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How to smash your PB kingfish on stick baits

April 7, 2020
How to smash your PB kingfish on stick baits

It was chaos! the pack of Kingfish erupted on the surface splaying froth and panicking baitfish in every direction. Words can’t even describe the sight as I grabbed my topwater gear and belted a quick cast into the riot. Fish were flying all over the surface and after a couple of winds ‘booom’! As line peeled off the wailing Stella all I could do was watch and hang on. With 15kgs of drag locked on it was one of those moments where the sheer excitement was overriding the pain of every muscle screaming to hold fast. After a tough, twenty-minute tug-o-war the fish finally turned, and I was able to coax him up. Kingfish are brutal on any gear, but on the longer topwater rods they have a leverage advantage and as an angler, you get to feel every bit of the fight even more than on normal jigging gear. When the fish appeared it was as much a relief as anything, and I knew this was around a 30kg PB straight away. Such a magnificent fish deserved to go back to get even bigger, so after a few snaps he was back over the side leaving me with that exhausted and elated feeling. Did that really happen?

Catching kingfish on stick baits has got to be one of the most exciting fishing experiences you can have in New Zealand, bar none.  

It’s a very visual technique, which is what makes it so exhilarating.

When you know what it’s like to see a decent sized king engulf your lure right at the back of the boat. It's those memories that keep you casting for hours.

I’m a huge fan of stick baiting, and based in Nelson, we are lucky enough to have the awesome D’Urville fishery on our back door step.  There’s a lot of structure and current here, and the kings love it, but kings can be caught just about anywhere in NZ, so here’s a few of the key things I’ve learned about stick baiting to help you get out there and get into it.

What is a stick bait?

Stick baits are an artificial bibless minnow, and range from cheaper mass produced plastic models, to exotic wooden hand carved beauties, mostly from Japan.

They range in price from entry level $30 price points to up over $200 if you have expensive taste.

Stick bait royalty, high end Jack Fin, CB One and Carpenter lures

I own a few high end Stickbaits but I will only throw them when I am using heavy tackle or when I know the fish won’t be able to break me off on anything.

There are days when the high end lures will definitely out-perform the cheaper ones.  They just swim better, and it can be just enough to make the difference between fish following, and fish smashing.

There are many affordable lures that will catch fish, my go-to stick bait for kingies is the Catch Fishing Zingaz. It is an incredibly easy lure to swim and it comes at a very affordable price.

The more affordable lures are generally made from plastic and the price goes up when you start getting into the handmade timber stick baits.

The affordable lures certainly catch fish, and it is good to have a variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

The affordable but effective Catch Zingaz
A smaller 35 gram version of the floating Zingaz is great when you have to match the hatch

Be prepared to lose a few lures to parting knots and line, being reefed or even worse, sharked. It can be heart breaking throwing a big cast and hearing a ‘crack’ as your brand new lure flies off into the distance.  Not the end of the world if it is a floater, but tough if it’s a sinking model.

Trust me it happens to everyone eventually if you stick bait for long enough.

Floating or sinking?

The best topwater action is had on a floating model, simply because you get to see the lure bring the fish up and witness the take in all its glory.  Floating sticks also let you see exactly where your lure is and allow you to alter your technique to work the lure to its best effect.

Sinking models are sometimes necessary, however, when the fish are just not coming right to the surface, or when it’s too rough to manage a good action in the wind and chop.

I like to have both types on hand and be prepared and ready-rigged to suit the conditions of the day.  You just never know when an opportunity suddenly presents itself, and all too often you will miss it if not fully geared to go at any time.

How to swim your lure

The size, weight, and shape of your lure will dictate its action, but the number one thing is to learn how to swim your lure.

With enough practice you can often learn how to make your $30 lure swim like a $100 lure.

Once you’ve cast out, and the stick bait’s little head is bobbing just out of the water, you’ll retrieve with a sweep-and-wind, sweep-and-wind motion.  The intensity of the sweep will be determined by your lure design.  

The idea is to have your lure dart towards the boat just under the water with an ‘S’ like or shimmering swim action, then pause, float, and dart again.  Many anglers miss the pause bit, and just swim the lure with a fast, jerky retrieve.  This sometimes works, but does not tempt the fish to move from follow, to strike, on many occasions.  

Sweeping your rod with the tip pointed down towards the water’s surface, is the basic way of working stick baits, but by adding a pause and a short twitch, it can completely change your lure’s action.

The pause in between sweeps is one of the most important factors in successful stick baiting.

Pausing allows the fish a moment to decide to eat the lure. If you keep winding the fish is more than often just going to follow it waiting for a chance to eat it.  Remember, you are trying to imitate a panicked, dying, or injured baitfish.

CB One Zorro running a ball bearing swivel which also keeps the nose down a bit when swimming

For floating lures, leaving the line on the water and then sweeping quickly, will cause the lure to dip its head under and swim.  With sinking lures this doesn't apply, as the lure always has tension and will hold its position, so without seeing it you can just sweep away with less thought going in to the action.

Even when trolling for gamefish a stick bait rod is at the ready

We fish all day, often in pretty yuk seas where there can be a lot of wind against tide.  Our Huntsman Centurion is just a beast for this type of sport.  Being glass, the boat is smooth, heavy and stable, and also quiet in the water for working around feeding fish action.  

With tons of room for casting and a great rear platform for fishing off, there’s always a place to stand and work my lures properly.

Practice makes perfect

I've spent many hours down at the waterfront practicing my technique, my cast and how I swim my lures.

It pays to practice in a nice clear area where you can see the lure working, and experiment with technique as one small twitch could change everything in your style for a particular lure.

Try changing your sweep length and speed, mixing up the pause rhythm, sweeping harder or more softly, and just watch how the lure performs.  If it looks good to you, it probably looks good for the kingies.

Grab any opportunity you can to throw a stick bait

Where to find kingfish

Well this is the hard part.

It’s not easy finding the fish, and it took me over a year to get my first top water king.

Good places to start are around any structures such as marker buoys, or floating debris.  Up against wash, or around pins that are not far below the surface are also good locations.  Do a little homework on your area in social media or online, and you’ll soon find out where your local kingfish hot spots are.  

The best opportunities are often presented by surface activity that can be anything from a slight swirl in the water, to a massive bust up with birds and flying baitfish. Keep your eyes peeled for the former, they can be easily missed.

Yeehaaa! check out that surface activity. Kings driving the baitfish hard, ideal stick bait country
Schools of trevally and kahawai attract some very good kings

Knowing where to cast is very important. Think about bait. Where there is baitfish, nine times out of ten there is a chance a kingfish or two will be lingering around.

With surface activity, something is usually forcing all of that bait to the surface, so it's always worth a cast around work ups and surface signs. Cast around the edges of the work ups so your lure imitates a fleeing fish and does not scatter the baitfish away from you. Gannets are the best fish finders around, use that to your advantage.

The biggest kingfish I've caught on stick baits were all caught after hours of mechanical jigging with mixed luck, but by being there, I was ready to go as the surface erupted with dozens of Kingfish jumping and demolishing baitfish.

What I'm trying to say is be prepared, have your drag set and your rod and reel ready to cast.

These moments of chaos can sometimes only last for seconds and you don't want to miss out on your trophy fish because you were too busy messing around tying knots or selecting lures.

I am not the only one I’m sure, to have learned this the hard way.

Gear and Tackle

I’m a proud, Catch sponsored angler and brand ambassador.  I’ve loved their gear for much of my fishing life, including before they sponsored me, and the Catch top water gear is wicked.

Catch make a range of lures from plastic entry level to hand carved mahogany versions, and an extremely good rod.  In the reel department, they partner with boutique manufacturer IRT reels hand crafted in the USA.

The IRT reel distributed by the team at Catch

Let’s face it, top water gear is bling, and tackle is the most important aspect for top water fishing.

Having smooth drags on your reels and nicely balanced, strong, long rods for casting are a must.

Big, grunty spinning reels are most commonly used for top water.

Most of these big reels, sport plenty of smooth drag needed to stop big fish. I use a Shimano Stella because it is incredibly smooth and has plenty of efficient drag.

These reels hold high prices but it pays off in the long run. It pays to spend money on good quality gear if you can, because big fish will test every part of your gear and quickly find the weaknesses.  If you can’t afford top end gear, there are still some great reels available for less, such as Daiwa BG5000, Penn Clash 5000 and Shimano Saragosa’s.

Daiwa Saltiga Dogfight. Top of the range stopping power
The Daiwa BG5000 is excellent value on a budget

The next thing you are going to need is a rod. Top water rods are commonly around eight feet long.

You need a long rod to cast long distances.  It’s the whip in the rod that sends your lure through the air and the grunt in the lower section that fights the fish.

I use the new Catch Fishing five piece Topwater Rod. The rod casts lures up to 150g and is rated PE6-8. I especially love this rod as it fits into an average sized suitcase when broken down, perfect for travelling.

Catch topwater rods are proven, strong and have a great finish

I've been lucky enough to have traveled the world with this rod catching everything from sailfish in the south China sea to 70kg goliath grouper in a bizarre fishing pond in central Malaysia.

Got this goliath grouper on my topwater rod in a ummmm 'pond' in Malaysia
Best adventure ever in Rompin where I got this sail on my stickbait rod (using a livie tho)

This rod has definitely proven itself to me and I couldn't recommend it enough.  It looks great, performs brilliantly and knocks down to a compact size.

Having a spool of good quality braid is essential. Braid used for top water is normally 50-80lb breaking strain.

I use Tasline Elite Braid PE6. It is rated at 60lb but breaks at closer to 90lb, with a very thin diameter so you can fit more of it on your spool.

It's also made in New Zealand.

The Catch full finger jigging gloves a great if you are doing a lot of casting

I recommend wearing gloves when casting because the braid can cut your fingers up pretty badly after a long session.  I wear Catch Fishing Jigging gloves, which are super tough and go the distance.

I've been wearing mine for a year and they are still in great shape.

Flourocarbon or mono leader must be used with topwater fishing, anything from 80-130lb.

If you are fishing near sharp structure, fluorocarbon is good because it’s so tough and resistant to abrasion, but its downside is being difficult to tie in heavier weights.

Mono ties much better and is suppler, which often helps the action of the lure too.  

I run 130lb trace when fishing around rocky points and shallow reefs.  If you do hook up, it’s good to drive the boat off the reef to plane the fish up if you can.  

Sometimes, the fish have other ideas, but it’s a great way to avoid being broken off if you get it right.

Make sure your knots are strong.  I run a FG knot for braid to leader connection because it is quick, easy, streamlined and incredibly strong.

Tying to my lure I use a Chain Knot onto a heavy swivel, split ringed onto my lure. I've found this the strongest connection for top water fishing.

There you go.

It can take a lot of persistence to catch a kingie off the top, but once you get your first I'm sure you will be hooked.

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