Land-based kingfish tips (part one)

Gamefishing off the Rocks

Last updated 11:59 25/07/2008
What it???s all about ??? a big king for the camera, accompanied by a bigger grin ??? and then back in the water to fight again.
Fish on! Mark stands by patiently as his client struggles with a reasonable king during that magical time: nearing low tide and in the ???guts??? of a balmy, late-summer day.
It???s hardly a monster, but this kingfish shows the kind of terrain kingfish ??? of all sizes - like to inhabit.
Although some times of year tend to see more rat kings encountered from the rocks, this presents a great opportunity for salt-fly enthusiasts ??? especially when the tide is low.

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A couple of issues back, this magazine ran a damn good article about land-based kingfish.

The article was based around a set of questions posed to a group of anglers who regularly participate in a forum on the Fishing.net website. Everything discussed was very pertinent to hooking and landing more kingfish. I would like to enlarge on what was discussed in that article.

The writings of Gary Kemsley and the late Steve Sneddon in the mid-eighties got me excited about chasing kingfish off the rocks. I got hold of some passable gear and, over time, managed to catch a few. My first was a fish of around 10kg on a small livebait. That was a fishing milestone for me and served to hook me on the sport.

I slowly turned a love into a job and I’ve been guiding anglers since the early nineties around the East Cape area. However, due to other commitments, I haven’t done as much for the last few years. Most of my clientele came from Australia, Japan, the States and Europe. I have done a handful of trips to Northland and Coromandel, but by far the most of what I have seen and done has been around the East Cape area. Nevertheless, most of what I’ve noted applies nearly everywhere.

While guiding, I occasionally did in excess of sixty days a season standing on the rocks, waiting for the big one to come along. Through this time I have had the opportunity to fine-tune my techniques and have learnt an awful lot about hooking these great fish.

Kingfish are where you find them. There are certainly some wonderful points and ledges around the upper North Island, where kingfish turn up on a daily basis. The Fishing News Map Guide shows many of them. However, I have spent many days fishing in a wide variety of locations, where kingfish turning up throughout the day is not uncommon. Knowing how to hook and then deal with them afterwards can turn a mediocre day into a damn good one. The key to consistently doing this is simply being prepared for whatever comes along and then knowing how to deal with the various situations.

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The kingfish calendar
August to October: Water temperatures are at their lowest for the year and kingfish react correspondingly. Lower water temperature means reduced activity, so digestion rates slow down and there is less need to eat as much or as often. The kingfish you may see often act sluggishly and may need some coaxing to eat a bait.

Kingfish go much deeper through this period and are definitely not as common around the rocks. I know they can turn up quite regularly in 100 metres or more through the winter. You will meet the odd one while snapper fishing, but it’s not a good time of year to head off to the furthest ledge with all your LBG gear. Occasional years will see water temperatures stay a little higher than normal; through such periods you may experience a little more activity than would be expected.

November to January: Through this period kingfish will spawn. They require water temperatures around 18 degrees Celsius to be successful, much like snapper. Most years we will not see these temperatures inshore until December. Somewhere in November, water temps will climb to around 16 to 17 degrees. At this point the kingfish will become more active and common around the rocks. These fish will be heavy with roe and fat. In my experience many of the really large kingfish I have seen landed are caught around this time.

Come December most kingfish will be starting to spawn. This is an unusual time as the fishing can be all on or all off. Most of the fish you meet will be adults, generally in excess of 15kg, and some much bigger. There must be some spawning in November, as in December I have seen some pretty skinny kingfish. When these fish are on the go, they can be ravenous and respond really well to livebaits, lures etc.

January is a tough month for catching kingfish, particularly larger ones. There will nearly always be fewer of them around through January than in the preceding two months. Smaller kingfish will start to make an appearance though, as the water temperature starts to climb.

February to July: This is prime time for the rock fisho, and everything starts to crank up. February is the start, and normally there are good numbers of rat kings around, with the odd better one starting to show after spawning. These larger fish tend to be in poor condition, having lost a lot of weight (sometimes 20%) through the spawning period. March sees a mix of large and small kingfish, but come April and May, smaller rat kings begin to thin out in numbers (I have no idea where they go) and larger adult fish begin to predominate.

June and July are often overlooked by anglers. No, they are not the best two months, but they can be surprisingly productive at times. I have seen some great days through this period – and when mixed with prime-time snapper fishing, they can be truly memorable.
The weather, however, will be the greatest determining factor. Highs and lows seem to come screaming across the Tasman Sea at this time of year so the weather can be very changeable. Don’t try and plan trips too far in advance; instead, be prepared to fly when things look good. And always remember to take sea temperatures into account, as some years when the sea cools very quickly after autumn, so too does the fishing.

Do time, tide and moon have an affect?
These three influences can greatly affect your success. I have never done a diary study (I don’t keep one), but have made observations over a period of many years and come to some reasonably sound conclusions. However, we all know that rules should never be set in concrete, because there are times when you will be proven completely wrong. For instance, never tell another angler that the lure they plan to use will not work; you will have brought on the wrath of the fishing gods, and can just about guarantee that it will.

Moon: The moon and its gravitational pull greatly affect water movement and, many believe, the weather as well. I’m not sure that there is a best moon to be fishing on, but I do know there is a worst moon. The three days after full moon can tend to be the most difficult. I would not plan a trip around this period, even though you can still catch fish; the going will be slow. Don’t go out expecting red-hot days and you may still be satisfied.

And the last few days leading up to full moon can be good for seeing lots of kingfish, but these tend to be difficult to hook. So while this can make for an exciting day visually, there will be few hook-ups. (Even so, you will get a few.) However, the day of full moon can sometimes be an exceptional one; I once saw an angler land thirteen kingfish for the day during this phase.

Tide: Kingfish will turn up when it suits them. However, one very definite pattern I have seen is that the prime time to be on site is around low tide. I’d guess around 70% of kingfish we see and hook are present during this period.

There are, as always, exceptions to this rule. As an example, most kingfish caught in harbours will be over the high tide, and there is one area I have regularly fished where tide does not have as much affect as other areas.

Anyone who follows solunar tables will know that feeding periods are based on moon position. The minor feeding periods tend to occur when the moon is on either horizon, while major feeding periods take place when the moon is either directly overhead or underfoot. Around the East Cape area, major feeding peaks occur about 1-1.5 hours before a low tide. Around Auckland’s east coast it’s about two hours before low tide.

There will also be times when kingfish come on the bite as the tide starts to come in, but only for a couple of hours. Some of the better fishing occurs around periods of neap tides.
Time of day: I always try to get away early. I don’t mean trying to get on location around daylight, but I do believe in giving my paying clients as much fishing time as I would want myself, having paid handsomely for it. I have never been an ‘eight to five’ guide.

Although early morning is a good time to catch a healthy stash of kahawai live baits, it is rare to get a good kingfish bite then. They must get paid a really good hourly rate. They are not normally around in numbers early on or late in the day. The best fishing time is through the guts of the day, when the sun is well up. Combining a midday low tide, away from a full moon, is a recipe for success.


The bottom line
The bottom line to consistently catching kingfish is time on the water. If the tide and the moon are not the best, but you have a free weekend and weather conditions look great, go fishing. You will catch a lot more fish by fishing through supposedly slow periods than by staying at home. 

Next month: we look at some simple tackle requirements and some interesting ideas on catching kingfish on live and dead baits.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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