Kingfish: How the experts catch them
December 19, 2019
NZ Fishing World spoke to five of the country’s most respected kingfish fishermen to find out the secrets to their success.
Kingfish are one of the hardest-fighting fish in our seas and they inhabit our waters from the Kermadec Islands to the Banks Peninsula.
Anyone who has ever battled one of these beautiful fish will tell you that they test your strength, technique and tackle to the limit but with the right preparation and a little bit of knowledge, any angler can become a successful kingfish fisho.
There are subtle little things that must be done to tame these wild monsters and every expert has his own keys to success.
Meet the dream team
Five of New Zealand’s most accomplished kingfish slayers are Rick Pollock, Chris Wong, Graeme Paterson, Troy Dando and Justin Corric.
Between them they hold several records and have caught thousands of huge kingfish.
Each of them is regarded as a specialist in their field and they all have a canny ability to catch massive fish.
Rick Pollock is arguably New Zealand’s most successful charter skipper. His boat Pursuit holds the all-tackle world record for kingfish (51kg).
Graeme Paterson is the CEO of Synit – a New Zealand company that manufactures some of the best jigging rods in the world – and an accomplished kingfish angler. His technical know-how is unrivalled.
Shimano Fishing NZ’s Justin Corric is a topwater expert. There are few fishermen out there who know more about chasing kingfish with surface lures.
Troy Dando is a prolific South Island kingfish fisho. Many tackle manufacturers seek his skills in the research and development of new rods and reels.
Chris Wong introduced mechanical jigging to New Zealand. He regularly hosts Asian tackle experts in New Zealand as well as being the distributor for JigStar tackle and Zest jigs.
Follow the advice from this band of professionals and you could enjoy the best kingfish season of your fishing career.
THE EXPERT: Rick Pollock
PERSONAL BEST: 38.5kg, boat record 51kg (all-tackle world record)
One of the real basic points when guys are getting a strike on livebaits is you really need to set the hook because nylon is basically a big rubber band so you need to take that stretch out and you can only do that by reeling hard.
We’re fishing as deep as 200 metres and often in 80 to 150 metres and we almost always drift so this is so important.
Say, for example you’re fishing 150m, even with a pretty heavy weight you’re going to have 250m of line in the water.
But a lot of people get good bites, they’re setting the hook but not following through by reeling.
The only advantage you’ve got over a kingfish is right at the start. Kingies are real mongrels, they’re street fighters so the further you get them off the bottom once they know what the deal is, the better.
What you have often is people striking very authoritatively but then they don’t follow that up.
Balance is key
People look at the size of the intended quarry and rig accordingly but that’s not the way to go at all.
People think, ‘oh my gosh, these are big heavy fish’ and they think they need big heavy trace and big hooks but that’s wrong.
You need to tailor everything to the size of the bait you are using. More often than not, we have jack mackerel that are little bigger than your hand so everything needs to be balanced.
The weight of trace we commonly use is 130lb. One we have extremely good luck with is Black Magic 130lb. It ties nicely and it stands up to abrasion.
Braid is definitely the way to go if you’re jigging but if livebaiting we prefer to go with mono.
There’s stretch so it’s forgiving whereas braid has no stretch so if you make a mistake the fish is gone.
You always want to use as light a weight as you can possibly use as you really want the bait to be looking as natural and lively as possible.
If you have a heavy weight, you’re skull dragging the bait to the bottom.
It depends on where the fish are in the water column, but sometimes we’ll fish hard on the bottom, other times in midwater.
There’s lots of variables and you have to be ready for anything.
Expect a strike at any moment as often you’ll get a strike on the way down.
Gently does it
A kingfish, even a relatively small one, is extremely strong. If you’re very hard on the kingfish straight away, they’ll be very hard on you.
If you have max drag from the start, that fish will give everything it has at the start to maybe get into the bottom and bust you off.
Whereas if you go gently, gently, the fish isn’t overly alarmed and if you’re lucky it will swim out into deeper water then you can slowly but surely put more drag on there.
This can be a long drawn-out thing but you’ll eventually win the battle.
If you’ve got a king on for two minutes, you have around an 85 per cent chance of landing it.
We use 37kg gear but for the Hauraki Gulf you could use a 15kg setup. The size of the trace and hook size is absolutely paramount and comes down to the bait size.
Very often these baits aren’t very big and in that case 80lb or 100lb test and hooks of 5/0 will be fine.
We recommend a good livebait hook, Black Magic and Gamakatsu are our go-to hooks.
On our rigs the sinker is tied to the mainline and the trace is approximately a metre or metre-and-half long.
THE EXPERT: Justin Corric
SPECIALITY: Topwater (stickbaits and poppers)
PERSONAL BEST: 38kg
For the Hauraki Gulf the kingfish fishing is amazing and it can produce some real big kings, especially around Flat Rock and Kawau.
When I moved to topwater, the number of the fish caught started going up and you get that visual aspect. It’s a buzzy thing to watch a big kingy taking a stickbait.
When popper fishing, we got a lot of kingfish following them up but turning away. We figured out quickly that kings will come and have a look and if something doesn’t look right they’ll turn away.
The movement of the sticks seems to get the kingfish really going for it.
If the kings are not feeding, we’ll still throw jigs down and tease them up and if you’ve got someone throwing stickbaits, you usually get a hookup.
The good thing with topwater is it allows people of all ages and all boat sizes to go out and target kings.
We’ve had kings up to 20kg off the pylons in Auckland Harbour, five minutes from a boat ramp.
If you want to target kingfish, then target kingfish. Be prepared that you might not come back with any but you’ve got to really target them.
As soon as you drift off from fishing them, you won’t get them. You need be really willing to fish hard. Don’t be tempted to give up after a couple of hours then go snapper fishing.
I see too many people turn up, jig for 20 minutes, don’t catch anything and take off. To me, you can’t call that targeting kingfish. You have to be prepared to do it for a sustained period.
You all need to have the same goal to have a successful day’s kingfish fishing.
The best months in the Gulf are January, February and March and the amount of kingfish we catch in these months is anywhere between 10 and 30 in one day.
The time of the day is important too. Change of light, the last hour of the tide can be good times although bite times aren’t usually as long for the bigger kingfish.
Make sure all your knots are ready to go the night before. The amount of times we get to a spot, there’s kingfish everywhere and people don’t have reels on rods and are panicking to get knots tied.
I use two sets for stickbaiting, a Stella 14000 with 80lb braid and a Stella 5000 on a lighter stickbait set for a bit of fun.
Tie your stickbait directly to a swivel and use a good quality split ring. It gives the stickbait a bit of added action.
Gloves can be handy for casting. A long day on the water holding the braid when you’re casting can be hard going.
For leader, use 150lb Sufix Superior and no less than 100lb.
Leader length is one that a lot of people get wrong.
You don’t want any of your leader in the reel. It stops you from getting a good cast and you can end up with a big mess.
You want your finger just on the braid when you cast.
Leave approximately two foot of line from the tip to get a good cast.
The PR knot is not an easy knot to tie and not everyone wants to learn it. An Albright knot will definitely work for tying your leader to your braid for topwater.
But if you’re serious about topwater fishing, you should definitely learn the PR knot.
For connecting your lure to your leader, uni knots and improved clinch knots are fine. Some people will use crimps and there’s no problem with that.
On the spot
When you get to a spot, you want to be looking for sign on the sounder and if the kingies are all spread out then they’re probably all cruising and not feeding.
You’re looking for the bait getting into a tight ball as they’re putting on their defensive stance against predators. That’s when the kingies are feeding.
Be prepared to persevere and you’ll get the rewards.
Remember to drift right through the action. It’s not going to work if you want to anchor up and sit for the day.
When you’re fighting kingies, you have to be aware that a stickbait rod is a lot different to a jig rod. They’re guided more towards casting than fighting.
The stiffer the rod, the better it’ll cast but the harder it’ll be on the angler and the pressure that a 15kg kingy can put on is immense.
Make sure the hook is set right away and get stuck in real quick. If the boat is backing up quick, the angler has to be reeling in real quick to make sure there’s no slack in that line.
Stickbaits can be very expensive but I catch just as many kingfish on cheaper ones too. I don’t believe you need to spend $250 on a stickbait to go kingfish fishing.
The Orca stickbaits are so easy to swim. Whether you wind and sweep, slow wind or fast wind, they swim really well.
They’re really well finished and they have really good hooks.
With stickbaits, I use trebles as it helps with the action. Crush your barbs down. If they go into someone, they come out easier and it makes it way easier to release the fish.
Make sure you have long-nose pliers and a big net. If you don’t have those, then you’ll end up in trouble.
THE EXPERT: Chis Wong
PERSONAL BEST: 41kg
Choose a jig colour or type that is different from the rest on the first drop.
You don’t know which model or colour of jig is going to be the go.
Try on different colours and weights and see which one is the hit of the morning.
I would always make sure that I have something that’s a little bit different from the rest of the anglers on the boat, even if it means a super large jig or something a bit weirder.
It might just hold attraction to a super large fish.
The Japanese believe every reef or particular spot always has one big dog and if you have the biggest lure you might just catch the monster.
That might not always be the case but it’s good to give it a go.
What I always say to novices and experienced guys alike is, get to know the jig you’re using by the actions.
Drop it in the water so you can see it and observe the way the jig ducks and dives and wobbles before you actively fish. Then soon you’ll be able to work out how the jig works.
If they fish are down there not wanting to bite, the action you put on can be the difference.
Quite often novices will be going to gimbal the rod far too soon and in that first minute the fish has its head down charging for the reef.
If you’re distracted by finding the gimbal, you can quite easily go slack and lose the fish.
At the start of the fight, get as much line on the reel as quickly as possible and get the fight under control.
Even modest 25kg kingfish are going to take line off you, even with the very best gear.
Most guys who jig regularly go to the gym. I think I’m fairly fit but you always get sore muscles.
Yes, you’re always going to feel a bit sore afterwards but you can reduce that if you’re fit and using good gear.
Maybe that’s part of the satisfaction of landing the big fish. No pain, no gain.
THE EXPERT: Graeme Paterson
SPECIALITY: Jigging rods
PERSONAL BEST: 28kg
It’s vitally important to match your rod to your reel and vice versa.
Many new guys getting into jigging want to go big but that’s not necessarily the best way.
It’s about matching the right reel to the right rod. That’s why we’ve changed a lot of what we do in designing the rods.
We’re now designing the rods in line rating and it’s to match up with a reel that’s got an equivalent rating.
Big heavy rods can put more hurt on the angler and that can have a negative impact on your fishing.
With new technology we can craft rods that are light and thin to look at but they have enormous power when fighting fish.
We’re now designing rods for people’s size as well.
Bigger guys can handle rods that have more leverage, obviously. But we’re finding a lot of people, ladies in particular, are looking for a rod that’s more supple and forgiving.
Comfort and personal preference comes into as it gives you an advantage when fighting the fish.
Factoring jig weights
Then you have to look at your jig weight selection as part of that.
Your jig weight has to suit the rod you are fishing with. That will also come down to the area where you’re looking to fish.
You’re not going to use little light jigs with lots of current flowing so it’s important to fish to the conditions.
We know how important it is to have quality rods and reels but sometimes people forget about their terminal tackle.
There’s no point spending good money on quality gear to then use substandard line.
Always stay with the better-known brands. That goes for your braid and for leader.
It doesn’t need to cost you the earth but if your line is cheap and nasty you’ll pay the price when you lose that trophy kingfish.
Check and check again
Just remember that kingfish will find a weakness in anything.
For that reason, I’d encourage people to have as few connection points in their rigs as possible.
The more knots you have, the more weakness you instil into the rig.
Be prepared to re-tie after catching a decent fish. If you go out and smash a really big fish and the next drop you get smashed by a huge fish again, there’s a chance your knot could give.
Always make sure your knots are up to the job. If you’re not happy with them, re-tie them.
THE EXPERT: Troy Dando
SPECIALITY: South Island jigging
PERSONAL BEST: 36kg
When you’re out there doing it, you’ll have knowledge you’ve built up in areas but if you’re going into a new spot, the main thing to look for is sharp drop-offs or pinnacles.
Anything that creates current can be attractive to kingfish.
These are places where bait is going to congregate.
Some kingies will move with the bait whereas others will just hang around structure all the time.
In Nelson there’s kingfish in the summer who’ll just move around the bay. But up around D’Urville Island, they’re always around structure.
For jigging, I wouldn’t go much less than 30m. You can jig in less but it’s a brutal fight when you hook up and you need to be a good boatman to get out of the way.
Often, where there’s a lot of current, kingies will hug the bottom so you do have to look for the marks on the bottom.
Terminal tackle tips
For your terminal tackle – use fluorocarbon. I swear by that.
On a light setup I’ll use 50lb braid but on the heavier, 80lb is more than enough.
I’d recommend to most people to use 80lb and fluorocarbon - the rule on that is go as light as you can get away with.
With leader, if I can get down to 80lb and the barracouta are out of the way I will, but when ‘couta and big kingies are around I’ll go up to 150lb depending on the fish.
For jigs, it depends on a lot of things, but a golden rule is to keep your line straight up and down.
If you’re on a charter boat where they set up and drift, you’ll have to use heavier jigs.
If I can get away with a 150g, 200g jig and we’re backing away with it, I’ll do it.
But if there’s a fair bit of current and I’m trying to get down quick I’ll use 400g.
Don’t be afraid to turn the jig upside down if it’s bottom weighted.
I’ve always found pinks and pilchard colours and blue-silvery colours to be the best picks for me.
Green and gold is another good way to go.
Match the hatch. I think the green and gold colours are more around that kahawai type of look so they’re always going to be appealing to big kingfish.
Mastering the action
The action of mechanical jigging is quite difficult to master.
It’s a bit like rubbing your nose with one hand and doing circles on your belly with the other.
If you think too much about it you’ll never get it right.
You have to remember that it’s one up and one down for each revolution of the reel. You can jig fast with a low ratio reel if you’re a good jigger but a higher ratio reel would be easier for beginners.
When the bite is pretty static, I always think it’s like the mouse that walks past the cat. It won’t touch it but when the mouse whizzes past it quickly, the cat will strike. Kingfish are the same.
When you get hooked up, until that rod is totally loaded you need to keep jigging. You’ll feel that rod load and the moment it’s hooked, you won’t be able to jig anymore.
You want to stop him shaking his head. Keep him loaded, get your knees into the rail of the boat and hold on!