All hail the King

Few fish pull as hard as kings, they are inshore heavyweights that win more battles than they lose and that is why we love catching them as Al McGlashan explains

A hard-fighting kingfish caught amidst an urban backdrop – it doesn’t get much better than this.

I simply love catching kingfish. There is something very special about being convincingly blown away by a fish that is completely unstoppable even on the best available tackle. Anglers once loathed them because they were simply too hard to catch but now, thanks to improvements in tackle technology such as the infamous Shimano Stella series, we are finally pulling kings up short of the reef and winning the battle. Better still, the numbers are on the increase after anglers finally forced NSW Fisheries to stop those dreaded floating fish traps. Kingfish, or yellowtail as they are known elsewhere around the world, are widely distributed through subtropical and temperate waters from Mexico to Japan. In Australia they are prolific right around the southern half of the country where they can be found anywhere from Coffin Bay to right below the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Kingy country

An inshore predator, kingies are very structure-oriented favouring distinct structures such as reefs, bommies, ledges, rocky islands and man-made structure such as wharves and navigation buoys. They are mostly associated with coastal waters inside the continental shelf.

Boatside … another kingfish is tailed prior to being landed on Al’s boat Strikezone.

Having a relatively predictable nature kingfish tend to favour specific locations. In most cases these spots are no secret be it Montague Island or the Banks in New South Wales, Coffin Bay in South Australia or more remote grounds like Lord Howe Island. To find kingies in your local waters the first step is to drop in to the local tackle shop or use one of the fishing forums on the net. If you’re old school then you can simply look at marine charts and identify major structure that is subject to current. Kings will stack up around the structure facing into the current. Since kingfish spend a lot of their time near the bottom a depth sounder is an essential tool that will help you locate not only the right grounds but more importantly the fish themselves. Being a schooling fish they show up well on the fish finder. Although there are variations between different units kingfish will generally show as red arches or distinct red lines on colour units. Anglers jigging for kingfish over deep reefs heavily rely upon depth sounders to locate schools of these fierce fighting fish. Kingfish will also regularly enter bays and harbours, especially when there are large quantities of baitfish around. Areas such as Sydney Harbour enjoy a huge influx of fish during the summer months. The one key point to finding kings is bait and the more bait the better. Schools of baitfish such as yakkas or garfish rippling on top of the water are like ringing a dinner bell for kings. The old analogy find the bait and you find the fish truly applies.

Another of author Al McGlashan’s sensational underwater snaps of a hooked kingfish.

Timing is everything

Being very temperature tolerant, kingfish can be found in water ranging from 15 to 25˚C, but are most comfortable in water around 18 to 22˚C. On the eastern seaboard this means that the North Coast fires in the winter and spring and the South Coast picks up during the warmer months as the East Australia Current (EAC) pushes the tropical waters south. In cooler regions, such as South Australia or Victoria, kingfish are best targeted in the spring or autumn when the water is warmest.
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Now that’s a king!

Notoriously temperamental in nature kings can bite their heads off one day then shut down the next. This can make kingy fishing very frustrating at times, especially when you can see them on the sounder but they refuse to respond to your offerings. The most reliable period is early to mid morning especially during the warmer months. In the winter I prefer late afternoon sessions. Tides play a critical role in the daily habits of kingfish. They will often come on the bite around the tide change irrespective of what time of day it is. The moon also seems to influence kingfish activity. One of my favourite times to fish is during the build up to the full moon. It can pay dividends to keep a diary of the moon phase and your catch rate of kingfish to determine the best time to target them in your area.

Beating Kingies at their own game

Being a naturally aggressive fish just about every technique will work on kings from fly fishing to casting metals but my favourite technique especially for the big ones is live baiting. Slow trolling or drifting with live baits like slimies or yakkas is deadly but the all time favourite is squid. Fished both live or dead squid are right at the top of the kingy menu just so long as it is fresh and when I mean fresh I mean caught that day. For some reason packet squid from the service station rarely produce desired results.

Not a huge kingie but an awesome fish for these kids to catch.

Irrespective of the bait you use, always hook live baits in the nose or, in the case of squid, through the mantle. This will keep the bait alive and healthier for longer. Avoid hooking the bait in the tail – it will quickly tire and drown. If pinned in the head they will swim for a lot longer. Circle hooks offer the best hook-up rate and since they always lock in around the jaw hinge they are much easier to release. When slow trolling live baits around headland and over inshore reefs I like to run two outfits, one on a flat line while the other has a sinker attached to weigh it down holding it deeper in the water column. One trick I employ is to stop when I mark fish on the sounder allowing the weighted baits to sink down to the target. In water deeper that 25 metres the best approach is it drift over specific spots like wrecks and reef edges where fish are showing. It is vitally important to use the sounder and GPS to get you right on top of the action. Just like humans, if you put it directly under their noses they will eat it.

Al6 (Above) A proud angler shows off yet another solid blue water kingfish. Note the tag in the fish – tracking the species’ movements provides invaluable information. (Below) Al McGlashan and friend have their hands full with a double hook up on big kings.

At times particularly during the cooler months large schools of kingfish hold over deep reefs. Live baits will certainly work but when bait is hard to come by jigging is a great alternative. The new high-speed jigs are easy to use and the kings will climb all over them. If the fish are really on the chew you can expect to catch them all day long on jigs – or at least until you are completely worn out. There is a wide-range of jigs out there and the basic rule is the deeper the water the bigger the jig. Keep an eye on the depth sounder and position the boat directly over the school of fish. Free spool the jig right to the bottom, then crank it back relatively fast with a jerky stop/start action. Be warned though because kingfish hit like a runaway train so hang on! One final method worth mentioning, one that is highly exciting, is fishing for kings with surface lures. Poppers such as the infamous Roosta can create some insane strikes when the kingies are on feeding on the surface. Apart from targeting schools of surface feeding fish, you can also score blind strikes when casting around bommies and manmade structure such as navigation markers. To get the most out of  surface lures vary the speed of your retrieve. Generally speaking a slow stop/start approach will produce the best results. Remember, kingfish have a very temperamental nature so it pays to vary your techniques to get the best possible results.

Land based Kings, you bet!

Few species excite southern anglers as much as the kingy and the best part is you don’t even need a boat to target them. Four-wheel-drive into a remote headland that drops away into deepwater, start firing metal slices out and chances are you will connect. Landing the fish is a whole new challenge but that is half the fun of taking on the King of the reef. Whatever your chosen method to target these beasts I guarantee you will thoroughly enjoy the battle! All images  


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