Livebaiting for Kingfish

By Jamie Crawford

In southern waters I doubt there’s a tougher species of fish on offer than yellowtail kingfish. If you’re after speed, stamina and sheer muscle, then kingfish tick all these boxes, and more. The fact that they grow to XOS proportions also helps to place them at the top of the hit-list for southern sportfishers.

Down here in SA we have a fantastic, albeit unusual kingfish fishery. We have some of the biggest, meanest kingfish in all of Oz, but the fishery can be a tad fickle and sometimes inaccessible. We get a run of big breeding kingfish in a handful of sheltered, shallow bay systems, which produces some crazy tight water action.

These shallow water fish are generally the big guys too, averaging 20 – 25kg with many over the magical 30kg mark. We also have some fantastic offshore kingfish action too, although these offshore reefs and islands are fairly inaccessible for the majority of the year given the weather conditions. These offshore fish are generally smaller models averaging 8 – 12kg. Most of these offshore reefs and islands lay between 30 and 50mile offshore, so it’s a lengthy run for any vessel. When the weather conditions allow though, the fishing can be first-class.

The majority of our kingfish are taken livebaiting. We get a few fish jigging deep reefs and also trolling the edge of bommies and islands, but when we’re serious about boating a big hoodlum, we always opt for a livie. The strike of a big king on a livebait is wild. They hit the bait with such force and intent that they generally set the hooks themself, and scorch away on a blistering run. They are a very cool fish.

The common live baits we use are live squid, salmon trout, slimy mackerel, gar and scad. If we’re concentrating our efforts in the shallow bay systems, then we’ll ‘match the hatch’ so to speak, and will use a livebait found in these waters such as gar, salmon trout and squid. We’ve also had success using live mullet and herring in shallow water, although the mullet aren’t as hardy, and the herring are usually on the small side, but still effective if other bait options are scarce.

If we’re fishing over a deep reef or around the drop-off of an offshore island, then we’ll use a slimy mackerel, scad or squid. Squid are undoubtedly the number one choice of live baits; they are tough, hold their position well in the water, don’t get harassed by smaller species of fish.

When rigging live baits for kings, we generally opt for a pair of heavy gauge chemsharp hooks in the 7/0 to 9/0 category, depending on the size of the live bait. For smaller baits such as gar or scad, we’ll go for the smaller 7/0’s but for the larger baits such as squid or big slimy mackerel, 9/0’s are the hook of choice. When rigging live fish with a two-hook rig, we will always point the head of the livebait down the traceline (pointing away from the rod-tip) so the top hook pins the fish in the back. That will help to maintain a tight connection. 

Similarly when rigging live squid, we’ll rig the squid so the head faces away from the trace line so it sits true and natural if there’s any tidal flow. Using a two-hook rig we’ll aim to pin the squid at the top of the tube, and again at the base of the tube, but always just-offset so you don’t pierce the feather. Hook spacing will need to be further apart to accommodate the larger bait.

There is always an exception to the rule though, and when we’re rigging live gar for use where there’s a bit of tidal flow (which is common in the shallow water fisheries), we’ll point the fish’s head up the trace (towards the rod tip), to hold the gar head-first into the tide.

I usually run with a 4ft length of 80lb mono in the shallower waters. These kings can be surprisingly fickle in shallow water, and going too heavy in the trace department will often cost you action.

Alternatively you don’t want to go too light as when a kingfish takes a run, it usually hugs the bottom so the trace line invariably rubs through weed and occasionally over reef. You do need adequate protection. In the deep water setting we usually run with heavier trace line, something in the 120lb category. The reefs surrounding our offshore islands and lumps are pretty unforgiving, and sometimes the best approach is the heavy-handed one! 

The two-hook live bait rig is ideal when setting a live bait under a balloon, or alternatively setting mid-water unweighted or lightly weighted. Occasionally opportunities arrive to pitch-bait livies at feeding kingfish, and in this situation a single hook rig is preferred. Bridling live baits is ideal in this situation.

As stated previously, kingfish are tough customers and you don’t want to cut any corners in your preparation for targeting them. They demand the very best in rigging and terminal tackle, and they’ll soon sort out any weak links in your set up. When targeting big kings, you need to run with the best equipment you can afford. I have always used Shimano reels when live baiting for kingfish, and I can honestly say they’ve never let me down.

For live baiting in shallow water, I use a Shimano TLD 15 spooled with 15kg mono. The TLD range of reels are ideal in this situation, and offer an affordable high-capacity live-baiting reel. When live baiting in deep water, I use a Torium 16 spooled with 50lb Power Pro braid. The Torium has a higher gear ratio, ideal for use in deeper water, and has a capacity of around 450m of 50lb braid which is ample. The drag on the Torium is smooth, and offers a great live baiting reel for deeper water at an affordable price.

Kingfish definitely rule the roost as a top order predator in southern water. They are a fish that require preparation and time spent on the water… but so worth the effort…