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Top water kingfish off the rocks

27 July 2015
Top water kingfish off the rocks

Targeting kingfish on lures from the rocks is nothing new. In this country, kingfish are with out doubt the most prized species likely to be fooled by an artificial bait.

Where and When

In the Auckland region there are kingfish on the figurative backdoor step. The number of places that you will find them lurking never ceases to amaze. On the right day marinas, sand flats, estuaries, river mouths, rocky points and wharves are all likely kingfish haunts. There are few places in the world big predators of this caliber can be caught just minutes from home.

In the South Island opportunities for land-based kingfish are just being realized too. Over Christmas I managed to hook a king from the rocks in Nelson’s Cable Bay while saltwater fly fisherman have been catching them on the sand flats of this region.

Rat kings were even caught on lures in the Otago Harbour this year and are occasionally taken by salmon fisherman in Canterbury.

Although kings turn up in seemingly unlikely spots, the places they can be caught with consistency tend to be more specific. Even more so with topwater techniques, where researching old old notes will help narrow down the likely spots, potentially saving hours of fruitless casting.

Michael Jenkins used a Yo-Zuri Hydro popper on this king.

Tide is a big consideration. Obviously your not going to catch a king on a sand flat at low tide but it is a great time to target them from rocky points and ledges and along harbour edges. Here they will cruise weed lines chasing baitfish that have nowhere to hide.

Time of day is also important. We have found dawn to be the most productive wherever the location. This is likely because kingfish are daytime predators so when dawn breaks they are hungry and looking for food. Dawn is also well suited to the top-water fishing as it tends to be the stillest time of day.

Topwater lures are more likely to be noticed on a calm surface than a choppy one. Less wind also equals less waves and better water clarity.

Clarity is integral to success for three reasons:

  • It influences whether the kings will be present and in hunting mode
  • It allows you to sight fish and present directly to them
  • It increases the likelihood they will see your lure

Time of year also has a big influence on spots, with kingfish presence often revolving around factors like the mullet spawn. Different areas will have their own characteristics that can only be learnt by putting in time, learning the factors that contribute to ideal conditions and then figuring out by observation when his majesty usually arrives for tea.

Jack Lusk with a nice topwater king taken on his strayline set.

Business end

Fishing from the shore usually means fishing in relatively shallow water and often over foul or heavily weeded ground. Losing fish and gear in these circumstances is an unfortunate reality.

Many an angler (or magazine) will sing the praises of high-end lure brands that can cost over $300, however even relatively heavy 80lb braid is very thin and can be sliced by an oyster in the blink of an eye. It’s bad enough losing a good fish to an oyster but losing a couple of hard earned Ernest Rutherford’s really puts a dampener on the day.

Some cheaper but effective stickbaits that are also easy to swim are the Shimano Orca’s, Saltiga Dorado Sliders, Starwalkers and for poppers Williamson Jet poppers or Yo-Zuri Hydros. If you plan to release, single or inline hooks are no doubt the best option for angler safety and for the fish but because strikes can be few and far between on the bricks I prefer to maximize my chances with trebles, although usually with flattened the barbs.

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Most landbased topwater anglers choose to spool up with 24 or 37kg braid, depending on personal preference.

The brand braid you choose comes down to personal choice but a fused 8-ply braid is a good start.

Although 24kg may seem like over kill for smaller kings, when you are trying to pull one out of the weeds or stop it from reaching the rocks you will be grateful for it!

With leader, the suppleness of monofilament is preferred over fluorocarbon. From the rocks, 80lb to 100lb leader material is favoured.

To join the braid and mono you can’t go past an FG knot. It’s reasonably simple, passes through the guides without fuss and if tied correctly, bullet proof. For optimal casting try a leader length that allows the joining knot to sit under your finger while the lure hangs about 70-90cms from the rod tip. It will help with a precise release and ensure a long smooth cast.

Use a split a solid ring between the leader and the lure. The cheaper clip options are known to fail so avoid those. It will also allow more movement in your lure than if tied directly to the leader.

Shimano Orca stickbaits are a great lure for a low price.

Wind knots

No matter what you spend on gear, at some point you will get a wind knot or two. They are caused by loops of line coming off the spool faster than they can exit the guide train.

They happen because of a number of factors including poor quality braid, bad line lay, bad guide configuration, excess line on the spool, too long a leader, headwinds, side-winds or exerting too much force when casting. Wind knots are usually easy to undo but if you do happen to get a particularly tight knot try laying it across the reel seat and tapping it firmly a few times with a lure or pliers to loosen it.


Fishing from the rocks is a perfect place to perfect your stick baiting technique as there could be hundreds of casts between fish. Learn to sweep the rod to swim the lure just below the surface, pause to let the lure pop up, wind in the slack and repeat. That’s the basic principle but there are many walk-the-dog type variations as well.

Poppers can also be very effective. They work fine when simply wound in fast, so no practice required.

If you see a fish behind your lure remember to breathe and try to maintain the rhythm that raised it. If you spot a fish, cast well ahead of where you think it is swimming and make your retrieve.

Sight-fishing kingfish from the rocks is hard to beat and a good pair of polaroid sunglasses is the key. Decent shoes are also important as you will often need to run down the beach, rocks or ledge to a bust up that may be over in seconds. They are also important for the next stage.

Fighting and landing fish

Like any battle, planning ahead can be the key to victory. Will you fight the fish from the position you are in? What if it runs left, right, towards the bommy in front? Where’s the best place to attempt a gaff shot?

Try to fish the places without a bommie in front and with options to move to if needed. Kingfish fight hard and dirty and often strike during daydream, sometimes right at your feet.

This year I lost a great fish because it literally had me between a rock and hard place. It had busted up bait in front of me so I cast and hooked up straight away. I had planned to move left but the fish powered straight down removing any chance to go that way.

I had to move backwards to get to the right but if I did the line would hit the rock in front. Still the fish powered down, all I could do was hang on. I could feel the line on the weed, still running. Then all was slack. There’s no plan for that.

Topwater from the rocks is a great no-fuss option for targeting kings. You don’t have to catch or manage livies or lug in bait and berley (although berley can be advantageous). Once you are set up, a handful of lures will keep you sorted for months. Topwater strikes are addictive and it doesn’t take many to justify a day or two casting in the hope of more.

Like all fishing, it’s about knowledge and technique and lucky for us, the best way get either is to go fishing!

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