Unprepared fishermen are often left with shaking hands after hooking an unstoppable green torpedo – the kingfish is a powerful and intimidating fish to hook.
The kingfish is not just a thug of the reef; it displays plenty of natural cunning once hooked, often seemingly having a sixth sense for the nearest sharp obstacle on which to free itself.
There are an abundance of reasons why fishermen lose kingfish. I have talked to many people who haven’t yet been able to land a good kingfish although numerous other fish have been hooked. I must admit most of my lessons have been learned via the painful way of making mistakes, with only a few happy lessons between them.
Pleased to be able to spare you some pain, here are six common mistakes fishermen make when trying to target and land kingfish.
1. Using the wrong gear
Although I’ve written this a number of times before, I’ll write it again: use strong tackle to target kingfish. You will learn plenty of things using 24kg or 37kg line to land your first kingfish and this is true of jigging, live baiting and fishing top water lures.
You can go lighter but it becomes somewhat demoralising losing four or more fish on 15kg or 10kg tackle before landing a good one. Boat fishermen have an advantage when fishing above their fish, making it a bit more difficult for the kingfish to cut the line on the bottom.
However near the end of the fight the anchor warp becomes an easier target to tangle the line on, as does the prop. Be prepared to pull the berley pot up and maybe the anchor line, too, if you’ve hooked a good fish to eliminate the chances of losing it.
The wrong gear doesn’t always mean heavy gear, it also means poor quality reels that are likely to seize up under pressure. Cheaper tackle will generally display uneven drag output when it starts to get a bit of a beating – I’ve had reels show smooth drag at the beginning of a fight only to start to stick when things heat up.
The opposite can be true too, that the drag sticks at first then becomes smooth again during a run but then at a crucial turn in the fight (usually just before gaffing the fish) the fish bursts, the drag sticks and the line parts.
2. Heaving it & leaving it
This is true of fishermen live baiting for kingfish: once a live bait is in the water it needs to be watched vigilantly. You can still fish for other fish but you need to have a healthy live bait in the water at all times.
In particular, piper need watching as they are delicate and die easily. They can die and sink to the bottom, allowing a stingray to grab them and giving you an unpleasant surprise.
Piper are also prone to swimming around obstructions like your berley line, and, of course, this is exactly when a huge kingfish is likely to take your bait.
When rock fishing, watch to see that the line doesn’t settle among the weeds or worse still down a rocky crevice. This typically happens when the live bait swims back towards the edge and the line goes slack.
If a kingfish takes the bait there is a good chance the line will be damaged or, worse still, cut when it takes off. It can be boring and frustrating babysitting live baits that don’t behave themselves, but it’s not worth getting distracted and missing something important like your live bait dying and snagging, forgetting to engage the ratchet on your reel or overlooking the line catching on the rocks.
3. Being unprepared for the fight
Kingfish are powerful and once you’ve experienced a serious spanking, chasing kingfish can become addictive.
When I first started fishing 24kg line it seemed extremely strong and I doubted the kingfish had much of a chance to get away. But, of course, I was proved wrong. Many first time kingfish anglers aren’t prepared for the brutal and cunning style of fight a kingfish will display.
You will need to be ready to jump and run across razor-sharp barnacle-covered rocks on land, or quickly drop the rod tip to avoid the line going around a prop in a boat, or suddenly apply full drag and carefully handle you rig to avoid broken gear to counter the mad dashes kingfish make. I’ve seen grown men cry (on the inside, at least) because a simple knot wasn’t tied carefully and fish were lost
4. Excitement overriding patience
It is exciting to see a large kingfish gliding into view for the first time during a fight, drawing nearer and nearer to the gaff. So many fish are lost right at this point because an angler panics, thinking the fish’s last struggle could mean escape and the drag is tightened to keep it in gaffing range.
Expect some desperate last stage runs away from the rocks or boat but don’t be tempted to try and hang on. Keep your head, keep the line away from obstacles and instead focus on turning its head as soon as it slows down. The run will be shorter and it is more likely to be turned earlier rather than making the sanctuary of an obstacle.
5. Giving up too soon
Targeting kingfish takes lots of perseverance, especially for the shore-based fisherman. There have sometimes been years between my captures despite visiting the most reputable places and putting in lots of hours.
I’m currently going through a bit of a drought however I still have the attitude that “today could be the day”, not taking any short cuts or chances because I know it is going to happen again and I’m going to be ready.
While it is tempting to wind up the kingfish line and just fish for snapper, keep employing the kingfish rig where it is practical as it is often a numbers game of when and where a kingfish will cross your path.
6. Refusing to ask for help
If you are not getting results, ask an experienced fisherman for help or compare notes with others who have more success in the style of fishing you are attempting.
Join a club or, if you are learning a new technique like jigging or stick baiting, seek out a specialised charter operator who can show you the ropes.