigging techniques. It’s important to mention plastics. Plastics can be incredibly useful when the fish are sulking and you need to employ some finesse. Have two rods set up, one for jigging and one with a plastic. Cast the plastic rod out, put it in the holder and have a few drops with the jig. After a few minutes, pick up the plastics rod and give it a few twitches. All of the techniques I have mentioned are worth a go with the plastic, but I think the slow, finesse technique works best.
Next time you are out there and you know the fish are there, think about what could switch them on. All too often I’ve seen people give up after a few minutes as they see them on the sounder but they are ‘shut down’. In contrast, I have seen people spend hours using the same (generally tiresome) technique with very poor results. Now that you know a few new tricks, go and put yourself to the test to see if you can outsmart this awesome predator.
Copyright Lee Georgeson 2011