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Guide to catching kingfish in the Coromandel

December 19, 2019
Guide to catching kingfish in the Coromandel

Kingfish are a sensational species for sport fishermen, and we are very lucky that they can be found all over New Zealand, in fantastic numbers and sometimes gear shattering dimensions. The Coromandel peninsular is famous for some stellar kingfish action, so let’s look a bit closer at the many options here.

Looking back towards the coromandel you can see why it's such an awesome destination

Depending on local conditions, there are various ways that are best to target these extraordinary gamefish.

The top 5 reasons why kingies are simply awesome as a sport fish.

1) They are incredibly, sometimes unbelievably, strong.  Occasionally they are unstoppable.
2) They’re voracious predators and can be found shallow, deep, from land, kayak, and boat, and feed all year round, so they are always an option.
3) They can be very tricky opponents, and often require special skills and tactics to land.
4) They love lures. Poppers, jigs, spinners, flies, kingfish will eat them all in spectacular fashion.
5) They are not always easy to find or to get on the bite, so there is constantly an element of challenge.

Not only are kingfish great sport, they are also superb eating when handled correctly.  They are possibly one of the tastiest fish in New Zealand to prepare as sashimi, they are brilliant smoked, they make great barbeque steaks, or you can simply crumb some fillets.

If you are going to eat your fish, bleed it immediately and get it on ice.  Avoid the dark red meat which can be easily cut away during prep, and be aware that the flesh towards the tail is not the greatest, as it contains a lot of tough sinew that is responsible for transferring all that blistering power to their distinctive yellow tail.    

Another happy customer on board an Epic Charter trip out of Whitianga

Technique 101

The techniques and principles covered here are relevant to targeting kingfish anywhere in the country, but in the Coromandel you can find kingfish from pretty much any location.

We’ll concentrate on boat-centric opportunities for now, and bypass all the land based stuff as that’s a whole other story.

Kingfish are a welcome bycatch using just about any fishing technique, but if you are serious, or after a big one, it’s time to get specific with your planning, your gear and your methods.

The most successful results will be from various forms of live baiting, and mechanical or ‘speed’ jigging.  Worthy and certainly off-the-chain fun techniques, include stick baiting or throwing poppers to surface feeders.

A happy looking tank of jack mackerel - healthy but not overfilled

Live baiting:

This can be the best way to get kings on the chew, and sometimes is the only way.

Kingfish love a live bait, but sometimes catching them can be as much of a challenge as anything.

We’ve covered this off before in some previous videos – so here’s a reminder in case you missed them.

The best live baits for kingfish would have to be blue koheru if you are in the coromandel or upper North Island.  These blue bullets are in the mackerel family and are generally irresistible to kingfish, or marlin for that matter.   They are best caught on small baits or even tiny jigs rather than sabiki rigs.

Check out this fresh pilchard caught on sabikis in the whitianga harbour.  Kingfish candy and pretty good for anything else in the sea that eats fish

Other great live baits include jack mackerel, piper, slimey mackerel, or pilchards if you can catch them (pilchards will attack un-baited sabiki rigs).  Kahawai also make great baits and a kingfish will eat a big kahawai up to 2 kgs no worries at all.

The humble jack mackerel is the easiest to manage as they are the most prevalent, wont shed scales or slime into your tank, are hardy and come in a range of edible sizes depending on the day.

In the Coromandel mackerel schools are all over the place.  The Whitianga harbour is often loaded.

Good spots to target live bait in the Whiti harbour area

Try sabiki rigs around the wharves or look for schools of bait in the harbour using a depth sounder.  Often the other boats will give away the location of bait schools without much problem.

When you have found a bait school on the sounder keep going until it thins out then back over your ground deploying sabikis.  Using a heavy 2 oz sinker can sometimes help prevent tangles…sometimes.

Having a good haul of livies to use will often make the critical difference.  You’ll be amazed at how many you will go through if there are a couple of anglers, so be prepared to sacrifice kingfish time catching bait as long as they are coming on board (even if it is slowly one by one).  If there is just no sign at all you may have to opt for jigs only.

Great baitfish sign and a snail trail that filled the tank

Where to look for kingfish

Although you can expect to find kingfish wherever there is salt water, there are a few things to look for that are characteristic to the kingfish habitat and will concentrate the fish.

Kingfish can be caught randomly off the beach, cruising the shallows, deep dropping for Hapuka, or even soft baiting if you are lucky.  They are always a likely catch in a workup situation, often hang around pylons, markers, floating logs, debris etc, and you can simply troll any coastline with a good chance of picking one up.

However, the most likely recipe for success when looking for kings is to find a combination of…

1) steep pins or reef structure

2) current

3) baitfish

Textbook wash and current hosting many hungry kings

With this trifecta you will most likely be able to identify kingfish on your sounder, and target them with your chosen weapons.

Kingfish are visible as dark coloured blobs or larger individual shapes on most modern fish finders.  You’ll often see them associated with a bigger mass of baitfish.

If you can see the baitfish being forced into a taller cone shape and being pushed upwards, you have some great conditions to show your rod it really can bend all the way to its butt cap.

Some of the best known and most successful pins in the Coromandel are located around the Alderman Islands, Mercury Islands, north of Ohinau, and the pins north of Cuvier Island.

Well recognised hot spots to drop livies or jigs.  Try here and it's only a matter of time before....boom!

Hot spots indicated on the maps are a good start, but kingfish can be found anywhere around these areas on the day, and sometimes randomly, depending on what is happening with the baitfish.  Always keep an eye out for surface splashing or bird activity as that can be the best indicator you will see all day.

If a good section of foul that appears to have fish on it is located on the sounder, keep slowly probing around until you can actually see kingfish sign.  The second it appears get the boat in reverse to hold position and deploy baits pronto.

Nice dark sign of a tall, tight baitfish ball

A good skipper will need to stay on the wheel ideally, to keep you over the activity and counter the drift.

This is where metered braid can really help.  Metered line is marked a different colour usually every ten metres, so you can tell as you release your line that ‘three colours’ off the spool is roughly 30 metres and so on.

Sign is often up off the bottom so being able to call out the depth to target based on what the sounder indicates can greatly improve chances of getting your bait on the fish’s nose.

Trolling live baits

If you are not plunging a bait down to the pins, but fishing inshore, trolling a live bait is a great option.

A live bait can be trolled anywhere fish are likely to be.  Along coastlines, around headlands, through bait schools or workups, in shallower bays or even off beaches.

Generally, a good hardy bait such as a kahawai or decent jack mackerel works well, and will need to be hooked through the nostrils, or up through the mouth in order for it to swim well under tow.

The rig.

A good rig starts with a decent quality, dedicated live bait hook (either a circle or J hook to suit the bait size) which is attached to around 1.5 to 2 metres of trace which can either be mono or fluorocarbon.  Due to the shallower nature of trolling go quite heavy on this as you are likely to end up in the foul on a good fish.  Around 80 – 120lb is a good start depending on how rocky the terrain is.

This will attach to a good swivel, and there will be a ball sinker or two running on your main line.

In order to combat the drag on your main line as you troll the baits along, which will want to push the bait to the surface, sinkers need to be reasonably heavy, at least 4 – 6 oz.

Release just enough line to keep the bait back 20 – 30 metres and troll baits as slowly as you can comfortably motor, anything from 1 – 3 knots.  Gently zig zagging will vary the speed of the bait and give chasing fish a chance to hit.

Set your drag so that you can fairly easily pull line from the reel, (but the bait cannot pull line by itself).  When you get a strike the fish can run but you’ll need to then quickly firm up the drag and set the hook.    

Fish on!

You have a strike! Right, now is the critical time to get on top of your fish.  Before it has a chance to figure out what is going on, you have a very small window of time before all hell breaks loose.

Get pumping like hell to turn its head away from foul and get as much line back on the reel as you can, and have the skipper immediately head out to deeper water if possible to try and tow you fish that way.  Be as brutal with the drag as you can get away with.
If your kingy has other ideas and still peels you towards foul, the best thing you can do is get directly above as quickly as possible.  This is easier and tends to happen naturally in kayaks and small craft.  If you are directly over the fish the line is more vertical, it is far less likely to be able to be wrapped around a rock or other snag.
If all fails and you are reefed, you can try popping into free spool and taking a chance that the fish will swim free thinking it’s off the hook.  Let it swim for a bit and load up again if you’re lucky enough for that to have worked.

Kingfish are dirty fighters, you will lose a few, especially the big boys, which I guess is what makes landing them so rewarding.

Edward Lee hard on a king charging for the deck

Live baits under a balloon

Kings are active surface feeders, and another option live baiting is to float a bait on the surface.

Unlike the other methods described where the boat is moving, live baits under a float are a good option at anchor.

Once you are set up with a berley trail nicely going out, straylining for snapper or fishing dropper rigs, floating a live bait out under a balloon is a good idea to make the most of the situation.

Simply rig a hook to a long (2 metre) trace attached to a swivel.  A balloon then attached to the top (line end) eye of your swivel with cotton or a strong rubber band does the job of keeping a bait up out of snagging distance.

Leave your reel in free spool with the ratchet on, just enough pressure to keep the bait from taking line.  When you get a strike and line starts peeling, wait four or five seconds before striking.

If you are using a circle hook, simply engage the reel and wait for the pressure to come on by itself, then lean into it.

A good range of heavy gear is needed to deal with kingfish.  Sixty to eighty pound metered braid, thick leader and ideally lever drags

Mechanical jigging

All the pins featured on the maps are top spots for mechanical, or speed jigging.  This is a very productive, but physically demanding way of targeting fish.

For more detail on this form of fishing see our guide…

Markus Church displays the mechanical jigging technique. Wind up lift up, drop down wind down.  Repeat. A lot. fast.

Jigs are an option if you cannot find livies, or simply prefer the excitement of hooking up on lures.  It’s a very cool way to fish when the action is hot, but gets tiring when you are frantically working away for hours and getting few bites.

Sometimes jigs work as well or even better than livies, and if the bite is on you can get smashed every drop.

Typical good quality kingfish jigs available at any good fishing retailer

Jigs are a good option for quickly probing a pin, as they deploy quickly, and funnily enough, don’t die.  They are always ready to go and the Coromandel is one of the best places in New Zealand to get them down there.  We have caught hapuka, trevalley, snapper, and even skipjack tuna on knife jigs out of Whitianga, so you never know quite what to expect.  

To fish these weapons, do everything the same as outlined for deploying live bait.  In fact sometimes the action of multiple jigs in the water will be all that is needed to get the kingies excited into action.

Dinner time as the taxman attacks from below and on the surface leaving not much change for the angler

Shark attack

The sharks around the Coromandel pins have become more prevalent in recent times, and it is not uncommon to bring up just a head, once the affectionately known ‘taxmen’ have had a go.  They are usually makos or bronze whalers around 100 – 250kgs and once they have started taking fish on the way up, the best course of action is to move away to find another pin.      

Stick baiting

Becoming more and more popular, stick baiting is perhaps the most exciting way of all to target kingfish, as you get to actively work your lure on the surface and see the strike.

Using very heavy spin gear, and throwing poppers, or sub surface fish imitations, there are any number of places ideal for this style of fishing in the Coromandel.

You can fish stick baits ‘blind’. That is, throw them at likely spots such as floating debris, pylons or buoys, headlands etc.  However, the best case is where you can actually see baitfish or splashing on the surface as kings bust up.

When you can see baitfish being pushed to the surface on your sounder, even if they are not quite visible from above water, it’s worth throwing a stick bait out to see if you can raise a strike.

It always pays to have a stick bait rod rigged up and readily on hand, as these are opportunistic moments and often pass by very quickly.  Often a splash spotted as you move from one spot to another is all it takes to give you enough reason to have a crack.      

Stick baits are available as commercial plastic models, however the purists will love hand-carved in Japan versions, that swim just that bit better and are true works of art

It’s always worth a trip to the Coromandel

​Whether you catch a kingfish or not.  There's a very special atmosphere that goes with the relaxed vibe and awesome white sandy beaches, sometimes kingfish are just a bonus.

If you want to learn a lot that you can then take on board for future reference, try going out on one of the local charters that specialise in chasing kingfish.  Whitiangler, or the Epic Adventures charters are particularly good and will guarantee your best chance of catching kingfish if you are new to the game.  These guys are all awesome and you will have a great time!

Get your gear ready and see you in the Coromandel

If you are keen to get out on one of the Epic boats book here:

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