(Written by Blair Whiting)
This year I decided enough was enough, it was time to land my first legal sized kingfish. I’ve struggled to catch them over the past 3 years and having only a kayak to complete the goal did make the mission harder than it is for a boatie. However, I set the goal and therefore I needed a plan in order to be successful. This is my story…
Making a Plan
An important thing to consider is the location to launch from. Here in Hawkes Bay, NZ the bottom drops away very slowly, so it rules out many beaches. The beach I chose for my mission was Tongoio, which has a good drop in depth over a short distance. The area is sheltered and therefore easier to paddle to the grounds where the Kingfish are likely to hold.
Jig or Live-bait?
Choosing which technique to use was based mainly on the depth I was fishing. The area ranges from 15 – 18m, therefore jigging was going to be very short drops. The advantage live-baiting has over jigging is that the bait is very natural. Especially if you catch it right from the area the Kings are already located. The choice was pretty clear… I chose to live-bait.
The First Trip
My first trip to Tongoio began targeting gurnard. I made my way out to 17m, 2.5km from the beach which is just off ‘Flat Rock’. I anchored over sand and set up the burley as I usually do. The Kahawai in the area were in their plagues. Looking on the sounder I could see tonnes of bait which turned out to be large Jack Mackerel. They were that big, I was able to hook them on my 3/0 ledger rig. Later in the morning, I was pulling up a small kahawai – nothing out of the ordinary. As I got it to the surface a Kingfish appeared behind and attempted to inhale it. I quickly de-hooked the kahawai. Meanwhile, the kingfish waited patiently right next to the kayak. I threw it in with a hook in its back and the king ate it right away. This really opened my eyes and excited me about the area. Later, I hooked another and ended the day with my first two kingfish from the kayak, both measuring 70cm (just under the legal size of 75cm). It was a very successful day as I also caught three gurnard and a snapper.
For my next trip, I decided to exclusively target kingfish, so I got a 24kg rod and reel set together and prepared for battle…
Finding the Bait
I got off the beach just after sunrise and quickly made my way to the same area I fished in the previous trip – 17 metres over sand. I found the bait schools very quickly on the sounder and got my sabiki’s down into them. The only issue is the bait fish were too big! I straightened my whole line of hooks, so I had to size up to heavier gauge hooks. After I caught my first bait (a mackerel of 35cm) I put the anchor down and got a burley trail going.
Note: Finding the bait was made simple through the use of my sounder, by paddling around slowly until I found signals near the bottom in big clouds. I learnt later what kingfish look like on the sounder.
I chose a short and stiff jigging rod, matched to a reel which outputs 11kg of drag (more than enough when fishing from a kayak), the reason for this is when a big fish runs it will not takeline, but it will tow your kayak. I chose 24kg Black Magic Rainbow Braid Elite for my mainline. The rest of the rig is below:
With a mackerel swimming just off the bottom, I continued dropping sabiki’s to try and pick up a few more live mack’s. I noticed on the sounder that the schools were rolling through about every 10 minutes. Eventually the action I came for kicked off! I got a big hook-up, but it was on the sabiki and a rat king had decided that a tiny bait was good enough for it. While I was struggling to lift this kingfish from the bottom on the light hooks the live-bait I already had down on my 24kg set got hit HARD! Line started screaming off the reel and I knew… this was it! I had played this moment so many times in my mind that auto-pilot switched on and I knew what to do. I put the drag up and the KL circle hook went straight in and set nicely. While this big kingfish was taking screaming runs the small kingfish continued to be unhelpful, so I locked the drag and got a quick release by straightening the hooks.
At this point, I knew the fish was big. I’d lost 100m of line on it’s first run since I had been dealing to a double hook up. I quickly ditched my anchor and set to work on the fish. The sheer power of the fish was the first thing that hit me…it didn’t bother going on blistering runs, instead, the fish focused on putting pressure on through the use of the current and its bulk which made it tough to gain line. 15 minutes in I got it close and got my first good look at it. The I.D was confirmed to be a BIG kingfish. As soon as it saw the kayak it went deep and put the pressure on my arms again. At the 30 minute mark and nearly a kilometre away from the hook-up point, I got my first shot at grabbing the tail but the fish refused and had to have a final run. Eventually, I got a tight grip around it’s tail and after struggling to lift it, I got it on board!
I had succeeded and I was thrilled! The feeling of accomplishment that comes with reaching a goal you have worked towards for so long had suddenly set in and I let out a massive scream of joy. After this I got my gear sorted and the fish on ice, (it barely fit into the pod). I then found my anchor and redeployed it so I could keep fishing. I reset and continued to fish for live-baits. A short while later I go another mackerel down to the bottom on my 24kg gear. Then I continued to fish on my ledger rig on my lighter set. I ended up hooking on to another 3 rat kings on the lighter set using strip baits. Eventually I had another big hit on the live bait, but unfortunately, I dropped that one.
Finally, to top the day off I landed an 85cm King using a 4/0 Gurnard Grabber after a 15-minute fight on my lighter set (using 10kg line).
It was a day to remember. In total, I landed 6 kingfish from my kayak while fishing solo, the biggest weighing just over 15kg! In all the chaos I cut the line to my net with the braid screaming out, which later proved costly as I pulled the hook on a PB snapper when lifting it into the kayak (I would have usually used the net), but hey, that sort of thing comes with the adventure. I hope to be out on the water again soon and land a few more of these very special green and gold fish.