Mechanical jigging for kingfish has been around NZ for a while now and has a lot of enthusiasts, but even the keenest can benefit from accompanying the jigging ‘gurus’ from overseas in our waters, as Jed Radaly discovers…
Many years ago I became intrigued by mechanical jigging. The simple idea of dropping a piece of metal down to a school of kingfish and then rhythmically winding it back up seemed an intriguing way to catch them to me. However, after just a couple of attempts this new technique jumped from being a curiosity to an addictive habit. Out went the 37kg mono semi-game outfits and in came the jig gear: compact reels attached to lightweight rods, balanced and designed to swing jigs with comfort and ease, and possessing the stopping power of big game rods. My fishing was evolving.
So when offered the chance to spend seven days with the Taiwan-based Jigging Master team, led by the master himself, Pony Liu, aboard Cova Rose, one of New Zealand’s top charter operations whilst visiting the Three King Islands, the only possible answer was ‘Yes!’
However, I was also a little in awe at the prospect too, as Pony and the team travel all over the world testing jigs and jigging systems. As far as I know, Pony and Jigging Master have been involved almost as far back as mechanical jigging has been around.
A few days before the trip, Buzz Kronfield and I began corresponding and packing, preparing ourselves with big knife jigs, large hooks and spools of heavy leader, as it is common knowledge that this destination produces big fish.
Finally the day came: it was time to pick the Taiwanese visitors up from their hotel before heading for Mangonui – and right away it was apparent these boys weren’t going to be messing around! They had brought boxes of rods, bags of reels, kilos of jigs, and all kinds of accessories. What had we volunteered to be a part of?
The first challenge was a simple language barrier, leading to 1.5 hours in a supermarket, yet only coming out with water, fruit, noodles and coke.
On the drive up Buzz and I were kept entertained by the Taiwanese boys’ amazement at our beautiful country, along with a few awkward stops for photos and food along the way, before finally hitting the wharf around 4pm that afternoon.
After meeting the skipper Rhys and second skipper Phil (aka ‘Nip’), we unpacked the cars and were introduced to the Cova Rose, a 16.3m semi-commercial vessel converted to operate with Enchanter Fishing’s charter fleet.
Following a quick rundown of the safety procedures, we set about getting all our gear ready and a good solid night’s sleep before our expedition began early the next morning.
As the boys were pulling boxes apart and rods and reels were emerging from every direction, Buzz and I noticed that the only heavy gear these guys had were underslung spinning outfits. Where were all the overhead outfits? The reply, in Pidgin English: “Only little overhead for slow-jigging.”
A tap on Teddy Sing’s shoulder, who could speak slightly better English, gained the explanation that the underslung outfits were designed to combine spinning-reel jigging with overhead-reel drag systems, making it easier and less effort to mechanically jig.
Largely playing the role of spectator on this trip, I was keeping my eyes and ears well and truly open to learn from these gurus. I noticed that all the setups were different in some way, but whether it was speed jigging or slow jigging, whenever braid was connected to fluorocarbon it was with a PR knot – and if mono was connected to any size split-ring, it was protected by a knot sleeve and tied with an AG chain knot.
Reels were perfectly matched with rods and spooled with the appropriate weight-class braid. There was no mismatching, and every combo was set up for a certain type of jig to maximise the lure’s action.
After setting off early the next morning, we hooked a marlin outside Great Expedition Bay, but it eventually fell off. Interestingly, the Taiwanese team seemed to view winding this marlin in as punishment, whereas the two Kiwi boys on board were amped and hoping for another shot!
After a quick warm-up jig at North Cape, we travelled 12 hours to reach the waters around the Three Kings Islands. The weather had settled to near-glass conditions, allowing us to jig the King Bank as the sun set in the west – and even have a cheeky swordfish drift that night (for no result).
Waking up on the King Bank in perfect conditions was just bliss: no plates or bowls rolling around as you tried to eat breakfast. Everything was easy. Then we were away – a case of jig, jig, jig till we dropped!
I started off using a trusty 500g Rocket Jig while Buzz had a 500g Pink Alien, with both of us fishing from the bow, as this makes it easier to follow your fish from either side if need be.
We’d only just started our retrieve when we noticed three of the boys at the stern already hooked-up – on the drop! Amazing. Well done, Rhys, for putting us on the spot.
A few drifts later, a change of spots, and we started to notice we were doing much more work for the fish we were catching than the others. However, dedicated to catching a monster, I kept speed jigging all day.
The end result was a couple of fish around 25kg and a few around 20kg. Not bad, but still not the 30kg-plus I’d been targeting.
A team talk later that night in shelter of the island was based on much laughter around the tired Kiwi boys who had been speed jigging big jigs all day. Pony dropped us a hint: “You must change to ‘old man’ style.”
That night Rhys corresponded with Enchanter’s skipper Lance, who suggested we head to the Middlesex Bank for better jigging. So we steamed out to Middlesex, which felt like the middle of nowhere. Then, upon starting to jig, everyone was into 20kg kingfish after 20kg kingfish. Of course Buzz and I had our large PE7-8 ‘100lb’ setups up the front of the boat and our mates down the back were using PE3 setups and doing just as well – but weren’t getting their bodies punished…
We jigged all day, but it wasn’t till a bass drop at dusk when we finally watched Pony break out a 45kg/100lb PE10 set-up. I had to ask where that had been hiding all day, and he laughed and said he needed the stopping power.
Then they rigged their 800-1200g jigs, looping on short, squidskirted assist hooks top and bottom. It was a little strange to see these big jigs rigged with such small assist rigs, but apparently this keeps the hooks close to the jigs, with the squid skirts giving predators a target to hit.
After a quick tutorial on the jigging motion for large jigs, we had a drop, and I only had to lift the rod twice before boom – I was hauled down onto the rail faster than I could lift, before getting absolutely peeled. However, it turned out to be the ‘one that got away’ and signalled the first jig lost on the trip.
Meanwhile, Pony brought aboard a nice 45kg bass hooked in the tail – one of the first foulhooked bass captures I’ve seen.
The second drift resulted in a couple of bluenose and a mid- 30-kilos bass. Then, when it got too dark to jig, we set a bait for swordfish-drift. We hooked one, too, but lost it just five minutes after hook-up.
Following two days of jigging beside the Jigging Master team, it was becoming increasingly apparent that these guys’ actions and methods were purpose driven. All they had to be told was the depth and the type of fish below, and they would start to hook-up.
However, the increasing exposure of these fish to the various lures and methods mean new techniques must continually be introduced for lures to stay effective. For example, we found that if we went to a kingfish pin and dropped a slow-falling jig we would get a bite almost instantly. Possibly this was because these kingfish have seen a lot of knife jigs before; such issues were typical of the discussions we had while fishing.
Also thinner line and leaders enabled the jigs to have more action and entice more bites, while we again noted the rigging of jigs with short assist rigs and relatively small hooks, which stayed close to the jigs’ body and resulted in more hook-ups.
We also started testing different methods and, in the process, the concept of ‘big jig, big fish’ went right out the window. The boys soon had Buzz and me learning ‘old man style’ jigging; it was much easier on the body and still saw us battling some big fish. Essentially this was a heavy-duty form of slow-jigging, with the same knots and leader connections, but a more relaxed jigging style and jigs to suit. Again though, it was not the case of the bigger the jig, the bigger the fish, because the largest kingfish was caught on a 200g Diamond Eye ‘slow pitch’ jig, while Buzz’s monster ate a 300g Diamond Eye.
In the end, if fishing 50-100m we used jig weights under 300g attached to 37kg/80lb leader – which the skipper was not too happy about – but except for my bass and a few other fish, we were rarely reefed, as all anglers were up with the play.
In 100-200m, the jig weights were 500g and less, but the same slow-pitch style lures caught fish – and almost instantly, just like standard bait fishing. It really opened my mind to slow-pitch jigging ‘old man style’ and how it can work for everyone.
As a result, rather than jigging ourselves into a froth and steadily breaking down our bodies, the next few days were very enjoyable as well as productive.
IT’S NOT EVERY trip that you have a skilled and enthusiastic crew successfully nailing big puka, bass and bluenose, along with kingfish over 30kg – all the while basking in perfect conditions!
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