It's better alive part 2 - An expert's guide to livebaiting

By Aaron LevienNZ Fishing World
It's better alive part 2 - An expert's guide to livebaiting

Live baiting has turned around many a bad day’s fishing

Using live bait is such an effective way to lure in predator fish looking for an easy meal. Although most famous for targeting kingfish and gamefish, livies are also great for XOS snapper, hapuka, bass, and John dory.

In previous articles (Part one here)  I have outlined some of my favourite methods of catching popular livebaits such as blue koheru and Jack macks. In this article we will be looking at how to utilise live bait in order to catch kingfish. This involves outlining different rigs, and what gear and terminal tackle to use when attempting to knock over your next horse kingfish.

Live bait rigs and uses

The rig is the vital part of the equation. With so many rigs and outfits around it can be hard sometimes to know exactly what rig to use for what job.

I like to keep things simple. The more complex the rig, the more likely it is to cause heartbreak. The last thing we want is to lose a good fish due to knot failure or a broken leader.

These errors always seem to happen at the most crucial time. Take it from me; I know exactly how this feels to lose the big one due to a careless an attitude when rigging for kings.

In part one we brushed over a few rigs, paying particular attention to the nose rig. With the nose rig being by far my favourite live bait rig it is where
we shall start.

Nose rig

This rig is popular among fishermen who deep water live bait (anywhere from 30 meters +), because of its durability and its simplicity.
From your mainline you should have an 8oz sinker above a swivel, then a 1 – 1.5m trace from the swivel to the hook. The hook is then pressed through the nasal cavity of the live bait.

This rig not only allows the bait to swim freely but also allows it to swim head first as it travels deep. This allows the live bait to breathe properly and means your little Jack mack or blue koheru is likely to last longer.

This is opposed to putting the hook through its back, as this will drag the bait upside down and in a spiral motion. The chances of it lasting very long are slim.

One key issue to watch here is that you do not make the trace too long, especially when using koheru as live baits. They have a tendency to swim together and create nasty tangles. There is nothing worse than winding two baits up from 100m and having to cut and retie the rigs.

A variation of this set up is the bridal rig; it works mostly the same as the nose rig however a rubber band or dacron loop is used to attach the hook to the live bait.

Balloon Rig

This is an excellent rig for shallow water live baiting and live baiting off the rocks.  This set up isn’t much different from the nose rig except instead of a sinker we attach a large blown up balloon to the swivel eye (top eye) with dental floss. The hook is then placed through the back or top of the bait. This allows the live bait to swim directly under the balloon.

Depending on your fishing depth I would recommend about one to three meters of trace from the balloon. A little persistence is required sometimes with this rig as getting the livie to swim where you want it to swim can sometimes be a challenge.

But wait that’s not all! This rig has another trick up its sleeve. The balloon rig is a great way to bring kingfish to the surface. Kingfish roam in packs so simply throw a few stick baits around the live bait.

Your one livie might result in one to two or even three kingfish. Now that’s value for live bait.

Gear and terminal tackle

Personally I prefer to use heavier gear when live baiting. There is a good reason for this; you just don’t know what may take an interest in your bait. It's about being prepared for the unknown.

Now I am not saying rig up with 300lb trace but it's better to be prepared than get dealt to. If I’m live baiting in summer for kingfish I’ll have my kingfish rig and also have a 300lb rig in my bag ready, should a marlin present itself.

When attaching the mainline to the live bait I prefer to use 130lb supple trace instead of fluorocarbon / shock leader as the supple trace is softer. It gives two advantages:

  • Tying knots is a lot easier
  • It allows the live bait to swim more freely giving it maximum movement

I suggest 130lb trace as this is going to give you your best chance of catching a big kingfish, while not jeopardising the movement of the bait. Also this size gives you a chance if a larger species comes along.  


As far as hooks go I swear by the Decoro Mutsu #25 circle. Perfect for live baiting, these hooks set in the corner of the mouth every time.

There are other great live bait hooks out there, such as the Black Magic KL 8/0, Gamagatsu Livebait 8/0 and the Trokar Lancet circle TK4 8/0.  All mentioned hooks are excellent at setting right in the corner of the fishes mouth, great if you wish to catch and release.

If you are targeting kingfish for sport then I suggest the circle hook. The J hook is another option but I prefer not to use it as is has the potential to gut or gill hook the fish, meaning if the fish breaks free during the fight its chance of survival is greatly reduced.

Swivels and terminal tackle

When it comes to swivels you want something heavy duty and top quality. The last thing you need is the swivel breaking under the load or not doing what it’s supposed to do. It is essential that the leader can spin while the live bait is doing its thing; without this we can run into nasty mainline twists.

My choice of swivel is the Pakula stainless steel ball bearing swivel. It is an expensive option but overall it is worth the extra cash. I also recommend the Jigstar grommett and swivel and the Valley Hill bearing jigging swivel.


There are two knots that I stand by when live baiting. They are the improved clinch knot and the uni knot. These are two of the most common and oldest knots for good reason. In my opinion you can’t go past the uni knot. It’s simple to tie and never fails and holds great strength.

I would like to point out a little problem I have encountered a few times. Some swivels like the Valley Hill have thin solid rings, meaning the leader is under a lot of strain here. This is partly the reason I prefer using supple trace. A thimble can be a great tool when tying trace to the swivel.

I think the biggest advantage of dropping live baits at certain times of the year is the feeling of unknown. You never know exactly what will be attracted to your live bait. We’ve all heard stories of fellow fisherman targeting kingfish in the summer only to hook a sneaky marlin.

It is this feeling of unknown surrounding live baiting that makes it such an exciting form of fishing. A full tank of livies and knowing what to do with them can be the difference between putting food on the table and going home empty handed.

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