Kingfish off the rocks (Part II)

Land-Based Gamefishing

Last updated 11:43 08/09/2008
A successful conclusion. A happy angler and a relieved guide.
This fish took a small live bait rigged on a ???J??? hook. It was hooked deep, put up little fight and died quickly of blood loss.
Rubber band or heavy dacron passed through nose just in front of the eyes with bait needle and looped or tied on re-curve hook.
Livebaited piper on a float rig.
Hooking dead pilchards for kingfish

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Last month we looked into timing for LBG kingfish, including factors such as the time of year, tides, the moon and so on.

This month I would like to discuss tackle requirements and fishing with both dead and live baits.

The tackle

Keep in mind that many of those in the game of advising on tackle requirements are also in the game of selling it. Many years ago, when a couple of mates and I started chasing kingfish, we had two rods each: one of around 10kg for catching baits, snapper and rat kings, plus throwing poppers, and an LBG rod for live-baiting. We did very well with such simple equipment, and it still works well today.

Rods: I have two Composite Sports 24-37kg LBG rods. They are very powerful, and if you really want to put the weight into them it is quite easy to break 15kg mono. They are both around 2.5 metres long. I like the extra length, though many people use standard game rods off the rocks for kingfish.

I fish 37kg mono on both rods. One rod is for live-baiting and the other is used for throwing dead baits – but more on this later. Admittedly they are somewhat overkill on mid-range fish, but there are two situations where you become very happy to have equipment like this in your hands.

Firstly, it’s not uncommon to have even reasonably small kingfish tie you up on the bottom. Most times, with 15kg gear, that’s the end of the opportunity. However, heavier line has much more abrasion resistance, so you can often extract these fish; we’ve had 10-15 metres of absolutely ruined line that’s destined for the bin, but this is a small price to pay for landing a hard-earned fish.

Also, the rod has the pulling power to drag something large over or around an obstruction. And every once in a while you may hook a fish that will thoroughly justify fishing such heavy tackle. Over the years we have landed quite a number of fish of around 40kg, and I doubt we would have landed a quarter of them on anything lighter. As you may have guessed, I am not a fan of light tackle.

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Reels: There is no requirement for a reel as large as a 50-wide for kingfish off the rocks. I have and do sometimes use one, but these days tend to use two Penn Senators. They are much lighter to carry than a 50-wide, hold ample line and do the job just fine.

The one I use for live-baiting is a 6/0 model, while a smaller 4/0 is great for casting dead baits. Both are full of 37kg mono, can be cast and used for live-baiting. They’re versatile and not very expensive.

The one drawback with these reels, as opposed to a lever-drag, is that you cannot tighten the free-spool tensioner enough against strong swimming bait like a large kahawai. There are two ways to get around this, though. The first involves taking the line around a harness lug to add more tension; I always put the line around the lug opposite the gear-engage lever.

The other method is to pre-set your drag. Once a live-bait is out, back the drag off using a measured number of star movements until it’s running at about 1kg of drag. When your bait is taken, or you think it will be, simply turn the star-drag the required number of movements until you are back at your pre-set level. On my reels this is about five rotations. Don’t try to set your reel drags too heavy. I crank mine up to around 7-8kg. Much more than this and the rods are nearly unmanageable. If you momentarily need to increase the drag, either push your lever/star drag up some more or put your thumbs on the spool. Be careful though – I once witnessed an angler’s thumb get pulled in under the cross bar on top of the reel, thanks to a fast-running kingfish. He had line burn to be proud of afterwards!

Live and dead baits

Live baits: Most anglers targeting kingfish off the rocks prefer to use live kahawai. There are numerous ways of hooking up a live bait and plenty of information. My preferred way is to bridle-rig them, as they tend to last longer this way and allow circle hooks to be used (normally Owner Mutus when I can find them). The latter reason is important to me, as we tend to keep very few large kingfish, and with circle hooks most of these are hooked in the corner of the mouth. This makes letting them go easier, and if they get away, they’re less likely to die afterwards than if other styles are used.

However, if you plan to keep any kingfish caught live-baiting, off-set ‘J hooks’ work very well – but be aware they usually result in a throat hook-up.

Kingfish are quite capable of eating a bait around 10% of their own body weight, and sometimes even more. So if fishing where large kingfish are known to hang out and the only bait you have is a 3kg kahawai, use it. You may be surprised.

There will be numerous occasions when the large baits used attract kings that are too small to devour them, but these can be targeted with more appropriately sized dead baits if you have a second outfit.

For live-baiting, I use a leader about 2.5 metres in length, joined to the main line with a simple and cheap ball bearing swivel. On the top ring of the swivel I tie two 30cm lengths of dental floss to a balloon. One length of dental floss is fine for smaller baits.

Balloons have a lot of wind resistance and can wear out live baits quickly in onshore winds. Try one of the sausage-shaped balloons; they have plenty of air capacity to stay floating, but not the diameter, so have very little wind resistance.

Don’t tie on a balloon until you have caught a live bait. Wind can wrap, twist and tangle the balloon around a rod and line like you would not believe. It’s quicker to tie on a balloon than to untangle one.
I generally set live kahawai within five metres of the rocks. More kingfish tend to patrol this area than the surface waters 30 to 50 metres offshore. If fishing with two live baits, one will need to be set further out to avoid tangles.

If you can’t catch a kahawai, species such as trevally, small (but legal) snapper and even blue cod (again, of legal size) can make reasonable baits. Most of the reef species, such as wrasse, are bloody useless. I have tried them, and they either die very quickly or try to get into weeds.

Apart from kahawai, most baits are not strong swimmers, so work better when the wind is behind them to hold them out. Two balloons can help sometimes. Species such as mackerel and piper are deadly live baits, but need a lighter hook and an offshore wind. Both are best fished under a float, such as a bobby cork, rather than a balloon.

Piper work best if hooked underneath the body just behind the anus. Maomao can be okay, but spend all day trying to get back into the weeds, which can be very trying on your patience levels. Again, they need an offshore wind. Otherwise, try casting them in front of any kingfish that arrive; I find this to be the most effective way to use live maomao.

Dead baits: In the mid eighties, when my friends and I chased kingies off the rocks, there was little we could buy in the way of dead bait. Berley was made from skipjack tuna, and our arsenal consisted of live baits and homemade poppers. As pilchards became available, we used them and were quick to realise how readily rat and mid-sized kingfish would accept them.

What we were slow to learn though, is that all kingfish like pilchards, even the big ones. So we tended to use them on smaller models and continued relying on live baits for the larger fish. Over time I came to realise how effective dead baits can be. Big kingfish just love them. Large pilchards, saurey/sanma, piper, flying fish and clean, fresh squid all work well.

Let me give you an example. In March 2007 I had two Aussie anglers with me. We had landed a couple of large rat kings before low tide, but after that the fishing went quiet. Then, shortly into the incoming tide, a good fish turned up on a live bait. He followed it for a while, but we could tell he was not that interested. So, using our bait rod, we cast and presented a dead flying fish. Well, what a change in attitude! We had an instantaneous hook-up, and within a few minutes a fish of around 25kg joined us on the rocks.

But that was not the end, as two real horses turned up a little later. Again, neither was interested in the live bait, but they began eating the large pilchards I was feeding into the water, allowing us to quickly hook one of them on a bait. This encouraged us to wind in the live bait and replace it with a pilchard – which was also was quickly eaten.

One of these fish eventually broke us off, but the other we landed. It was a very impressive fish approaching 40kg.

Then, ten minutes later, a group of large kingfish turned up. After feeding them a few pilchards, I got both the guys to cast out. Again, we had instant hook-ups, and another couple of fish in the mid 20kg range were landed. Back-slapping all round – and then back to the fishing.

Like a copy of the previous action, another bunch of large fish arrived. Again, a few pilchards into the water and, once they were eaten, the boys cast out their hook-loaded baits, resulting in two more kingfish around 20kg.

Finally, to top it off, 15 minutes later we landed yet another fish, one of a pair, of around 10kg on a bait.
What an amazing hour! Seven hook-ups for six fish landed, with five of them weighing from 20 to nearly 40kg. And not one on a live bait! I have seen a lot of similar fishing in the past, though rarely have we dealt with so many large fish so quickly.

Another time we had a good fish of around 20kg turn up in the berley. We had a live bait out at the time, a real beauty of less than 1kg, which is a kingfish ‘lolly’ at this size. However, it was the only live bait we had, as they were very difficult to catch at the time.

So I quickly flicked in a couple of pilchards, which the kingfish was quick to eat. We then moved the live bait away from the centre of the action and proceeded to toss in a few more pillies. Once these were eaten, it was simply a matter of tossing in a hook-loaded bait to hook the kingie.

We landed this fish, but the real bonus was that we still had our live bait – although I must admit, it never did get eaten in the end!

These days we catch far more kingfish, both large and small, on dead baits than live baits. The trick is to be prepared. Next to my berley bucket I always keep half-a-dozen to a dozen dead baits, a bait-throwing rod and a popper rod (more on that later, too).

As mentioned earlier, the bait-throwing rod is full of 37kg mono. Rig this rod as soon as you arrive on location because, often, kingies will turn up straight away. There is no need for a leader. Tie the 37kg mono directly to the hook. I like small Owner Mutus, but any small, strong circle hook should be fine.

The baits are normally large pilchards. They must be thawed out, as frozen baits float. As soon as kingies are seen, throw a couple of pillies in the water, plus a spoonful or two of berley. You will be amazed how often these pilchards get eaten.

Next, quickly get another one or two into the water. If these get eaten too, hook one through the eyes and toss it in. You now have pre-fed kingfish at your feet and a hook-up is just about assured. Fish with the reel in gear; you will get much better hook-ups than by free-spooling to such fish.

Next month we discuss some factors that are often overlooked by anglers, but which can greatly influence the outcome of a day on the rocks. This includes ways to hook more fish, the effectiveness of poppers and berley, and how important it is to plan a day’s fishing properly.

By Mark Draper

- Fishing News

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