Kingfish from top to bottom

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Graeme Paterson

Graeme Paterson is always seeking new fishing experiences and to find out more about the sport. Here he combines two popular methods of targeting kingfish, and got the result he was after.

The summer has been a bonanza for kingfish on topwater casting gear and the guys have been cleaning up from the Bay of Islands all the way to the Nelson.  It’s not been uncommon to see kingfish over 30kg being caught on a regular basis. And it’s not just the new topwater casting that has seen them landed but also jigging, live baiting and even the old smelly baits on a running tide. Not one to miss out on this action, a few friends from Australia had arranged a trip down to one of my favorite haunts in the Bay of Plenty with Memory Makers Charters. These two guys are hard out jigging fans and newly converted topwater fanatics as well.

The plan

I wanted this trip to be a little different from others so we decided we'd spend hours looking and trying to locate kingfish feeding on the surface. I had spoken to Lionel from Memory Makers a few days before on how he thought White Island would go as a topwater fishery. Lionel’s answers to questions never cease to amaze me and I wasn’t surprised when I got a simple “why not?” The answer lengthened somewhat as we talked and I got a run down of just why White Island could be one of the best kingy topwater fisheries in New Zealand. For one there is always surface activity in and around the island and reef structures that surround it. It can be common to find huge schools of blue maomao and trevally feeding on krill or other small baitfish on the surface.

This feeding activity alone attracts other larger predators to lurk around looking for a meal opportunity as the bait fish at times can be in plaque proportions.

But, and there is always a “but”, many of the larger kingfish are in the deeper waters and will only come to the surface at times to feed in the work-ups.

I saw this as a good opportunity to do a little experimenting Kiwi style with stick baits.

Jigs were working well in both attracting and hooking big, solid kingfish

As the topwater method is still relatively new here in New Zealand I was convinced that things needed to be played with a bit to maximize the results. We are seeing the development of better and better rods, reels and lures but the best gear can’t be effective if the fish aren’t there to play ball in the first place, so the challenge was seeing how we could get the fish to the surface and hold them there.

Being a two day trip with Memory Makers, it should allow plenty of time to prove a few things and on day one we got our first opportunity to see if the bigger kingfish could be lured up to the top where they could be targeted on the stick baits.

There were plenty of rat kingfish in the area we first looked at. They were easy to find as they are always on the surface in huge numbers behind the schools of trevally, plus they can easily be coaxed to the boat with any sort of lure. It wasn’t the rats we were after but their bigger brothers on this occasion.  Lionel had located some good sign on the sounder at around a depth of 90m and it was time to see if two of the lads could entice the bigger boys up higher in the water column by dropping a jig. The idea was simple, work the jigs back to the boat and see if the kings would follow, but as it turned out they did a little more than that as the first few drops saw fish smashing them.  This was a very good sign as some days kingfish simply won’t take a lure of any type. Often other kingfish will follow a hooked fish to the surface and as we had two hooked already, the chances of fish following was greatly increased.

The writer’s experiment paid off and he was rewarded with some big kings

Into it!

The first sign of colour was seen around 15m under the boat and we soon noticed some big shapes following. Sharks or kingfish? Kingfish!! Thank goodness for that. As they approached the boat following the hooked fish, Anesh quickly cast a Carpenter Gamma 105 lure out the back of the boat. Carpenter lures are imported and they are made very well. He had matched it all to a Carpenter 84/22 Blue Chaser rod and was even sporting a Carpenter hat!

As the lure hit the water some 50m away we saw the fish speed off in the direction of the cast. At this stage they were just looking to see what the disturbance was on the water and our idea was to create enough of a scene to hopefully hold the fish up off the bottom long enough to maybe get a hit or two on the topwater lures.

On the second cast Anesh had more than just their interest as the stick bait had barely hit the water before there was an almighty splash on the surface and his line quickly went from tight to having string disappear off the Shimano 10000SW spool at a rate of knots. His Carpenter Gamma 105 had done the damage for sure and this was definitely not a rat kingfish. All other lines were quickly bought in as Anesh played the fish around the back of the boat. Lionel held the boat at the best angle to fight the fish and after another short burst close to the surface the fish suddenly took to diving deep and the rod heeled over to the point where the tip was straight down and in the water. A good rod is needed for this type of casting; one that can be controlled and if using a rod longer than eight foot it needs to fold away in the tip and mid-section so as not to hurt the angler. A long rod that doesn’t fold away will give a big fish a huge advantage as a good size kingfish can get the better of an angler very quickly.

This fish was soon under control and after a few more short bursts Anesh landed a nice 27kg fish. After a quick photo it was slipped back into the water.

By nature kingfish are an inquisitive species and with all the commotion of this fish coming to the boat it wasn’t long before we had others actually following the boat some 30-50m away. Lionel could see them on the sounder as well and now we actually had them following the jigs back down. So we quickly halted the jigging session for a while and concentrated on keeping them up on top with the casting lures.

A short rod is much easier on the angler when tackling kingfish

More experimenting

The next thing I wanted to try was the use of a shorter specialist topwater stick bait rod, one especially designed for casting lures 50-130g long distances but still having the power and action to control the fish and be easy on the angler. I myself only wanted to take the photos, but soon found myself getting in on the action; casting a new Kilwell 85g Strike Pro Big Bandit stick bait out to where the kings were, now some 60 -70 odd metres away. The silver/blue Big Bandit had barely hit the water this time and not one but three fish were competing for it. These hits on the surface were something else as the water exploded around the lure and I found myself having to crank the Stella 10000FA for all it was worth to get some ground back on the fish. But I needed photos and handed the rod to Anesh and grabbed for the camera. I managed one decent photo before the line went slack… what happened? This was a big fish but had obviously been very well hooked. As the line was slowly wound back in it was clear to see it had some mean abrasion marks on the 120lb leader. The king must have been hooked by the front treble and with all the head shaking going on the rear treble on the lure had obviously gone around the 120lb leader and worn through it. Hey, that's fishing and one of the risks we take. I had lost a nice Strike Pro lure but it would only be a matter of a week or so before the hooks would rust out and leave the fish to feed normally.  Using stainless hooks on the other hand will only lead to certain death over a longer period of time as these won’t rust out. Don't use them! I will go over the best hooks and other terminal tackle at a later date but this is something to keep in mind.

White Island is a great place to fish for giant kingfish

The short rod we were using was the new Synit TopShot 72MH and at only 7’2” and rated for stick baits from 50-130g and 15kg of drag. It was a specialist casting rod that can flick the lure out 80m if required in the right hands. I liked the idea of these shorter rods for casting from trailer-boats or a charter boats, my reason being that if the rod can cast the same distances and do the job as well, if not better than the longer versions, it makes good sense to use one. With lures and treble hooks flying around the deck during casting they can make for some nasty wounds if things should go wrong.  A longer rod is great weapon if there is heaps of room or when land-based fishing but when room is tight you don’t want to be waving hooks in your mates faces. Plus a shorter rod can be more controllable, easier to cast and definitely easier to transport.

Our bite time was hot for a solid two hours but it stopped as fast as it had started and once it died down we had a chance to rub our muscles and reload on energy drinks. The plan was to come back the next day and in the meantime just reflect back and enjoy the hours we spent landing huge kings on that magical first day.

Besides, it wasn’t about quantity it was about quality and trying some new things. Once the bite was over it was best to reflect on what had worked and figure out why some things hadn't.

More success

Day two saw a repeat of day one, only with a shorter bite time, maybe due to the moon phase, but the action was equally as hot and by hot I mean every drop of a jig or cast saw a stick bait getting smashed, The big kingfish were drawn to the surface once again but there was equally as many that stayed down deep. It was pure mayhem as fish were hitting jigs and stick baits at the same time. Common sense had to prevail when trying to work out who had the right of way around the boat's cockpit to prevent any unnecessary accidents occurring.

On average the fish were in the 22-25kg mark with the odd one going 27-30kg, they weren’t very long fish but all were fat and in prime condition. I have seen kingfish fight hard but even Lionel commented that these fish had extra fight in them and was putting it down to being the pre-spawn season.

However one fish had the measure of me as it peeled line from a nearly locked drag on a Stella 10000FA. I never ever fish with the drag set this high as normally it would pull hooks and is just plain uncomfortable on my older body! A horrible thought went through my head; maybe this was a big shark? But the fight was not like a shark, it was all kingfish and besides, we hadn’t seen or been bothered by a shark in the two days we were out. This was for sure a horse of a kingfish, it had me pinned to the rail of the boat and smashed me off in a matter of a few minutes. The line came back with all the marks of a break on structure. I checked the drag pressure to see just how much it had been wound up to – wow, a staggering 22kg of drag and the fish just screamed out line as if it was a child’s wharf set! The big fish are certainly here at White Island and we went armed with all the very best of gear. It just proves that the raw power of our kingfish in prime condition can deliver quick disappointment even to the best prepared.

Reflecting Back

So was the idea of trying to lure kingfish to the surface with jigs when there are no work-ups around a success? Well we were certainly getting the fish following to the surface and we were getting fish both on the bottom and on the top. However it was hard work trying to hold the fish on the surface unless there was sufficient activity to hold their interest. So I suggest that you will need two or more anglers casting once the fish are up to hold them there. But the short answer is yes, we believe it did work and I will be back to do it all again soon.  A different day may bring a different result, time will tell.

Is a short specialist stick bait rod an advantage? It definitely is if there is a need for room or are two or more anglers casting at the same time.

As we learn more about this form of fishing the gear will no doubt be adapted to suit. We simply don’t have the big open boat spaces that are found in other countries where their weather is so consistent for days on end or sometimes good for a whole season. The bulk of Kiwis fish from alloy and glass trailer-boats with hard tops or cabins or from charter boats where several anglers have to battle for room.

There are a few centre console boats coming through now, but you have to be prepared to get wet in open or bad conditions. In these cases the shorter casting rods are definitely worth considering  

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