Sydney Harbour Summer Kings

If you are were planning on hitting Sydney Harbour over the next few weeks you would have timed your outing perfectly for some of those famous Sydney Harbour Kingfish. Recent flooding rains have given the harbor a welcome flush and huge numbers of Kingfish as well as other pelagic fish have turned on a great show this week. This feeding frenzy is likely to last for weeks to come.

Kingfish have a reputation for dirty fighting, this flyline shows the battle scars of a harbour kingfish encounter

Kingfish have a reputation for dirty fighting, this flyline shows the battle scars of a harbour kingfish encounter

The recent rains have seen a huge migration of baby anchovies and freshly hatched prawns. Both the anchovies and prawns are very small, almost translucent, and swarm in schools of tens of thousand’s. This makes for tough fishing at times. Kingfish have amazing eyesight and when gorging on this smaller bait they will often refuse anything that is not a perfect imitation. The problem is that it is impossible to imitate such tiny creatures on a fly hook that’s big enough to withstand a kingfish. The first tip is to tie translucent flies. Gummy minnows and small, clear candies. Try strong #6 #8 and #10 hooks. Placing your cast directly on top of the feeding fish and keeping your line taught on the delivery will often get a bite, the kings will make a mistake in that split second. You only need strip a few times and then re-present the fly into the feeding zone again. It is unlikely the kings will chase your fly down over a longer distance, it won’t look enough like the prey. Just fish for an open mouth in the heart of the feeding frenzy and you’ll eventually get a king to make a mistake and eat the fly.

Another great way of undoing these fussy kingfish is to use larger flies with excessive movement. I love the Enrico Puglisi Flex calamari or really large baitfish flies. Try a really rapid strip with these big flies and you may just break the fish out of their fussy zone. Surface flies thrown early morning are another great kingfish taker and the old “splash for cash” technique will easily trick these critters, that is, until the sun becomes brighter. It’s also worth hitting some of the many harbour channel markers at first light with a large, blooping popper, crease fly or gurgler. This is a place for 10kg tippets, big fly rods and strong angling skills. Some of these channel marker fish are very large and will shred a fly line around a marker pole in short time.

Where to Look

double trouble, one kingfish on a big fly, another on a small surf candy

double trouble, one kingfish on a big fly, another on a small surf candy

The key to locating these schools of kingfish currently is to drive around looking for the flocks of gulls dancing on the water. These gulls are usually a dead giveaway to a school of slurping kingfish. Don’t drive through the school, position yourself upwind or up current and kill your motor. Drifting near the school won’t spook them and will allow the fish to come to you. Places like Watsons Bay, Rose Bay, Double Bay and Rushcutters Bay are all holding fish at the moment on the east side. Taylors Bay and Clifton Gardens are definitely worth a look on the North West side of the main Harbour.


I am fond of using an 8wt fly rod for my surface school fishing in the harbour as most encounters are rat kings, Australian salmon and fish like bonito and frigate mackerel. I load this with an intermediate line. I prefer intermediate lines because you can work surface flies with them using a fast retrieve plus, you can fish deep using a heavy line. A good compromise line is an intermediate sink tip like the Rio tropical Saltwater F/I that is a floating line with an intermediate sink tip. This floating main line really helps with quick re-presentations when the fish are moving about. Reels with strong drags are a must and I fish anything from 5-10kg tippets. If the fish are super fussy I’ll go for lighter tippets as kingfish have remarkable eyesight.

a boiling mass of Sydney Harbour Kingfish

a boiling mass of Sydney Harbour Kingfish

Don’t compromise on your fly hooks as kingfish will destroy weak hooks, buy the best you can get.

As a final pointer I would point out that these fish can be very, very tough to hook at times. Don’t be too quick to change flies if you get refusals with surface schooling kings. First change your retrieve and try many casts. It’s amazing how a fly that was ignored for 20 casts gets smashed on the next attempt.

When fishing to structure I would offer the opposite advice. If you get a refusal on a channel marker or wreck then I would change fly almost immediately, nothing will shut down the kingfish faster than seeing the same fly over and over again. If they wanted it they would have smashed it the very first time I can assure you.

casting at the swirls is critical for getting the most bites

casting at the swirls is critical for getting the most bites

Best of luck in your kingfish on fly quest, I hope to see you on the worlds greatest Harbour very soon.

Justin Duggan

About Justin Duggan

Justin is one of Australia’s leading Saltwater Flyfishing guides and Fly-casting instructors. Justin is the operator of Sydney Fly fishing Tours and has spent many years guiding anglers in a variety of other localities, including regular stints in Weipa where he works for Fish’s Fly and Sportfishing.

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