Battling yellowtail kingfish from the shore is the ultimate challenge.
The yellowtail kingfish, seriola lalandi, reigns supreme in the south. They’re a top order predator throughout much of their range, and a primary target for southern sportfishermen.
They grow big, pull harder than they’ve any right to and are pretty good on the plate, fulfilling the triplet criteria for a peoples’ favourite.
What puts the mighty kingfish in a class of its own is its propensity to mix it up in shallow inshore waters.
Most heavy-duty pelagic gamefish of this calibre haunt the shadowy offshore depths and flit about with the currents. While kings are certainly encountered in deep offshore waters, they’re more than happy to follow the schools of baitfish into the shallows each summer, finding themselves square in the sights of landbased anglers and the tinnie brigade.
While kings range up the east coast sporadically as far north as the Queensland border, they’re caught most prolifically on the New South Wales central and south coasts.
They’re caught in decent numbers by Victorian and Tassie-based anglers these days too, while record sized specimen roam South Australian waters and are occasionally caught by west coast fishos between Albany and Perth.
While kingfish specialists can manufacture encounters with these titans almost year round, they really become a viable target for the angling masses from late spring through summer and autumn.
When the East Australia Current starts pulsing down the eastern seaboard in late spring, the masses of baitfish that turn up in the hot inshore current herald the start of the season proper.
Kings are not particularly fussy feeders and will happily dine on yellowtail scad, slimy mackerel, pilchards, gars, whitebait or any other baitfish that presents an easy feed.
The majority of the kings on offer at the start of each season are ‘rats’ – mostly undersize juvenile fish in the 50-70cm range. Many of these young kings are underfed and quite slender. Although some very large breeding stock kings are often encountered right at the beginning of the season in late September through to November.
As the season progresses and the schools of kingfish gorge on masses of baitfish, their average size and condition improves rapidly. Through the autumn months it’s not uncommon for the average size of schooling kingfish in many areas to be up around 80cm and many of these fish will be in great condition.
Kingfish are capable of growing to huge proportions in the right environments. Fish well over a metre long weighing over 20kg are caught each season, although these larger fish generally patrol deeper offshore waters.
Record specimen weighing over 40kg are known to turn up in a few select locations, although most anglers never encounter beasts of this size.
When targeting kingfish from the shore, the most effective techniques are spinning lures or pre-rigged dead garfish, and presenting livebaits under a float or balloon.
Smaller kings can be fooled quite simply using artificial lures like metal slices, stickbaits, soft plastics and poppers.
The key to catching good numbers of kings on lures is to target them from prominent headlands in deep water at dawn and dusk. Picking a spot that holds plenty of baitfish is a good starting point, as kings will likely already be in the area, with the bait schools acting as burley.
Metal slices weighing 40-65 grams are a good starting point when targeting smaller ‘rat’ kings. Big soft plastics and stickbaits can sometimes tempt better sized models, while oversized poppers are the lure of choice for those trying to connect to huge kingfish.
Fresh garfish rigged on ganged hooks can be spun in a similar manner and offer a consistent alternative to artificials. Lure-shy fish often can’t resist smashing a seductively swum gar.
You want to use large gars at least 20cm long, rigged on 4-5 ganged hooks or a pair of snelled livebait hooks. Only the freshest garfish will get a look-in from fussy kings, so make sure to catch your garfish fresh or purchase food grade gars from your local fish market and keep them in excellent condition.
The most effective technique for targeting the biggest kingfish is to present a livebait underneath a float or balloon. Live yellowtail, garfish or slimy mackerel are top-notch baits and will attract hits from kingfish of all sizes. A live squid is the supreme bait in many instances.
If you’re only targeting the biggest kingfish, a live frigate mackerel is the way to go. These fish are caught on site by spinning small metal slices and often weigh up to a kilogram. They’re simply too large of a meal for most average sized kings, but they’re the go-to bait for record hunters.
Kings are no nonsense fighters and if you want to stand a real chance of landing the fish you hook, you need to go heavy.
50lb braid on a large spinning reel with at least 15kg of drag capacity matched to a stiff spinning or stickbait style rod between 8-10” is a good starting point when spinning with lures or ganged gars.
Some anglers prefer to beef up their gear and opt for an 80lb setup in order to reduce bust-offs.
Heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders of at least 60lb are required, with 100lb leaders a good choice in a lot of instances.
50lb mono or braid mainline on an overhead reel is the standard livebaiting setup, with somewhat shorter rods between 6-8” the norm, depending on the angle of the headland you’re fishing.
Sturdy modern overhead reels like the Alvey Offshore OS300 are a great choice when live baiting for kings.
A lot of livebait anglers will opt for heavy-duty leaders up to 150lb. This may seem like overkill if mostly smaller fish are being hooked, but can make all the difference when connected to a big king over 10kg in shallow water.
A long handled landing gaff is a necessity when targeting big kings from the shore. The most popular models are made up of two seven-foot poles that screw together to provide 14” of reach.
While smaller kings up to five kilos or so can be deadlifted out of the water, a sturdy gaff is the only way to reliably land big kingfish from the shore.
Kingfish are one of the most challenging species to figure out and to catch consistently. Getting dusted by big kings in shallow water is humbling stuff, but the payoff is unreal once you begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and eventually land your fish big king from the shore.