Winter River Kingfish Tactics

Catching kingfish along our rivers during winter can be a hard task but with patience, using the right bait and adapting your techniques you can catch some very decent fish. Peter Le Blang takes us through some great tips to catching these beasts.

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There are many rivers and harbours along our part of the coast that will hold kingfish during winter but because everyone has been told over many years that they go offshore not a lot of people target them. This of course this means that there is rarely a report of people catching kingfish in winter time along our rivers or on our harbours but the tips below may help to hook up to a hoodlum.

The kingfish that we are normally left with along Pittwater in winter time are those fish that are either too old or have not recognised the breeding time has arrived opting to stay along the river instead of heading offshore. These fish are normally larger kingfish around 1 m long and can be very hard to tempt. I suppose they didn’t get big by eating everything that swam past them or did they?

To target these larger fish it is important once again just like in summer to make sure that you have the freshest live bait possible. The difference being, kingfish love eating squid in the summer time but winter seems to be different.

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This lack of activity is often blamed on the cold water but in reality, offshore where all their mates are breeding it is cold down around 100m where they are often encountered. So I think it is more a matter of timing and spending time on the water to increase your chances at tangling with one of these monsters. In previous years we have caught kingfish over a metre along Pittwater and each year we see these monsters on the sounder.

The tactics that I use that are different to summer fishing are the bait used and time spent in the areas when fish are located. The better baits to use seem to be cuttlefish which can be caught along the rocky shoreline of Pittwater. These crunchy little ink machines don’t last too long when decent kingfish are found.

The other difference that I use during winter is to have a longer distance between the downrigger bomb and the bait. In summer I will quite often have a live squid swimming only 2 to 4 m away from the downrigger weight but in winter I will put the live cuttlefish or squid 4 to 8 m away from the weight. By putting the bait further away from the weight it allows greater movement from the live bait which helps trigger a bite.

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I also fish the baits deep as the bigger kings seem to hang out near the bottom rather than cruise around in the upper part of the water column.

I will also use on the second downrigger a paddle tail soft plastic or yellowtail just to cover the bases. On the second downrigger I will also attach a scent bottle that is connected to the loop on the downrigger weight. The sponge inside this scent bottle is filled with tuna oil but can be filled with other scents. By using this bottle when downrigging deep it can liven up fish that are otherwise lying dormant. I use the paddle tail sometimes, when yellowtail are impossible to catch and its vibrating tail sends vibrations through the water that will be picked up by the kingfishes lateral line. It works sometimes as a great lure but other times it works as a great teaser.

Teasers are also a thing that I like to use during winter. The teaser that I use is a home-made one consisting of squid skirts, about 4 inches long, in a variety of colours, tied in line so it looks like a group of squid are cruising along. This teaser is used on the surface and ideally you are trying to get the predators to look at the surface activity and hope that they realise there are some tasty treats close by for them to munch on.

It is really important before you start to down rig to find an area that has baitfish near structure or baitfish that are balled up and appear on your sounder like a soccer ball. The school of baitfish should preferably be mid water but if they aren’t a downrigger gives you the chance to drop your baits right amongst the melee. If you do find baitfish that are spread out on your sounder it’s quite often better to move on and find somewhere else that has more activity.

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Once all of the planets have aligned and you have caught cuttlefish or yellowtail and have found a school of balled up baitfish the above tactics are a great start to put you in with a real chance at catching one of those yellowtailed hoodlums.

Remember that if you are fishing structure it is important to cover the structure along all sides. This is especially true when fishing structure such as sunken vessels. Quite often in winter these larger kingfish will gravitate to structure such as sunken boats and they will lay in tight against the structure.

With the colder water of winter, kingfish can go into a slumber mode. In the colder water they can be less active and therefore use less energy giving us a shorter window to target them in than we normally would have in summer. This basically equates to spending more time on the water to get your chance at one of these fish.

Tides are something to consider no matter what river system you choose to fish. This can be especially so if the water along the coast is warmer than what is it along the river.

Quite often in winter we have schools of tailor and salmon that will make a cameo appearance first thing in the morning. This surface activity quite often will attract other fish below the surface feeding schools and you guessed it one of these fish to take advantage of all this activity are kingfish. Sometimes they’ll be happy eating the smaller offerings that are tailor and salmon are chewing on but sometimes they are after a big mouthful and you will see a bigger splash on the surface which is a kingfish eating a hapless salmon or tailor.

When fishing around surface activity it is a lot of fun to catch those fish that you can see on the surface but if you fish below them there are lots of other species to be caught. Quite often I will have customers casting lures at the surface activity on one side of the vessel and on the other side the vessel we will have baits on Paternoster rigs as well as using micro jigs or soft plastics down deep.

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Using Paternoster rigs or simple running sinker rigs and suspending them mid water can work well if downrigging an area is not working out well. If you know there are big fish in the area there are no greener pastures so stay in that area and concentrate on fishing depths that the larger fish are being found on the sounder.

There is another trick that I use when using yellowtail in winter. The first part of the trick is to give your yellowtail a splash of a product called glow bait. This product makes the yellowtail a fluorescent green which makes it stick out amongst the school of balled up baitfish. This of course then makes your yellowtail a target instead of just another fish in the school. The last part of the trick is to carefully trim the bottom half of the tail fin on the yellowtail. Do not cut off too much is the fish still has to be able to swim but what you are doing is making it harder for your yellowtail to swim up and away from those targeted hungry predators.

Well I hope this article helps you in your quest for catching a big hoodlum along our harbour and rivers during winter.

Harbour & Estuary Fishing Charters
0410 633 351

Peter LeBlang

About Peter LeBlang

I have had a passion for fishing since the tender age of 3 when I caught my first mackerel with my father and grandfather. I never liked to eat fish back then and still don’t now! Since then I have been lucky enough to catch massive dogtooth tuna in Vanuatu, big Gt’s at Fiji, Barra, Mackerel, Jacks and Queenies at the top end of Australia just to mention a few. Now days I love to target and show people how to catch big kingfish, jewfish, snapper and flathead with a variety of techniques. My favourite fish to catch are kingfish using live bait on downriggers. I am lucky enough to be based on Pittwater in Sydney. I own and operate Harbour & Estuary Fishing Charters and this has led me into article writing and reporting for wonderful outlets such as Kaydo Fishing World. I also do fishing reports on radio for ABC Big Fish programme, 2CCC (Central Coast) on Saturday mornings. My biggest love in life are my kids, wife and family. Remember that fishing is only fishing when alone but when you can share it with someone, then it becomes an adventure. Peter.


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