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Kingfish for beginners off the rocks

By Scott CushmanNZ Fishing World
Kingfish for beginners off the rocks

Kingfish are a prized and mighty fish. Many fishermen have been left smashed and hookless with the adrenaline shakes after encountering kingfish. They are powerful, cunning and don’t give up easily. The following is a guide to setting up and targeting kingfish for the beginner from the shore.

The Setup – Rod & Reel

It is possible to land kingfish on snapper gear (typically 10-15kg) but you will most likely lose a lot more than you land. My advice is to buy an outfit that is a dedicated kingfish rig.

You may already have a game fishing rig, and that may fit perfectly. Basically you will need a reel with a capacity of at least 300 metres of 24kg line. Twenty-four kilo line is a good starting strength because after time and many hook-ups, you may get discouraged after losing your first three to six good fish on lighter line.

A free spool reel with a drag output of around 12kg at maximum, with a drag setting of 8kg at the ‘strike’ position is a sufficient standard if you want to get into targeting kingfish off the rocks.

Bronze whalers could also be targeted but the larger ones may steal all your line if you only have 300 metres on your spool. A lever drag reel is best suited to live baiting as you can push the lever to the strike setting you want in a second and immediately hook and put pressure on the fish.

Star drag free spool reels are also suitable, but it is more difficult to quickly and accurately turn the star drag to the best setting.

Examples of lever drag reels that would be worth considering: Any of the 30 or 50 sized reels from the main brands I.E. Penn (International or graphite GLD models) Daiwa (SLT or SLD models) Okuma (Makaira models) Alutecnos (albacore models) Shimano (Tiagra/Tyrnos models) and of course, the Shimano TLD 20, 25, 30 or 50 models which are probably some of the most popular because they are graphite and not as heavy as the metal bodied reels. The older Penn Senator and Daiwa Sealine star drag reels will fit the bill too.

A 1.5-1.75 metre boat rod is really too short although they can still catch fish from the shore. In land-based game fishing circles, I have noticed a trend toward the shorter 2.1 metre (7ft) rods opposed to the traditional 2.4 metre (8ft) rods.

The longer rods tend to put pressure on the angler at the same time they are hurting the fish, although kingfish fights tend to be short and brutal compared to other big game species. Rod models to choose from include the Shimano backbone 24kg LBG rod, 15-24kg T-curve, Daiwa 80J, Kilwell Live Fibre 15-24kg land-based game rod (the 15-24kg Sceptre is also worth looking at), Offshore 24-37kg LBG70, or if you want something special Reel Rods do nice custom land-based rods.

The Terminal Tackle

If you plan to use a kahawai for live bait, a three to five metre leader of 45-100kg mono and an 8/0 to 12/0 live bait hook (e.g. Black Magic LB or Mustad Hoodlum model hook) is sufficient. When fishing a location with lots of rocky obstacles, choosing a leader at the stronger and longer end of the scale is advisable.

If you are using smaller live baits such as yellow eyed mullet, mackerel or piper, a 24-37kg two to three metre leader is more appropriate as a heavier leader will tire your live bait quickly and kill it in a short period of time.

A smaller 3/0-5/0 extra strong hook is appropriate for smaller species of live bait. I have found some of the hooks designed for jigging (short, extra strong and light) to be good models for using on small live baits.

How to set up

For a kahawai live bait setup, a loop knot is tied in the 24kg main line with a Bimini twist knot, a snap- swivel or swivel is then attached to the loop knot with a cat’s paw knot. You can either tie the 24kg-100kg leader end directly to the snap or attach another swivel to attach the snap to.

A Spider Hitch knot is usable in the 24kg mainline instead of a bimini twist but is not as strong. You can learn how to tie a wide range of knots at on this site.

When hooking a small kahawai, mackerel or yellow eyed mullet, gently but firmly hold the fish (wet towels are good for this) with one hand while you set the hook through the skin on the ‘neck’ of the fish, in a side to side direction. On larger kahawai, point the hook more toward the head and not side to side. Don’t place the hook too near the back bone otherwise you’ll be fishing a dead bait.

A balloon half-filled with air and tied with a 10-20cm length of 3-5kg line is attached to the swivel where the leader is attached (not the main line end of the swivel). Prepare your kingfish rig BEFORE you start trying to catch live baits. Having a live bait flapping all over the rocks or stressing in a shallow rock pool while you get ready can quickly shorten its use by date.

When you put your live bait back into the water, be careful not to trip over the leader, twist the balloon around the rod tip, or drag your fish over the rocks. Carefully release it and try to keep the balloon off the rocks and away from the surge as I have cursed many a kahawai and balloon manufacturer after having the balloon break off prematurely at the water’s edge in the surge zone.

Holding the rod high until the kahawai is swimming well is a good idea. Put your gimbal belt on as soon as you have the live bait in the water. Sometimes I spin it around my waist to sit on my back where it is a bit more unobtrusive until a king strikes and I spin it back into the front position for battle.

Piper are a delicate and sometimes a challenging fish to catch and use as live baits however king fish suck them down like a Blue Lagoon cocktail. Unless you have an extra large piper, a hook placed just above the anal fin is the best place to hook them with a small 3/0-4/0 live bait hook or a strong 5/0 Octopus hook (Gamakatsu models are good). This will take a bit of experimentation.

They can be used with balloons like kahawai although if there is any wind they will get dragged all over the place and can quickly die. A small polystyrene float threaded onto the leader is a better way to fish. I find an even better rig is to use a two metre section of 24kg mono, and tie this directly to the 24kg mainline loop knot with an Albright knot. This eliminates the heavy swivel which can quickly tire a piper and kill it.

Maximising your chances

A good location is important but while you are at your spot, work the berley to keep a constant stream of attractive smell in the water for a cruising king to hone in on. Bait fish swarming around the area also add an extra attractant as many fish give off pheromones that triggers stimulation in other fish to feed.

The other technique is to cast a splashy popper around on a surfcaster or popper outfit near your live bait to draw fish from further out. You may hook-up on the popper so be prepared.


Kingfish have been landed up to around 44kg off the rocks although today kings over the 20kg mark can take a lot of hard work to find and land. I still see snapper over the trophy mark of 10kg being landed from the shore but trophy kingfish over the 24kg mark seem to be far fewer by comparison.

One theory I have heard is that kingfish don’t show the same fear toward spear fishermen that large snapper do, perhaps more have ended up on the end of a sharp shaft.

Wharves attract kingfish although the piles make handy line shredding devices and many are lost when hooked at wharves. I counted 10 hook ups at Mangonui wharf one summer morning on live pilchards and kahawai, none were landed.

A rocky point with current coming past is usually a good place to start. If you have a live bait out, wherever you go fishing, you increase your chances.

I have seen kingfish along the Auckland’s populated east coast in 40cm of water, so you just never know. Spend time targeting them, be sharp and vigilant with your approach and your gear and sooner or later you’ll catch your king.

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