kingieFor many species there are a number of ways that you can target fish with artificial lures, but one species I find particularly challenging is yellowtail kingfish.

While their inquisitive nature is one aspect of their behaviour that makes them the perfect candidate for an artificial offering, their somewhat moody and unpredictable behaviour often leaves you scratching your head.

This behaviour has led me down a path of making sure that I’m am prepared for a variety of situations when I head out to captilise on the chance at getting a bite when it presents itself.

The kingfish fishery in Victoria is nothing short of excellent and it has taken many years for anglers to see it for what it actually is. While there are plenty of locations to target rat kings in the 2-6kg range there are in fact plenty of fish available in the 10-20kg range if you put in the time and these fish provide first class fishing opportunities.

Before you can cast anything at kingfish you have to find them first and it won’t matter what is tied on the end of your line if you aren’t fishing where the fish are. In Victoria we often encounter kingfish in the inshore waters during the warmer months from October to April in a variety of different habitats.

On a single day you can be fishing in close to shore on the surface in 2 metres of water or offshore in 50 metres of water jigging on the reefs which means you need to have a range of techniques covered to capitalise on the fish when you find them.

I spend alot of time driving around in the boat in known locations looking for them on the surface on bright sunny days and keeping my eyes fixed to the sounder and it’s this active style of fishing that has brought me the best results and enabled me to learn more about their behaviour and habits. This means that I’m often prepared to cast a poppers or stickbait or drop jigs on the fish depending on the situation. Blind trolling while searching for fish can also help you find the fish and I usually just troll my casting stickbaits or poppers around while looking for some surface fish to cast at.

I always like to be in motion when I’m lure fishing for kingfish and that way I can systematically work drop offs and reefs and cover the water. Kingfish are a schooling fish which means there is often alot of fish in a small area, but then alot of water with nothing so it’s important to find that school of fish. Being mobile also enables you to drive off quickly if you hook a big fish.

There are a few different types of lures that are attractive to kingfish and these include poppers, stickbaits and jigs and with one of each of these rigged on a rod you will have most situations covered and you will have something ready to go when the opportunity presents itself and if one lure or technique doesn’t work you can quickly switch to another one by picking up another rod.

Popper fishing is an exciting method of targeting kings and at times they can really get the fish going! There are plenty of poppers on the market which will do the job, but I found the 4-6” models work the best and are easy to cast off light threadline tackle, so you can cast them all day without too much effort. Most poppers have a concave cup shaped head which pushes water and makes plenty of noise and this really sets the fish off.

You can fish the poppers a few different ways. I prefer to fish them slowly initially by creating alot of commotion as soon as they hit the water then letting them sit before beginning the retrieve with a ‘bloop then pause’ retrieve while keeping the rod tip low.

For the smaller skitter type poppers they are best fished reasonably quickly and skimmed across the surface. They don’t make as much noise as the larger more cup faced models, but they make up it with plenty of skipping and splashing.

While the stickbait (bibbless) style of lure doesn’t create the commotion of a popper they are very effective. Fish your stickbait by keeping the rod tip low and sweeping the rod and this will create a side to side darting action when you retrieve. Alternatively when you lift the rod tip and speed up the retrieve you can create a more erratic action and skip the lure along the surface. Stickbaits come in a range of both floating and sinking models although the subtle ‘pop’ of a floating stickbait is hard to beat when the fish are up on the surface.

Larger unweighted soft plastics in the 9”-12” size are deadly on kingfish and when skipped across the surface create a great disturbance which the fish find hard to resist, particularly in calm conditions. These do an excellent job of imitating a fleeing baitfish.

These plastics are usually fished with single worm style hook which works well, however sometimes kings will grab it and stretch the plastic bending it on the hook and wrecking the action which usually results in the fish losing interest. Sometimes you spend alot of time just trying to get a strike so it may pay to switch to a rig with a large standard single hook in the head of the plastic. You then also have the option of adding an assist hook looped onto the shank of the first hook and threaded through the middle of the body of the plastic.

When fishing surface lures try keeping your lure in the strike zone as long as you can. If you can see the fish in the water wait until they come to the lure before really getting it going to create some competition amongst the fish. There really is no need to cast and retrieve you lure at a great rate of knots. People think that kings are just violent predators, the faster you retrieve the more likely they are to eat it – this is not true, in fact alot of fish in this situation will chase the lure right to the boat, but then shy away before they get a chance to eat it if you retrieve too quickly. Try varying your retrieve more than speeding it up.

If I see the fish under the boat on the sounder I’m quick to drop a jig. You can comfortably jig for kingfish in anything from 5-50 metres depth. Due to the relatively shallow nature of the water along the southwest coast and the lack or tide or current most jigs between 50-150g are usually more than enough to get down into the strike zone. I usually fish the heavier knife style jigs on a standard 24kg jigging outfit. Smaller leaf shaped ‘slow fall’ jigs fished on microjigging tackle are also very effective and make the most of the smaller rat sized kingfish.

Jigs are also a great option if fish on the surface and chase your surface lures to the boat and go deep. If you have rod rigged with a jig ready then often you get a second chance at the fish with a jig. Usually if you find kings down deep on jigs they aren’t shy and are pretty aggressive. This reinforces the need to use learn how to use your sounder so that you know what to look for when you find the fish. When the fish aren’t on the top finding them down deep with the sounder can really turn your day around!

Fighting the fish
Loosing big kings is a fact of life, but I’ve found over the years that a more gentle approach to fishing for kings is required in reefy terrain and I have to say that I’d rarely lose more than 10% of the bigger fish by simply being patient and running only 3-5kg of drag and as a result I almost exclusively fish with medium threadline spin outfits. Of course there is always a ‘lock up’ and ‘hold on’ clause somewhere in the rules which is sometimes warranted, but I often avoid these situations where possible. Heavier tackle may be required in difficult situations where large fish are holding over heavy reef.

When running a modist drag the fish tend to stay out of the bottom more than if you just lock up and go for broke and will help you impart control over the fish without upsetting it and will just about always land you the fish, however it will add time the length of the fight. I always use my boat my advantage and drive off after the fish to prevent too much line going out and help to get control of the fish. Once it settles down you can usually lead it around behind the boat that ensure its following and hasn’t got its head buried in the bottom. This enables you to lead the fish away from structure.

I prefer a 4000-6000 sized threadline reel spooled with 15kg-24kg braid as these give you versatility of being able cast at fish as well as troll or jig. I don’t use overhead reels much, unless I’m jigging.

The relatively fine diameter of braid allows you to make a very long cast with your lures. With the wind behind you it’s possible to put a lure weighing less than a couple of ounces at least 60 metres ahead of the boat which is ideal on days when the fish are finicky and boat shy.

Longer casting rods of 7 foot or more are ideal for getting distance when casting stickbaits and poppers and shorter 5-6 foot models are better suited for jigging.

Rigging up
Keep your rig simple. I use a minimum 60-80 pound monofilament for casting surface lures and heavier 80-100 pound monofilament when jigging simply because you just have to have the security deep down in the reefy terrain. Fluorocarbon can be a good choice, but it is stiffer, usually has a thicker diameter for breaking strain than monofilament and it is more expensive, it does however offer more abrasion resistance.

I connect my leader (usually around 2m length) to the braid with a FG knot so that it runs through the guides smoothly. To connect the lure to the leader with a simple loop knot, but if it’s likely I will need to change my lure regularly I will use a heavy crane swivel to split ring connection so that I can easily change the lure if required. I only have one rule “never tie you lure directly onto a split ring!”

When you connect your lure check to ensure that the terminals are up to scratch for the fish you are intending on targeting. I usually upgrade the hooks and rings on my stickbaits unless they come pre-rigged for the occasion. Single assist hooks are also effective and are a great option if you intend to release your fish.

Fishing for kingfish is never an exact science, in fact its often more a game of chance and probability. Give yourself the best possible chance of finding the fish and making most of your opportunities and I reckon that you’ll get hooked on lure fishing for kingfish in no time!