Chasing big kings on the surface has been a major focus of my fishing career. There’s nothing better than seeing a pack of excited, lit up yellowtails mowing down a surface lure. The top water strikes are always absolutely brutal.
I’ve spent a bit of time in the shallower waters of South Australia hunting big pelagics and I’d have to say that yellowtail kings are up there with the fiercest targets going around. Motoring short distances from boat ramps at the right time of the year can lead to some pretty speccy captures and memorable experiences with good mates. The warmer months are often the best time to start looking and searching for these fish, but cooler months can also prove fruitful for those who are dedicated enough.
These days the tackle straight off the shelves enables us to chase big fish on some pretty lightweight set ups. Rods that cast lures up to 100 grams are no longer barge poles, and large spool capacities with phenomenal drag capabilities make spinning for big fish a real breeze. Kingfish will nearly always sort you out when it comes to any weakness in your set up. If you have a weak leader knot, they will destroy it, if you don’t have enough drag or stopping power they will outrun you, and if you have weak trebles they will straighten them. Being absolutely, positively certain in ALL of your tackle, from start to finish is a prerequisite for targeting kings.
My two favourite set ups are a Shimano Stella 14000SWB spinning reel matched with a Shimano T-Curve Bluewater Stickbait Special PE3-8 rod, and in the lighter category a Shimano Stella 6000SWB spinning reel matched with a Berkley Venom Taipan 8-15kg rod (the Berkley Venom rods are no longer in production, unfortunately). Both of these set-ups cover stickbaits and poppers of around 30 grams right up to 150 grams, which is the ideal range in lure weights for kings.
The heavier T-Curve is a very gutsy rod. At 2.36m in length and capable of casting 50-150 gram lures, it’s probably the ideal rod for nearly all situations. I can work poppers really well with it and it casts a country mile when I need it too. Both reels have 50lb Power Pro braid, which helps you get stuck into things if you hook a decent fish and need to slow it down before it smokes you around an obstacle that could be 200 metres away.
I find 50lb braid to be much easier to cast than 80. Having 80lb braid on a 6000 size reel just wouldn’t work, and let’s be honest, how many 50lb braids out there actually break at 50lb? The 6000 Stella gets its time when the smaller fish are about or if I’ve been lucky enough to get a few fish on the deck already. It’s a dream set up to use, as it’s ultra light in weight, something that you could cast around all day long and barely notice the effort, particularly compared to the larger outfit.
Knots are probably the most important part of your confidence and ability to stay connected to a big kingfish, or any fish for that matter. Casting requires streamlined knots and the fish demand as much strength as you can possibly get out of the knots. Back-to-back unis are simply too bulky to run through the guides all day long. The Albright knot does a pretty good job, but will often need retying to ensure things don’t fail when you least need them to. Nowadays the FG, or Sebile knot is the go-to knot for me. It has superior strength to any other braid to fluorocarbon leader knot and is by far the slimmest leader knot you can tie. It takes a bit of practice, but fishing for kings requires a lot of effort and determination so make sure you check that knot out thoroughly. There are quite a few YouTube clips for tying the FG knots already, but I’ll get around to doing one in the near future as well.
Trebles and split rings are right up there, too, when it comes to levels of importance in lure fishing for kingfish. Some lures don’t come with trebles, so you are forced to buy some after market ones, but most lures come already rigged. If they aren’t rigged with Owner ST66 trebles and Owner Hyper Wire split rings, I rip them straight off with a good pair of split ring pliers. Make sure you pay attention to treble size for your lures as well. If the treble is too bulky, it may cause the lure to swim poorly. Always test out your lures before you go casting at a school of fish; the last thing you want is a dud swimmer as you watch the fish lose interest.
Tying the lure to your leader is another issue that you need to pay a lot of attention to and, as a general rule of thumb, I tie a Homer Rhode loop knot to all of my stickbaits. This enables them to swim as intended, and I tie a locked blood knot to any poppers. A direct knot to the popper ensures that it will track straight and work effectively. (A barrel swivel connected via a split ring may also be used on stickbaits, but I prefer a direct loop knot in most cases.)
Fishing for kingfish requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you spend enough time learning their habits and working out what retrieves they like best, I reckon it’s the most rewarding species to target. They provide the very best in entertainment, while testing all of your skills, without a doubt! Mega surface strikes and sight fishing is what does it for me, and in my opinion it’s definitely the most exhilarating form of fishing that Australia has to offer.