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Yellowtail Kingfish - Seriola lalandi - by Allan Burgess

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Canterbury Yellowtail Kingfish
Small yellowtail kingfish, often referred to by anglers as a rat kingi, weighing about 6kg caught off Banks Peninsula.  Illustration.
Small kingfish, often referred to by anglers as a rat kingi, weighing about 6kg caught off Banks Peninsula.

Kingfish can be encountered close to shore in Canterbury between Kaikoura Peninsula and as far south as Banks Peninsula. Usually they are seen over the summer months when the sea is warmer.

This stretch of coastline is right at the edge of their range. There aren't many yellowtail kingfish caught in these waters but some are caught every summer. You never know your luck. Importantly you have to be ready for them as they are not generally caught on regular fishing gear!

Look for kingfish around rocky headlands, under kelp, near marker buoys, and below schools of kahawai and barracouta. They are very powerful fighters. I can best describe playing a kingfish as like having an "enormous kahawai" on the line - though kingfish don't jump. They are also regarded as dirty fighters and will look to take your lure into the rocks or kelp to break your line. Their first runs are particularly powerful. Many anglers report loosing kingfish early in the fight as their line is invariably wrapped around some underwater obstacle.

Surface Popper and Vertical Jigging rigs for yellowtail kingfish. Illustration.

They seem to travel in schools of similar sized fish. Most kingfish caught in Canterbury have been around 20 lbs but they can grow much bigger. David Tattle speared one near Picton that would have gone over 70 lbs!

You can fish for kingfish with live bait under a balloon. This method works best when fishing from rocky headlands directly into deep water. Pick a fishing spot where kingfish can reasonably be expected to by present. In Canterbury there are few places suitable for the live bait method. I've tried it at Black Rock, Taylors Mistake, with live mullet, but could only catch barracouta. The kingfish that have been caught in Canterbury waters are mostly taken jigging, with a few also caught on surface poppers. Both the jig and the popper imitate fleeing baitfish. Kingfish generally don't take cut baits. Though whole dead baits work well in deeper water; they aren't so good for shore based fishing. But are worth trying under a balloon if you have seen kingfish about and can't catch a live kahawai or mullet.

This 12kg yellowtail kingfish was caught off Banks Peninsula by Craig Henderson on 9 January 1999. January and February are the best months for them off the South Island.  Illustration.
This 12kg yellowtail kingfish was caught off Banks Peninsula by Craig Henderson on 9 January 1999. January and February are the best months for them off the South Island.

Yellowtail kingfish prefer to chase their food. They seem to go after the fittest and fastest baitfish. You need to keep this in mind when fishing your popper or jig. I've been aboard launches in the outer Marlborough Sounds targeting kingfish. Looking down into crystal clear water they shoot under the boat from all directions at incredible speed. It's just amazing how fast they can swim. I'd say 40 kph would be no problem to them. When kingfish are present wind your reel flat-out! This greatly increases your chances of a strike!

Warning! Winding a 6:1 high-speed reel flat-out will see the jig break the surface and come aboard like "sniper fire." Double your braided line and tie with a spider-hitch to give a 30cm double. The knot helps warn of the jig's "arrival" at the surface. It also pays to thread 60mm of soft rubber tube onto the line to act as shock absorber to stop the coastlock/bearing swivel damaging your rod tip.

What usually happens in Canterbury is that the angler will be bottom fishing from a boat when kingfish are suddenly spotted on the surface. This generates much excitement! This is followed by a hurried search though the tackle box for a jig. More often than not the kingis don't hang around for very long. The sooner you can cast something to them the better!

Yellowtail kingfish taken in Canterbury waters. It has been frozen!  Illustration.
Yellowtail kingfish taken in Canterbury waters. It has been frozen!

The jig can be tied directly to a loop on the end of your braided line. This works fine except for one thing: barracouta! Also known as: Cook, Strait sailfish, snakes, and other things we won't go in to! These horrible long silver things have very sharp teeth that will make a mess of your braided line. They also swim about with their mouth's open and so can damage line some distance from the jig. The best way of minimizing damage from a barracouta is to fish with a heavy monofilament leader. The length of which should be about rod tip to reel seat, a length of about 1.2 metres. Use heavy mono 200 to 400 lb. The 'coutas will mark the heavy mono with their teeth but won't be able to cut through it

When jig fishing the method most widely used is to drop the jig to the bottom and wind it rapidly back to the surface. Then repeat. The best weight for jigs is between 125 grams and 200 grams. The heavier jigs sink faster and so give you more opportunities to send it past a hungry kingi.

The 125 gram jigs can be cast on a popper rod (soft tip jig rod) and be fished somewhere between a jig and a popper! Shimano's TSM IV star drag reels are excellent for this. Keep the spool tight or you are sure to get a "bird's nest" at the worst possible moment!

A strongly built eggbeater reel is a safer option when targeting kingfish with a surface popper. There is no danger of a "bird's nest" casting into the wind. Use at least 25 lb mono on the reel as good kingfish will be extremely difficult to stop.

Kingfish are not only great fighters on rod and line; they are also excellent eating fish. This one will provide many delicious fish meals. Illustration.
Kingfish are not only great fighters on rod and line; they are also excellent eating fish. This one will provide many delicious fish meals.

When fishing a surface popper a shorter leader is required of about 500mm of 100kg mono. Anything longer is difficult to cast. Fishing 80 lb braid, with 200 kg monofilament leader, and a heavy jig adds up to pretty heavy gear! Sooner or later the hook will snag on the bottom and this heavy gear will be difficult to pull free. Carry a short length of dowel in your pocket and wrap the braid around it to pull the hook free of the rocks or kelp.

Don't use your rod or reel. They aren't designed for such treatment and can easily be broken.

If you are fishing over foul ground try creating a "weak­link" by using a single hook, lighter gauge hooks, or slightly lighter gauge split rings. Unfortunately such weakness in your gear can easily be "found-out" by a good kingfish.

This 30 lb kingfish was taken by Darryl French at D'Urville Island, outer Marlborough Sounds. Illustration.
This 30 lb kingfish was taken by Darryl French at D'Urville Island, outer Marlborough Sounds.

Some jig losses are inevitable. Like salmon angling: some days you can loose plenty of jigs, while on other days none at all. If going out on an extended trip after kingfish it would be good policy to take at least a dozen jigs per angler. Sometimes you can loose them one after the other. The rigging method shown here should at least reduce losses from barracouta.

Poppers are not likely to snag on the bottom but are still lost occasionally by hooking up in kelp, or as I have done, accidentally cast half way up a hillside and stuck in the bushes!

Above all you have to be ready to catch a kingfish. Have your rod sitting in a rocket launcher with either a jig or popper already clipped on ready to fish. Secure the hook at the reel seat: don't let it bang around and damage your rod. If one of the crew suddenly yells "kingfish" being able to get your gear in the water first can make all the difference.

Kingfish Waimakariri River Mouth
Yellowtail Kingfish caught at the mouth of Canterbury's Waimakariri River on 6 January 2012

It is likely that very few yellowtail kingfish are caught off the Canterbury coast because recreational anglers generally don't target fish for them. This yellowtail kingfish was caught at the mouth of Canterbury's Waimakariri River on 6 January 2012 by an angler spin fishing for kahawai or salmon.

You might also be interested in: More Deep Sea Groper Tackle. To read about fishing in deep water with braided super lines for kingfish and other species see: Deep Sea Super Lines. You might also be interested in some of the other Southern Game Fish species.

 

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