Fight Club - The cheater’s guide to kingfish

By Aaron LevienNZ Fishing World
Fight Club - The cheater’s guide to kingfish

Kingfish are big bad brawlers so don’t be afraid to take the gloves off when fighting them. Some days you need every tip and trick in the book!

Let's look at the three main aspects of catching kingfish; jigging, live baiting & stickbaiting, from the initial hookup to getting the king to the leader.


After the initial hookup you need to keep jigging to set the hook deep. Ensure the line is tight here on the drop strokes and really hammer that hook home on the up stroke. 

The biggest failure I witness with most anglers is being too quick to put the rod into the gimble position as soon as they feel the slightest touch on the lure or livey. There are two faults here I often witness:

  • One - the concentration has gone from focusing on securing the fish to worrying about getting rod into gimble. 
  • Two - line has gone completely slack and by the time the gimble zone is found, the fish is long gone and headed home. 

jig caught kingfish


This is a very different story to jigging and stickbaiting. You're not trying to entice a bite, you're simply waiting for your livey to be smashed by ol Mr Kingy. 

The key here is when you feel erratic shakes and movements with sudden knocks, then you know something serious is about to happen. 

Let the line run smoothly and count slowly for three seconds. That's three long seconds (or an eternity if you are the one holding the rod). Now slowly press or increase the drag from freespool and watch that rod buckle in half. You're hooked up and ready to fight. 

Now, if fishing hard on the bottom I highly recommend leaving the rod under your arm and working the kingfish off the bottom as fast as possible to give yourself a little more breathing room. 


Again this is a completely different ball game. When the surface strike has happened and the first run is taking place, keep the sweeping motion going but really sweep hard to ensure those hooks are buried. 

Sometimes when the predator hits your bait and turns it can only be lightly hooked and not always in the mouth. I would say nearly 50% of dropped fish are a result of being too quick to go for a gimble before the hook is properly set.

nice kingfish

Fighting the Fish

Now we have hooked that fish, we are ready to go to war! The method used to target the king will have the greatest bearing on the technique you
used at the start of the fight. 

Fighting a fish directly below the boat will take its toll immediately, whereas with stickbaiting, the fight will eventually come to you as generally the king is hooked out the back and heads deep as you slowly wind the line in until it's directly under you. 

The king is at its most aggressive stage here. It has just smashed a lure and knows something is not right so the only place it wants to go is directly down. 

Leverage is your best friend and having an adequate rod that folds away nicely and takes the majority of the pain off your shoulders and onto the fish is essential and will dramatically reduce fatigue. 

From here you want to ensure good posture with a straight arm holding the fore grip and slightly bent knees, almost as if you are about to sit down. This posture will take the least amount of effort while exerting the most amount of pain on the fish. 

kingfish fighting posture

From here you want to engage one of two postures -

  • A - slightly sit deeper, which in turn raises the rod. From here standing up slightly will drop the rod allowing you to gather line.
  • B - staying in the initial posture, pull your foregrip hand toward you, which will raise the rod while simply extending your hand back out will drop the rod allowing you to retrieve line. The retrieve ratio of the line reel will dictate how much emphasis is needed when moving the rod. A combination of both techniques will put maximum pressure on the fish.

The first few runs are going to be intense so your drag is needs to be set high or close to sunset. Throughout the fight, the fish will slowly fatigue followed by heavy head shaking. To alleviate the the pain you're going to want to slowly reduce the drag allowing the king to keep performing runs. 

However, these runs are going to get smaller and weaker so pulling the drag back is critical during the fight to ensure that as you tire you are not subject to the rod being ripped from your hands.  

When the fish starts to weaken it might be sensible to move the rod back under your arm. Don't assume that once the rod is in the gimble this is where it stays (unless you're fully harnessed in). It's about making the fight easier for yourself as you may encounter multiple large kings in a day, so being in top form is essential. 

Now as the fish nears the surface it's either one of two situations - Green and angry from being winched to the top or absolutely shattered and pretty much given up. The rod needs to be under the arm and the drag backed off to around 20% just in case it tries for that one last run under the boat. 

fighting kingfish gunnel-side


Time and time again we witness poor form on fish. Even the smallest of fish can really damage you with bad technique. Situations, like having the rod in the gimble belt and hunching over with straight legs instantly puts you on the back foot giving the advantage to the kingfish. This posture really destroys your lower back and puts all the weight on your left bicep (if you wind right handed).

Another failure is seeing an angler crank as hard as they can on the arm of the reel to literally not even move it. The rod is essential in any fight and is designed to lift the fish up while winding down on the drop of the rod. This is critical and a vital element to winning the battle.

This leads me to the next big no-no. Lifting the rod tip directly to the sky (known as high sticking) while dropping the rod to get as many cranks in on the reel as humanly possible. It's not a race; it's a game of tug-o-war. You're going to win a bit and so is the king. As long as you are gaining more than he is, you're winning. 

Fighting Angles

Many rods will state what degree its optimised lift angle is. For example -15kg at 45 degrees (this is where the fish is directly beneath you and the rod is 45 degrees above horizontal).

However, lifting the rod over 45 degrees when fighting the fish becomes pointless and you loose all lifting power. After 45 degrees you go from lifting the fish to  just moving the line closer to your body. 

Worst of all, this technique is associated with high-sticking and broken rods.

Generally what happens is that with the rod tip is sky high and the reel set to max drag, the fish takes one aggressive run. In an instant you go from owning a one piece to a two piece rod. Of course, staying within the parameters the manufacturer's specifications is the best way to get home with no wounds to lick.

kingfish fighting rod under one arm

Quick tricks 

There are a few tips that will help you on the solid fish. Resting your body (not the rod) on the gunwale is definitely one of these.

With the rod in your left hand running up under your left armpit you can literally rest your left forearm on the gunwale using your body as the leverage point. 

This is also known as stalemate, where no line is being taken and no line is coming back in. A moments rest is all it can takes but remember this is not a carpark where you are waiting for your partner to complete the groceries. 

Reducing the drag dramatically so that the fish is able to turn, run and take line is another technique. Doing this will mean it tires itself out but it also means you don't need to exert as much force to hold on.

This method requires you to be aware of how deep you are and where the fish lies in the water column.

As explained previously don't be afraid to go back and forth from gimble to arm and back again (fish will do anything to win the fight so adjusting to its behavior is vital).

Changing hands on the foregrip is another technique to add to your bag of tricks as this takes the constant pressure off your non-winding hand, and if you're feeling really worked then two hands on the foregrip will recharge your batteries.

Fighting the fish vertical is to your best advantage here. Have the skipper keep you directly over the top of the fish and will give you the best chance of landing the big one.

resting on the gunnels

Improve your luck

Work hard on easier fish to get your technique down pat. Simply applying  brute strength will only work for five minutes. 

No matter what the size or how the fish acts, work on delivering solid hook ups, getting to the gimble quickly and smoothly and focus on maintaining a correct posture, with a straight arm and back while bending at the knees slightly.

If you are dedicated and really want to go that extra mile then there is the fitness direction.

Simple exercises like running to increase cardio, back extensions, dead lifts and general weightlifting to help with strength and endurance are all worth it if you are serious about beating the green monsters.

jig caught kingfish

And Finally

There is a reason these are the hardest fighting fish in the ocean, pound-for-pound. It pays to go into battle prepared rather than be caught with your trousers down getting what we call absolutely spanked. 

Work on these elements and you will spend less time on the rail and more time landing kings! Obviously it's all well and good to say, but putting this into practice and getting the technique down solid is key. 

My best piece of advice here is to practice on the smaller fish or as much as you can so you can be prepared for Fight Club when the moment comes!

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