Kingfish, in Victoria?

Brendan Wing with a big kingfish caught on live bait.

Brendan Wing with a big kingfish caught on live bait.

Come along as Steve Cooper talks Yellow Tail Kingfish in Victoria. He shares some of his experiences with well known Victorian fisherman Brendan Wing and Gawaine Blake.

Most of us have a species that attracts us more than any other. For many years mine happened to be kings. To that end, I chased them as far north as Mutton Bird Island at Coffs Harbour, as far south as Lady Julia Percy Island off Port Fairy in Victoria and crossed the Tasman Sea 10 times in eight years, to fish New Zealand’s North Island.

Even though kings can grow to 70kg, I rate a 10kg king from the stones a job well done. The largest I know of caught from a land based situation went a cool 50kg, or 110lbs on the old Imperial scale.

BACKGROUND

After encounters going back several decades I doubt I am any closer to understanding these magnificent fish. Is anybody? No fish has more frustrated me. I remember an early morning spin session on the NSW south coast when my fishing buddy and I had the misfortune to run into a motherlode of trophy-sized kings schooling just off the rocks, around a group of niggerheads. The session lasted about 30 minutes. It was a case of cast the lure, let it sink and start cranking. Almost as they splashed into the water, the Iron Assassin and Undertaker lures were taken. Every hook-up followed in quick succession by a bust up. Our 10kg tackle and thin walled blanks were no match; just about every cast we lost a lure. Most of session was spent retying shock leaders.

A good catch of kingfish taken off Minerva Reef in southwest Victoria.

A good catch of kingfish taken off Minerva Reef in southwest Victoria.

I had to go to New Zealand to record my first king over 23kg off the rocks. Even then this fish didn’t rate as high as the first New Zealand king I gaffed: A 32kg monster caught by pharmacist Mike Richardson at Spirits Bay.

PROFILE

From the bullet-shaped head to the yellow, crescent shaped tail, the kingfish is a ball of muscle. No wonder the species has earned a reputation as one of southern Australia’s toughest inshore gamefish.

Anglers relish the opportunity for a hook up followed by an adrenalin-pumping power surge. A few years back, in an attempt to put into the fighting characteristics of kingfish into perspective, I co-opted a line from a work clothing advertisement: Any tougher and they’d rust.

To be fair, my opinion was biased by rock fishing experiences with big kings on the NSW South Coast. Too often these experiences went in three stages: Hook up. Lock up. Bust up.

Being overwhelmed by the force of a big king in overdrive is something few of us forget. I’ve seen big men, using 24kg tackle, brought to their knees by kingfish in a power dive.

Yellowtail kingfish hunt smaller fish around reef and rock like this.

Yellowtail kingfish hunt smaller fish around reef and rock like this.

VICTORIA

In the 1970s and early 1980s, yellowtail kings were prolific in and around the notorious Rip, at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. These were big kings, up to 35kg. At this size the fish wore the “hoodlum” vernacular comfortably. There were some wonderful seasons, and anglers and commercial fishermen took large numbers. Then fish numbers waned until the day came when the big kings were gone.

Subsequent seasons saw mainly smaller kings averaging about 4kg however the monsters of those glory years were gone. As a consequence, anglers who wanted to hook large kingfish in Victorian waters had two choices: travel to South Gippsland and fish near Wilsons Promontory or, alternatively, drive to Portland, about four hours away.

The good news is that kingfish stocks are on the mend in many areas of Victoria. As I write, anglers are working jigs in about 30m of water offshore from Pt Lonsdale to Barwon Heads for kings to 75cm. In the southwest, Minerva and Julia Reefs near Portland are producing fish to 15kg. Other places where kings are being caught include Cape Schanck, between Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, Cliffy Island near Wilson Promontory and Charlemont Reef offshore from Barwon Heads. There are even reports of kings being caught in Port Phillip Bay off Altona and Mornington.

My first king in Victorian waters came from Lady Julia Percy Island; the second was caught spinning from Bell Reef near Queenscliff, however, I am among the backmarkers these days. Many anglers do better.

Gawaine Blake with an 8kg kingfish caught on a live yakka.

Gawaine Blake with an 8kg kingfish caught on a live yakka.

EXPERIENCE

Successful anglers employ different methods. About three years ago I fished with Western Port anglers Brendan Wing and Gawaine Blake in Brendan’s 6.2m Bar Crusher. Brendan and Gawaine were alternating their grounds, working breaking reefs and headlands off Pyramid Rock and Seal Rocks on Phillip Island or fishing west along the coast from West Head to Cape Schanck.

If you think a lot of water is covered, then you would be right. Our day started at the Stony Pt boat ramp at 5.30 a.m. when we launched Brendan’s 6.2m Bar Crusher and headed for a nearby pier to catch yakkas.

With the live well full, Brendan pointed the boat south and motored towards West Head where we were to start the morning’s fishing. The live baits were rigged and then lowered into the water. Trolling speed was barely walking pace and the boat was manoeuvred along the edges of white water zones, caused by the two metre swell that exploded into a white froth on the reefs and exposed rocks. It was a hairy business, not something beginners should try.

Brendan said there was no single hot spot: “One day you might find kings schooling on a reef near West Head; the next time they could be a kilometre offshore or down near Pyramid Rock. We use the sounder to locate reefs and baitfish to locate the kings.”

Chris Hall caught this king along the North Shgore near Portland in southwest Victoria.

Chris Hall caught this king along the North Shgore near Portland in southwest Victoria.

We were half way between Cape Schanck and West Head, a good 40km from Stony Pt, when the first positive signs showed. The sounder blanked out with huge balls of baitfish below, and about half a kilometre offshore we could see an angler hooked into a good fish. He said later that he was trolling a Halco Crazy Deep when the king hit. Sadly, the fight didn’t last long and the king got away, as many do.

One of our live baits bait was knocked but the there was no hook up. Then another king inhaled Gawaine’s yakka, his rod doubled over and line poured off the spool. Brendan gunned the boat to set the hook and move us away from the reef. A few minutes of hard pumping and it was all sweat and cheers as Gawaine’s 8kg king was netted. It was a beginning. Two more kings were landed and several others missed that day.

A yakka rigged for trolling for kingfish.

A yakka rigged for trolling for kingfish.

METHODS

If you intend going after kingfish, you will need a 15kg outfit. My advice is to use a quality threadline outfit suited to jigging and game fishing. This style of outfit will allow you to cast poppers and soft plastic lures, troll and bait fish. The only qualification other than strength is a smooth reel drag and a well-oiled bail arm roller.

Kingfish are caught on lures, live baits and squid strips. The choice of live bait is wide but yakka, slimy mackerel, garfish and squid do well. Soft plastic lures, poppers, deep diving minnows and knife jigs also produce results.

To avoid using a downrigger, due to the sharp undulating nature of the seabed, Brendan and Gawaine use the NSW alternative which is a running paternoster rig. A heavy sinker on a light leader, tied to an easy rig that runs along the main line, holds the baitfish deep. A sinker stops the Ezi-rig and 37kg breaking strain monofilament leader, about 2-3m long with an 8/0 hook attached, is tied to the swivel. Sinkers are cheaper than downrigger bombs and the system works well. The live baits we trolled were bridle rigged, although some anglers prefer a simpler method of hooking their baitfish through the nose.

Steve Cooper

About Steve Cooper

Cooper is now a freelance travel and fishing writer with no fixed abode - his home being his cleverly appointed Jayco caravan which is packed to the pop-top with fishing gear. He has has towed the rig the length and breadth of Australia behind his diesel-powered Toyota Landcruiser which of course is topped with a small, flexible fishing boat.

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