It's better alive - A guide to live baiting

By Aaron LevienNZ Fishing World
It's better alive - A guide to live baiting

Live baiting is no easy task, indeed sometimes the hardest task to catching kingfish is actually catching those livies. None the less catching live bait is a feat in itself and pretty darn satisfying when they turn up en mass.

Finding and catching live bait

When it comes to kingfish pretty much any live bait will work. Obviously, there are the more accepted baits, like kahawai, Jack mackerel and koheru - with the latter being the most popular and for good reason.

Numerous methods are used to catch these swimming candy sticks. Tiny jigs work, as do baited sabiki rigs and similarly enhanced single hooks floated down a berley trail. It’s the location and time of day that is critical.

Your first bet for Jack mackerel is usually going to be the local wharf. Head down early morning and see if you can spot schools of mackerel swimming under the lights. If bait is present this is the perfect time of day to fill a bucket.

Such marks are characteristic of a very healthy bait school. The marks at the top right might even be the elusive blue koheru.

From a boat, you will need an effective sounder. You’re going to want to hunt around structure and in water anywhere from five to 30-metres deep. Exposed rocks, rock faces dropping straight into the sea, peninsulas with good current flow, mooring poles and even sand adjacent to structure are all good places to start.

Slowly troll around using your sounder to find likely looking sign. Large balloon-shaped marks in mid-water are a great indicator. From here you’re going to want to either -

a. Drift over this patch using small jigs (Grim Reapers work well) or sabikis

b. Anchor up the current from the marked sign and start a berley trail to attract more difficult but highly valued species such as blue koheru to the back of the boat in a feeding frenzy. Both small jigs and small baited hooks work well in this situation.

It is important to remember no one size fits all when it comes to catching these fellas. Be patient and vary techniques until something brings them on the bite. The aforementioned option b is my favourite; it can be a slow starter but when the fish are one this method produces the best results. 

Lots of water

Keeping these hard won baits alive is a key ingredient with this form of fishing. The following tips will help to put the healthiest possible offers in front of the hungry predator.

Ensure good water flow, especially for blue koheru, as they require a massive amount of fresh, clean water. For example, we had an 11-litre-per-minute pump servicing a 65-litre tank. This was enough for Jack mackerel but by no means sufficient for koheru. We have recently changed to a 24-litre-per-minute pump and the blues now last all day as opposed to two hours.

 Three good points

  •  Try to slow your boat speed down when travelling. This will stop the bait from being bashed around inside the tank.
  •  If any baits die, get them out of the tank as soon as possible. Once dead they slowly contaminate the water, thus putting the rest of the baits health at risk
  •  Try to fill the tank to the top (if possible) and seal with a tight lid. This will reduce water slosh and stop the live-baits from being bashed around.

Fishing the live-baits

I like to keep things simple -

Terminal tackle

The depth to be fished and size of live-bait offering will govern the size of sinker I will use. Generally I will use an 8-ounce egg sinker or sometimes two 4-ounce sinkers. However, using two sinkers you have to be careful as the sinkers start to hammer each other closing up the holes, putting stress on your leader.

The rig I like to use simply starts with a sliding sinker on a leader followed by a game swivel (something heavy duty like 400lb), then leader again to a large circle hook. This is usually around 1 to 1.2-meters in length. To attach the swivel I use a four-turn uni-knot or crimp thimbles. To attach to the hook
I will either use a four-turn uni-knot or an improved clinch knot.

Attaching the live-bait

Once again, there are numerous ways to attach your live-bait to the hook.

The zip tie and docking ring method for bridal rigging is popular with many top anglers.

Docking rings with cable ties through the eye socket, or rubber bands or Dacron also through the eye socket, all work well. My preferred method is to press the hook through the nostril cavity of the bait. This method is by far the simplest.

Make sure you have your baits attached and let them swim around the bait tank. Have the skipper put you over the sign and ensure the boat is completely stationary before deploying.

The setup

This part is critical to ensure there are no tangles. When dropping the live-bait do not allow the bait to hit the water and start swimming off in a random direction.

Koheru are definitely one of the hardest baits to control and require the most patience. When they hit the water they charge off in all directions. The key to getting them to head for the bottom is to ensure the sinker falls past them straight away.

Ideally a clean deployment will allow the live-bait to swim to the desired depth, tangle free. If this doesn’t happen stop dropping and repeat the process. Sometimes it can take a few goes to get it right. I suggest having two anglers drop live-baits on the starboard side of the boat, that way the skipper can see where both lines are and adjust the boat accordingly.

Once set, position both anglers as far apart from each other as possible, with one angler’s rod tip pointed towards the bow and the others toward the stern. This arrangement allows for maximum clearance greatly reducing tangles.

Hook-up time

Once the live-bait is at the desired depth do not put the reel into gear. Simply thumb the reel to prevent an overrun. Apply just enough pressure to stop the bait swimming deeper but not so much as to risk ripping the bait off the hook on the bite.

Every now and then you should feel the live-bait kicking. When things become noticeably erratic the live-bait is probably being stalked.

The bite is the critical moment. You need to allow the kingfish to run with bait before applying pressure. Let the braid slide evenly past your thumb. Count slowly … 1001, 1002, 1003, then slowly push your drag from free-spool up to strike. With the rod loaded up it is time to get ready to rumble. Good luck!

Catch the latest news

Packed full of the latest fishing news and tips on the best spots. Fresh to your inbox every week.

Sign up with email